On holiday in South Florida with my parents, the following conversation ensued upon meeting three guys in a lift:
"Where are you from?" mom asked.
"BRUSSELS?! I've been there!"
"Paris. In France. You know, Paris."
"Oh, okay. Did you have a nice time in Key West?"
"Yes, but it isn't very paradisaic," one said, while the other described it, in French, as a pile of shit. France was better, they asserted.
Key West doesn't come close to the tropical paradise of, say, Koh Lipe, but I struggle to imagine anywhere in France does either. I've been to the riviera. It's pretty, but WHAT.
Also I don't have time for their judgement since I must strive to maintain a platform for my own.
What impresses me about the Florida Keys is not their reputation as tropical paradise (although it has its moments in that respect too), but rather its isolation and chilled out vibe. There are a hundred locations I would chose over the Florida Keys, sure, but it isn't exactly a shithole.
It seems the further South you drive, the closer to Key West you are, the less people give a shit. Chickens roam freely and street signs have been forgotten in favour of painting names on concrete poles. Life is slow but efficient. There's room for the party scene and for solitude. The water is warm and swimmable, unlike in the UK where I feel I must be rushed to hospital immediately upon so much as touching the sea with a toe for fear of frostbite in July.
And there's vegan food. Here’s some of it:
Located about halfway down the keys, Midway Cafe is a good stopping point for lunch or for a soya latte to keep you going for the rest of the drive south.
Although nothing is explicitly marked as vegan on the menu, the staff at Midway Cafe are accommodating when it comes to dietary requests and will make any adjustments to suit customer requirements. The roasted vegetable wrap I downed in three bites due to excessive hunger wasn't anything mind-blowing, but I'd eat it again. The coffee is better than most places, and they will prepare any of their drinks with soy milk.
The eatery itself features a fun and cheerful environment. Bold and bright colours decorate the space and the staff are the friendliest you'll find. The handle on the inside of the bathroom door is a hand.
Help Yourself Organic Cafe and Market
This small juice bar cafe and health food shop stocks a few takeaway options (wraps, bagels, smoothies) and the basics like soy milk, chocolate, and sandwiches made with vegan mayo and antibiotic-free chicken (well then). We purchased our overpriced tub of hummus and made our way to the next location.
Go to Help Yourself if:
- You aren't skint.
- You like fresh juices and smoothies.
- You just need the vegan basics.
Sugar Apple is the other natural foods shop in town. It's a larger shop, so head here for a more comprehensive vegan haul. Attached is a veggie deli and juice bar that dishes out crafty sandwiches and massive salads. Prices are very reasonable. I enjoyed my tempeh reuben and the bite I stole of my partner's smokey tempeh sandwich after he said no and I ate it anyway. My dad enjoyed his burger and mom raved about the soup. The banana peach smoothie is excellent. Prioritise this cafe.
Worth noting is that the shop sells fresh bread, so if you don't want that Ezekiel crap then head to Sugar Apple earlier in the day to ensure there's a fresh loaf available. You'll also find a wider selection of snack foods, sweets, and the usual fake medicine that apparently goes along with vegetarianism and veganism.
Go to Sugar Apple if:
- You're in need of a very reasonably priced lunch that is filling and tasty.
- You want a guarantee of finding essential vegan goods to get you through your holiday (e.g. Earth Balance spread).
Recommended by an employee at Sugar Apple, we happened upon Salute! almost by accident a day later. It's on Higgs beach and has a happy hour, so you can go swimming and then drink some beers and then not go swimming because you aren't supposed to do that but what you actually do is another matter.
This is not a vegetarian restaurant, let alone vegan, and upon looking at the lunch menu you might wonder how it could be vegan friendly at all. Two members of staff went through the menu with us, ensuring they would accommodate our dietary needs, and the chef followed us out the door to further assure us he understood veganism.
After we collected my parents from visiting some cats, we returned for lunch and enjoyed some stellar salads. The dressing is rich, so it sticks to the leaves and to your mouth the way dressing should. Portions are just about right. My partner is English, which translates roughly to person who does not understand salad (salad is practically a naughty word in the UK), and his plate was the first to be emptied. Cheekily, they charged us extra for avocado despite leaving out the cheese.
I enjoyed that our server understood and participated in dry humour without needing to clarify the sarcasm.
Go to Salute if:
- You want to dine on the beachfront, with the option of air conditioning indoors or outdoor seafront dining
- Happy hour on the water. Need I say more?