It’s about this time of year when I start dreaming of warmer weather. Not just slightly warmer. I’m not talking a change of 12-degrees to a balmy 35-degrees. No. I’m talking warmer weather. Like crystal blue waters, palm trees, fresh coconuts. You know, like Key West, Florida.
Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. When we told folks we were going to Key West (we went for work – yeah, yeah, I know, tough life), everyone said “Oh, it’s soo touristy,” and “There are too many people drinking,” and “It’s not as nice as other tropical paradises.” To this I say REALLY? Cuz we were there and it wasn’t any more or less touristy than any other resort (maybe less than some places, actually); and sure there were folks drinking. But you can say that about Baltimore 365 days a year. And as far as Key West “not being as nice as other tropical paradises…” Hmm, all I can come up with is that those silly people were jealous because we were, in fact, going to wake up and go take photographs in a freaking tropical paradise while they went to an office in Maryland. Haters.
Key West was stunning, gorgeous, breath-taking and beautiful. Having walked the streets, felt the warm Caribbean breeze tousle my hair and sipped fresh coconut juice right from the shell, I totally understand why Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffet had strong ties to this idyllic island.
And the rumors are true about wild chickens. There are chickens roaming the streets and yep, they do wake you up pretty early. But gosh – why NOT get up for sunrise like this? (See first photo, above.) The entire island of Key West is a bird sanctuary and it’s illegal to kill any bird. Which means there are several thousand birds, chickens included, hanging out all over the place. Definitely a bird-lover’s paradise. During your trip, why not plan to visit the Key West Wildlife Center, and learn about the birds and other gorgeous tropical critters there. (You know, if you can stop drinking and elbow the other tourists out of the way… joking – it wasn’t like that at all)
To make this even better, we found Key West to be incredibly vegan-friendly. Eating in this small resort town was seriously easier than eating in Ocean City, MD! No joke.
The first island eating we did was at The Cafe, located at 509 Southard St. Key West, FL 33040. By the end of our time in Key West, we actually ate there several times…
We felt immediately relaxed at The Cafe. There were signs out front announcing their veg-friendly options (more than 20 on the menu – though it’s not a strictly vegetarian restaurant). Gotta love a place that posts “BBQ Unwing Dings” in the window. The inside was quirky and arty, and our servers were very helpful. Our first meals there were a falafel pita and a curried “chicken” salad sandwich, served with marinated bean salad. These were both super tasty and filling!
The falafel came on a toasted pita with hummus, tahini sauce, cucumbers and Israeli couscous. And the curried “chicken” salad was piled high with veggies on a ciabatta roll. The “chicken” salad contained soy “meat”, toasted almonds, grapes, and shallots. In combination with the zingy curry sauce, these ingredients were a winner and the lettuce, tomato and sprouts were piled so high, it seemed like a side salad. Because our sandwiches were quite huge, we each only ate half, and packed up the bean salads as well. This made for a terrific snack later in the evening.
But we fell in love with The Cafe just that fast. And we came back. Wanna see a few more of the tasty treats we had at The Cafe? During additional visits we had Spring Rolls with Sweet Chili Sauce (served warm – they’re crispy and loaded with cabbage and carrots); Un-Wing Dings with BBQ Sauce, served with celery & Tahini sauce (one of The Cafe‘s signature dishes – very moist, chewy & yummy – a perfect late night snack!); vegan Coconut Layer Cake (this was fresh, tender and packed with coconut – we wanted to lick the plate); and another signature dish, Cafe Veggie Burger Bites (these are house-made with legumes, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, scallions and sunflower seeds). A vegan feast, to put it mildly! Even better, The Cafe also served a variety of organic wines, homemade iced chai tea with soymilk, fresh juices and locally roasted coffees.
During our stay in Key West, we didn’t get to sample every vegan offering from The Cafe, which was a bummer. But you can. Be sure to try the Spinach Dumplings, Sweet Potato Fries, Wok-Fired Bok Choy, Grilled Tofu Salad, Colossal Veggie Sandwich, Baked Brown Sugar Acorn Squash and Peanut Stir Fry with Soba Noodles. They sounded so good! Again, The Cafe is located at 509 Southard Street, Key West FL; (305) 296-5515. They’re closed on Sundays.
On Duvall Street, we found a great little watering hole called lush, which was nestled inside a store called The Green Pineapple. Both were stellar. The deal at lush is that all items served there are certified organic, sustainable, recycled, compostable, biodegradable, renewable, socially & ethically responsible, and fair trade certified.
You can get tea, wine, coffee or chocolate. That’s what they serve at lush. Which worked for us. Some of our favorite things…
The espresso was smooth and rich, and the owner of lush, who was working the bar, suggested two bites of dark vegan chocolate, 70% cacao, to pair with the coffee. And if you’ve read this blog more than once, you know we LOVE chocolate. We also picked up a non-vegan milk chocolate bar as a gift for a friend. She later told us it was among the finest chocolate she has ever tasted in her life. Like all the chocolate at lush – exquisite and upscale.
For me, the drink of choice was chilled pineapple green tea in champagne glass. It was as elegant as it looked. Maybe the word was sublime. I could barely get up from the bar to go browse around the Green Pineapple, I didn’t want to leave my wonderful tea. But it was worth it, as the shop held many eco-friendly treasures: handmade jewelry, upcycled decor and other goodies abound. My favorite was a set of soy candles poured into vintage tea cups.
lush and The Green Pineapple are located at 1130 Duval Street, Key West, FL 33040; (855)ITS-LUSH. Be sure to check their Facebook page, too, as they have regularly scheduled wine and chocolate tastings – absolutely worth fitting into your trip!
