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.

Stock Island: The Key West You Never Knew

a white fence painted with the words "I ❤️ Stock Island"
It’s not fancy, but that’s what I love about Stock Island.
Cathy Salustri

To call Stock Island “the Key West you never knew” may sound dramatic, but it’s the way I’ve always pictured Key West before, as my husband likes to say, Dunkin’ Donuts came to town.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to love about Key West (its history, art, and architecture come to mind) — but there’s also a lot I cannot abide (the Duval Crawl, the cruise ships, and the drunken smell that tends to linger well after the bars close, to start).

However, right before you get to Key West, there’s an overlooked key that has all the trappings of a truly special place: Stock Island. With not too many places to stay but a lot of gritty reality — not to mention some fantastic artists who live and work there, Stock Island’s easily one of my favorite places in the Florida Keys.


I’ve read several accounts of the origin of the island’s name, but the only Florida Keys historian I trust — Brad Bertelli — tells me the island gets its name from the one-time practice of keeping livestock penned on the island. Brad has a wildly popular Facebook group devoted to Florida Keys history. He posts about history throughout the Keys, and has a few posts showing historic images from Stock Island.

In more recent history, Stock Island has some interesting lore. In popular culture, it gets a bad rep as a place to dump a body. The late Tom Corcoran placed at least one body there (in his books, not in real life), and he’s not the only one. Compared to Key West, Stock Island isn’t pretty — at least, not in the conventional sense.

But, as Key West fell victim to its own popularity and the slices of genuine Keys life grew smaller and smaller, something happened on Stock Island: it took up where Key West left off. I have no idea whether this is a well-planned marketing campaign, something organic, or a little bit of both.

And you know what? I don’t care. While I realize this isn’t 100% true,  Stock Island reminds me of the Key West that once was. Maybe it’s more accurate to call it the Key West that could have been.

What to Expect When You Visit Stock Island

If you visit expecting a smaller, less-crowded version of Key West, you will be disappointed. While the island has no shortage of things for tourists to experience, it’s largely populated by working class people. In the lower Keys — especially close to Key West — working class lifestyles look nothing like working class lifestyles in the rest of the country.

  1. Most of the homes here are mobile homes with little or no yard.

    Real estate costs money and money isn’t something the people serving your food, making your bed, and selling you t-shirts have in abundance. (Consider that the next time you tip, too — will it really hurt you to leave 25%?) If you really want to pull back the veil on what living in the Florida Keys looks like for the average person, take a look at the neighborhoods on Stock Island (but remember, this isn’t Disney World — these are people’s homes. Show respect and don’t walk onto anyone’s property or take a bunch of photos.)

  2. You might think some of the neighborhoods look like a third-world country. They aren’t.

    Odds are, many people reading this can’t afford to rent one of these trailers on what they make (2023 rates hover around $3,000/month for a one or two bedroom).  Even when you do own, when you know it could get washed away every August, you don’t have a lot of incentive to go full Property Brothers.

  3. The tourist areas don’t look like tourist areas.

    Case in point: one of the best restaurants on the island, Hogfish Bar and Grill, is right by a bunch of those trailers that may make some people clasp their pearls, swoon, and double-check the locks on their Lincoln Navigators. El Siboney — one of my favorite places to eat here — has a sign that looks as though it could be one of the first neon signs, anywhere, ever. And, while The Perry and adjacent marina don’t look like most of the rest of the island, the drive to get there is decidedly un-touristy. This is what makes Stock Island worth the visit. This is pure Florida Keys, warts and all — and remember, every home you pass is someone’s iteration of paradise.

But hey, you want to see the real Florida Keys, right?

This is it, baby. Stock Island is as real as it gets. Soak it in. It could be gone before you know it.

