Henry Menendez, pictured center, and surrounding guests get a laugh during one of several comedic skits. DOUG FINGER/Keys Weekly

50 Best of Upper Keys award plaques were handed out to winners in three major categories, which included food and drink, community and business. Winners were chosen by the thousands of votes that poured in for the finalists. Visit page 25 and for the winners list. 

In total, Best of Upper Keys sponsors, ticket sales and raffles generated close to $20,000 for the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter. 

Morgan Beaton, left, of Islamorada Wine Co.; Jen Weiden, of Green Turtle Inn & Kaiyo Grill Catering; and Cheryl McBay, owner of Florida Keys Brewing Co. DOUG FINGER/Keys Weekly

Square Grouper Islamorada came away with the most awards, with bartender Michael Roe capturing the Best Bartender plaque, while owners Lynn Bell and Joe Bell, son and manager, were handed Best Overall Restaurant and Best Lunch. C&C Wood Fire Eats in Key Largo, Ziggie & Mad Dog’s in Islamorada and Florida Keys Brewing Co. each received two awards. C&C Wood Fire Eats was crowned Best Happy Hour and Best Pizza, while Florida Keys Brewing Co. won Best Bar and Best Live Music Venue.  Ziggie & Mad Dog’s Shaggy won Best Server and the restaurant won Best Place to take a Date. 

Best Elected Official went to county commissioner Holly Raschein, while Reef the Fox ran away with Best Local Celebrity. Best Overall Business went to Pilates in Paradise, which celebrates its 20th year under owner Christi Franchini.

In addition to presenting Food & Drink winners, Monroe County Commissioner Holly Raschein was voted “Best Elected Official.”

A successful Best of Upper Keys was made possible thanks to the support from event sponsor Harbor Events at Whale Harbor. Not only did they offer up the best menu, staff support and a premier venue, but they also showcased the community spirit. 

“We knew before we approached the Whale Harbor Group that they regularly supported the community, whether through local community organizations’ meet-and-greets and forums to hosting monthly full moon parties partnering with local charities to help them raise money,” said Keys Weekly Publisher Jason Koler. “We never imagined how great they were to work with. I’ve received countless calls and texts about the venue, the staff and the food.”

Notable sponsors include Dr. Michelle with Hear 4 Audiology, First Horizon Bank and Mariners Hospital. 

Stay tuned for next year’s Best of Upper Keys.

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.