All posts by Cathy Salustri

Cathy Salustri loves Florida. She writes about her travels across the state, using her MLA in Florida Studies to explore every corner of the Sunshine State. When not traveling Florida, she's writing, reading, and cooking Florida things.

Florida’s 2024 Hurricane Season: Don’t Panic

Great Miami Hurricane barometer via National Weather Service
As Florida’s 2024 hurricane season begins, let’s remember how far we’ve come with forecasting. Pictured: Barometer from the 1926 hurricane.
Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service.

As Florida’s 2024 hurricane season opens, Rick Kilby and I talked about Florida’s hurricane history, hurricane prep, and — this is clutch — how to prepare without freaking out.

My forthcoming book, Florida Spectacular: Extraordinary Places and Exceptional Lives, has a chapter about how Florida forecasting and experience has made the world better prepared  for a storm. (Hey, if you want to pre-order that, please do so from an indie bookstore like St. Pete’s Tombolo Books. We all love Amazon but we having bookstores in our cities and towns more, right?)

It sounds odd, but I’m a huge fans of hurricanes. I’ve written before about the Hurricane of 1928, and wrote a series about the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in the Everglades and Florida Keys.

Why my fascination? Well, while no one wants to see loss of life, hurricanes are a vital part of the natural order of things. Without them, we’d have devastating forest fires, too many nutrients in our rivers and lakes, and less food production in the ocean. There’s a host of benefits — don’t take my word for it; check out this article — but it’s hard to appreciate those when there’s an oak tree in your living room and you suddenly have waterfront property that may have downed live power lines, right?

So, don’t fear hurricanes. Prepare. Rick and I talk about some ways you can do that on our podcast. Take a listen.

Florida’s 2024 Hurricane Season: Links We Mentioned

Hurricanes.gov

Oranges and Alligators: Sketches of South Florida Life by Iza Duffy Hardy

Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen

Hurricane prep suggestions: Turn off your TV and check hurricanes.gov, the least weather-terroristy source for real news. Instead of bottled water, buy five gallon reusable jugs (we suggest glass, but you can get plastic ones, too) and a USB-powered water dispenser (you can recharge it in your car if needed). You can also get a five-galloon cooler with a dispenser built in the bottom.

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Moondog Cafe & Bakery in Key West: Gluten-Free Nirvana

a margarita with a Tajin rim
A spicy margarita at Moondog Cafe and Bakery in Key West.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Moondog Cafe Key West: gluten-free pastry, pizza, and other choices.

I love to eat, and I love to try new foods. This is why a relatively recent (eight years) celiac diagnosis hit me hard. No more strolling into a seafood restaurant and ordering the most exotic preparation of something. No, now I have to start off every order with, “I have celiac, so I need to ask a few questions.”

A Few Favorite Keys Restaurants with Gluten-Free Options

I travel to the Florida Keys enough that I’ve found a few places that reliably serve tasty gluten-free food. The pizza at No Name Pub, for example, is consistently good.  In Islamorada, Midway Cafe has an abundance of gluten-free choices. Also in Islamorada, Lazy Days doesn’t have a specific gluten-free menu but the staff has knowledge about celiac and the menu has enough variety that I can always find something good.  And, of course, I recently dove face-down into some great fish dip at Big Pine Rooster.

Moondog Cafe Key West

I’ll add Moondog Cafe & Bakery in Key West to that list of places I love to eat in the Florida Keys.  They don’t have the gluten-free bread like Midway, or the fresh fish like Lazy Days, but they do have gluten-free pizza and an abundance of gluten-free pastries.

a gluten-free pizza at Moondog in Key West — toppings are Kalamata olives, basil pesto, artichoke, parmesan, and feta
Pizza is good even when it’s bad, and this pizza at Moondog in Key West was definitely the opposite of bad.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

We had some time to kill in Key West while we waited for our Amazon delivery to arrive at The UPS Store and we were hungry, so we grabbed a table with the dogs at the patio at Moondog. They have a robust menu and an almost equally robust gluten-free menu. They do not have gluten-free buns or bread, but the choices they do have more than make up for it.

