Right on Key

Our recent getaway to Key West opened up an unexpected world of some of the freshest, lightest seafood I've had in a while. Thawing out from yet another round of Chicago snow and chill, we found ourselves literally planning a day trip to the Eaton Street Seafood Market. The place was known as the best spot for fresher-than-fresh seafood, pulled in from the emerald waters that day. It was here that we indulged in my new favorite way to while away a late day sun- sitting on the dock of the marina, picking at Floridian favorite jumbo stone crab claws, snacking on sesame-dotted seaweed salad with a hint of briney sea salt and picking at fresh Key West Pink shrimp steamed on the spot just for us.

Pinks are all over the island, and for good reason. These little guys are slightly meatier and a little sweeter in taste than the shrimp most of us know. Their uncooked bodies are characterized by a little dark spot on either side, in the middle of their abdomen area. They are prolific in the Gulf of Mexico and those specific to the Keys are really true pink in color. The Dry Tortugas is a preserve known for harboring plenty of these guys...

And if you ever want to learn a bit more about the REAL restaurant gems while visiting a location that has a reputation for tourists that compromise quality for convenience, or even worse, kitsch, you have to do your digging. We spent quite some time discussing Snapper and Grouper and general local chatter with the fish guy at Eaton Street. In the end, you want to find out who he supplies. For true locavore flavor, look for the restaurants that resist importing their ingredients as much as possible. It was no shock to me that the first word out of his mouth was Seven Fish, the much lauded nook off the well-trodden Duval Street path based out of a quite fifteen table refurbished home. I has thankful, of course, because we had booked it three weeks prior and received the last- yes last- table in the place.

The space was at once sleek and relaxed, filled with vacationers in the know and locals that could easily have passed for Hamptonites. We found grouper a likable first course, rolled warm with avocado in a simple maki roll that belies the global menu. It's not odd to see maki next to fish tacos on the appetizer list- so long as it's fresh fish, the patrons come to eat it any which way. The pinks made another appearance in one of the best scampis we've had...broiled with panko breadcrumbs, basil and plenty of chunks of garlic, the shrimp was succulent and heady in the traditional scampi fashion, mingling with chopped asparagus spears atop a nest of perfectly oiled angel hair pasta. Sure, we've had scampi a million times in our lives, and some may argue it seems an inopportune selection on an island like Key West. I'd argue, after conversing with the fish guy the day before about the thriving fishing industry where a whole swordfish is hauled in one moment, only to be snatched up within hours for a shopper's daily dinner party is a magical journey. When the journey from ocean to table is just as fast and pure, the feeling of salty waves enveloping your palate transforms your vacation taste memories.

More to come from our fantastic trip.....!

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