Food for the tipsy soul

Listen folks, it really doesn’t have to be that complicated. No pork toes whispered with truffle dust or lionfish caviar, it’s food – delicious, homemade food. Welcome to Mary Ellen’s Bar at 420 Applerouth Lane, the most affordable place to properly eat, drink and be merry in Key West. Technically bar food, it goes tragically well with beer (leave the Châteauneuf-du-Pape at home), drips lovingly down the face and above all, must be shared, but it is not, repeat not, Sysco hot wings and nachos. It’s an all star lineup of – wait for it – grilled cheese featuring meat, vegetables and bread in crispy interchangeable combinations with sauces – so many sauces – along with fries and salads. It’s a damn good user friendly menu where the only thing missing is a kicky plastic bib.

“We see what suits the bar, throw it all at the wall and pick what sticks,” said chef Paddy Rooney, who recognizes trends in ordering and adjusts the menu accordingly.

There are nine versions of grilled cheese—whether craving vegetarian like “The Florence” blending Havarti, cheddar, and jack or “The Ethel” laden with grilled veggies or meatier versions such a “The Harold,” filled with roast beef, horseradish and tangy homemade pickles. All kinds of bread, all kinds of cheese, meats and, of course, bacon can be added anywhere. Then add a basket of crispy fries with the choice of 11 sauces ranging from sinus-clearing Waasup wasabi, chipotle ketchup to bacon aoili. Need a healthier option? Then go for the fresh kale salad, avocado toast or turkey wrap; it’s all good, baby. Or just take some tomato soup home and pretend like your grandma made it, if she was Ina Garten.

Mary Ellen’s takes the “dive” part seriously, being consistently affordable with the menu prices ranging from $8 – $12. Keep it simple with beer such as Pabst and Old Milwaukee (settle down, they have decent beer too) or try the odd drinks on draft such as an Arnold Palmer (surprisingly refreshing), Old Fashions, or a Moscow Mule, and finish with a dessert-like frozen Irish coffee. Again, simple, affordable, and satisfying.

Check out the daily and happy hour food specials. Side note: folks at the courthouse check the daily specials online instead of calling -jeez. There’s delivery all over Key West from 11 am to 10 pm. or just stop by the street window and ask Paddy about the special. 

Mary Ellen’s Bar: Hosting Champions League Games with happy hour food and drink specials.

It’s a place locals can actually afford to hang out, and eat really great food.” –    Daniel McCurdy, of Mary Ellen’s Bar.

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