FLORIDA KEYS TABLE: FOOD, DRINKS & PEOPLE

The Florida Keys boast some of the most iconic eateries and bars in the world. 

Creative culinary minds elevate local seafood to new levels and celebrate contemporary fusion, Cuban, Caribbean, Asian, French and other international influences. Our chain of islands is one of the world’s top food and drink destinations. 

But our magnetic appeal goes beyond the menu. The skilled professionals who define our local hospitality industry do much more than mix creative cocktails and serve delicious meals. These hard-working men and women are ambassadors, social directors, travel advisors and unlicensed — but often effective — therapists. 

To celebrate our unique culinary culture, Keys Weekly brings you this bi-weekly feature to highlight the food, libations and local personalities that define our “must-try” destinations across the Florida Keys. 

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a fifth-generation local, your options are endless. Indulge in something new or revisit a familiar favorite. And above all, support the local owners and loyal employees who are vital to our Keys communities.

SERVER — MIDDLE KEYS

CARA O’NEILL
Server at Florida Keys Steak & Lobster House, Marathon

How long have you been in the Keys? I was born and raised on a sailboat at 47th Street in Marathon.

How long have you worked at Florida Keys Steak & Lobster? Nine years.

What’s your favorite part of the job? I am so grateful everyday to be a part of this team! Our staff is a family. This restaurant is a second home to all of us and Maria (Ely) is the best boss ever! And, of course, our amazing customers. They are my friends — we’ve been through it all together from hurricanes to pandemics.

What’s the best life advice you have ever received? Every obstacle is an opportunity for growth.

What was the last TV show you streamed? Dr. Death. He was a bad, bad doctor.
What was your last order on Amazon? Accessories for my daughter’s Halloween costume. She was a zombie bride, so we got fake blood.

DISH — UPPER KEYS

Loaded Nachos, Tacos Jalisco 2 food truck, Islamorada

Food truck Tacos Jalisco 2 and Florida Keys Brewing Company in Islamorada make a perfect team. Parked right next to the bar, customers can buy a beer on tap then mosey a few steps for fresh Mexican food to pair with their drink. “The nachos are bomb,” said Cheryl McBay, co-owner of FKBC. She’s referring to the Loaded Nachos. Tacos Jalisco co-owner Taimary “Tiny” Ruiz said, “All ingredients are handmade. We reduce the queso from a block to cream. All produce is from local stands, and the corn tortillas are fried here. And every chip has everything on it. You want sloppy, messy, make-you-get-in-there nachos.”

DRINK — KEY WEST 

Handmade Bloody Marys
Pepe’s Cafe, 806 Caroline St., Key West

Kara Totenson of Pepe’s Cafe knows no Key West morning is complete without a Bloody Mary from Pepe’s, made with its homemade mix and as much spice as you like.

The Florida Keys’ oldest restaurant also serves mimosas and screwdrivers made from fresh orange juice squeezed to order.

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