May 2, 2011

Out Magazine

Key West: Eat Out, Drink Up


Ed Salvato

On a recent swing through Key West, I checked out a few hip new spots. This is most definitely not your grandpa's Key West (well, if grandpa happened to be a kinda cool gay guy who discovered the Conch Republic before the big straight cruise ships did!)

Eat up
It is incredibly difficult to narrow down the wide range of terrific Key West dining options to one or two choices. That said, two stand out from my recent visit.

Nine One Five ) has been open since 2002 and gets justifiable praise for its Asian-flavored seafood and décor. But my new recent favorite is the more recently open Flaming Buoy Filet Co.. Open just over a year, the Flaming Buoy is owned and operated by (openly gay) partners Fred Isch and Scot Forste. The décor -- 10 rustic wood tables and simple lighting -- reflects the restaurant's approach to dining: simple and fresh.

Drink up
You can still guzzle gigantic watered-down rum- or tequila-based cocktails anywhere along Duval St. But what's new and exciting is the island's burgeoning, sophisticated cocktail and wine bar culture. Check out the diminutive Orchid Bar , where mixologists take their drinks very seriously. The crowd is low key, and the space overlooks an illuminated pool: perfect after a busy day doing, well, nothing. The Porch is a wine and artisinal beer bar that has been open since summer of 2010 in a gorgeous old Victorian mansion.

By the way, I stayed at my favorite guest house on the island: the gay-men-only Island House Key West.



April 19, 2011


Key West Food Trip!

It was another twelve degree evening in New York City. After the 4 big snow storms we have had and yet another record-breaking year with 27 inches of snow in 6 weeks, I decided it was time to go south. I’m telling you, the birds know what’s up dude.

Key West has been one of those places I’ve been wanting to go to for a while, but with its typically expensive airfare, indirect flights and a 4 hour-long drive from Miami, I’ve just never mustered up the determination to make my way down there. Sure, people say it is nice to take a week off and make the drive down slowly and see all the other Keys along the way… but seriously? One whole week in Florida? Seems a little bit of a waste… if I were to sacrifice a week-long vacation, why not Europe? Hell, you could even do South America or Asia in a week! For me, a long weekend would suffice. I mean, it is FL after all.

One good (and bad) thing about Key West is there is a huge ex-NYC population, people who were ambitious, worked hard, made some money and got sick of the weather move to Miami and as they get closer to retirement age, eventually move to Key West to open a restaurant or B&B. Which means there is good food, or at least that’s what I learned from researching on the Inter-Web.

We stayed at Paradise Inn, a pleasant B&B in the heart of Key West. It is a lovely little property that manages to be walking distance to everything (including Duval) but still manages to be quiet and quaint. We opted for the King Suite, and the room was very, very large. We had a separate sitting room that could easily sleep another 2 people comfortably, along with 2 sinks, one in the bathroom, one outside of the bathroom. Our corner suite was on the 2nd floor overlooking a nice heated pool and jacuzzi. Free Parking and Free Internet were also great, although the breakfast consisted of boxed cereal and a banana. I was missing me some eggs… which brings me to my first food adventure in Key West:

The Flaming Buoy Filet Co

This place got written up in NY Times in January and since then it has been bombarded with phone calls and reservation requests. Oh the power of media! We managed to get a seat by the bar and brought our own bottle of wine for a $20 surcharge. The food was overall very good, even for NYC standards, but the one disappointing dish was the fish of the day. It was a fresh white fish that was simply grilled, and it tasted relatively bland and uninspired. The highlights were the Lobster Mac N Cheese and the caramelized bacon-wrapped scallops. Both were very, VERY tasty.


This no-nonsense burritos joint with organic and freshly sourced ingredients was the perfect morning-after cure to Key West. One fantastic breakfast burrito and organic mixed salad later, I was a happy camper. They are also known for their Kobe beef burrito as well.


This place has also been written up for their brunch menu, fresh sandwiches and salads and it’s cute Key West-ish setup, with a nice outdoor patio area. We got a seat outside and ordered a fantastic Grilled Mozzarella and Avocado Sandwich on a 7-grain bread. It’s basically their take on a Grilled Cheese sandwich and boy, was it good. The balance between the crunchiness of the bread, the perfect amount of cheese and the addition of the fresh avocado really combined to delight my senses. The pineapple slaw was also one of the better slaws I’ve had in a while.

We also ordered an Omelette, which was so-so, and an interesting house-made Key Lime Pie. Different from other Key Lime Pies, this one was more moussy than solid. It was almost like a light cheese cake. It was different and good, I am just not that big a fan of Key Lime pies in general though.


This well-known restaurant on Duval Street wears its James Beard Award proudly and serves up Nouveau American with a hint of Asian influence, with sauces like Soy Citrus, Ahi Tuna with Sesame Dressing and Chinese Cabbage. With its high-brow reputation, we couldn’t help comparing it to some of the NYC institutions, while trying some of their signature dishes. The dinner overall was mediocre at best and there weren’t any dishes that particularly stood out, it left me unmoved and the only thing I really recall from the meal was that everything was a little too salty. Disappointing.


This sophisticated little enclave is the restaurant for Marquesa Hotel, one of the island’s more elegant and expensive inns. Here, its Caribbean-New World cuisine is critically acclaimed and rated it one of the 15 best restaurants in Florida. Apparently, chef Susan Ferry draws connoisseurs from all over the globe.

The menu changes daily and indicates the subtle changes of the season (morel mushrooms will be available one day, then gone the next). Her specialties often incorporate Asian influences (as in seafood pot stickers with peanut sauce and seaweed, or duck spring roll with kimchi, sesame noodles) as well as Latin (conch and blue crab cake with jícama slaw, for example, or saffron-spiced risotto). What is the deal with the Asian-influence cuisine in Key West?? Random.

The ONE dish that really shined was the Fresh Grilled Fish of the day. It was an oily blue fish that was so smooth, so oily, so rich (but all in a good way) that it tasted and felt like you were eating something much more decadent, like pork belly. If you see it on the menu order it, sans the disgusting sesame lo mein accompaniment.


