Best Of :: Food & Drink
The drive to Key West can be grueling, especially when you're hungry and stuck in weekend traffic. Resist the urge to succumb to a quick fish-sandwich-and-fritter fix and instead hit the brakes in Islamorada. The Green Turtle Inn, a delightful old-fashioned eatery where great food and just the right dose of show biz meet, will ease your weary traveling bones. The dark paneled walls covered with yellowing photos lend a cozy feel to this institution, which has sat oceanside since 1947. You'll relax the minute you walk in; song stylist Tina Martin is at the piano nightly, flipping through her massive songbooks, belting out breathy numbers, and greeting the masses with her trademark "turtle wave." The moderately priced fare is simply prepared yet delicious: steaks, chops, seasonal stone crabs, fresh catch of the day, surf and turf, lobster. The house specialty, turtle steak, is a savory treat that's always recommended by the waitstaff. (Don't feel guilty about sampling this delicacy: The Turtle assures the creatures no longer are harvested in local waters. You'll get the freshwater variety.) "Full-course" meals also are available and include soup (conch or turtle, from the restaurant's own cannery) or tomato juice, salad, rolls, and entrée with choice of potato and vegetable. Save room for key lime pie with five-inch-high meringue, "the original way it was made," according to a crusty waitress. If you have some time to spare before check-in, catch host/master magician Bastille's act on Friday and Saturday nights. The "world-famous illusionist" will dazzle you with his stellar mind-reading abilities. Before you hit the road, guzzle a cup of coffee and give Tina an appreciative turtle wave. Hop in your ride and you're halfway to paradise. Open every day except Monday.
Oh, we know the myth. The best hamburgers are made from ground chuck, because the meat has more fat in it. The fat then prevents the burger from shrinking into a McDonald's-esque disk while cooking. Well, baloney. At the downtown location of Morton's, the hamburger is a full eight ounces of lean ground sirloin. Hard to feel guilty eating that. And it's just about the juiciest thing we've encountered outside the Chris Paciello story. The single drawback? The burger is served only during the noontime meal. Still, order with a side of lyonnaise taters, and that's what we call a power lunch.
This converted no-tell motel on South Dixie is painted a really disgusting shade of green; a more reliable harbinger of the food within can be seen in the clusters of patrons on the benches outside the front door, eagerly awaiting their tables. Inside it's long and narrow, with a boxcarlike feel, but the friendly service and the pungent scent of Thai basil, fish sauce, and chili paste more than compensate for the cramped quarters. A Thai restaurant is only as good as its pad thai, and this one kills: a light hand with the ground pork, and it actually has plenty of shrimp! The rich curries are excellent, as are appetizers like tiger tear and nam sod. The chefs also show a deft touch with seafood; if you find a restaurant of any ethnic description that can cook up a tastier whole snapper, let us know. And if you like your Thai food with plenty of fire, you'll be pleased to know Siam Lotus Room actually takes you at your word when you ask for "four stars" of spiciness. Ouch! Hurts so good.
You just made it. Booth okay? Care for a beverage? Will that be the pasta fagioli or the garden salad? And your rolls: plain or dripping with garlic? For dinner there's lasagna, stuffed shells, eggplant rollatini, chicken parmigiana, veal cacciatore, linguine in clam sauce, ziti with sausage, or something else ... I forgot; I'll be right back. What do you mean you're full? No dessert? Either way it's $7.95. Come on, take the cannoli! (Oh well, just come back: The early bird special is offered seven days a week, 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.)
Tart enough. Sweet enough. Mellow yellow filling, almost ecru. Velvety texture. Moist, crumbly graham cracker crust. Outside edge daintily adorned with a ring of whipped cream. Center garnished with more cream and a twisted lime slice. Ideal to serve to your friends, but at close to ten bucks, certainly not meant to throw at your enemies.
Some folks visit this corner storefront eatery for its baked pastas. Other patrons go for its wonderfully prepared veal scaloppine dishes and fillets of fish sprinkled with capers. And most appreciate the lengths the staff goes to ensure that even those waiting for a table outside have a glass of refreshment. We, however, frequent the cafe for its absolutely fresh caesar salad, which is redolent with garlic, Parmesan, and the all-important anchovies. Oh, we know picky diners don't like to look an anchovy fillet in the eye, so to speak. But you don't have to. The dressing here incorporates chopped anchovies, not whole ones, so you get the proper flavor without being, well, grossed out. Best of all, the kitchen will split an order for you, and the results usually are two huge salads for the price of one.