One thing we learned in Key West was that breakfast – vegan or otherwise – is not easy to find. Most folks like to sleep in, except for the chickens, of course. Our first few mornings, we were happy with fresh fruit for breakfast. But Help Yourself Cafe was our salvation. They open at 8am every day and had an excellent morning selection, including smoothies and a fresh juice bar.
For our lovely breakfast at Help Yourself Cafe, we tried the Sprouted Whole Grain Bagel with Cashew Cream Cheese, Tomatoes and Avocado. I have to stop here to add – they make these bagels and cashew cream cheese on the premises. They were so damn good. I could have eaten a dozen. Next we tried the Tempeh Breakfast Wrap. It was jammed with veggies and housemade salsa, and tasted divine. Finally, we shared a Power Bowl – which is slow-cooked oatmeal with flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and goji berries, finished with a drizzle of maple syrup. Talk about comforting and hearty! After this bowl of oats and seeds, we weren’t even hungry for lunch.
The juice bar is a new part of the Help Yourself Cafe and opened in April 2012. We tried a green juice, with kale and cucumbers and ginger, as well as some bottled fresh strawberry lemonade. Both were terrific and refreshing. Their coffee was fair-trade and organic – brewed to perfection.
One of the best parts about the Help Yourself Cafe was their green philosophy. Every item on the menu is made from scratch using non-GMO, organic ingredients. They don’t use refined sugars, refined grains or unhealthy fats. Plus there’s a great little store attached to the Help Yourself Cafe. You can pick up to-go meals & juices, eco-friendly toiletries, organic fruits & veggies, plus healthy snacks, tea/coffee, pantry items and more. While not 100% vegetarian/vegan, the staff here does know their stuff.
Sadly, we only got eat one meal at the Help Yourself Cafe. They had lots of enticing menu offerings though, including Indian Summer Salads with chickpeas, raisins, quinoa, and curried cashews over greens; English Garden Wraps with mixed raw veggies, garden herbs, pesto and mixed greens; Asian Zucchini Noodles and Hot Coconut Curry – available with brown rice, quinoa or udon noodles. Delish!
The Help Yourself Cafe is at 829 Fleming Street, Key West, FL 33040; (305) 296-7766. Oh – and they have a parking lot with free parking and in Key West, this is seriously worth noting.
We had another wonderful lunch at Sugar Apple Juice Bar & Veggie Deli. It was all vegan store and cafe, but sadly, we didn’t have our cameras along for this meal – we had left them at the job site where we were working. But the good news is that we had a great meal here, and you can too. The Dirty Hippie tried their FLT sandwich – Fakin’ Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato on whole wheat bread with vegan mayo. He also got a side salad with this absolutely amazing key lime vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was made in-house and is totally worth taking time for on your visit to Key West. It tastes like someone just picked the key limes moments before handing you the salad. Heck, maybe they did. I tried a dish from the special menu, Pesto Rice. It was brown and wild rices with a tangy basil sauce and pieces of tofu. Again, this dish was hearty and flavorful – the vegan basil-pesto sauce was really complex. I’d eat it again right now.
The cafe at Sugar Apple had solid vegan offerings for lunch – stuff like Eggless Salad Sandwiches, Italian Veggie Sausage Sandwiches, Hummus Wraps and Tempeh with Tahini Sauce. Their food was filling and reminded us of home, somehow. Sugar Apple’s Juice Bar was also delicious – we had carrot-celery juice with spirulina. Yum.
We also did a little shopping at Sugar Apple, finding goodies we needed, like natural sunscreens, vitamins (duh, we left ours at home) and familiar vegan snacks like Larabars. You can find Sugar Apple Juice Bar & Veggie Deli at 917 Simonton Street, Key West FL 33040; (305) 292-0043. They also have a parking lot with free parking. Woo-hoo!
Alas, it came time to leave Key West. We had flown into Ft. Lauderdale and had hoped to stop at the legendary Sublime before leave town. But they were closed, so we peeked in the windows and left. All ended well, though, because we found Pizza Fusion. This small chain of pizzerias is devoted to sustainability (check out this eco-philosophy page!) and are PETA-approved! Pizza Fusion is proud of their vegan options, as well as their gluten free choices and show them off online.
While we waited for the pizzas, we shared a Fusion House salad: arugula, romaine, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, basil, carrot ribbons and crostini. The menu says that “No houses were harmed in the making of this salad.” Hee hee. Then we got to the good stuff… A Greek Pizza with Kalamata olives, sliced roma tomatoes, tomato sauce, Daiya and parsley and a Very Vegan Pizza with Crimini mushrooms, roasted garlic, tomato sauce and Daiya. Holy awesome vegan pizzas, Batman. We seriously considered how we could order more and check them with our luggage. The crust was so good – crispy and fresh. And there were many, many more options on the menu for vegans. It was hard to decide! Wish there was a Pizza Fusion in Baltimore!
We loved the house-made iced tea. It had subtle sweetness and was certainly fresh-brewed. They also had organic wines and our Maryland fave – Honest Tea!
One more thing needs props from Pizza Fusion. The vegan brownie. It was soft, chocolate-y, moist and gooey. It was everything a vegan brownie should be. Plus, it was gluten free and bigger than your hand. The server told us they sell out of these heavenly things pretty often. And no wonder… just look at it! Can’t you imagine sinking your teeth into that square of delight?
Pizza Fusion is located at 1013 North Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304 (954) 358-5353. There are also branches in Colorado, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio and Saudi Arabia. (Huh – how does that last one fit in, anyhow?)
Sigh… at the moment I am looking out my window at bare trees and neighborhood children bundled up in scarves, mittens and thick winter coats. There are no swaying palms. No random chickens on my street and certainly no coconuts fresh from the trees.
Oh, Key West… how we miss you…