Yes, this is a chain. But this was the original location and it came recommend more for the view and atmosphere. It was about 75 degrees out and sunny, so how can you go wrong with a view of the gorgeous light blue water surrounding you as you sip on a nice draft beer and fried seafood? Yes, the food was nothing to write home about, even though the Islamorada grilled fish sandwich was unexpectedly good. It’s a good half way point on our drive back up to Miami. Go for the view.


March 25, 2011

The Globe & Mail

Say so long to Margaritaville in Key West

It's 5 o'clock somewhere, but in Key West, it's 8 a.m. And for the “breakfast club” at the Schooner Wharf Bar, that means it's already happy hour.

At the open-air bar on this southernmost island in the United States, the guy next to me is already hard at work finishing off a bloody mary so he can move on to a beer chaser. Two entertainers from one of the local drag shows are sharing makeup tips and a couple of roosters are staging a noisy impromptu fight. Meanwhile, throngs of passengers off a newly arrived cruise ship are snapping photos of lewd T-shirts that adorn the windows of shops on lower Duval Street, which is to Key West what Bourbon Street is to New Orleans.

It's 5 o'clock somewhere, but in Key West, it's 8 a.m. And for the “breakfast club” at the Schooner Wharf Bar, that means it's already happy hour.

At the open-air bar on this southernmost island in the United States, the guy next to me is already hard at work finishing off a bloody mary so he can move on to a beer chaser. Two entertainers from one of the local drag shows are sharing makeup tips and a couple of roosters are staging a noisy impromptu fight. Meanwhile, throngs of passengers off a newly arrived cruise ship are snapping photos of lewd T-shirts that adorn the windows of shops on lower Duval Street, which is to Key West what Bourbon Street is to New Orleans.

That's exactly what you'd expect from a typical morning in downtown Margaritaville, where Jimmy Buffett is the patron saint and drunken escapades in convertibles are an all-day pastime.

But just a few minutes walk from the Margaritaville vibe of Key West is a neighbourhood that's lesser known but quickly becoming an attraction in itself. Upper Duval – or, as locals call it, uptown – is being reborn as an elegant and highly walkable area of unique boutiques and attractions that counter the island's castaway reputation. New shops offer merchandise difficult to find elsewhere and side streets are lined with rows of freshly renovated gingerbread cottages and grand Victorian homes that date to the late 1800s, when Cuban immigrants set up hand-rolled cigar factories in the area.


Many choose just to hoof it because most of the island's sights are within a few blocks of each other. Bicycles are an option and tend to be stately touring models, with upright handlebars and extra-padded seats. They go for about $12 for the first day and $8 for each additional day. You can also rent adult tricycles. The Moped Hospital, 601 Truman, 866-296-1625,

Electric cars that seat up to four are cute and practical, but don't come cheap: Expect to pay about $70 for three hours. That's enough time to cover most of the streets of the island. If you want one for the day, it will run about $150. Tropical Rentals, 1300 Duval St., 305-294-8136,


You'd never expect that The Flaming Buoy Filet Co., an unassuming restaurant on a residential street, is such a gourmet eatery that reservations are a must. On the outdoor terrace, you'll hear crickets chirping and chickens clucking, but no traffic even though it's right in the city. 1100 Packer St., 305-295-7970,

The Green Parrot is reputed to be Key West's oldest drinking hole. The sign over the bar reads, “No snivelling.” 601 Whitehead St., but you can just ask people where the zero mile sign of U.S. 1 is located. 305-294-6133,

Executive chef Brendan Orr came to Key West by way of Paris. Every night at the Roof Top Café, he embellishes on what he calls “new island tropical” cuisine based on what's fresh that day. Entrees are so large that a single order of mahi-mahi with udon ($27) was more than sufficient for me and my wife. Don't make the mistake of ordering the Patron margarita, priced at $99. “A lot of people order it, thinking it's 99 cents,” the waiter warned. 308 Front St., 305-294-2042,


There's no Fred at Fast Buck Freddie's, just a couple of guys who in the seventies listened to way too much Jefferson Starship and decided the song title would be a heck of a name for a store that features an eclectic mix of home furnishings and objets d'art from palm tree door knockers to seashell lamps. They've never had any notion of expanding off Key West, but the furniture is so popular they've shipped it worldwide to decorate the patios of software millionaires. 500 Duval St., 305-294-2007,

Glass Reunions, a museum-quality collection of mesmerizing contemporary art glass pieces by more than 200 different artists, assembled by artist Kim Sprague, could take hours to see and appreciate. There's everything from paperweights, mobiles and jewellery to lighting fixtures to enormous fountains and chandeliers worthy of office atriums. Yes, they can ship any purchase to Canada. 825 Duval St., 305 294-1720,


Silver Palms Inn This former motel has been renovated into apartments. The refit brought it to the Florida Green Lodging Program's gold level, with energy-saving appliances, insulation that holds in the cold, low-flush toilets and lights and thermostats that turn off when no one's home. From $139, with breakfast. 830 Truman, 305-294-8700,

The Crowne Plaza-La Concha Restored to reveal its elaborate detailing, La Concha was the posh place to stay when it was opened in 1926. Luminaries who stayed here include Tennessee Williams, who was said to have finished A Streetcar Named Desire while staying in a suite, and Ernest Hemingway, whose home was only a couple of blocks away and who referred to the La Concha in To Have and Have Not. From $130. 430 Duval, 877-660-8550,


February 23, 2011


Key West: Beyond the Beach


Robert Haru Fisher

Most visitors to Key West come for sunshine and daytime water activities. By night, travelers seek out the bars and music. But there's far more to the island than tanning and the beach. In broad daylight and at nighttime, you can find dozens of attractions that cater to every type of traveler.

Key West's Best Art Galleries, Museums, and More

Headed up by the Customs House exhibits, there are more than three dozen art galleries around town. Currently at the Customs House (281 Front Street, tel. 305/295-6616; you'll see a fine exhibit of life-size and larger works by Seward Johnson that mimic masterpieces of the Impressionist period.

