In a journey that touches the palate - and pretty much every pore of the body - eating your way through the Florida Keys offers the opportunity for great food, quirky adventure, cultural understanding, and sensory immersion.Food, some claim, is life's blood. I prefer to see it as a happy excuse to inhale life - a way to stroll off the beaten path looking for that perfect homemade Key lime pie. Enjoyed in the proper establishment, food also affords the opportunity to better understand a place.
Seated at the bar at the Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar in Islamorada, I fork up conch fritters seasoned with island spices, gently fried, and served with Bahamian conch sauce. Peppery smoke of conch gracing my tongue, I watch the sunset while frigate birds wheel against a backdrop of cotton-candy clouds showcasing every subtle exhortation of pink.
My fellow barflies stoically watch as, at an adjacent ramp, a boater attempts to run his boat up on a trailer.
Lorelei is a local watering hole; the weathered peanut gallery knows boats. The boater is well aware of the experienced eyes upon him. Applying a bit too much throttle, he nearly drives through the back window of his pickup truck.
Along the bar, eyebrows rise.
"Tell him he's not in the truck yet," says a grizzled codger, turning back to his beer.
I'm no culinary-school graduate, but I like food as much as the next haute gourmand, and the Keys have their eclectic share of yummy signature dishes. The aforementioned peppery tang of conch fritters; a delicious fish dip; the sweet ending of Key lime pie (the real deal is not lime green, it's yellow); the delectable heft of a Cuban sandwich (Cuban bread, roast pork, salami, ham, swiss cheese, pickles, lovingly grilled and pressed), made all the better by cats circulating hopefully around the tables. (Hint: In the Keys, culinary magic doesn't usually go hand in hand with upscale decor.)