Tag Archives: Florida Food

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:

2024 Florida Resolutions: Tomato Sandwiches and Road Trips

A cat cuddling a dog
Yes, that’s a cat. Cuddling a dog. Hobie Cat isn’t really into what we’d call “consent” and she’s beaten Banyan into submission. My 2024 Florida resolutions are as subdued as my hound dog is in this photo.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Last night we went to dinner at one of our favorite Gulfport restaurants, The Pearl. We’d initially planned to ring in 2024 at a campsite far from idiots shooting off fireworks and petrifying Banyan, but 2023 left me feeling like a limp dish rag. I didn’t need to get away; I needed to not do anything for a few days.  That’s what we did.

After we ordered,  my husband,  known to you as either El Cap or Barry, said, “Well, how could 2024 be worse?”

I stared at him. He isn’t Italian, something Universe-tempting comments such as this illustrate.

“Well, let’s see,” I said. “The dog could become a serial killer. The house could get possessed by demons. Do we need a third possibility?”

He admitted he could see my point and we stopped any foolish talk of how 2024 could be “better.” I should have learned my lesson when I write that 2023 would at least be the “other side” because I was not wrong but also not specific enough in that desire.

So, bearing that in mind, here are my low-key 2024 Florida resolutions.

A hand holding a small vial of water from the Fountain of Youth tourist attraction in St. Augustine
2024 Florida resolution: more road trips, perhaps to the Fountain of Youth. I no longer scoff at the idea; some years, you need all the help you can get.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

  1. More Florida road trips. 

    The last time we camped was August, because everything went to hell after that for a few months. Two days ago an assignment sent me to Deltona for the day; this reminded me how much I enjoy seeing Florida’s back roads. (Shout out to SR 44 and the largest hawk I’ve ever seen not in captivity).

    When we bought the camper in 2021, we unintentionally shifted from “a day trip can be fun” to “let’s only go if we can take the camper!” I want 2024 to have more road trips.

  2. Tomato sandwiches.

    We buy the bulk of our produce from Little Pond Farm. They’re in the Central Florida area, organic, and irrigate with a pond on their own property, which is about as close as you can get to lower carbon footprint and keeping GMOs out of your food. They grow the tastiest tomatoes I have eaten in recent memory. 

    I started 2024 with a tomato sandwich using one such tomato. I want 2024 to have more tomato sandwiches.

  3. That’s it. There’s no number three.

    As I said, 2023 taught me a lesson about non-specific intentions. 

    Oh, wait. There’s a third one. I want to finish this damn puzzle my friend Nicole gave me as a birthday gift in 2022. At only 300 pieces, it sounded easy, but it lacks standard-shaped puzzle pieces and has no easily identifiable border pieces.

    oddly shaped puzzle pieces

    Photo by Cathy Salustri

So, there you have it. I may be taking a road trip to visit my mom in prison and not have enough money to eat anything but tomato sandwiches, but, hey, the puzzle should get finished.

Maybe.

Spiced Sour Orange Cider: Christmas Cocktails, Florida-Style

oranges, lemons, and cloves boiling in orange juice — this is spiced sour orange cider
Spiced sour orange cider — festivity in the making.
Cathy Salustri

“This tastes like sour orange,” my husband tells me as he sips his drink, the newly invented spiced sour orange cider.

The drink didn’t start that way, but the more I sip it, the more I agree — and the more I can get behind a sour orange holiday. Plus, I like how “spiced sour orange cider” sounds.

I’m a fan of Chef Justin at Fresh from Florida, although I have real concerns about what “Fresh from Florida” means for life in the Everglades. I’ve tried several of his recipes, and without fail I enjoy them quite a bit.

When he sent a Thanksgiving email, in it he included a recipe for Florida Orange-Cinnamon Cider, and I tucked it aside until I had a free afternoon.

Today I had that free afternoon, although making spiced sour orange cider took all of 10 minutes. I adapted it because it didn’t smell or look the way I wanted it to look or smell, and my results are likely different than what he intended, but I’m happy, and if you like sour orange things,  I think you will be, too. With apologies to Chef Justin…

Spiced Sour Orange Cider Ingredients

4 cups (Florida) orange juice (I used Uncle Matt’s; please do not use Minute Maid or Tropicana — and here’s why)

4 cups apple cider (I used Trader Joe’s)

2 (Florida) oranges, sliced (I used Valencia because they’re juicy)

1/4 c. black mangrove honey

1 lemon, sliced thin

2-5 sticks cinnamon

2 Tbsp. cinnamon

16-20 whole cloves

Dried and sweetened orange slices

Optional: Bacardi 151

Directions

  1. Bring everything but rum and honey to a boil, then simmer 5 minutes
  2. Add honey; stir
  3. Serve in glasses
  4. Add one shot rum (optional) to each drink
  5. Garnish with orange slices
  6. After the first few sips, put garnish in drink to mellow tartness at the end

Did you make spiced sour orange cider? Tell me what you thought; I love to hear from readers! Happy whatever makes you happy this season!

two glasses of spiced sour orange cider
Getting festive, Florida-style.
Photo by Cathy Salustri