Connoisseurs here believe the best gallery in town is the Lucky Street Gallery (1130 Duval Street; tel. 305/293-3973; Browse here for new works by many local artists, including Rick Worth, John Martini, Roberta Marks, and more.

One of several kinky places for very modern art is "The Naked Artist" Gallery & Studio (518 Fleming Street;

The queen of jewels in Key West's artistic crown is The Studios (600 White Street; tel. 305/296-0458; Housed in the Old Armory, you can visit a wide range of exhibits, listen to lectures, and attend classes and workshops. They also host the Friends of the Library Lecture Series, featuring some of the many well-known writers who make Key West their home (at least in winter).

The Truman Little White House (111 Front Street; tel. 305/294-9911; is very popular, containing exhibits about Harry and his time spent here during his presidency. It's down near the historic center of Old Town and near the Sunset celebrations at day's end, too.

Fort Zachary Taylor ( is not only a fine place to sample the beach, but you can also take a look at the old ramparts and attend the occasional function, such as Civil War Days (Feb. 24-27).

If you must go to the beach, consider practicing yoga there. Nancy Curran of Yoga on the Beach (tel. 305/296-7352; has sessions in winter at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and year round at the Southernmost Beach.

Music & Culture in Key West

The island suffered a big blow recently when its Key West Symphony was disbanded, allegedly over personality clashes. (Yes, that happens in Paradise as well as in bigger places.) But visitors can still enjoy a vigorous chamber music series, at least three repertory theaters, and numerous concerts and performances. For info on the Impromptu concerts at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in the heart of the Old Town, check out The St. Petersburg Quartet appears on March 13.

Theater in Key West

The Red Barn Theatre (314 Duval Street; tel. 305/296-9911; has a lively season running through early April with a largely local repertoire. Equally important here is the Waterfront Playhouse (310 Wall Street; tel. 305/294-5015; www.waterfrontplayhouse.or), which this year presents Dirty Rotten Scoundrels through late March.

Dining Out in Key West

The talk of the town when I visited was the Flaming Buoy Filet Co. (1100 Packer Street; tel. 305/295-7970;, recommended by The New York Times and several friends. Locals call it the "Flaming Boys," after the two gay owners, and clamor to get one of its 10 tables for items such as the bacon-wrapped scallops with mashed sweet potatoes ($26) or the fresh catch of the day, which comes with banana salsa ($24).

More Info

Florida Keys and Key West (tel. 800/352-5397;

Florida Keys Council of the Arts (tel. 305/295-4369;

An efficient Key West Business Guild (513 Truman Avenue; tel. 800/535-7797; represents many of the gay-owned attractions and other entities here, with its own guides and map.


February 1, 2011

Bent Magazine

Key West...And The Day Elvis Kissed Me


Gordon Hopps

It was many years ago when I first went on a trip to Key West and I absolutely loved it.

The drive from Miami airport, down through Homestead and on to Highway US1, the Florida Turnpike, which takes you all the way south to the very end of this vast country can be very exciting. Once on the Keys the journey down the a hundred and odd miles is most spectacular and, with Key West as the ultimate destination, the drive can be shot through so quickly that you miss out on some splendid experiences.

On this trip I planned a slower journey. Once in the car I drove down to my first stopping point in Key Largo to do something I’d always wanted to do – I booked into Dolphin Plus ( and organised a chance to swim with these intelligent mammals. What an absolute treat. I spent an amazing couple of hours watching and then swimming with two of these ever-smiling creatures, Elvis and Nico. The lifted me, they splashed me and at one point… Elvis kissed me… a memory that will stay with me for a very long time.

So as not to rush my journey south or drive through the dusk (and miss all the astounding views as you go over the many interconnecting bridges) I stayed overnight at the wonderful Casa Morada ( on the next Key down, Islamorada. Just off the main road, this elegant and up-market little complex opened up to the Gulf of Mexico for a truly wondrous sunset. It was like a view from the best tropical photo-shoot ever and I immediately fell in love with the place.

In the early morning sun I set off south and enjoyed the journey stopping off at various places of interest to see, or eat … check them out on the travel guide as it is a great shame to speed past them without at least a look. Many people have waxed lyrical about Florida’s Keys and I would also like to add my own accolade to the sheer architectural achievement of the way all these wonderful little islands have been linked together. Those early pioneers and later technical bods have produced something that would not disgrace being included in a more up to date version of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Thanks to these bridges you’re skimming high above where two huge bodies of water meet in a kaleidoscope of blues, greens and turquoise. Where little mangrove islands host birdlife and the crystal clear sea offers a chance to glimpse coral and a multitude of aquatic creatures… it’s a lot to take in… so don’t rush that drive to the southernmost tip of America.

When you do arrive in Key West you’ll know… as you can’t go any further without getting very wet but the place is, and has been, a playground for the rich and famous for many years. The likes of author Ernest Hemmingway made his home here, as did the playwright and all-round gay god, Tennessee Williams, plus all their sporting and film star friends. The place is a bustling tourist centre but still maintains many of its charming characteristics and for the gay visitor in particular is an ideal spot for a vacation.

There are many terrific gay owned and operated businesses in Key West, indeed, it is said that without its gay population, nothing would happen on this small, but influential, isle. There are many superb, award winning gay guest houses to chose from – all seem laid back and well equipped, some near to the action on the main drag, Duval Street, while other are slightly further out and more private in nature. There is a place for just about every taste and I booked into the 24-hour happening that is Island House ( at the top of Fleming Street. This is an all-male complex with everything; gym, sauna, Jacuzzis (inside and out), heated pool (that never closes), bar, restaurant, internet… and a video room for those who like to explore with their fellow guests. It’s a clothing optional establishment but don’t let that worry you, two minutes after I nervously arrived I was frolicking in the pool naked myself. The view from my window was also stunning. All the staff are friendly and very helpful; as they are in all the gay resorts, so don’t be afraid to ask them for advice, directions or to book your exciting gay activity. So whether naked or clothed… this is a terrific spot to start your Key West experience.

