If you live anywhere in the country that's not the South, you're freezing your butt off right now. This winter has been particularly long, and brutally arctic. We're not sure about the rest of you, but here at HuffPost Taste HQ we've been wondering why we voluntarily moved into this insanely bitter climate (some of us are transplants from South Florida, others from New Mexico).
It's right about now -- when we're a little more than halfway through the roughest month of the season -- that we begin to think it's time to take a vacation to somewhere sunnier, somewhere beachier. You know, somewhere where the drinks are strong and tropical, and the food is stellar (this is the most important criteria, of course). Naturally, we're thinking Key West.
Key West is a part of Florida, which we all know is a state with an frightening amount of outlandish criminal activity. But that's no reason to dismiss it; this sunny and safe island haven will welcome you with crispy conch fritters that rival the ones in the Bahamas, a wonderfully strong cocktail named after our favorite lush of a writer -- Hemingway -- and so much key lime pie you won't even know what to do with yourself.
If you were thinking that you'd rather save your money and hunker down until the first signs of spring shine through those winter clouds, you might want to reconsider and take a trip to the Florida Keys. If for nothing than for the famous Hogfish sandwich (and the maybe the sunshine, too). If that's not an option -- because most of us can't just jump on a plane for an impromptu vacation -- let us take you to sunny, warm Key West with a culinary tour of the best food and drink this island has to offer.
In any other part of the country, we would not advise drinking rum runners. But when in Key West, it's a must. A rum runner is a Isla Morada cocktail creation. It's a dubious blend of dark and light rum (though all recipes vary) on top of lots of fruit flavors. And if you want to really do it right, you order it with a floater shot of Bacardi 151 on top. One cocktail, and you're good for the night. (It's great.)
Flickr: Bob B. Brown
Conch fritters are hands-down the greatest thing to come out of a deep fryer. While we will always think of the Bahamas as the masters of these fritters, the ones that come out of Key West will show you that there's really no reason to leave the country.
Key Lime Pie
Clearly, there's no better place to get Key lime pie than in the Florida Keys. And we happen to think that Key West is the key that does it best. With more than a handful of famous places to try it from, like Kermit's
Flickr: Elin B
Stone crabs are one of the few things that make Florida look good -- besides all the beaches. And Key West makes up 40 percent of Florida's overall stone crab harvest. Just think about that for a minute.
Flickr: Key West Wedding Photography
Hogfish is a delicate fish with a scallop-like flavor. It works beautifully in this local classic sandwich topped with swiss cheese, onions and mushrooms served on Cuban bread made at Hogfish Bar and Grill
Ernest Hemingway spent almost 10 years in Key West. You can visit his home (and his six-toed cats) which is now a museum if you'd like, but we recommend honoring this great writer with his namesake daiquiri. It is the best kind of daiquiri you can get -- it's got none of that overly sweet and fruity flavor we've come to expect from daiquiris.
Surf And Surf
Alright, this isn't really a thing. But there's so much fresh seafood in Key West that if you can't decide between the snapper or the lobster, you can just get both. It's grand.
Cuban coffee is clearly not an original part of the Key West culinary scene, but it is a staple now. And a damn fine one too. Considering the fact that Key West is only 90 miles to Cuba, you know you can trust that Key West can do it right.
All The Shrimp
Flickr: Elin B
Key West is known for their shrimp. It's caught locally and served up fresh. Pink shrimp is the most popular, and considered a delicacy, for its slightly sweet flavor. But that's just one of the many kinds you can enjoy. Bottom line, if you're in Key West, you have to eat shrimp.
Meringue Key Lime Pie
Flickr: Lee Edwin Coursey
Yes, we know. We already mentioned key lime pie. But this is sky-high meringue key lime pie from Blue Heaven
deserves its own mention.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mentioned Blond Giraffe for Key lime pie, when in fact the business has been closed.
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