Ah, Key West. Quirky and cheerful. Sunshine and shopping. Cocktails and cuisine. Shop. Eat. Drink. Repeat. It’s the best. My husband, sisters and I took the ferry from Marco Island, FL for an extra shot of “daycation” during our sisters’ Florida weekend.
Since Key West is the southernmost city in the US, you may not think of it as an apex of “lobster cuisine”. But you would be wrong.
Spurning the tough and less flavorful warm-water rock lobsters, the Key West restauranteurs’ lobsters are imported from the US east coast. So it’s the premium Atlantic lobster, y’all. Whether a tiny little sidewalk counter restaurant or a seated establishment, lobster delights (Lobster Benedict, anyone?) are offered in Key West eateries, fine or casual.
Many say that the humble lobster roll is a defining measure of one’s lobster talent. There is nothing to it but a buttered and fried top-sliced hot dog bun, and chunks of lobster in a mayo-and-insert-your-own-secret-touches mix. There should be no sauces, toppings or otherwise to distract the eater from how the lobster tastes, or how tender you’ve managed to cook it. So your basic lobster game better be pretty damn good.
A few years ago I discovered a converted gas bar transformed into a lunch counter and seafood market, aptly named Eaton Street Seafood Market. I say aptly because it’s located on Eaton Street. And it’s a seafood market. Logical, right?
I had devoured many lobster rolls there in my pre-diagnosis past, blissfully savoring each bite of plump, bursting-with-flavor lobster chunks juxtaposed with the sweet, fluffy, chewy, crispy-outside, buttery roll. It was heaven in every bite. But alas. This disease has probably ensured that my lobster roll days are but a teary memory.
As we walked down Duval Street, I shared with my sisters where their perfect lunch was going to be…whether I could partake in it or not. (This is the part where you acknowledge and praise my incredible selflessness). My husband was already looking forward to sinking his teeth into his lobster roll regardless of my situation, which is the gastronomic equivalent of throwing me under the bus. We took a right on Eaton, and headed up to genuflect to the lobster roll. Maybe I could get them to put a scoop of the lobster salad mix in a plastic cup for me. Or sell it by weight. A terrible thought gripped me: what if their secret lobster salad ingredients were glutenous? I could only ask.
As I approached the cash register, I told an employee about my celiac plight, and asked if there was any way I could be accommodated. Enter incredibly friendly and personable owner Sean Seaman, who assured me that all of their options could be made into a salad to be Celiac-friendly. And yes, the lobster mix was gluten-free, as was the side package of plantain chips. He pointed out the many gluten-free options that his market sold, as he wanted to make sure that the Celiac crowd were able to eat there too.
They even had a gluten-free cheesecake if I wanted desert!
I was shocked. He not only knew what Celiac disease was, he was willing to cater to Celiacs….happy dance moment! Sean, you have no idea how much joy you brought into my life that day! 🙂
After asking my usual waterboarding of gluten-free food handling questions (so, do you use a scoop in your lobster salad that touches the bread then goes back into the lobster salad?) and Sean patiently and happily answering them, I ordered my Lobster Roll sans roll and on a bed of salad. And it was fabulous. Really fabulous. A generous portion of huge, succulent, chunks of lobster, topping a lovely spring- mix-and-tomato salad.
Even the home made, mustard-based dressing was gluten-free. And it was equally fabulous. (And when I read back on what I just wrote, I realize that I don’t even come close to expressing just how fabulous “fabulous” really was).
We ate our so-tender-it-practically-melts-in-your-mouth lobster outside on Sean’s canopied, sun-dappled communal bench area; eyes rolling to the back of our heads with happiness at every mouthful. All agreed that this was indeed the perfect lunch.