The marvellous thing about Key West is that it certainly caters for its gay guests. The gay only sunset cruise is wonderful to see, couples (and groups of guys) happily kissing and toasting each other’s health while watching the sun go down. The same company – Blu Q ( under the direction of Captain Steve and his crew – also organise gay snorkelling, sailing and island adventures (occasionally naked) should you want to stay with your own kind. The mood is always relaxed and fun and if you’re lucky like I was on my trip, you may be accompanied by a couple of dolphin pods as you lazily sail around the bay. Being gay in Key West is the norm… so everywhere on this island it’s OK to be gay… and although there are no specifically gay beaches, there are areas where all the boys go to toast their skin that lovely shade of brown. Just ask at the desk or get hold of a copy of the Gay Key West map ( to get your bearings.

Along Duval are the main gay bars where drag seems to be very popular – Aqua and 801 – although you can escape the feathers and sequins at any number of watering holes that make up this hectic street… like the Bourbon Street Pub just across the road from 801.

Eating delicious food is also no problem whether you go local or international:

Perhaps an early morning breakfast at Harpoon Harry’s
or try one of the best prime steaks I have ever eaten at Duffy’s
maybe an upmarket evening meal at Square One or Antonias or the latest restaurant to receive rave reviews, Flaming Bouy Filet Co – You’ll never be at a loss for eating well in Key West – many of the restaurants are gay owned and run and it seems that there is a cute busboy or waiter to attend to your culinary needs.

There are many other gay events, such as the weekly gay trolley ride but throughout the year the island also offers huge events that attract thousands and thousands of gay visitors.

Key West Pride –
Key West Bear Fest –
Tropical Heat –
Headdress Ball –
Gay Spring Break –
Bone Island Bare it All –
Womenfest –

An interesting fact that I didn’t know was that Key West is actually a translation from Spanish-speaking people who used the term Cayo Hueso – it literally means “bone key” so a trip of the fun ghost tour ( is a must.

To get a brochure and map telling you of all the things you can expect from this brilliant sun-drenched piece of heaven:

My thanks go to all the staff at Florida Keys & Key West tourism and in particular Stephen Smith for his organisation, help and friendship during my visit.


January 29, 2011

Rhode Island Is My Oyster

Key West: The Flaming Buoy Filet Co.

Eating was the side project while attending talks at Key West Literary Seminar in January. Regulars in Key West know all the places from dive to high-end, there being no actual secrets in a small town. Our friend in Key West brought us to one of the newer spots - small, relaxed and way off Duval ("way off Duval" being code for no drunken walk-ins, etc.) but the little place is hardly under wraps since The New York Times featured it in 36 Hours in Key West.

The Flaming Buoy Filet Co (1100 Packer St - at Virgina St -  305-295-7970) serves local fish and lobster in an island-style dining room with an outdoor feel. Hogfish, black grouper and Florida lobster graced the menu for our visit, along with a few staples - one being a modern version of black bean soup. Short menu, much attention to detail. Our fish were served with fresh mango salsa, really good mashed potatoes and other vegs.*

The dessert list is also short, contains nothing tacky, and is tempting. One choice: a sweet tortilla filled with a thin layer of dark chocolate spiced with red pepper, cut in triangles and served with vanilla ice cream. Satisfied the chocolate urge without bludgeoning it. Nice.

The fresh fish, prices, service, atmosphere, and off the strip location merged for a just-right dinner.

*Several entrees come with Florida corn roasted in the husk, spiced and buttered. It looks terrific on the plate but, like many New Englanders, I'm a corn snob so you know I couldn't love it.


January 9, 2011

The New York Times

36 Hours in Key West, The Video


Sarah Wildman & Shayla Harris


January 6, 2011

The New York Times

36 Hours in Key West, Fla.


Sarah Wildman

KEY WEST, haven to artists and writers, chefs and hippies, is somehow more Caribbean than Floridian. The indie-minded transplants work hard to keep it that way. One-speed bicycles weave their way through colorful village streets, crammed with as many chickens as cars. Happy hour blends into dinner. And everything is oriented around the ocean, from the fish market-driven menus and the nautical-inspired art, to the sunrise worshipers who gather each dawn and the tipplers who wave goodbye at sunset. Be careful or you might just catch what islanders call “Keys disease” — a sudden desire to cut ties with home and move there.


4 p.m.

As any self-respecting bohemian local knows, the best way to get around Key West is on two wheels. Bike rental companies offer drop-off service to many hotels. Two reliable outfits are Eaton Bikes (830 Eaton Street; 305-294-8188; and Re-Cycle (5160 Overseas Highway; U.S. 1; 305-292-3336;, with rentals for about $18 for one day, $10 for each additional. Orient yourself by biking over to the Truman Annex, a palm-lined oasis of calm made up of two-story whitewashed buildings that surrounds the Little White House (111 Front Street; 305-294-9911;

7 p.m.

Key West chefs pride themselves on a culinary philosophy of simple cooking and fresh ingredients. A perfect example is the Flaming Buoy Filet Co. (1100 Packer Street; 305-295-7970;, a year-old nouveau seafood restaurant owned and run by two Cincinnati transplants, Fred Isch and his partner, Scot Forste. The 10 rustic wood tables are hand-painted in orange and yellow; the lights are low and the crowd amiable, skewing slightly older. This is home-cooking, island style. Favorites include a black bean soup, swirled with Cheddar cheese, sour cream and cilantro ($9), and the fresh catch of the day ($24), which is served with a broccoli cake and tasty mashed potatoes.

9 p.m.

You can’t bike a block on this island without bumping into a would-be Gauguin wielding a palette and paintbrush. There’s an outsize and vibrant arts scene that’s evident at places like Lucky Street Gallery (1130 Duval Street; 305-294-3973; and the Gallery on Greene (606 Greene Street; 305-294-1669; For a warm introduction to the scene, head to the Armory, a rifle storage house built in 1903 and recently converted into the Studios of Key West (600 White Street; 305-296-0458;, an airy, art-filled space with rotating exhibitions, evening folk concerts, talks by artists-in-residence and drop-in art classes. Expect to find your barista there, and the bike rental guy and the woman who will sell you a T-shirt tomorrow. It’s a small town.

