Some say that Key West is a trashy tourist trap with a trail of tchotchke shops strung along Duval Street, the town’s main drag. Once you’ve snagged a neon-hued flamingo you can stop by one of the many bars for a drink.
In fact, many people come to this semitropical island at the southernmost tip of the US solely for the purpose of getting on a non-stop buzz. A river of booze flows through Duval day and night to accommodate the many boozers.
On the other hand, once you get off Duval Street, Key West projects a raffish beauty that’s one part southern Gothic, one part Carribean and one part counterculture, circa 1968.
I like to ride my bike through the back streets, pedaling past the bougainvillea-draped Conch houses, some dating back to the 19th century. The locals seem caught in a time warp. Facial hair on men is big. Not ala Williamsburg. More a 60s Haight look. Lots of T-shirts with peace signs.
During my bike ride the other day, I stopped at 4th of July ice cream parlor at 1110 White Street, part of the Mattheessen’s mini-chain, which also owns two scoop shops near Duval Street.
I’m a sucker for ice cream parlors, but this one disappoints. I sampled the Cuban Coffe and Butter Pecan ice creams. Both, I’m sorry to report, are pretty bland. So generic are these two flavors that it was tough to distinguish between them.
At Old Town Bakery at 930 Eaton Street, the story is much the same. This time, it’s the OMG Brownie that’s lackluster. The pastry barely tastes of chocolate, even though the center of the brownie oozes a crater of molten ganache.
Maybe the reason for this tropical scourge of blandness is that local purveyors are peddling to the tourist trade. Whatever the cause, don’t come to Key West for the ice cream and brownies. Not that you would anyway.