Things To Do in Stock Island

  • The I Love Stock Island Festival (in mid-July this year)
  • Walk behind Hogfish to meet the locals (and see some great art)
  • Take your morning run through the neighborhood, where you can see how locals without a gazillion dollars really afford to live in the Florida Keys
a plate of roast pork — when you visit Stock Island, stop by El Siboney and get some!
This roast pork, or puerco asado, which I order pretty much every time I visit Stock Island’s El Siboney, is some of the best I’ve had outside a private kitchen.
Cathy Salustri

Places to Eat

  • El Siboney. This place has fantastic puerco asado, among other things. They have a full liquor bar, plenty of seating, and a cadre of locals who eat here.
  • Hogfish Grill. If they have kingfish and grits on the menu, get it. Trust me.
  • Matt’s Kitchen. The only bad thing about this is that it’s a fantastic restaurant in a hotel, so, yes, it’s a little more tourist-oriented. But the marina at The Perry has liveaboards aplenty, so you’ll still get local flavor here.
the interior of a restaurant called El Siboney, a must-do when you visit Stock Island
El Siboney is definitely not your average tourist eatery.
Cathy Salustri

Places to Stay

  • The Perry’s one of the nicest, newest hotels on the island, and I love staying here.

    Stock Island Perry Hotel by Cathy Salustri — visit stock island and stay here
    Even the sign for The Perry Hotel (on Stock Island in the city of Key West, not on the Key of West) pays homage to Stock Island’s history with its bow shape and propellor light.
    Cathy Salustri
  • Boyd’s Key West Campground is popular (including with fellow road tripper, Jon Kile) for its proximity to Key West. If you don’t mind a lot of people in a relatively small space, this may be a great option. It comes at a price, though: Camping shouldn’t cost this much. Ever.

Like this article? Love the Florida Keys? Check out my Top 10 Things To Do in the Florida Keys (that most people don’t)!

Sour Orange Pie Recipe

Sour orange pie treeSour orange pie recipe
Behold, the sour orange, just waiting for you to use it in a sour orange pie recipe!
Zeynel Cebeci, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As much as I write about it, talk about it, and eat it, I never have written down my recipe for Sour Orange Pie.

Full disclosure: I modified this one from Authentic Florida. If you find yourself with an abundance of sour oranges, go ahead and try them both. Let me know which one you prefer!

Some recipes out there suggest using saltines in the crust. Don’t use a saltine crust. That’s an abomination! Also, you need something a little more sugary to cut the tart in this sour orange pie recipe.

I’m not a food blogger, so I’ll give you my recipe first and then if you want to keep reading, you can. But if you’re here for the Sour Orange Pie recipe, fear not: I won’t make you scroll!

Graham Cracker Crust

This is not negotiable. I make mine with two-ingredients: butter and graham cracker crumbs.

  • 1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs (I have celiac so I get gluten-free ones, but don’t do that to yourself if you don’t have to)
  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4-1/2 c. sugar (honestly, I don’t always add sugar and think it tastes just fine, but apparently most people like the sugar. Go figure.)
  1. If baking the crust* (I do): Preheat oven to 375º
  2. Mix everything together and press into a pie plate.
  3. Bake for 5-6 minutes.
  4. Allow to cool.
  5. Fill with, well,  filling.

Sour Orange Pie Filling

  • 4 Seville** oranges (sour oranges)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  1. Zest the oranges and set aside about 1 tsp. zest
  2. Juice the oranges, taking care to remove seeds
  3. Mix the juice, yolks, sugar, milk, and all but that 1 tsp. zest together until completely blended
  4. Pour in pie crust
  5. Garnish with zest
  6. Freeze until firm
  7. Eat

Notes on the Sour Orange Pie Recipe

*Because this is a freezer pie, you can simply freeze the crust when you freeze the pie. I bake my crust because I think it holds together better, but remember, I have to use gluten-free graham cracker crumbs. Graham crackers with actual gluten in them will hold together much better, so freezing may work for you!

**True sour oranges, called Seville oranges, are truly hard to find anymore. For the first 500 years Europe had any oranges at all, though, it only had Sevilles. Seville oranges were also the first oranges to make it to the North American continent. Today, your best bet for finding them is a tree in someone’s yard or stumbling across one on a hike (that’s how I first tasted them.) If you have a tree in your yard that produces crappy oranges, do not think you have a Seville orange tree. This state park used to have one growing wild near the cabins, but I’m not sure it’s still there.

In its truest form, the Seville orange looks like a giant, bumpy, orange, lemon. If you hold it to your nose for a sniff, you might think it’s a lemon. People will actually insist it is a lemon; it is not. If you find one of these trees, please tell me where you found it and send me the seeds!

Some people like to top this pie with meringue; I’m not one of those people. But please, feel free to do that if that’s your thing, but before you pop it in the oven to brown the meringue, make sure that filling’s really frozen hard. Another option? Whipped cream. I don’t do that, either, but I’m a purist. No judgment if you want to add whipped cream!

