|Sunset Celebration – Photo Credit: mallorysquare.com|
Seeing as we had guests this week, we popped down to Sloppy Joe’s on Key West for a little nip before Sunset celebration. For those of you unfamiliar with Key West rituals, each night the sunset is celebrated with live street performers, food and drink vendors, and of course the often gorgeous sunset itself. This all takes place in Mallory Square which is a beautiful square right on the water and also the location of where many cruise ships dock. Due to their size, the ships are required to leave before sunset or they’ll end up blocking the view for folks in the square. The sun sets right over Sunset Key – perhaps the most expensive real estate in the Keys – which oddly enough used to be called Garbage Island because it was a former dump. Waste disposal in the keys, as you might imagine, is complicated. Recycling is fairly big here and waste is now shipped up to the mainland instead of dumped onto one key or another. In any case, sunset can be a wonderful experience. Some advice for you newcomers – don’t go to the square until just before sunset (30-10 min before) because a) it is hot as satan’s pants until the sun actually dips in the sky and b) the performers drag out their shows as long as possible to get to the good stunts in order to draw big crowds and make more money, so the best part usually takes place near sunset.
To occupy yourself in the meantime you might consider grabbing a bite at one of the many restaurants off the square or off Duval Street (the main drag). As with any tourist center of town, you have your traps. For instance, right of the square, Red Fish Blue Fish looks appealing enough, but their food is underwhelming at best. There is also a Cuban restaurant off the square called El Meson de Pepe. While locals wouldn’t call this the best Cuban food in key west (more to come on that), I have always had a satisfactory experience here. It is roomy, comfortable, and the food does offer a good selection of Cuban favorites. Perhaps the coolest part, and fun for kids as well, is the memorabilia around the restaurant. They’ve set up a kind of “story” of Cuban history and culture for you to walk through which is very interesting. My go-to dish here is an appetizer of fried cheese. They also make excellent mojitos.
My favorite place to grab a bite with guests before sunset is Sloppy Joe’s. First because it covers two “must do” things in one night – SJ and Sunset – but also because I like the atmosphere, the entertainment, and the food. The drinks are okay, but somewhat pricey for what they are, so prepare yourself. However, the menu offers more than standard pub fare which is nice in this part of town. The other day Mr. Foodie ordered the pork tacos and they were wonderful. They are prepared in the Cuban fashion with onion and garlic – and the black bean sauce was incredible. It was also the perfect amount and went well with our Papa Dobles (a sweeter/tarter version of what Hemingway used to drink). Recently, Sloppy Joe’s added a Tap Room behind its main restaurant space. I haven’t tried it out yet, but it looks enticing (if they can keep the beer cold – an always tricky thing to do down here).