FLORIDA KEYS — Tasty Florida Keys cuisine includes grilled Florida spiny lobster, fried fish baskets or platters, stone crab claws, Key West pink shrimp, mahi-mahi and hogfish, conch, Key lime pie and Cuban specialties.
Dishes often are flavored with tropical fruits and spiced with influences from the Keys’ rich melting-pot history. This distinctive, memorable cuisine underlies local eateries’ success and has inspired culinary experiences from consumption contests to festivals.
Popular eating challenges include Key West’s annual July 4 Mile-High Key Lime Pie Eatin’ Contest, where entrants vie to devour an entire 9-inch pie topped with mounds of whipped cream in the fastest time. Because they’re not allowed to use forks, spoons or even their hands, participants typically don goggles to gobble their pies face-down.
The annual Stone Crab Eating Contest at Keys Fisheries in Marathon kicks off the seven-month-long stone crab harvest season that runs Oct. 15 through May 15. The 2018 winner used an ice cream scoop to crack and consume 25 stone crab claws in just 15 minutes and 57 seconds.
What are the best ways to savor Keys cuisine? Enjoy waterfront dining and attend a culinary festival or special event.
Uncorked … The Key Largo and Islamorada Food and Wine Festival (floridakeysuncorked.com). The annual January food, wine and spirits showcase is a culinary and cocktail extravaganza featuring a packed schedule of savory events in Key Largo and Islamorada. Offerings typically range from wine dinners to a lavish Grand Tasting.
Florida Keys Seafood Festival (floridakeysseafoodfestival.com). Held In Key West’s Bayview Park each January, the two-day family-friendly feast spotlights the Keys’ fresh seafood, caught and prepared by members of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association and their families.
Key West Food & Wine Festival (keywestfoodandwinefestival.com). Also held each January, the five-day festival draws attendees to experience gourmet galas and tastings, creative cuisine, premium wines and intriguing food-related adventures that celebrate Key West’s rich culinary culture.
Original Marathon Seafood Festival (marathonseafoodfestival.com). Staged in March every year, the eagerly anticipated two-day event lures thousands of seafood lovers to the Middle Keys to savor lobster, stone crab, shrimp, fish and other Keys-harvested seafood. Additional attractions include live music and artisan booths.
Key Lime Festival (keylimefestival.com). Scheduled annually on the July 4 weekend, this lighthearted Key West event salutes the tiny fruit that inspired the Florida Keys’ signature dessert. As well as the wacky pie-eating contest, the schedule typically includes a gravity-defying “pie drop” and the Key Lime Cocktail Sip & Stroll.
Other Keys festivities for foodies include the Key West Lobsterfest, the city’s Master Chefs Classic culinary competition, “taste of” celebrations around the island chain, and food-focused elements of special events ranging from the Florida Keys Island Fest in Islamorada to the I Love Stock Island Festival in the Lower Keys.
Florida Keys calendar of events: fla-keys.com/calendar/
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Florida Keys dining information: fla-keys.com/food-drink/