Monthly Archives: July 2009
We are on the brink of another Florida Keys lobster mini-season and US-1 is flooded with tourists trailering their bug-hunting vessels into town. Pretty soon the reef will be overtaken by dive flags and center-consoles, and the waters rich with enthusiastic divers and snorkelers searching holes and ledges for tasty tails.
Before the madness ensues, I thought I would take a brief moment to tell everyone to be safe; follow the lobster mini-season rules and regulations (the FWC and Monroe County Sheriffs will be out in full force!), and most of all, use common sense. Every year accidents occur on the water simply because the boat operator was careless and used poor judgment.
Remember, always keep a close eye on your divers and keep a clear distance from vessels displaying their dive flags. Don’t dive alone, double check your equipment, be courteous, be smart, and remember that a lobster is not worth a life.
Below are some basic lobster mini-season regulations that you need to observe and follow. The officers of the sea will have no pity on you if you take more than your limit or are found with a short tail in your possession- whether you knew better or not.
For a complete list of rules click here.
- Mini Season begins at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday July 29 and runs until midnight on Thursday July 30.
- In Monroe County you are allowed 6 lobsters per person per day and you must possess a valid Florida Saltwater fishing license and lobster stamp.
- The two day total of twelve lobsters only applies when traveling by car or after the second day.
- Diving for lobster at night is not permitted however bully-netting and hoop netting is permitted.
- Spiny lobster has a minimum size limit that must be larger than 3″ carapace, measured in the water, and you must possess a measuring device at all times.
- Diving around marinas and private shorelines is prohibited.
- Always display a dive flag while in the water.
Yesterday, to our surprise, we caught a nice cobia while out fishing a wreck off Marathon. Unlike during the winter months, cobia are not that common in the Florida Keys during summertime, especially on the Atlantic Ocean side. So we were quite thrilled to put one in the box- thrilled enough that we decided to have friends over for dinner to enjoy our delicious catch.
Below are two simple recipes for how I cooked the cobia. I didn’t feel like running to the grocery and doing anything fancy so I just used what I had around the house. Both styles of fish ended up being absolutely delicious.
The lime grilled cobia was nice and refreshing after a hot day on the water, and the spicy, Asian dish, has just the right amount of kick to get the evening rolling.
Lime Grilled Cobia
Cobia Fillets- 8 steaks cut into 3 inch squares
- Old Bay
- Garlic Powder
- 1 Lime
- 1 16 oz. bottle Newman’s Light Lime Vinaigrette Dressing
Season the fish with salt, pepper, old bay and garlic powder and place in a bowl or baking dish. Cover fillets with Lime Vinaigrette Dressing and marinade in the refrigerator for one hour. Turn the grill to high heat (if using propane) and wipe the grate with vegetable oil to keep the fish from sticking. Grill for 5 to 6 minutes per side. Squeeze fresh lime juice over fillets and serve.
Spicy Asian Cobia
- Cobia fillets- cubed
- Cayenne pepper
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- One bottle Szechuan Spicy Stir Fry Sauce
- 1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil
Place cobia cubes in a bowl or baking dish and season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Pour half the bottle of stir fry sauce over the fish and marinade for ½ hour. Coat the surface of a cast iron skillet with vegetable oil turn the heat to medium. Add two or three tablespoons of stir fry sauce to the pan and cook fish for 8 to 10 minutes until seared on the outside and flaky white in the middle.
I’m not very good at following recipes. Part of the reason is that I’m creative and I like to come up with my own unique ideas for dishes. The other half of it is that I’m frugal. I refuse to run to the grocery store and buy ingredients that I’m likely only going to cook with once (have you seen how much spices cost these days!).
My favorite thing to do is to look at three or four recipes, get an idea for the dish I’d like to create and what might go into making that dish, and then take it from there- using the ingredients that I have lying around the house.
On occasion, I will make some downright awful food, but more often than not, I’ll create a dish that my wife and I deem one of our new favorites. The Blackened Mangrove Snapper over Creamy Sharp White Cheddar and Bacon Grits was one of these dishes.
