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by Doug Heyman - Key West, Florida
Those of you who are regular readers to Chef James’ web site and especially the Key West Information section have seen my name on some local restaurant reviews and, lately, some poetry (a valiant attempt at prose at any rate). James has been kind enough to let me attempt new genres as my background is in television, politics and public affairs prior to moving to Key West. Well, here goes another “lab” experiment called “The Doggie Bag” (pardon the pun).
In this bi-monthly piece I will delve into aspects of dining and food that may often slip between the cracks, but when brought into the light may effect a change in the way we all approach eating out. I don’t want this to be a rant, though I am known to be a bit bombastic at times, but an opportunity to share observations of Key West food related experiences that I hope you can connect with wherever you live. It will be fun, informative and perhaps chastising on occasion, but I encourage you to feel free to comment or critique my statements at any time. James will see to it that I get your views and I will attempt to respond when it is deemed necessary. So, let’s take a journey and see where it leads.
**I was at the Outback Steakhouse last night about 45 minutes prior to closing and, as I often do, found my glance darting from table to table. My special dining companion and I were aware of the hour and made it known to our server that we knew what we wanted and would order right away. It was late and I didn’t want the young lady to think we would dawdle and keep her far past 10 pm. I work in the service industry here in Key West and I’m sensitive to this. My gripe here is with a gentleman that arrived shortly after us when another server was sweeping the floor in preparation for closing and as the host was seating him that host made an effort to walk around the sweeper and the guest walked right through the sweepings causing the sweeper to quickly step back. Why do so many of us behave with such disrespect for people doing what is perceived by some to be a menial job? In many cases these servers are working harder then us for less wages and longer hours. It’s as dignified a job as a computer programmer, writer or Lawyer yet so many treat the people doing these kinds of jobs as second class.
It’s time to pass on some kind words and respectful behavior to those who make sure we get what we want when we want it. They’re not perfect either and I know their actions can make or break a dining experience. If you have a negative encounter with a restaurant employee then talk to the Manager on Duty but be a part of the positive by initiating a pleasant demeanor when you arrive and see if that doesn’t make you and your hosts feel better.
**In keeping with the previous comments about late evening dining I have always been curious as to why so many restaurants in Key West stop serving after 10 or 11 at night. The bars are open until 4:30 am for crying out loud and a little protein after a “Duval Crawl” might prevent road accidents from people drinking and driving. There are only a handful of eateries open after 10 pm on the island other then some convenience stores and having been a hotel Assistant Manager involved in guest services we are trained to ensure people eat something if they’ve imbibed and help them to their room. What if they have to drive to their lodgings? We do have PT’s late night on Caroline St and some fast food places that manage to provide a late night meal, but with so many good restaurants on the 4x2 mile island we could do a whole lot better.
**I was pleasantly surprised to see a list of pet friendly dining establishments this week that one of my guests showed to me. I was, unfortunately, unable to make a copy of it to share with you all, but I’m sure if you called the Key West Chamber of Commerce at 305-294-2587 they could assist you with such a list. Key West loves its Dogs, Cats, Iguanas and other family critters and has always found ways to make it easier to share movies, lodging, dining and water sports with these loveables. I was extremely surprised to find out that you are unable to take your pets into shelters during hurricanes. I’d like to see the State of Florida change that rule! I was allergic to pets when I was very young and when I turned 15 it went away and with so many creatures running around in Key West I’m having a second childhood. I work at 2 B&B’s right on Duval St. and both are pet friendly plus each property has cats and though I honestly and truly love my job it is that much better for having my furry friends on the front desk sitting on my paperwork. All my return guests send me e-mails asking about Music and Tigger that I’ve considered a newsletter. They make the Key West experience only that much better and if you haven’t been here before you’ll see what I mean when you arrive. Heck, at Schooner Warf on the old seaport the dogs practically belly up to the bar and order their own Coronas!
**One of my absolute favorite sandwich places in Key West is also one of the most community-involved businesses on the island and that is Paradise Café on Eaton and Grinnell Sts. near the Old Historic Seaport. On May 12th at 8:00 am, in coordination with the Key West Southernmost Runners, Inc., they will be holding their 5th annual 5 K run/walk with all proceeds going to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Paradise Café will be the start and finish (please wait till you’re done to get your monster sandwich and café con leche so you don’t cramp up!). It’s a worthy cause and you even get a T-Shirt if you’re one of the first 200 entrants, not to mention the door prizes, finisher’s party and refreshments following. Just call the gang at 305-296-5001 or 305-745-1098 for information and registration or pick up an entry form at the restaurant. It’s $20 to register and you want to check in by 7:00 am on race day. People may not realize that Key West restaurants and food related businesses are a fundamental part of the philanthropic activities at the Southernmost City in the continental United States and whether you’re a local or a visitor we encourage your participation and involvement in these worthwhile efforts.
**Okay, I finally went to a Knight’s of Columbus fish fry at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic Church in observance of Lent (no meat on Fridays!!). I’ve wanted to do this all my life but I wasn’t a Catholic and didn’t feel like I’d fit in, but when I tell you I had a terrific meal and one of the friendliest greetings I’ve ever had is an understatement. Keep your religious and political views outside the front door and for the next several Friday nights before Easter just head over to St. Mary’s on the corner of Truman Ave. and Windsor Ln. and contribute $5 to the efforts of the church in the community. I understand it’s not haute cuisine and you’ll be sitting in a school cafeteria, but it’s fun being a part of a truly local experience. Say hi to Father Paco or Father Fallon both of whom have a wealth of stories to tell and do so with a great sense of humor. If you need more information call the church office at 305-294-1018. I enjoyed the experience so much that I went to the spaghetti dinner there the very next night to support the youth group and make more new friends. They even had a small trio playing Italian favorites. Blew me away!
Okay, that’s a sample of what you will see every two weeks in this article. I have lots to say so hold on to your hats because I’m just warming up. I see all kinds of activities and personalities popping up on the island and I will do all I can to bring you the color commentary from my perspective. You can also view our local newspaper (The Key West Citizen) on line at www.keysnews.com to get updates on community activities you might want to be involved in when you visit.
Live life to your potential and remember if you don’t have patience you’ll become one… a patient that is!
See you at dinner in Key West,
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