What’Key West lobsters not to love about Key West’s palm-lined streets and fish that is fresh enough to draw any committed culinary traveler? Not to mention yummy tropical inspired drinks and beach culture with a laid-back vibe. . .

Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy Buffett, a few celebrated pirates and many others lost their hearts to Key West. Here within the distinct mixture of cultures and seafood scene, vibrant sidewalk cafes lure in passersby while live music and hopping bars are the perfect places to watch the sun drop into the Gulf of Mexico.

Key West Lobster

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The Florida Keys is home to five districts, each with their own charm. The southern-most paradise, Key West, is just miles from Cuba and is home to an enviably temperate climate and a delicious array of fresh seafood. Key West’s food scene is influenced by African and Cuban flavors, many difficult to find anywhere else in the US.

 

IMG_0951Paul Menta of Three Hands Fish is our guide to the restaurant scene. A professional chef and community advocate, his long locks and a chill attitude make him seem more like a pro kite surfer than a chef, but hey this is The Keys and yes, he is both.

Paul is the perfect person to tell us about the “secret” dining spots of Key West. The Philly native began his culinary career in Spain and France and eventually came to Key West to continue his love for competitive kite surfing. An athlete, distiller, chef, and entrepreneur, Paul has made it his mission to tap into all Key West has to offer. His most recent venture, Three Hands Fish is a community supported fish market in Key West. Its members, chefs and home-cooks, have access to the freshest fish, shrimp, stone crabs, and lobster that come in on the docks. As Paul describes it, the first hand is the hand of the fisherman, the second the market, and the third is when the fish makes it into the hands of the individual or restaurant. Paul is proud of his market as it brings local, traceable seafood to the people with plenty of variety to avoid over fishing a specific species.

About the area: The Gulf of Mexico mixes with the Atlantic ocean making a perfect nursery for a plethora of fish, crab, and lobster. The fishermen of the region have come together to create a sustainable plan for the future of their industry, naturally controlling over-producing populations that threaten to take over the ecosystem. “Not only are visitors able to jump on a boat and go fishing in some of the clearest waters, but they can find the same fresh fish in local restaurants,” says Paul.

For the freshest seafood right on the dock, Paul suggests visiting The Stoned Crab restaurant. Serving up some of the best stone crab,the setting is stunning too. With an unbeatable view of the water, the moment you arrive at the restaurant you’ll feel as if you have traveled back to the 1950s when it was built. Traditions such as fishermen bringing their catches straight to their dock remain; something that unfortunately is no longer happening in other areas. And if you are looking for a place to stay, Paul recommends Ibis Bay Resort, which is home to The Stoned Crab and also has a retro feel. Stop in for fun cocktails and great seafood the restaurant catches themselves. Head here for stone crab, lobster, Key West shrimp, and more local fish. Be ready for a good time at The Stoned Crab!

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Want to catch and cook your own Charter Lucky Fleet, captained by Captain Moe, who will help guide you in hooking the best seasonable seafood. Moe has been fishing the waters around Key West for over 30 years and knows his way around. Whether you are an avid deep sea fisher or this is your first time, Captain Moe will take you on a great adventure.

Then take a class at Isle Cook to learn how to prepare the seafood you just caught. Paul himself will teach you how to cook local recipes and healthy meals with seafood.
“Being a chef and commercial fisherman I can tell you there is no better teacher of how to use, care for, store, cook and eat a product than a fishermen. They have ideas and techniques that most chefs would die for….but they have to ask…..so we spread the word to them,” says Paul.

In Key West, be sure to try fish you wouldn’t otherwise. Considered local to Key West are the Hogfish, Mangrove Snapper, and as of late the Lion Fish. Paul’s favorite? The Hogfish stuffed with lobster, onions, and herbs.

While you may have heard of Key West’s conch fritters, or coated fried conch meat that actually native to the Caribbean, Paul prefers to make grouper fritters. Fisherman of Key West are able to catch the grouper right off the coast, so this is a true local specialty.

Similar to the conch fritter, the grouper is mixed with onions carrots and a traditional Key West seafood seasoning by Key West Spice Company that is made of celery seed, salt, paprika, and red pepper. It is simple, but fresh grouper doesn’t need an overpowering of flavors. Once the batter is made, Paul fries the fish balls until golden and enjoys them inside of a sandwich or as an appetizer by the water. Here ‘s the recipe.

Grouper Fritters
Chef  Paul Menta
Ingredients
1 pound Grouper
½ cup Onions
½ cup Carrots
1½ Tablespoons Key West seafood seasoning
1 Egg yolk
2 Tablespoons Key lime juice
½ cup Flour
Coconut oil, for frying
Instructions
Chop up, or use food processor, grouper.
Fine dice, onions, carrots and mix with grouper.
Add key west seafood seasoning, about 1½ tablespoon
Mix all together with 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of key lime juice. Add ½ cup of flour until mixture starts to form a batter. Use a spoon to make balls, fry in coconut oil till brown or bake in the oven on sheet tray. As a sandwich filling instead of an appetizer, make the rounds larger.