By Greg Nicoll and John Armstrong

A couple of Galley Guys on yet another culinary adventure…

Galley Guys Greg and JohnGalley Guys Greg Nicoll and John Armstrong enjoying the Classic Margarita at Jimmy Buffet’s first Margaritaville Bar

The Galley Guys had a plan - get out of Toronto, jump on a boat, sail to Cuba, then wine and dine on some great Cuban cuisine. However, just before boarding the plane, we were informed of some technical problems with our boat charter. The Cuban part of our trip was just not going to happen, bummer. OK, let’s turn lemons into lemonade!

The closest we could get to Cuba was some 90-plus miles north in Key West, Florida, a most unusual and entertaining town. On the road from Miami down to Key West we started to have some serious reservations about the quality of time and facilities we would enjoy when we reached our destination. All along Highway 1 were piles and piles of rubbish, decimated trailers, fractures of boats, trailer homes, beat up appliances, personal items, and vegetation from fallen trees and bushes. The devastation from Hurricane Irma could be seen everywhere, especially around Key Largo, Marathon, and Isamorada. But on our arrival in Key West, we were surprised to see very little destruction and debris from the brutal hurricane, which had inflicted its wrath on much of the Caribbean and Florida Keys.

THe Killer Hogfish SandwichGalley Guys Greg Nicoll and John Armstrong getting ready to dine on “The Killer” Hogfish Sandwich

The base for our stay in the Florida Keys was a very new and modern Smart Development called Stock Island Marina Village, and we stayed aboard a Fountaine Pagot Saba 50. Stock Island is adjacent to Key West and was formally the last undeveloped deep port Marina on the East Coast of the United States. These 42 acres of recycled property were built to promote social and economic progress on this tiny island adjacent to Key West.

When speaking to the locals, we learned about a conscious effort to improve both the terrestrial and aquatic ecological status of the area. The Marina is an attractive jump-off base for people travelling to Cuba and beyond. In our travels, we have encountered some marinas that need updating, but this recently built and well-maintained facility includes the Perry Hotel - with its restaurants, pool and dockside bar, and all the amenities that would make for an enjoyable stay - plus hourly shuttles into downtown Key West.

Conch RepublicKey West, also referred to as the “Conch Republic,” has a laid-back way of keeping track of the weather

Inquisitiveness is one of the most important attributes one can have when travelling to new locations. Never be afraid to ask a question or seek directions. We always find good-natured people who are eager to answer most questions. A young lady named Natalie (I hope this helps her career) at the Enterprise car rental in Miami, when asked where to go in Key West, immediately took out a pad of paper and wrote down “Hogfish,” as a must-go place for dinner.

The local expression goes like this: If you don’t know it exists, you probably won’t find it. You will only find this hidden gem with a tip from a local. It may take a little time and a GPS to find the Hogfish Bar and Grill, as it is tucked back in Safe Harbour away from the pretensions and the hype of the more touristy areas. Highly recommended are the freshest Key West Pink Shrimp you can buy, as the shrimp boats dock just adjacent to the restaurant. The relaxed atmosphere takes you back in time to a working harbour before all the nightlife, cruise ships, and carnivals took over Key West. The panoramic views and outdoor dining are offered to the patrons who are mostly true locals except for a few adventurous outsiders.

Now for the specialty of the house: The Hogfish Sandwich.

SunsetHogfish (lachnolaimus maximus) is a species of wrasse native to the Western Atlantic Ocean and including the Gulf of Mexico. This species can be found around reefs - and there are plenty of reefs just off Key West. The Hogfish is characterized by a large, laterally compressed body and an elongated, pig-like snout, which is used to search for crustaceans buried in the sediment and is how this fish acquired its name. The Hogfish is very difficult to catch with a hook, so almost all the catching is done by spearing or netting. To maintain healthy stocks, the Hogfish are protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. As the Hogfish are seasonal in nature and caught on demand, they're not always readily available at the restaurant. At the Hogfish Restaurant there are no substitutes - fresh Hogfish or nothing.

Make sure when ordering to choose “The Killer,” a Hogfish sandwich with a six- to seven-ounce filet of tender moist white fish, either grilled or blackened, with melted Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a Cuban bun with jalapeno fries.

The crowds meet every night at Mallory Square to hear the music, enjoy the buskers and cheer the sunsets

It seems strange that after a trip to the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys we are still thinking about a Hogfish sandwich, but maybe that's just part of being a Galley Guy. We can also talk about the colourful nature and history of Key West, the amazing sunsets we enjoyed from Mallory Square, tipping back margaritas at Jimmy Buffett's first Margaritaville bar, the Hemingway House, and the most interesting collection of individuals who come out at night on Duvall Street.

However, we’re still dreaming about sailing to Cuba now that we are back home in Hogtown.

 

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