11 p.m.

While Key West night life has long been synonymous with boozy karaoke and mediocre margaritas, new watering holes like the tiny Orchid Bar (1004 Duval Street; 305-296-9915; are quietly moving in a more sophisticated direction. Bartenders there take mixology seriously. Try the St.-Germain 75, with Hendrick’s Gin, St.-Germain, fresh lemon juice and Champagne ($12). This Deco-cool sliver of a space overlooks an illuminated pool and draws a mellow crew.


8:15 a.m.

Every morning, a dozen spiritual seekers — an eclectic mix of tattooed artists, elementary-school teachers and others — assemble at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park for Yoga on the Beach (305-296-7352; Nancy Curran and Don Bartolone, yogis from Massachusetts, teach energetic vinyasa-style yoga in a clearing of pines, facing the sea. The $18 drop-in fee includes state park entrance fee, muslin dropcloths and yoga mats.

11 a.m.

An island of transplants means there is plenty to sample from the world over. Craving France? Stop at Bahama Village’s newest import, La Crêperie Key West (300 Petronia Street; 305-517-6799;, where Yolande Findlay and Sylvie Le Nouail, Brittany transplants, serve crepes in an open kitchen. Start with a savory crepe like ratatouille ($10.25), then move on to something sweet like red velvet with dark Belgian chocolate, strawberries and English custard ($9.95).

1 p.m.

Just because islanders pride themselves on being casual doesn’t mean they don’t want to look great. Bésame Mucho (315 Petronia Street; 305-294-1928; is an old-world general store packed with everything from Belgian linen to Dr. Hauschka skin care, to delicate baubles like tiny beaded pyrite necklaces. Across the street is Wanderlust kw (310 Petronia Street; 305-509-7065;, a boutique that opened in July 2010. It’s stocked with well-priced dresses (a navy blue 1940s-style slip dress with puffed sleeves was a mere $68), and whimsical watercolors of Key West houses by local artists ($15). For swank décor, check out Jan George Interior Design (600 Frances Street; 305-509-8449;, a furniture shop that carries dreamy stark-white couches from the Italian line Gervasoni. The owners, Jan Oostdyk and his spouse, George Rutgers, landed as tourists from the Netherlands and never left.

5 p.m.

Skip the hustle of Mallory Square and work your way through the white tablecloth dining room to Louie’s Backyard Afterdeck Bar (700 Waddell Avenue; 305-294-1061;, which has a large wood-planked patio that faces the ocean and the setting sun. A gregarious crowd of artists and New England snowbirds gathers daily. It’s like an outdoor Cheers.

7 p.m.

Since opening in 2002, the restaurant Nine One Five (915 Duval Street; 305-296-0669; has gotten high marks for its Asian-inspired seafood and ambience — a large white porch that’s great for people-watching. Last winter, the owner, Stuart Kemp, turned the second floor into the Point5 lounge, serving smaller bites like grilled snapper tacos ($15) and stick-to-your-ribs mac and cheese ($12) to a younger crowd. If you stick around after dinner, Point5 becomes a party, with D.J. George spinning funk and soul and the island’s gay and straight worlds dancing together under filament lights strung outdoors.

9 p.m.

Drag shows are Key West’s patrimony. Still at the top of his game is Randy Roberts, performing as Bette Midler, Cher and Lady Gaga at La Te Da (1125 Duval Street; 305-296-6706;; $26 admission). After the delicious one-hour drag show, hoof it down to Porch (429 Caroline Street No. 2; 305-517-6358;, a wine and artisanal beer bar that opened in July on the luminous first floor of a Victorian mansion, just off Duval. Chris Schultz, a former travel writer from Minnesota, installed a black banquette, painted the walls a soothing gray and invited an eager crowd of 20- and 30-somethings who moved to Key West to give island life a go.


11 a.m.

Late night? Sarabeth’s (530 Simonton Street; 305-293-8181;, housed in what was the island’s first synagogue, serves omelets and tropical juices that are the ideal detox. Can’t be bothered to dress? Bad Boy Burrito (1220 1/2 Simonton; 305-292-2697; will deliver a kobe beef burrito ($8) or fish taco ($9) to you, poolside.

1 p.m.

With all the shopping and eating, it is easy to forget why you’re really here: to get off the street and onto the water. Lazy Dog (5114 Overseas Highway; 305-295-9898; offers two- and four-hour kayaking or two-hour paddleboard tours through crystal clear coastal waters and into the deep green waterways of the gnarled mangrove forests. Or if you’re just looking to dip a toe in the sea, bike over to Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach, a strip of sand in front of the genial beach bar restaurant Salute! (1000 Atlantic Boulevard; 305-292-1117;, rent a beach chair for $10, and kick back. You’re on island time, after all.


Alexander’s Guest House (1118 Fleming Street; 305-294-9919; is a stylish bed-and-breakfast that’s straight-friendly, but attracts a primarily gay and lesbian crowd. The 17 rooms, in a gorgeously refurbished 1901 house, start at $175.

Once used as the base of operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort (1500 Ranch Avenue; 88-303-5717; was radically modernized in 2007 and is now part of the Waldorf-Astoria Collection. The 311 rooms start at $229.

Photo by Oscar Hidalgo for The New York Times

November 27, 2010

Green World Gallery

Pam's Pick's - The Flaming Buoy Filet Co.

Scott, co-owner of the Flaming Buoy Filet Co displays their fine selection of wine.  My personal favorite is the Long Boat Sauvingnon Blanc with very distinct citrus tones.  Koz and I love the Lobster Mac & Cheese, Seafood Marinara, Bacon Wrapped Scallops and the Filet Mignon. Every entree that we have tried has been delicious.  We always enjoy dessert – Chocolate Quesadilla with Spicy Chocolate Sauce (Yum, Yum!)  This is one of our favorite places to have a romantic night together or to entertain guests.


