The Square Grouper – highly desirable in some circles, very profitable and oops, illegal. A Square Grouper is a tongue-in-check name for the bales of marijuana that sometimes wash up on shore in the Keys after they have been dumped off drug running boats when authorities get too close. It is also the name of a lower keys restaurant and long time institution.
We were ready for a road trip and had heard about a great restaurant on Cudjoe Key, Mile 22.5 Oceanside, so one fine day we jumped in the car for a ride. Most Keys locations don’t have a regular address, they give their mile marker number as their address. Mile 100 is in Key Largo, the first key from the mainland and Mile 0 is in Key West. Since most keys are so skinny, getting the mile marker number and then “Oceanside” or “Bay/Gulf” side is enough description to find almost any place. It’s also a very convenient way to know how far away places are.
We pulled into a pretty non descript building and I was surprised when we got inside. People had touted The Square Grouper Bar and Grill as having an old keys feeling so I was expecting a somewhat run down or ramshackle type setting. Instead, the interior was sleek and modern. Maybe they were talking about the menu? Nope, delicious looking but trendy. Prices could be old keys – very reasonable for great food.
We were there for lunch and it was hard to decide what to order ~ so many dishes looked great, so we decided to only purchase appetizers so we could sample more options. We started off with Yellowfin Tuna and Avocado Eggrolls with a great dipping sauce. These were crispy and wonderful. We also scarfed down some yummy flash fried conch with a Ponzu sauce drizzled with wasabi. These were followed by Island Shrimp Cakes with a Banana Pepper Aioli sauce which were also fabulous.
But the best part was dessert. They were serving a white chocolate, toasted coconut, almond cheese cake. I generally would never get dessert for lunch, I don’t even usually get dessert with dinner and I’ll almost never order cheesecake after growing up in New York where, in my opinion, they make the best cheesecake in the world. This looked to wonderful too pass up and boy am I glad I didn’t. Michael and I split a piece and it was dense and creamy like New York cheesecake plus it had all the wonderful additional flavors that blended really well. I’m still thinking about it days later …..
Just down the road, we stopped at Low Keys Fisheries, a seafood retail store, that was recommended to us. One of the surprises about Key West is how hard it is to buy fresh fish. All the restaurants have it, of course, but the grocery stores’ fish look pretty poor and so do the seafood markets. All I can figure is that so many people have boats and they catch fish for themselves so there isn’t a big market to purchase fresh fish. We asked around the charter boats but they don’t sell the fish they catch. Mr. Chapman’s brother, Eugene, catches a lot of fish and will sell his extra which is wonderful, but he mostly catches snapper so not much variety.
Low Key Fisheries is an exception (as long as you want to travel 20 miles to buy fish). The store had a nice variety of fish and everything looked great. We bought some Key West Pinks (shrimp) and some lovely looking Salmon. Chef Michael did his fish magic the next two nights and prepared feasts. I love having a personal chef!