Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Key West Frame Of Mind On Gulf Boulevard

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I have visited the Conch Republic more times than we can count. Key West has amused and entertained us many times over the years, but that 16 or so hour round trip from Tampa and back has worn us out. We have flown down a time or two, but that air fare can be ridiculous.

This past December we solved the travel issues. We sold our house in Tampa and moved to the beach where we have found a Key West frame of mind with great food venues, live entertainment, and friendly local beach folks. The tourists can be just as annoying here as the ones on Duval, but that is part of the charm.

Speaking of the Conch Republic, one of our favorite haunts for good grub and cold brews is the Conch Republic Grill, at 16699 Gulf Boulevard, North Redington Beach. We have darkened their doorstep on several occasions and each time we piglets have waddled out stuffed and thoroughly sated.

On one visit my bride, who is not a true seafood aficionado, was in the throes of gastronomic orgasm over the buttery grilled Hogfish special. Hogfish is also known as Hog Snapper due to its head resembling a pig's snout. Hogfish is lean, has a delicate texture, very fine white meat with mild flavor and subtle sweet undertones. The Belle said that was the very best fish she has ever had. Hog Snapper sells out quickly because of the traditional fishing practices with spears as opposed to hook and line, so if it is on the Conch menu - get it!

It wasn't on the menu last night, so my bride chose the Margarita Chicken dinner with a side of loaded mashed potatoes. It was good, it was filling, and there was enough to take home for a chicken sandwich the next day.

I don't remember what species of fish I had on my previous visit, but it was in the Sicilian Oak Grilled style and very tasty. Last night though, I had one of the absolutely best bone-in grilled pork chops imaginable. That chop was so tender, so juicy, and so perfectly prepared that it almost brought tears of joy to my eyes. I had asked Lauren, our lovely server, to ask that the chop not be cooked to death. Instead of gray, I asked that the center be a warm pink and it was ... perfection on a platter.

That picture does not do the chop justice. It was slathered with a spicy Jamaican jerk rub and served with a side of garlic butter linguine.

All of that food, a couple of Bloody Marys, and several Sweetwater 420s only set us back $47.25. We were more than happy to leave a 20% gratuity for Lauren's excellent service.

Editor's Update: I returned (6/20/2015) to the Conch for another one of their Jerk Pork Chops that was so heavenly some months ago. Again I requested that warm pink center. I received it well done, gray and dry, and sent it back. The second chop arrived well done with the admonition that the restaurant refuses to cook pork any other way.

Well, excuse the hell out of me but: Anything north of 137 degrees F is safe to eat. After that the degree of doneness is a personal preference. At home I cook  to 140 to 145 and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. As knowledgeable chefs are aware, that will give you a slight pink, moist center and I have yet to keel over sick or dead. Conch Republic has now been removed from my go-to list of Gulf Blvd restaurants. I want the damn thing My Way! After all, it's my money.

And again, there was no hog fish. Apparently the Seabreeze got it all.

Conch Republic Grill on Urbanspoon

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