Feel free to take this dish to the next level by adding shrimp or scallions to the grits and/or by drizzling a Louisiana Cajun crawdad sauce over the fish. That would go excellent with this!
Blackened Mangrove Snapper
- ¼ stick unsalted butter
- Bacon grease
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 to 6 mangrove snapper fillets (depending on the size)
- Cayenne Pepper
- Garlic Powder
- Cajun Seasoning
Creamy White Cheddar Bacon Grits
- ½ stick unsalted butter
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 ½ cups water
- 4 to 6 strips of bacon
- 2 cups quick grits
- 4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese (shredded or thinly sliced)
- Salt (to taste)
- Pepper (to taste)
- Paprika (to taste)
Cook bacon in a non-stick frying pan until crispy brown and set the remaining grease aside. Bring water and heavy cream to a boil. Lower heat to medium low and add the grits, stirring often. Cook for ten minutes and stir in ¼ stick of butter. If the grits appear too thick add water until it reaches your desired consistency. Cook for another ten minutes or until the grits are soft but still preserve their texture, and remove from heat. Add the cheese, bacon, remaining butter, salt, pepper and paprika and stir until everything is well mixed together. Cover until the fish is ready.
Check the fillets for bones and trim as much of the bloodline from the fish as you can without damaging the fillet or tearing the white meat. Combine equal parts salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, garlic powder, Cajun seasoning and thyme in a dish. Coat the outside of the fillets with a good amount of seasoning, rubbing the spices softly into the meat.
In a cast iron skillet, on medium high heat, combine butter, olive oil, and the reserved bacon grease. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, place the fillets in the pan. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove fish and serve directly over grits.
It’s hot! Correction, it’s scorching hot!
Currently, at 4:30 pm, its 94 degrees with only a 4 mph wind ever so gently blowing out of the East. Weather.com says it feels like its 104!
Talk about a heat wave, even for the Florida Keys.
This is the kind of weather that makes you want to stay indoors, camped out in front of the air conditioning vent. Every time I try and take my dog out to do his thing he looks at me as if I’m nuts.
“I’m not going out there you idiot! I’ll cook. Look at all this fur. I think I’ll just pee on the tile floor. There, done. Go back to your computer and leave me be.”
Now, I’m not complaining about the heat- I didn’t move to the Keys to cool down, but these temperatures sure do make it difficult to enjoy my two favorite outdoor activities; fishing and kayaking.
Trust me, on days like this you don’t want to be on the water in a self-propelled plastic vessel that offers zero shade and no throttle to throw into gear when you need to create your own wind.
Your best bet when it’s this hot is to find an empty bar stool in an air-conditioned bar that has a view of the water, sip a couple of ice-cold adult beverages, wait for the sun to begin to set, and then go fishing!
The mangrove snapper fishing is off the hook right now at the reef and the best bite is in the evening and after dark.
Sunday night Jeff Reilly of Grassy Key and I headed out around 6:30 and before the sun set had our limit of grovers.
Not only that, but we were sticking quality fish in the livewell and replacing them with larger fish as we caught them. We wanted to keep fishing and weren’t ready to leave after limiting out in such a short period of time.
For those of you thinking about heading out for some nighttime snapper fishing, I highly recommend giving it a shot:
- It’s inexpensive- you won’t burn much fuel (you can find the fish 4-5 miles from the dock in the middle Keys); a couple blocks or chum; bait and your gear.
- Mangrove snapper are delicious- one of my favorite fish to eat. The mild, white flaky meat tastes great grilled, fried, baked, or however you decide to make it. Plus, you’ll have no problem loading the cooler with plenty of tasty fillets to take back home with you.
- The reef is a great place to watch the sunset- you have to see for yourself just how beautiful the sun looks as it sets behind the seven-mile bridge- a giant ball of fire disappearing into a watery horizon. Simply amazing!
- It’s fun! Snapper fishing offers constant rod-bending action for all ages and skill levels. Each time jeff and I tossed a bait into the water it got slammed. For those of you that aren’t patient anglers, this is your type of fishing.
Nighttime Snapper Tips
Below are a few basic tips to help you catch the big nighttime mangroves.