Sour Orange Substitutions

If you can’t find sour oranges, you have two choices: use the Authentic Florida recipe I mentioned above, or buy the Badia “Naranja Agria” juice. You can usually find it in the Spanish section of what most grocers call the “ethnic foods” aisle. Be careful you don’t accidentally grab the mojo bottle. They both have orange in them, they look almost identical, and they usually get stocked next to one another. The mojo, however, has garlic and onion and other things that taste great with pork, but not in a pie!

Sour Orange Juice: Other Uses

Oh, and if you find yourself with leftover sour oranges, you can always try my sour orange margarita. Because when life gives you sour oranges, make margaritas!

Exploring Winter Park: Memories of Twenty-Something

At 21, I moved into my first non-dormitory apartment in Winter Park. The two-bedroom, one-bath apartment reminded me a lot of the one in Barefoot in the Park. It oozed charm.

Much like the apartment in Barefoot in the Park, that charm, I learned, took fortitude. The apartment had a gas stove, which terrified me, wood floors which weren’t exactly even, and a flea infestation.

A three-story apartment building in Winter Park
My first apartment ever. The part of the building that looks like an afterthought? That was the master bedroom.
Cathy Salustri

I loved it until I couldn’t anymore. I had a one-hour commute to my part-time job (Walt Disney World) and a one-hour commute to college classes (at UCF). Orlando, as the saying goes, is an hour from Orlando.

Now, 30 years later, I can look back at what a mess 21-year-old Cathy was and laugh. Enough time has passed, too, that I can look back on yay life in Winter Park with fondness and nostalgia.

A 1930s-era brick mansion in Winter Park
Casa Feliz in Winter Park.

So, when my podcast co-host Rick Kilby asked me to come to Winter Park to give a talk at Casa Feliz, I happily said yes and set to work researching WPA architecture in Central Florida. My research about the WPA in Florida deals mostly with the CCC and Federal One, but I really wanted to take a road trip to Winter Park.

After a nightmarish drive on I-4 (have I mentioned how much I do not like the Eisenhower Interstate System?), I rolled into Winter Park with a couple of hours to spare before my talk. I parked at Casa Feliz and set to strolling. My first stop? My old apartment building, El Cortez.

a sign that reads "History Property – All Grills are Prohibited on Property" in Winter Park
I had no idea my first apartment was considered historic.

From the outside, it didn’t look as though any time had passed, other than the addition of a sign calling the property “historic.” I can only assume the owners consider the building historic because it dates to 1923, not because I once lived here.

The entrance to an apartment building in Winter Park
The view of my first grown-up living room. The air conditioner may be new, but not much else looks to have changed.
Cathy Salustri

I didn’t get a good look at anything but the outside, but I did enjoy seeing the building again and remembering the good parts of being 21. I hadn’t thought about my neighbors, Ashley and Stuart, in probably 29 years or so. I know they broke up, but I have no idea what happened to either of them. We were all so young and stupid together, and Winter Park was a great place to be young and stupid: A smaller, seemingly safer version of Orlando, with more charm (there’s that word again), a sushi restaurant within walking distance (I’d be shocked to learn it’s the same owners, but today it’s called Umi Japanese Fusion – “fusion” was not a food word 30 years ago – and if you want real history, here’s where I first ate sushi.)

a plate of stuffed cabbage in Winter Park
The stuffed cabbage at Winter Park’s Bosphorous is worth the trip.

With not enough time to spare to head to the Polasek or walk around the Rollins campus, I headed to Bosphourous, where I feasted on baba ganoush and stuffed cabbage. I sat at a sidewalk table, sipped my wine, and enjoyed the calm buzz of Winter Park’s downtown as it swirled around me.

At Casa Feliz, a mansion moved from the lake to save it from demolition, I gave my talk, met some lovely people, and packed it all up to head home. As I made my way back home – this time over somewhat less crowded roads, I reflected on the changes in Winter Park’s downtown over the past three decades. It’s a little, for lack of a better word, bougie-r than it felt in 1993, but it still has that charm and, even though someone thought plunking down a Pottery Barn in the historic downtown was an excellent idea, Winter Park remains a special Florida place.