Category Archives: Florida Keys

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.

Get More Florida!

Finally, if you love the Florida Keys, please support my Florida travel habit, my dogs, and this website. Here’s how:

Introducing the Florida Keys Spectacular: A Podcast for Keys Fans

a pickup truck that's been bedazzled, Florida-keys style.
Introducing the Florida Keys Spectacular — bonus podcast content for Florida Keys fans!
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Do you love podcasts? Do you love the Florida Keys? Do you already listen to the Florida Spectacular podcast, co-hosted by me and Rick Kilby?

Well, then, this is your lucky Thursday. Why? Because, as of today, Florida Keys historian Brad Bertelli and I have a biweekly podcast about the Florida Keys.

Introducing the Florida Keys Spectacular podcast.

It’s no secret I love the Florida Keys.

One of the things I struggled with when I started visiting the Florida Keys regularly? Finding non-touristy things to do. Oh, yes, I swam with a sea lion (something I loved, but feel bad about now) and yes, I’ve eaten at Margaritaville. But… those things aren’t really the Florida Keys I love.

The Florida Keys really opened up to me after I met Brad Bertelli in 2015, when a stroke of serendipity sent me to the Florida Keys to get interviewed by a Canadian television station. At the time, Brad worked for a Florida Keys museum, I didn’t have this website, and my book was not-yet published. Brad, already a published author, was really nice to an unknown Florida writer. Throughout the years, we became friends as well as colleagues. (When my book, Florida Spectacular, comes out later this year, you’ll read one of my favorite Brad stories in the introduction.) During the pandemic, Brad and I had virtual cocktails for people playing the Florida Keys home game (which was everyone, really).

Photo of Brad Bertelli, co-host of Florida Keys Spectacular podcast. A bald-ish man with black frame glasses, smiling at the camera. Man is wearing a white tee.
There’s no better co-host for the Florida Keys Spectacular podcast than Brad Bertelli.
Photo courtesy Brad Bertelli.

Today, Brad has a few more books, a column about Florida Keys history in Keys Weekly, and a Facebook group about Florida Keys history that has more followers than a small town.

A few years back, I started the Florida Spectacular podcast.

The show has gone through several iterations. Right now we hit a sweet spot. Rick Kilby (another amazing Florida author) co-hosts. Rick and I have a lot of fun taking listeners across Florida every week. We talk about history, environment, and, of course, things to do in each part of Florida.

While Rick spends a lot of time traveling the state, he doesn’t spend nearly as much time in the Florida Keys as I do. And, honestly, there’s a lot more to the Sunshine State than Key West, Florida Bay, and the upper and middle keys. It’s a different world, honestly.

Which is why it makes sense to have a different podcast. Every Thursday, Brad holds court at Robbie’s in Islamorada. Anyone who wants to talk Florida Keys history can hang out with him, ask history questions, or share memories. I found myself, as I so often do, in the Florida Keys recently, so I found Brad at Robbie’s, bought him a beer, and told him I had a proposition. Why not take his knowledge about the Florida Keys and create an off-shoot of the Florida Spectacular podcast? This one would be only for Keys fans, and we’d cover everything from where to buy sandwiches for a picnic lunch at Windley Key (Episode 1) to the original route of the Oversea Highway (Episode 2).

Brad was all in immediately. While I plowed my way through a piece of fish at the Hungry Tarpon, we planned. Back home, the planning continued. Brad taped a commercial. Brad drafted some scripts. We chose topics. And, finally, today, the Florida Keys Spectacular podcast goes live.

Subscribe to Florida Keys Spectacular today and support us!

Florida Keys Spectacular is bonus content, available to anyone who supports the podcast at the $5/month level. For that $5, you get two episodes a month. Each one will take a deep dive into the Florida Keys. We’ll give you Florida Keys history, suggestions on things to do, and the ability to see the Florida Keys like a local does. No podcast explores the Florida Keys like we do. Take a listen — you won’t be disappointed!

I’d love to do the Sally Struthers thing and say, “for the cost of a cup of coffee” but, well, inflation. Also, aside from Joffrey’s, some of my favorite coffee in Florida is Baby’s Coffee, and since it’s a bit of a drive to Baby’s, it costs me a whole lot more than $5 to get a cup (but so worth it!).