November 19, 2010

Holding a Grudge


Florida Keys Girl

I hold grudges. It is a character flaw, for sure, but there are certain things I just can’t let go. Often times, these are relatively minor issues, but usually there has been some egregious (in my mind) injustice (to me, or someone I know). Like my Sarabeth’s grudge. What started off as mere outrage has turned into a full-on boycott.

In approximately 1996, Florida Keys Guy and I were living in New York. His grandmother came in to the city on a bus trip for the afternoon and wanted to have brunch with us at Sarabeth’s. We obliged. Who am I to pass up homemade jam? We arrived to find an hour long wait. When Grandma said she wanted to wait, much to our chagrin, we asked for a chair for her “We are fine standing outside, but perhaps someone would bring a chair out for my 85-year-old grandmother to sit down?” The manager’s answer was a pissy “No. We will not do that“. Seriously? You can’t bother to make people a teeny bit comfortable while they are waiting an hour for a scone? Grandma insisted that we wait, but I have not been back since. Nor will I support the Key West outpost. My loss? I think not.

The incident with Eduardo de San Angel Mexican restaurant in Fort Lauderdale was handled in a more passive-aggressive manner. They make a really good black bean soup. When my mother asked for the recipe, on my behalf, they could have just said “No, sorry, we do not give out our recipes,” and ended the conversation. That would have been better than giving me the completely wrong recipe. I know how to cook and I know when I am being played. I have not been back there in over eight years. Once again, their loss, not mine.

Recently, when planning my Thanksgiving menu, I decided black bean soup would be a good starter. So I asked the only other people I know that make a decent soup for their recipe – Scot and Fred at The Flaming Buoy.. Scot’s recipe consists largely of directions like  “about a cup or so” and “you can use whatever” with the occasional “it all depends”. With directions like that, at least I know I have to improvise. Plus, he was very candid about not having anything in writing. He has sent me e-mails asking how the soup turned out, so at least I know he is not flat-out lying to me. At least one would hope not; I’d hate to lose one of my favorite restaurants to another soup grudge.


October 17, 2010

People UK

Holiday Like A Celeb


Nada Farhoud

RELAX in the sunshine and enjoy the pristine beaches of Florida’s Key West, where only a few months ago ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell was­ ­spotted on holiday.

The resort is perfect for water-sports, nightlife and beaches – and you may meet A-List celebs.

You can also explore its fascinating history. Visit Ernest’s Hemingway Home and Museum where America’s most respected author lived and wrote for 10 years.

You don’t have to pay five-star rates to go. A stay at the ­ beautiful and historic Key West Bed and Breakfast costs only £65 a night.

The house is a short walk from the beaches, shops, ­restaurants and bars. ­Visit www.key­m

And dining out needn’t set you back either. The Flaming Buoy Filet Co, with its warm, friendly ­atmosphere, is a great place to go for some delicious sea food – at a bargain price. Visit


October 1, 2010

Green World Gallery

The Flaming Buoy Filet Co.


Steve Koslowski (Koz)

This is the restaurant for the sophisticated foodie. Small, quiet, and romantic, Flaming Buoy Filet Co. is a wonderful alternative to the usual beach fare.  Try the lobster penen and cheese or the cobia with the tropical curry/pineapple/banana preparation. Great service, incredible tasting food (with generous portions), and a creative wine list make this out of the way restaurant a top choice.


January 30, 2010

Florida Keys Girl

I will start  by saying that I really like this place. The Flaming Buoy Filet Co. is located at 1100 Packer Street, at the corner of Virginia. This is the former digs of Ambrosia, and some other places in between. Although only open since mid-November 2009, The Flaming Buoy (next time I go I will try to find out how they got their name) definitely has a good thing going.

The menu, though short, is thoughtful and well done. Their entrees are unique, and they will do just about any protein with any preparation, including tofu. The wine list, although not necessarily what I would choose  (but none really are) is well thought out. Almost all wines are available by the glass or bottle and prices range from $28-49 per bottle, with one or two choices at about $100. They also allow corkage for $15.

The tropical curry grouper served over brown rice was terrific. The sauce is a little spicy and has flavors of banana and pineapple. I also had the grouper special which was pan seared and topped with a fresh banana salsa. Maybe they have a banana tree out back, hence the use of so many of the fruit. Whatever it is, works. The banana salsa (I admit, I was a little hesitant) was outstanding. Delicious. Full of flavor. The dish was also served with corn on the cob and mashed potatoes, both very good.

I highly recommend a visit to The Flaming Buoy. It is a warm neighborhood restaurant. Make a reservation, as the place is small. I would also like to thank the people who rudely made a reservation and then did not keep it, thus allowing us to have a table that evening.


July 25, 2020

Florida Keys Vacation & Travel Information

Top 10 Restaurants in the Florida Keys

1. The Flaming Buoy Filet Co.
1100 Packer Street, Key West, FL 33040

The Flaming Buoy Filet Co. by far surpasses any place on the island for great food, service, and atmosphere. The fish is nothing less than fresh and the wine selection vast. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful. .

2. Finnigan’s Wake-Irish Pub
320 Grinnell St, Key West 33040
At James St
Phone: 305-293-0222
Fax: 305-293-8523

Casual dress, casual atmosphere and good pub food. They are open seven days a week for lunch and dinner 12am-2am, the kitchen is open 11am-10pm and happy hour is every day 4pm-7pmVery busy on the weekends and Friday evening. They have great sandwiches and burgers for under $10. The entrees go for $10 to $30 . Try one of the traditional Irish meals such as the Bangers & Mash fried Irish sausage and baked beans for $10.95. They also have a great kids menu where everything is $6.95

3. Grand Cafe Key West
314 Duval St, Key West 33040
At Rose Ln

Grand Café is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week Lunch 11am-5pm dinner.5pm-1:30am. The style is elegant and dress up for a night on the town. And do make reservations. They can be busy any night of the week especially during the tourist season. You can get a great lunch from $10 to $15 and dinner from $16 to $34. Try one of the local specialities such as Blackened Mahi Mahi Yellow Rice And Havana Black Beans, Tropical Fruit Salsa $21.95. Prices are for the entrees only.

