Take these three elements: a ferry ride, your friends and family and combine them with one of the most saporous menus in the Florida Keys! You’ll find yourself at a boat dock where baby Ballyhoo swim amidst the sizable Tarpon, making your way up the path to Latitudes on Sunset Key! If you expect a fantasy feast and atmosphere to accompany the Keys experience, this restaurant will surpass your expectations. As you’re about to discover, you don’t have to have a special occasion. This isolated canteen will cement any evening in your memory.
“A guy was proposing to his fiancé, and he came to me right when they got here. She went to the bathroom, and he gave me the ring. He’s like “Here I want you to put this in the dessert!” I put it in my pocket and left. So, all through dinner I have this engagement ring, and a lot of other things in my pockets. I’m like… what’s gong to happen? Of course she said ‘yes.’ They always say yes.” ~ Waiter Ed Dawicki
“The guy from ‘N Sync, Lance. He was here with his family! Everyone was like, ‘that’s so-and-so from ‘N Sync!’ A lot of personalities come in here.” ~ Terry Luzius, General Manager
“There were 30 Victoria Secrets representatives staying in our guest cottages with plunge pools. They were launching a new perfume, Peach. That was their major focus: peach. I set up a dessert station. Peach vodka, Peach liqueur, fresh peaches, canned peaches, peach juice, peach nectar, I was peached out!” ~ Todd Holender, Executive Chef.
Tonight at Latitudes, amidst the parents dining with their children and couples cozied up, are educators from the Buckeye state, Richard and Erica Knowles, celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.
“We’re staying at the Westin and asked around about where to eat; whether, we asked the maintenance man, or the guy serving ice cream at Mattheessen’s, they all told us, ‘Latitudes!’”
The middle and high school principal and her husband, a middle school engineer teacher, indulged in scallop and lobster, and a grilled 8 oz. tenderloin filet topped with shallot truffle butter, Swiss chard, Yukon puree, roasted wild mushrooms, and balsamic demi-glace. They admitted they were skeptical of Sunset Key’s latest sensation.
“I did have a concern that people out here would be a bit pretentious,” Richard remarked. “The island appears to be very affluent. We’ve been to New York City where people can be snooty. Our waiter here was very helpful. I wasn’t sure what kind of wine I wanted; I just knew I didn’t want to spend $1,000 a bottle! He steered me in the right direction.”
An observation noted at our table: though I often opt for the Pinot Noir, our waiter Ed Dawicki, a New Jersey native who grew up sharing meals with his family and friends, noticed my lust for lemon and had me try a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand after I ordered the special Yellowtail Snapper topped with coconut lime sauce, paired with a lemon and chive flavored risotto.
“When you’re taking people’s order, you can steer them,” Dawicki shared his skill set.
“A lot of times people go to a nice place, and they feel intimidated. They’re the customers. We’re here to serve them. We’re not here to be like, ‘You don’t know what a truffle is? You don’t know what a foie gras is?’ Our goal is to help them and make them feel at home.”
Behind the kitchen doors is Florida native and executive chef Todd Holender, who grew up swimming with snakes and alligators in the Everglades. He developed two passions as a child: fishing and cooking. In his kitchen, the feast is focused on the taste of the Keys. Surf n’ Turf was showcased as a special.
“Lobster season has kicked in and once Stone Crab season begins, we will feature those as well. The most popular item on the menu is one we’ve had forever – Sunset Key Shrimp. We put black pepper on the inside then use a crab filling, wrap them with bacon, served with a maple barbecue sauce and Key Lime mustard. We bake’em and glaze’em and serve them on passion fruit slaw.”
David Eoff, a Marine veteran who hails from Ohio, whet his appetite with the shrimp and devoured the Crispy Lobster and Crab Cakes. The Yellowfin Tuna melted in your mouth like butter.
Speaking of butter… the infusion of mango and jalapenos created just about all the excitement one mouth can stand when served with warm Ciabatta bread.
“The mixture is a tropical thing. Just enough jalapenos so you experience a little heat of it,” Todd sat and talked at our table, all the while divulging about fishing, living on a boat and being an island chef. “I love the food, being on the line and the people I work with. I have so much to work with, local grouper, snapper, cobia, swordfish.”
This evening he serves up Yellowtail Snapper set off by a coconut overflowing with lemony flavored risotto. The enchanting presentation makes Latitudes feel like a fairy-tale for fine diners, who frequent from around the globe, around the state and the Keys.
“Most of the time, it is business owners, politicians, Sunset Key homeowners, hoteliers, restaurateurs. Off-season, we see mostly locals.”
That’s exactly the crowd that always has a standing invitation.
General Manager Terry Luzius said while they see at least one proposal per week, toss out the idea you need to have a special occasion to luxuriate at Latitudes.
“You should come whenever! That night, you go out to dinner with your husband, with your wife, with your friends… catch the ferry here. You can have tapas and see the sun set. We’re trying to break away from having to eat here for a celebration. I love when they do the birthdays, anniversaries, the proposals here; but, the next time someone says, ‘Let’s go eat…’ why not come here?”
You don’t have to be a boy band heartthrob, celebrating your silver wedding anniversary or popping a rock in your pocket before you board the ferry!
Holender even does the baking himself to make sure you have a Sweet Ending, which is also the name of the dessert menu! We order the Flight of Cakes, a trick to diffuse a fight over “which one….?”
“What my vision was on the desserts,” shared Holender, “is it’s about tasting. I try to give you a taste of everything instead of one big piece of cake.”
Taste for yourself! Latitudes now serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with seating for 150 people indoors and out. Plus, parking is free at The Westin, and once you make your reservation you will also be given a pass to ride the ferry, which only takes three minutes! Go to opentable.com to make your reservation or call 305.292.5394.
Breakfast: 8:45 am – 10:45
Lunch: 10:45 am – 3:15 pm
Dinner: Sunday – Thursday: 5:15 pm – 10:00 pm
Friday and Saturday: 5:15 pm – 11:00 pm
An exterior and interior bar are waiting for locals and tourists to mingle and mix.
“I would watch a football game with him,” David Eoff a Marine veteran and resident of Elmore, Ohio exclaimed of Executive Chef Todd Holderen. He demonstrated how personable he is by bringing us back to the expansive kitchen for a look at his lair and the Special Endings dessert we ordered, the Flight of Cakes!
You can order Yellowfin Tuna for an appetizer, but with the puffed sake dollops and yuzu, the dish looks like a dessert.