The laid back Florida Keys are as far south as you can go in the continental US but feel as far away as the Caribbean islands. Put up your feet, relax, enjoy the daily entertainment and dive into local seafood & some of the best smoked fish dip you’ve ever tasted. Honest Cooking selected our blog for this sponsored post on behalf of The Florida Keys. Some of the material was provided by Honest Cooking while other photos are from my own trips to the Florida Keys.
I love the Florida Keys! As I am lucky enough to live in South Florida, the Keys are somewhere close by where we can get away from it all. Long weekends and a week long vacation in this paradise is always on our calendar. One of our favorite places to go is Islamorada.
Islamorada, meaning purple island, either named after the purple-shelled snail that is common there or the masses of bougainvillea and orchids that dot the islands, is situated between the saltwater wilderness of Everglades National Park and the deep blue waters of the Florida Strait. It is not one island but a village of islands, consisting of Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Lower Matecumbe Key as well as the offshore islands of Indian Key and Lignumvitae Key. Kind of spread out isn’t it?!
It is also blessed with beautiful tropical weather all year long as well as water temperatures that average 79 degrees. It is the ideal vacation spot for those that love water sports, and being the fishing capital of the world, a great place for hardcore fisherman, or you just might want to lay around and just soak up the sun. The atmosphere is casual and laid back and will have you feeling miles away from the daily grind in no time.
One of the stops we always make during our visit is Lorelei’s Restaurant and Cabana Bar. Plan to be there at sunset as you have the perfect view, live music, usually a magician or balloon man for the kids, and some of the best appetizers and drinks in town.
For a more peaceful setting, try Morada Bay Beach Cafe where the food is delicious and you have a ringside seat on the beach to watch the sun go down. Want something the kids will love? Stop by the Hungry Tarpon and let them feed the gigantic fish while you relax by the water.
Then there is always the wonderful Chef Michael Ledwith’s Restaurant, aptly named Chef Michael’s. An experienced chef, born and raised in New York, who started his culinary training in some of the best restaurants of the Big Apple. He then moved on to the Caribbean where he learned to respect and beautifully cook seafood. Upon returning to the States, he created a name for himself in Central Florida, but longed for island life full of fresh fish. Today he has settled in Islamorada and is here to give us a lowdown on what to see, eat and do in this beautiful island.
“It’s all about the water here!”, exclaims Michael as he talks about his perfect day in Islamorada. On one side, visitors can experience the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Bay and The Everglades. And to the left take in the Atlantic and the beautiful reef. Spend a day paddle boarding or learning how to spearfish, then find a comfy seat at one of many waterfront spots and enjoy a sunset. According to Michael, the best sunset spots have live music nightly and great drinks while you take it all in. Islamorada will remind you of an approachable small town, but with so much to do and see. “It’s so small that we don’t even have a stop light.”
Islamorada’s cuisine is known by its fresh-from-the-dock seafood mixed with ethnic flavors, fun tiki bars, dockside fish houses, and gourmet beachfront cafes. At Chef Michael’s, they are excited to always feature a fresh catch that changes daily.
While it may be the fishing capital, Michael admits that serving locally caught seafood can be difficult on a large scale. But for tourists looking for the best local catches and chefs with a passion for fine seafood, relationships are key. “Our supply cannot come close to the demand, so creating relationships with local fish houses, captains and others helps us to provide local, fresh seafood,” says Chef Michael. On a visit to Islamorada, head to restaurants where the locals go and where the chefs have relationships with the charter boat captains.
If it’s your first time to the islands, Chef Michael recommends heading out on a local charter boat for the day and catching your own dinner. It doesn’t get more fresh than that! Many restaurants offer “Hook and Cook” and will gladly prepare the fish brought in to your liking.
Besides casually elegant dining at Chef Michael’s, our fish-loving guide recommends a meal at OO-Tray for a more modern twist on Islamorada cuisine. Wahoo fish wontons, lobster tempura, and mussels in a coconut curry sauce are just some of the sea caught items that dot the menu. Besides the daily catch, visitors can also have a bite of the “Land” featuring bone marrow, Filipino pork belly, or Cornish game hen with pineapple chimichurri.
When in Islamorada, be sure to try something that is hard to find anywhere else, like their locally spear caught hogfish. Or opt for one of our favorites – Florida Keys Smoked Fish Dip – you can’t find it like this anywhere else! Yum!
FLORIDA KEYS SMOKED FISH DIP
- 2 cups smoked whitefish, about 1 lb.
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- 4 drops hot pepper sauce or to taste
- 2 drops Worcestershire sauce or to taste
- 1-3 drops liquid smoke (only if needed as some smoked fish is stronger than others)
- 2 teaspoons minced sweet onion
- 2 teaspoons red bell pepper, minced
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- Cracked black pepper to taste
- Flake fish, being careful to pick out all the bones, and place in food processor with all remaining ingredients. Process til smooth.
- If you like your spread with a little more chunkiness just retain part of the fish aside and stir in afterwards.
- Refrigerate at least 1 hour for flavors to blend.
- Serve with sides of sliced lemon, jalapeno slices, celery sticks, carrot sticks and crackers.
Want to feel like you’re in the Florida Keys all year long? These recipes will have you dreaming of sunny skies, warm ocean breezes and swaying palm trees.