4. The Hurricane Bar & Grille
4650 Overseas Hwy, Marathon 33050
Btwn 46th St & 47th St Gulf

The Hurricane is open for lunch and dinner every day 11am-12am and is a very family friendly and casual place. Sandwiches go for $7.50 to $9.00. Entrees go from $11 to $19 and the children’s menu has Mini Burgers for $5.49, Fish Finger for $ 6.49, Chicken Fingers for $6.49 and Grilled Cheese for $4.49. Give the ribs a try.

5. Sunset Pier
Duval St, Key West 33040
At Wall St

Sunset Pier is open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The dress is dressy/casual and go for one of the Carribean dishes, have something a little bit different for a change. Reservations are suggested, especially for dinner. Breakfast is a great bargain, with Arepas Rancheros Two Fried Eggs, Chorizo Sausage and Sauce Creole, Jalapeno Sour Cream and Cheddar Cheese on Roasted Corn Cakes at $12.00 the highest priced. Sandwiches and burgers range from $7.00 to $14.00 – the lobster salad wrap. Dinner entrees go from $19 to $40. There is a great kids menu also.

6. The Whistle Stop
82685 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada 33036
Btwn De Leon Ave & N Ocean Ln

The Whistle Stop is a great sports bar, a place to come to relax and kick back. Pure casual and no reservations, just drop in. The Bar is open 7 days 10am-3am and the kitchen 11:30am-2am. The white pizza at $14.95 is the most expensive item. The appetizers like the George Mira’s Famous Conch Fritters for $ 6.50 are their signature and the burgers are to die for.

7. Snook’s Bayside Restaurant
99470 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo 33037
Btwn N Ocean Bay & East Dr
305-453-3799 Fax: 305-453-3793

Snooks is casual/elegant and family friendly. Do make reservations. They have a huge menu and the kids not only have their own menu, but cocktails as well. Lunch Sandwiches And Entrees start at $8 for a club and the top number is the Grilled Surf & Turf Kabobs shrimp & filet tips stacked on skewers with tomato, onion and green peppers for $13.00 and for dinner, entrees will go from $19 to Snook’s Indecision ” Are Your Undecided ” broiled seafood combination of shrimp, scallops lobsters, tail and catch of the day $38.00.

8 Parrotdise Waterfront Bar & Grille
183 Barry Ave, Little Torch Key 33042
MM 28.5 Bayside
305-872-9989 Fax: 305-872-3917

Parrotdise is a great place for the family to just stop and eat on the road. You can take a break, relax in hammocks or watch them feed their pet sharks. They are open for lunch and dinner in the summer Wed-Mon: 11am-10pm and in the winter every day from 11am-10pm. For lunch, sandwiches and wraps go from $7.95 to $14.94 and the dinner entrees are exclusive, such as Parrots of the Caribbean two Chicken Basted with Fresh Mangos & Papayas and grilled. Prices can vary. Definitely a casual dress and atmosphere.

9 Morada Bay Beach Cafe
81600 Overseas Hwy, I
Islamorada 33036
At Palm Ave

The style and dress at the Morada Bay Beach Cafe is on the elegant side of casual. They are open Sun-Thu 11:30am-10pm and Fri-Sat: 11:30am-11pmDo make reservations, they can fill up fast. The kids have their own food and drink menus, ranging from $6 tp $9 for the food. Lunch can go from $12 to $16 and dinner entrees from $22 to $32, which happens to be one of the most interesting items on the menu – Caramelized Jumbo Sea Scallops Braised Leeks and Wild Mushrooms.

10 Nine One Five
915 Duval St, Key West 33040
Btwn Olivia St & Truman Ave

Nine One Five is one place where you really dress for dinner. And do make a reservation. It is a sleek and elegant restaurant with a good variety of dishes. They are open for dinner only – Tue-Sun: 6pm-11pm. An entree will run from $16 to $34. One of the best is ea Scallop Risotto Seared jumbo scallops on fresh chive risotto with black truffle butter for $ 24.00


June 2010

Locals Guide

New Eatery Is Creative Fun

Hot Dish


Heidi Garbo

New Eatery Is Creative Fun

For my inaugural review for the Locals Guide new Hot Dish feature, I wanted to discover a place that was either new, or had very little publicity and attempt to find out if that restaurant had any merit. As I live and work in the downtown area, I often pass the former home of Ambrosia Sushi restaurant.

This little building on the corner of Virginia and Packer has been home to a few establishments in the interim and is now the permanent home of The Flaming Buoy Filet Co.

Owners Scot Forste and Fred Isch have lived in Key West for more than 10 years, and only decided to take a plunge into the restaurant business after opting to leave their 9 to 5 jobs to wait tables at what used to be The Good Life. When time came for the doors to close at The Good Life they decided to open a restaurant of their own featuring home-cooked meals with a tropical, local flare as inspiration. They have done an excellent job providing a unique dining experience and it shows they take pride in fresh, healthy and local ingredients.

Case in point? The Tuna and Watermelon Ceviche and Lobster Mac and Cheese. The creamy macaroni was a perfect companion for the lobster chunks, while the sweet watermelon and pineapple was a wonderful counterpart to the citrus-infused tuna. I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to have for dinner, but luckily Scot was quick to offer his suggestions for both wine and entree. His favorite dish was the Tropical Curry with Bananas & Pineapple over Brown Rice. And, rightfully so, as it was absolutely delicious.

For dessert I tried two wildly unique dishes — Avocado Cheesecake and a Chocolate Quesadilla. The Avocado Cheesecake was indescribable. Suffice it to say that you will not be disappointed. The Chocolate Quesadilla was paired with a spicy chocolate sauce and the two were a perfect fit.

