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Librarian in the Wild: Key West

Librarian in the Wild: Key West

January 25, 2023

Every now and then I get a chance to take a break from our hectic life here at the Green Hills Library Center, but on my latest vacation, I knew I wouldn’t be able to unplug entirely. After all, I was lucky enough to be in Key West, Florida, a city known for both its delicious Caribbean cuisine and for its connection to one of America’s most famous authors: Ernest Hemingway. 

In honor of Hemingway, who wrote his noted works To Have and Have Not and Death in the Afternoon while living in Key West, I knew my first meal on the island had to be at Blue Heaven. Blue Heaven has been operating as a restaurant since 1992, but the property has a much longer history than that. Around the start of the 20th century, the building offered cheap spirits to locals and later became a hot spot for gambling, cock fighting, and boxing matches refereed by none other than Hemingway himself. 

These days, the chickens (and cats!) can roam freely about the area, no fighting required for entrance. The spirits still flow freely though, and since our tour guide at the Hemingway House mentioned Hemingway’s love of Caribbean rum, I felt confident that a rum-based cocktail was a must-have with our meal.

I think it’s a given that when in Florida you have to get seafood. We started with conch fritters, which were as smooth as butter. Then my partner ordered some yummy looking shrimp and grits while I got yellow snapper with mango, yellow peppers, and vinegar slaw—the perfect balance of sweet and tangy. As we sat in our patio chairs, tucked into our delicious meals, and listened to the slow strumming of guitars, I thought, “I could get used to a place like this.” It was exactly the sort of relaxation I needed after Green Hills’ hectic first month open. 

Of course, now I’m back in the cold Midwest, but this winter I might try to recapture some of those yummy island flavors at home. The Library has lots of Caribbean cookbooks to try out. Here are some that caught my eye: 

  • Caribbean Flavors for Every Season by Brigid Washington – Because I happen to love all the ingredients listed in the title, and shrimp isn’t too hard to come by 
  • Spice Kitchen by Ariel Fox – Because it’s a new year and a great time to cook healthy 
  • West Winds by Riaz Phillips – It’s a mashup of a cookbook and history book, and I love reading histories. 
  • Natural Flava by Craig McAnuff – “Quick” and “easy” are two of my favorite words when it comes to weeknight dinners. 
  • Let’s Get Tropical by Georgi Radev – To try recreating those Caribbean cocktails at home

And if you’re inspired to plan your own trip to Key West, check out Insiders’ Guide to the Florida Keys & Key West to read up on other great restaurants in the area. 

Heather F. 
Green Hills Library Center 

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