- Find structure. Head to the reef and look for a live bottom between 30 and 50 feet of water. Last evening we fished a spot that wasn’t in our gps machine but looked promising as the depth quickly dropped from 30 to 50 and the bottom contour clearly marked structure. Trust me when I say that we have that number marked now. Head to the reef, search around a bit, and you’ll find a good spot to drop the anchor.
- Chum. Get the chum out as soon as possible and make sure you have a consistent slick heading out from the boat. Take enough chum to cover the amount of time you plan to fish and have 3 or 4 blocks on the boat to be safe. Normally there will be a fair amount of vessels fishing around where you are and the snapper will leave and move to one of their slicks if your runs out.
- Use fluorocarbon. This is not mandatory, especially if the water is stained, but it definitely helps when the fish are being a bit line shy. A 6 or 7 foot splice of 20-pound leader should get the job done.
- Fish all water columns. The snapper may be deep or they may be more towards the surface. I like to use different size jig heads (1/4 oz and 1/8 oz did the trick last night) to locate where the fish are, and also like to free-line if the fish are near the surface (free-lining before dark will also give you a shot at catching yellowtails). It’s also fun to rig a bottom rod with a lead and live bait to drop it down and stick it in the rod holder. You never know if a mutton or big black grouper may be lurking below, ready to feed.
- Take a variety of bait with you. Last night you could have drifted a gummy worm back on a jig head and likely caught a keeper snapper- they were that hungry. This is not always the case though. I like to take live bait (pilchards or small pinfish) and cut bait on every trip. Last night a majority of fish was caught on chunks of frozen ballyhoo that we had caught and frozen the week before. Fresh pinfish strips are also one of my favorite snapper baits.
- Obey the laws of the sea. Be careful and considerate while fishing and boating at night. Display the proper lights on your vessel and do not anchor up in another boat’s chum slick. Also know your limits- you’re allowed 5 mangrove snapper over 10 inches per person.
- Have fun! Nighttime snapper fishing can be a blast. Hopefully these tips will get you started and you’ll be able to make it out and bend the rod. If you don’t have your own boat and are in the Keys visiting, go to www.TryCharterFishing.com and we’ll find a trip for you.
Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of dining with my wife and mother at Lorelei Restaurant in Islamorada. My mother, visiting from Cincinnati, wanted an outdoor- Florida Keys style dining experience, and I knew that Lorelei was just the place for her to soak up the flavors of the Keys.
Below is my review of Lorelei Restaurant. I plan to make Florida Keys restaurant reviews a staple of FromtheYak.com (as long as my wallet allows), so check back soon and often to read more about the best and worst places to eat in the Florida Keys.
The menu: The Lorelei dinner menu offers basic fare with selections you’re more likely to find at your neighborhood Applebee’s than at a fine dining seafood establishment. The dinner menu is quite simple with eight sandwiches and seven entrees to choose from, as well as a dozen appetizers highlighted by peppercorn crusted yellowfin tuna, steamboat channel shrimp (fresh peel and eat), and tropical coconut shrimp served with an orange ginger dipping sauce.
The sandwiches, seemingly geared towards a bar crowd and anglers returning from a long day of pursuing bonefish in the backcountry, are anything but exciting. The sandwich selection reminds me of your run-of-the-mill chain restaurant menu and includes burgers, Philly cheese steak, prime rib and chicken sandwiches; with your only seafood option being the “catch of the day” (usually dolphin this time of year), or cracked conch.
The entrees, like the sandwiches, don’t jump out at you when reading about them on the menu. Baby back ribs, grilled chicken, prime rib, grilled grouper, fried shrimp, Alaskan Snow crabs and the “backcountry yellowtail snapper plate”- yellowtail snapper encrusted with parmesan cheese and topped with crabmeat and lemon beurre blanc, served with mashed potatoes & gravy and sauteed vegetables, are your only choices.
For desert, Lorelei offers chocolate fudge cake and of course, key lime pie.
