Not much happening travel-wise the last couple days so, rather than just leave a big old void, I figured I’d do what Mother Nature does when she sees a void: fill it with food.
Our trip back up the Keys from Key West was uneventful. We figured our timing should be just about right to stop in again at Alabama Jack’s on Key Largo. This time we’d be there well before the 7:00 PM closing time. After crossing the toll bridge, we pulled up to AJ’s where a whole bunch of cars and a few Harleys were already parked. A lot different than when we were there on Wednesday evening. Just as we arrived, so did a whole pack of mostly women bikers. We hurried to get out of the car and into the open-air restaurant/bar so we could get our order in before they all sat down and slowed the process. We both ordered the same thing: conch chowder, a side of conch fritters and a couple of Beck’s beers. It was really pleasant sitting out on the covered deck that serves as the dining room. There is no “inside” seating as the only inside area is the kitchen. We were sitting right along the railing so we could watch the fish swimming around waiting for handouts.
It said on the menu that the conch chowder was a red soup (like Manhattan-style clam chowder) as opposed to the cream-based chowders that we’re more used to. This isn’t normally the kind of chowder I like but, their chowder was supposed to be “award-winning” or “famous” or something so I figured I’d give it a try anyway. Unlikely that I’d order it again. It tasted fine… good, even, but the conch could have been clams or fish or chicken or almost anything and it wouldn’t have changed the taste since it just tasted like vegetable soup. Wish the Conch Shop in Key West hadn’t been out of chowder when we were there so I’d know if this was the normal way of making conch chowder or just Alabama Jack’s recipe.
The fritters looked much more like what I expected than the ones at the Conch Shop did. The Conch Shop ones, which were excellent, were the size of meatballs and were more conch than batter. The Alabama Jack’s fitters were larger, more like the size of a quarter of a sandwich or something. The batter was really good what with being full of tasty spices. However, the conch was lost in the batter. I can’t honestly say that I got a single piece of conch that I recognized as such. Maybe they minced it and just mixed it up in the batter. It’d be kind of nice to bite into the occasional recognizable piece of conch.
After lunch, we continued on north. We had instructions from Lulu’s cousin Treva to try the seafood quesadilla at The Mutineer in Florida City (or maybe Homestead). Since the drive from Alabama Jack’s to The Mutineer was less than a half hour, there was no way we were going to be ready for another meal by the time we got there. So, in a flash of brilliance, I decided to stop and we’d get an order to go and have it at the motel later. And so we did. The quesadilla suffered a bit from sitting so long and being reheated but it was still quite good. Not sure what all kinds of seafood it was stuffed full of but there were definitely scallops and shrimps. It was loaded with seafood and made an excellent motel-room dinner which we enjoyed while watching “Inglourious Basterds” on TNT. Good flick.
We stopped for breakfast on our way back up to Nancy’s yesterday. First place we saw was the Clock Restaurant in Naples. Their breakfast menu was limited but we both decided on the Cheese & Eggs breakfast: three eggs scrambled with chopped onions and covered with melted cheddar cheese. We opted for hash browns over home-fries on the waitress’ recommendation. And a biscuit on the side. Nothing fancy but every meal can’t be shrimp and grits. The eggs were scrambled up nice and fluffy. Neither the cheese nor the onions were overwhelming but, instead, were just right. But the real star was the hashbrowns. Hashbrowns can be so good but over the years I’ve seen less and less evidence of that. They all taste like they’ve been pre-cooked and have been sitting there waiting to be reheated since before dawn. Too crispy on the outside and dry on what passes for an “inside”. When I was a kid, my family had a little coffee shop in a department store. There, when hashbrowns were ordered, we melted some butter on the grill, piled on a double-handful of shredded, par-boiled spuds, poured a little melted butter on top and cooked them until they were golden brown (more golden than brown), then flipped them and cooked the other side. The outside was slightly crisp and buttery. The insides were almost creamy and very buttery. This is exactly how The Clock’s hashbrowns tasted. Excellent. The biscuits were large enough to just eat half of one, which was good, because they gave you enough butter to lightly butter two halves or slather one half. And the best part of this simple meal? It was only $4.79!
Last night my aunt Nancy took us (along with my cousin Willie and his kids, Caitlin and Jake) out to eat at The Pit Boss BBQ place in New Port Richey. I ordered a full rack of baby back ribs with 2 sides: creamy potato salad made with red potatoes and fried okra. It’s pretty easy to find this place by homing in on the column of smoke rising out of the rear of the restaurant. A good sign. And the food reflected the fact that the smoke wasn’t just for effect. The ribs were falling-off-the-bone tender without being the least bit dried out. Sauce was served on the side in the form of a squirt bottle on every table. I had about half of mine naked and the rest with sauce. Excellent both ways. The potato salad was also surprisingly good. I usually have little hope for restaurant potato salad and none at all for restaurant coleslaw. But this stuff was really good. Couldn’t have made it any better ourselves. The fried okra was good, too. I had no idea what to expect, never having eaten fried okra before. I’ve had okra in gumbo and that’s about it. This was just little slices of okra, breaded and deep-fried. Truthfully, it could just as easily been fried zucchini and it wouldn’t have tasted much different. But still, it was crispy, not greasy, and tasty.
Today, we’re making shrimp and sausage gumbo for our Florida hosts.