Friday, January 27, 2012
Living In The Conch Republic/Jerk Chicken/Scott Kirby
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Living in The Conch Republic
How many times have I crossed the imaginary line driving down U.S.1 passing The Last Chance Saloon in Florida City and hence, entering the Conch Republic? Likewise, taking the left there and heading the Card Sound Road route? Either way, at that point going straight on US1 or going left onto Card Sound Rd., you’ve entered the Conch Republic. Having lived about fifteen miles north of there for so many years, I can attest, as will anyone else who’s done the same thing, when you cross that line, things take a noticeable change. Suddenly a weight comes off your shoulders and you find yourself exhaling. The grind is over and you have arrived in The Conch Republic. The Conch Republic is a country unto itself, make no mistake about it. From the very first settlers here to today, you’ll hear people throughout the Keys say “Oh, I have to go up to Florida”. It’s not necessarily Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Naples, Ft. Meyers, Punta Gorda, Palm Beach,… ex. They say they have to go to Florida because in their minds, the Keys are NOT Florida. The Keys are “The Keys” or “The Conch Republic” . The Keys are a completely different state of mind and a completely different state of being. How many times have I mentioned to someone visiting “You know? This isn’t the U.S.”? And how many times have I seen their eyes light up and a big smile cross their face and their reply is “You’re Right!” in complete enlightenment? I’ll tell you, every time! Another anecdote I’ll say to people regarding my move from Florida to the Conch Republic capitol is “You know, I only moved one hundred and thirty eight miles, but it might as well have been one hundred and thirty eight thousand miles”. That’s no exaggeration whatsoever.
The beauty of the Keys is that, on the one hand, you’re in an entirely different country, yet you’re still within the United States. Down here in the Keys, we’re very proud of the United States military personnel stationed here, and we have all branches of the service. The Navy and the Coast Guard have the highest presence, however the Army’s Green Berets train here, as well and every branch of the service are represented at NAS Station in the Truman annex.
A funny thing about the Conch Republic is that those who leave, be it going back home from vacation, or having moved from here and relocated someplace else… up in the United States ;-) they all want to return. It’s a different state of mind. As I said, I only lived fifteen miles from the boarder and it was a beautiful area, bear in mind, but it was a world of difference. Cross that line at the Last Chance Saloon.. and it’s “WOW!!!” The weight’s gone off your shoulders. The Conch Republic stretches from The Last Chance Saloon about 200 miles to The Dry Tortugas. All but the first eighteen miles are islands, the Atlantic Ocean, and The Gulf of Mexico/Florida Bay and the Florida Straits.
In a strange, quirky, albeit remote way we could be kind of like Monaco and France? Monaco is its own country, however if attacked it is considered part of France. I think it could only behoove the U.S. to have the Conch Republic in some ways a sovereign state, yet at the same time still attached to the U.S. as it currently is. In areas such as foreign relations go, it might be a good, optional card to have up Washington D.C.’s sleeve. Besides, maybe we could get the $1B dollars in aid we never got at the end of the insurrection :-)
No Todo, this isn’t Florida, or the United States. Welcome to the Conch Republic!
KEY WEST GASTROMINY – Jamaican Jerk Chicken/What is, What Isn't
Two of my absolute favorite bar/restaurants in Key West are Schooner Wharf and The Hogfish, which is actually on Stock Island.. but still 33040. Both of these establishments sit dockside, Schooner Wharf in Key West Bight and the Hogfish at Safe Harbor Marina. Both have good menus and the Hogfish gets the nod for the better cuisine by about a point. The fish comes right off the boats, right there. It’s always a pleasure going to either, both having an atmosphere that is tough to equal.
The funny thing about both of these good restaurants is, as good as they are, neither of them have the slightest clue whatsoever on how to make Jamaican Jerk Chicken! Both have it on their menu; however I’m not really sure what they serve, not that it’s bad tasting, but it’s not jerk chicken!
To begin with, the absolute most important ingredient in Jerk is the Scotch Bonnet pepper, which is a sister pepper to the Habanero, albeit with a more aromatic flavor and similar heat rating. No trace whatsoever can be found in their Jerk. Second, Jerk is a paste made with the Scotch Bonnets, onions, allspice, garlic, pepper, salt, thyme, herbs, and pimiento. What they have is some kind of a liquid that, although it doesn’t taste bad, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Jerk seasoning. Both restaurants jerk taste similar to one another and it’s my guess that some restaurant supply company is selling them this stuff and blowing smoke up their tails with the hum that ”This is Jerk seasoning”. It’s not even close.
So, while I strongly suggest going to both of these superb establishments, if you’re contemplating the Jerk Chicken, avoid it. The rest of their menus are superb for a dockside bar/restaurant, and both have a great staff as well.
Who does make a real Jerk Chicken in Key West? Well, Blue Heaven has for years! Theirs tends to be a bit milder than I would prefer myself, however they’re not looking to have some inexperienced customer burst into flames, then follow it up with farting like a flame thrower at the table. On a scale of one to ten, I’d put it as an eight. Although on the mild side, it does have a very nice flavor.
Bobalu’s, next to the Green Parrot on Southard St., has what has to be the best Jerk Chicken in town. Not fire breathing dragon hot, but zippy and a great flavor. They serve theirs as a sandwich. Fantastic! On the scale of one to ten, it’s a nine. You can’t go wrong with their jerk!
Hat’s off to Bobalu’s for the best Jerk in town!
For a superb Jerk seasoning check out Grace’s!
If I ever should open a restaurant in town, my jerk will be a ten. I’m not taking any prisoners. Fresh, homemade Jerk, with a fabulous flavor, and hot as hell. Yah Mon!
Stopped by Smokin’ Tuna yesterday afternoon and caught Scott Kirby doing a set there. What a pleasure. Scott is an amazing acoustic guitar player, on top of being a fantastic singer and songwriter as well. Scott has been based in Key West since 1988 and has six albums out, the latest being “Row Me Home”, which was produced by Russ Kunkel. If you’re into great, laid back acoustic based music with a sailor’s perspective, Scott’s music is something that you’ll happily grow old with. What’s not to like? For more info on Scott, check out his site and his tour dates to find out when he’s in your neck of the woods.