The Flaming Buoy Filet Co. has both indoor and outdoor seating area. The décor is a wonderful mix of chic, ’50sinspired, modern eccentricity with a nautical flare. Like most Key West restaurants, casual attire is appropriate. It is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. The Flaming Buoy Filet Co. is a perfect spot for a romanticor relaxed dinner without the kids. Price range is average for Key West with entrees averaging slightly more than $20 dollars a dish with generous portions, although there is no local discount. As the owners are always present on the dining room floor you can be sure that your service will be both attentive and friendly.

Flaming Buoy Filet is located at the corner
of Packer and Virginia streets in Key West



The Flaming Buoy Filet Co. celebrates its six month anniversary today!



Key West Weekly

Posh New Eatery On Packer & Virginia

By Josie Koler | Apr 18, 2010 | Weekly Columns | Island Eats |

Story & Photos by Josie Koler

Two familiar faces on our island have entered into the sea of entrepreneurs! Fred Isch is the bartender at Seven Fish. His partner, Scot Foreste is the former assistant to Melissa at the Mel Fisher Museum!

The two, formerly from Cincinnati’s Bearcat country, had a vision for a neighborhood restaurant featuring family recipes.

“I doubt we’ll ever be a hot spot for tourists,” Isch explains matter-of-factly.

But The Buoy definitely has the makings of becoming a hot spot for locals.

“My favorite nights,” Scot informs us, “are when the tables are full and everyone goes from table to table because they know everyone.”

As Tom Waits plays from the sound system and a dish of Lobster Mac & Cheese is in front of the Key West Weekly, we pry for more details about the location and the theme.

Fred, who exudes friendliness and sophistication only those who log extensive hours in high-end restaurants can seem to capture says Lobster Thermidor is from his mother’s recipe box.

“You take a Florida Lobster Tail,” Scot describes from behind the dimly lit bar.

Elephant ears fan out from a 2 ½ galloon water cooler jug. “Bake it. Pull the tail meat out, and with a little cream, and spiced portabella mushrooms, you do a little bread crumb top and bake ‘til it’s finished!”

Scot is an English major hailing from the Northern Kentucky University. He claims to have escaped from the region via “hot air balloon.” When he and Fred designed the menu, he wanted the items to read like a Key West story, complete with accompanying music.

“I have 17,000 songs in my iPod. I picked 1,500 to play in here; ranging from sexy French music, to hot south American…even Tina Turner,” Scot explains.

Interestingly, The Buoy may be the island’s first restaurant operating on a MAC system.
“We’re waiting for the iPad. The waitress will be able to come up to the tables and take an order with an iPhone or an iPad and send to our iMac operating system.”

A snazzy system somehow making the Fresh Catch with Banana Salsa even more flavorsome.

“I always have a nice Pinot Noir. Mount Difficulty is one of my favorites to pair with our dishes,” says Isch. 

As he sends out an Avocado Cheesecake from the kitchen to a nearby baby shower, claiming his mom and brother know how to do a cheesecake with any kind of fruit, Isch let’s us in on the finish that makes this new eatery claim its name “The Flaming Buoy Filet Co!”

“We’ll also do a dark Chocolate Quesadilla with a scoop of Tahitian vanilla ice cream, drizzled with a relatively spicy chili-pepper infused chocolate sauce.”
A saucy end to a swanky meal!

The Flaming Buoy Filet Co. is located at 1100 Packer Street and is open for lunch and dinner. To make a reservation call 295•7970, delivery is free!

Old Town and Mid Town residents can walk or bike to the new bistro at 1100 Packer Street to dine inside or outside on the wrap-a-round porch. Jimmy Weekley tells the new owners the building was also his Grandmother’s first grocery store!

Hungarian wine
Owner Fred Isch describes the wine lost as a compilation of “boutique wines.” Pictured is a Hungarian dessert wine served room temperature. Disznoko 6 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszu has flavors of honey and apricot with a green tea finish!

The signature starter is Lobster Mac & Cheese, penne pasta with aged Swiss and Parmesan cheeses, folded with Key West Lobster.

Partners in business and partners in life, Scot Forste (left) and Fred Isch have personal touches dotting the dining room to create a unique ambiance. They’re pictured with a print depicting the sperm whale in Moby Dick, Forste’s “all-time favorite novel!”

Tie pillow
Before moving to Key West Isch sold high-end art and children’s toys at a Cincinnati boutique, “The Fifth Elephant.” He had his old ties made into pillows and then covered The Buoy’s bar stools with the neckwear.

Ring it up pro
The Buoy is in the beginning stages of going paperless with Apple’s iPhones and iPads. The app is called Ring It Up Pro! “You just tap on the menu for what the diner wants,” the tech-savvy Isch explains.



Keys Sunday

In The Spotlight: The Flaming Buoy Filet Co.

The newly opened Flaming Buoy Filet Co. in Key West offers American cuisine with Bahamian flair and prepared with an emphasis on local produce and fish.

Co-owner Scot Forste, who pulls double duty as chef, described his first weeks in business: “I love it. It’s exhausting, but at the same time rewarding.”

The other co-owner, pastry chef Fred Isch, said the recipes used a sort of family affair. For instance, “My grandmother used to make the lobster thermidor that we use.”

This succulent blend of cheese, lobster meat and sherry is stuffed back into the lobster shell and baked in the oven. It’s offered as a daily special along with other appetizer and desserts.

On the dessert front, be sure to check out Isch’s avocado cheesecake from a recipe using Florida avocados that his mother and brother came up with.

“My mom was upset we had to pass on her boiled chicken for a lobster recipe,” Forste joked.

Other options include the tuna and watermelon ceviche for $12 or, for $22, the fresh catch with banana salsa, Forste’s own combination of fresh bananas, bell peppers, jalapeño and brown sugar cooked down for hours.

The Flaming Buoy Filet Co. is at 1100 Packer St. and open Tuesday through Sunday from 6 p.m. until about 10 p.m. Check out or call 295-7970.

Flaming Buoy Filet Co. co-owners Scot Forste (left) and Fred Isch (right) pose with server Tami Hill.