Confession: I write for a food blog, but I can't stand seafood. Like at all. I just about refuse to eat anything that swims: fish, shrimp, lobster, and scallops are all completely off my menu. So when my girlfriend (who thankfully has the same aversion to eating things that swim) and I decided to take a weekend trip to Key West, we were a little worried about being able to eat well on an island filled with seafood restaurants. After reading John's gastro-tour of Key West, we decided to try to find the best of Key West's landlocked food and share it with the three other people in Florida who also can't stand eating ocean-dwelling creatures. Here part one.
Old Town Mexican Café (609 Duval Street, Key West): This charming little restaurant located on Duval Street is a half indoor, half outdoor restaurant. Everyone dining here tonight was sitting outside, as the temperature hovered in the mid 70s. We decided to start out with a pitcher of Key Lime Margaritas, some chips and salsa, and a bowl of queso. The chips and salsa came out immediately. We were positively shocked at the quality of the salsa: fresh tomatoes, onions, lots of cilantro, and a healthy heat makes this some of the best salsa either of us had tried at a restaurant in quite some time. As we polish off the rest of the salsa, our waiter drops off our bowl of queso. Unfortunately, it doesn't live up to the salsa. In fact, it seems like they've just melted some cheddar cheese in a bowl, sprinkled a little cilantro on top, and threw it on our table. Every time we dipped a tortilla chip in, it was like cutting into a chunk of warm Velveeta, then wrestling with the stringy hangers-on until the chip breaks. After a few attempts, we both give up and peer back at the menu to order our entrees.
Hollie (the aforementioned girlfriend if you didn't figure that out)
decided to keep it simple and ordered a steak fajita quesadilla while I
order a chicken tostada. A couple margaritas later, we're presented
with two plates with vastly different presentations. The quesadilla is
flat and unremarkable. Only a few small grill marks and a couple stray
peppers and onions hint at the fact this was cooked to order instead of
whipped up in a microwave. The chicken tostada on the other hand looks
like it came off the cover of a magazine.
Piled seven inches high, this is the most involved chicken tostada I've
ever seen. Leaves of fresh spinach, sauteed squash and zucchini, pinto
beans, green onions, squash, and pulled chicken are piled on the
tortilla shell and garnished with sour cream and guacamole. It's almost
to pretty to cut into, but after snapping a few pictures my hunger
takes control and I dive in.
I'm not sure if it was my dedication or some sort of magic, but I was
somehow able to cut into this tostada without creating an enormous
mess. Each bite of the tostada provided a different mingling of flavors
with only two unifying factors: the tortilla shell and shredded
chicken. The sautéed squash and zucchini are juicy, buttery, and cut
almost a half inch thick. The fresh spinach and pinto beans provide a
nice balance against the salty chicken. After eating about half of my
meal, I offer the rest to Hollie as she's clearly not enjoying her meal
as much as I am.
We switch plates and I quickly realize why. The steak fajita quesadilla
is poorly constructed with the steak, onions, and peppers piled thick
in some pieces and completely absent from others. The steak is tough,
stringy, salty, and overcooked. The onions and peppers are sautéed and
seasoned perfectly, but that hardly makes up for the steak-ly fumble.
After our meals, we polish off the pitcher and decide to walk off a few of the calories on Duval Street.