Dining out in Key West with a vegan, a vegetarian and a meat-and-two-veg man
Yes, a vegan, vegetarian and meat eaters too
I never thought that eating out could be so complicated. Imagine that you're dining out with a vegan who also follows a gluten free diet, a reasonably strict vegetarian and a man who doesn't consider a meal is a meal without a big chunk of meat on the plate, as long as it's plain cooking and 'nothing fancy'.
And then me - a less than strict vegetarian who insists on a glass of wine with dinner, a picky nine year old child, and, thank goodness, a lady who will eat anything that's put in front of her.
Compound this by multiplying the problem by twelve or so because this wasn't just for a single dinner, this was eating out for a long weekend. Phew.
You see, this was a family holiday in the Florida Keys and that's the last place you'd think would be a problem when there are almost as many restaurants in Florida as there are pelicans. Restaurants are everywhere. But try finding one to suit that little lot. Our happy little group ranged in age too - from nine years old to over seventy - which caused its own problems - and the odd temper to flare!
Bear in mind too that this was a 100% English family. The two of us who live in South Florida were perfectly accustomed to local foods but got a little tired of explaining what conch chowder is and that, if you see 'dolphin' on the menu, it doesn't mean Flipper...
Oh dear vegan, can't you eat eggs just this once?
Oh dear vegetarian, can you forget that the French onion soup uses beef stock?
Oh dear meat eater, can't you do without meat just for this one meal?
Oh my dear nine year old child, please can you stop picking your nose?
Oh boy ... this is going to be a long weekend!
First, examining the menus
Our happy little band wouldn't consider entering a restaurant or café without examining the menu first. Luckily, they are always posted outside. This would normally take about twenty minutes during which the assembled company searched the menu for something they were happy to eat.
'OK' the vegan would say 'I'll just go in and ask if they can do the rice dish without the egg'.
'While you're there, can you find out if they use vegetarian cheeses?' said the strict vegetarian.
'And make sure that they do a steak without any fancy sauces.' piped up the meat eater.
'Do they do ice cream sundaes?' asked the nine year old child.
'Oh for goodness sake' said I 'just make sure that they have red wine by the glass.'
After five minutes he'd return. 'No good.' So off we'd go to the next restaurant to repeat the process...
This book sells like hot cakes and I'm not surprised.
It isn't the average tourist guide - this is how to have the full local Key West experience. I highly recommend this slightly funky but fun book.
If you're coming to Florida and heading to the Keys, I hope you don't have the same problems I had! It's always a great idea to read up about a place before visiting though, don't you agree? I find that I get so much more from a vacation if I've discovered more about the place before I go.
Here is a recommended book - it is incredibly popular.
Images © Andy Royston.
At least we were getting exercise
Trudging from one restaurant to another - and another - and another - was certainly building up our appetites. Well, we were all starving. Then the two of us who were iPhone fanatics started browsing through restaurant apps ...
'Hey, there's a vegetarian restaurant just a few blocks away!'
'Hmm, that should be OK then.'
'Do they do proper ice cream or just some weird vegetarian stuff?'
'I suppose they have red wine?'
It seemed we were onto a winner and then ...
'You won't get me in one of those places with all that tofu malarkey. I don't know why you're all so fussy. All I want is a nice well-done steak, some mashed potatoes and none of those fancy foreign sauces.'
OK, here we go again...
Let's drive on a bit...
We'd exhausted every restaurant within walking distance so it was back to the car and on to the next key. In the back seat, the iPhoners were tapping away at their restaurant apps coming up with suggestions and reading from online menus.
'Don't be silly, that's made with wheat flour.'
'No, I can't just pick the shrimp out and leave them on the side of the plate...'
'Chocolate ice cream? Yay!'
'Au poivre? What on earth is that? Pepper? Oh no. Why can't anyone make simple steak around here?'
'If I don't get a glass of wine soon...'
It had taken several hours. We'd driven far off the beaten track to a restaurant whose menu we'd studied on the phones. Everyone seemed to be happy ... at last.
'OK, I'm so hungry now that I'll settle for a salad and maybe that mushroom appetizer as long as they don't use butter or cream...'
'I don't care by now, I'm so hungry I could eat a horse. Well, no, I couldn't - figure of speech. The baked potato with vegetables will be fine for me...'
'Wow, chocolate and strawberry ice cream!'
'Hmm, looks like I'll make do with a burger, just as long as they don't put any fancy sauces on it...'
'Thank goodness, I'm going to get my glass of wine at last...'
Sorry sir, we're full
'Sorry sir, we don't have a table available'. What???? After all this? I was getting pretty grumpy with everyone. I was totally fed up of this lot and their picky diets. I was hungry, irritated and I wanted my wine! After all, I might be a half-hearted vegetarian but I've never found a problem with restaurant menus. Being halfhearted I'm fine with cheese, eggs and dairy. Hey, if it's eating fish or going hungry, I'll even have the salmon.
No, I was fine, anywhere was good for me...
Oh wait sir, there's a table out on the patio
The patio! Oh no! That's no good for me!
My Hitchcock moment
The assembled group turned to look at me. 'What do you mean it's no good for you? You're only a half-hearted vegetarian after all. If we're OK here, you are. Why, you've said several times in the last couple of hours that you're so hungry you'll eat anything.'
They were puzzled. But oh dear, the patio. After all this palaver and all my grumbling, I couldn't be the one to reject this restaurant, could I? 'Oh, I said casually, gulping and probably going red in the face 'Um, nothing, nothing at all. Er, do you mind if I sit there with my back to the wall? Oh thank you, thank you. No, nothing's the matter, everything is perfectly OK. Wine please?'
You see, and I know that there's a proper word for it but it slips my mind, I am bird phobic. I won't eat outdoors because of the gulls and pelicans and herons and all the other blasted birds in Florida. I am Tippi Hedren. I sat with my back to the wall so I could keep watch for the slightest flicker of a feather. I was like a WW2 pilot constantly swiveling my head to make sure that the enemy wasn't in sight.
Then I'd nearly jump out of my skin because the nine year old child dropped her napkin and I thought it was a bird under the table. 'No, no, nothing. I'm perfectly alright. Could I get another glass of wine?'
Oh never mind that, just bring me the bottle.
© 2013 Jackie Jackson