After some deliberation, I ordered the gluten-free pizza of the day. It came topped with artichokes, Kalamata olives, peppers, feta, and parmesan. It was delicious and I ate far more than I should have (and still had plenty left for dinner that night and breakfast the next day.)

Moondog Cafe & Bakery in Key West serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’ll definitely return to try  more of their food.

Check out Moondog Cafe Key West

Moondog Cafe & Bakery, 823 Whitehead St., Key West. Daily, 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m.  305-741-7699; moondogcafe.com.

Best Fish Dip in the Keys

a green plate with warm corn tortilla chips piled on it, with a white platter behind it. The white platter has the best fish dip in the Florida Keys, jalapeños, diced tomato, and chopped red onion
Best fish dip in the Florida Keys? It’s really more of a fish salad, which is why I love it so much.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Best fish dip in the Florida Keys? That’s a tall order, I know.

Sometimes the universe aligns just so, and you have an exquisite meal, afternoon, or experience. That was what happened yesterday when we went looking for a fish sandwich. That’s not always as easy as it sounds: I have celiac, so mostly my fish sandwiches are ordered sans bread, and both Barry and I prefer the taste of fish to salt (although I will, on occasion, get a craving for blackened fish), so it’s always an adventure.

Especially in the Florida Keys. While the Florida Keys has no shortage of restaurants, they fall into three categories: tourist-centric (Islamorada Fish Company comes to mind), solid food that, while tasty, isn’t seafood (El Siboney on Stock Island does have some fish but seriously, go for the pork), and seafood restaurants (these vary in price and quality, but Lazy Days serves good fish consistently).

I come to the Florida Keys for the water and sun, not a fine dining experience, but yesterday we both wanted a fish sandwich, so we went in search of someplace new. We found ourselves at the Big Pine Rooster. Our sole experience with the Rooster was stopping in the parking lot to let the dogs pee a few years ago, but they had fish sandwiches, and it’s possible we’d both waited a little too long to eat, so we pointed the Xterra to Big Pine and grabbed a table on the patio.

A sign for Big Pine Rooster, with benches and picnic tables in the foreground.
Big Pine Rooster was a pleasant surprise. We’ll be back!
Photo by Cathy Salustri

While they didn’t have gluten-free bread, they did have mahi, so we had all we needed.

We thought.

The Best Fish Dip in the Florida Keys

When I went in to order drinks (the owner, Marcy, was the only one working aside from someone in the kitchen), I ordered the fish dip on a hunger-fueled impulse. I expected a small bowl of dip with a few crackers I couldn’t eat, maybe a tomato or two, and a leaf of lettuce.

I was right about the leaf of lettuce.

When Marcy brought the appetizer to the table, I picked up a corn tortilla chip. It was warm.

“Did you just now make these?” I asked her. She nodded. I scooped up a hunk of dip. It was not, as many can be, so laden with mayo you couldn’t taste the fish, but also, the fish wasn’t overpowering.

a hand holding a corn tortilla chip and the best fish dip in the Florida Keys. The chip also has red onion, tomato, and jalapeño on it
Is this the best fish dip in the Florida Keys? Well, I haven’t tasted them all, but so far this is the best. I’ll keep looking, though!Photo by Cathy Salustri

The platter of fish dip included jalapeños, chopped red onion, diced tomato, and, yes, a leaf of lettuce under the fish dip (I think it may be the law in Florida that if you don’t serve the fish dip a bowl, you have to serve it on a leaf of lettuce. We ate everything on the plate (the peppers gave the dip a wonderful kick, which could be a big part of why I loved it so much). When we were done, I rolled up that leaf of lettuce and ate the scraps of remaining dip like a burrito.

My mahi — I ordered it blackened — was also amazing, but it couldn’t hold a candle to that fish dip. The sun was bright but not too hot, there was a breeze across the island, and we were eating fish in the Florida Keys.

Sometimes, as I said, the universe aligns in exactly the right way. This was one of those times.

Is This the Best Fish Dip in the Florida Keys? Decide for Yourself!

Big Pine Rooster, 29943 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key. bigpinerooster.com 305-330-1330.

Love the Keys? I do, too. Check out my post about fishing Florida Bay near the Everglades, 10 things most people never do when they visit the Florida Keys, and some of the best places to buy fresh seafood in the Florida Keys.

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