The food: Since I do have a limited budget, and because I’ve had a craving for Philly cheese steaks ever since my last visit to Key West (Mr. Z’s), I decided to bypass the entrees and go with the Philly cheese steak sandwich. This turned out to be an excellent choice as the sandwich portion was large and it was loaded with peppers, onions, steak and CHEESE WHIZ, and came with fries. It may not have been the healthiest of choices, but it sure was delicious- and who eats healthy while on vacation anyway (unfortunately I’m not on vacation)? Plus, I was quite impressed with the moderate price of $8.95.
I’m guessing that my wife and mother, knowing that my wallet was a little light, took it easy on me and also bypassed the entrée menu, electing to go with the less expensive blackened fish sandwich (mahi) and cheese quesadilla. While there isn’t too much you can say about a cheese quesadilla, I will add that the fish sandwich was superb. The portion was above average, the seasoning was flavorful but not overpowering (you could taste the fish, not just the spices), and the dolphin was very fresh.
I can only speculate on the quality of the entrees but the consensus I gathered from looking around at other patron”s plates and from reading reviews online is that the entrees are good, but not great. As far as the sandwiches go, I would rate the Philly Cheese Steak and the blackened catch of the day 4 out of 5 stars- meaning I’d be happy to devour either one of them again.
The setting: The atmosphere, location and scenery at Lorelei are absolutely amazing! The setting, more than the food, is why you should come here for lunch or dinner. The landscape is tropical and waterfront, and Lorelei has its own beach where you can dine in the sand in your bare feet, as well as a tiki hut with live nightly music (and good music- Billy Davidson was playing); an unobstructed view of the summertime sunset (complete with moored sailboats to enhance your sunset photos); palms trees; a cabana bar; a marina; backcountry islands off in the distance; two tables set up as swings so you can sway back and forth while eating your meal; beautiful white wooden chairs and tables that add to the ambiance; a sandy area in back set up for receptions of private parties; and just about everything else you could possibly need to be reminded that you are indeed dining in the Florida Keys.
The service: My main complaint about Lorelei is the service. Our waitress was friendly and informative, but she rarely came around to check on us and she forgot to bring our drink orders on three occasions. Also, never once did she offer to refill our waters- which, when dining in 90-degree heat, is nice to have.
I don’t necessarily blame the waitress for the sub-par service as much as I do the setup of Lorelei. The tables are spread out across an extremely large property and the waitstaff has quite a hike to get from your table back to the bar and kitchen.
I suppose this is also why they have a limited menu- to try and keep things as simple as possible. Still, be prepared for a slow dining experience as the kitchen has a lot of dishes to put out.
My other complaint about Lorelei are the crowds. They do not take reservations and during season you will be hard pressed to find a table. From what I recall it is a ‘free for all’ if you’re trying to sit in the sand.
This is hardly a knock on the restaurant, after all, there has to be a reason they are busy. Just be warned that during tourist season you may have difficulty getting a table. Also be prepared for people to gather around your table and stand in front of you during sunset if you’re seated anywhere near the water.
The Value: The dinner prices are consistent with dishes found at other Florida Keys restaurants. $23.95 for the grouper entrée, $21.95 for the prime rib, $21.95 for the backcountry yellowtail snapper, and so on. The sandwiches were all very well priced and well worth the cost, and they did not charge extra for your choice of fries or sweet potato fries. The drinks- I had a double vodka with a splash of cranberry ($5.50), while my wife and mother had pints of domestic draft beer ($2.50), were also reasonable.
The Consensus: Definitely go to Lorelei, if only just once. This is the perfect place to grab a bite or cold drink on your first and/or last night in the Keys, to remind you why you came here to visit. The food is good, and the atmosphere is amazing! There are plenty of great indoor dining locations that serve more ‘advanced’ fare which you can dine at later on in your trip. None of them however, can match the ambiance of Lorelei.
Just remember to get here early during season as they don’t take reservations, and to bring your camera to photograph the sunsets over Florida Bay. The live music is great, very “Keysie,” and if you’re not hungry there’s a nice open-air bar to have a happy-hour drink at while overlooking the water.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being stay far far away from, and 10 meaning it shouldn’t be missed on your trip to the Keys, I’d give Lorelei Restaurant in Islamorada a solid 8.5. It’s the type of place you came to the Keys for.