Scores of visitors envy Florida Keys “locals” who create satisfying lives full of authentic pleasures and natural ingredients. But visitors too can enjoy the indigenous flavors of the Keys, and take home tasty “souvenirs” to help sustain them until their next vacation escape.
Nearly everybody who travels to the island chain samples locally caught seafood and locally made Key lime pie. They’re both great starting points for an exploration into the region’s unique edibles — but SOOO much more is available to savor! The Keys are home to artisan food crafters, a master chocolatier, beekeepers and even a saltmaker whose wares can be relished during visits (and later as treats at home).
At the head of the Keys in Key Largo, for example, the islands’ premier chocolatier can be found at mile marker (MM) 100.5 bayside. Key Largo Chocolates is the brainchild of Kristie Thomas, who infuses local flavors into handmade chocolate confections. Standouts include luscious truffles, fudge and specialty chocolate bark with Key lime and pistachios (yummy!).
But Kristie’s quirkiest creations are her chocodiles — whimsical 9-inch-long crocodiles made of white or dark chocolate. Those with a sweet tooth will delight in visiting the shop, and treats can be ordered for shipping here.
Key lime pie, which originated in Key West in the late 1800s, was voted Florida’s official pie in 2006 by the state legislature (honest!). But Bob’s Bunz, a friendly Islamorada “comfort food” restaurant and bakery, features the tiny limes in other sweet temptations including Bundt cakes and bite-size cookies.
No trip to the Upper Keys is complete without visiting the emporium, whose name comes from the legendary (and absolutely gigantic) cinnamon and sticky buns created by owner Robert “Bob” Spencer. The “bunz” can only be purchased at the restaurant/bakery at MM 81.6, but lime lovers can pick up Bundt cakes and cookies there or order them here.
Head down the Florida Keys Overseas Highway through Marathon and, shortly before the Seven Mile Bridge begins, make a sharp right onto Gulfview Avenue. Perched on the waterfront at the end of the short street is one of the best casual seafood restaurants in the Keys: Keys Fisheries.
Try the fresh stone crab claws, peel-and-eat Key West shrimp and savory conch chowder. And the eatery’s famed Lobster Reuben makes even stubborn New Yorkers abandon traditional corned-beef Reubens for their seafood “cousin.”
Few things flavor a dish like artisanal salt, and Lower Keys residents Midge Jolly and Tom Weyant harvest 100 percent solar-evaporated sea salt on their Earth & Sea Farm. Their Florida Keys Sea Salt has been called an all-around cooking and finishing salt — and the natural rhythm of its hand-harvested production harks back to the Keys’ saltmaking tradition of the 1800s.
For more information about Midge and Tom’s sustainable farm and products, click here. Their salt can be purchased at SALT Island Provisions, located at 830 Fleming St. in Key West, or ordered from the store’s Internet outlet.
SALT Island Provisions is also the place to discover other intriguing products from Florida Keys artisans — including raw and unprocessed small-batch honey whose distinct flavors can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
The delicacy is produced by independent beekeepers who have hives around the Lower Keys, and varieties change seasonally with favorites including red mangrove honey.
Enticing as these items are, they’re only a sampling of the foodstuffs produced by creative spirits in the Florida Keys.