Marker 88: A Lunch That Defines the Florida Keys

A Lunch That Defines the Florida Keys

On a recent Friday evening, I spent an hour trying to get my car up an ice-slicked driveway in Connecticut, then nearly killed myself stepping out of the car when I did (all ended well). About 14 hours later, I was sitting a few feet from the sand at Marker 88 in Islamorada, just south of Key Largo, sipping a Hemingway cocktail (23-year-old Ron Zacapa rum, simple syrup, and fresh lime juice) and digging into a crock of warm, delicious, lightly spicy blue crab dip (more blue crab than dip, if you know what I mean) while bathing in a faint warm breeze. I can't think of a juxtaposition that more vividly encapsulates the seductive appeal of the Florida Keys.

Apart from the blue crab dip, we also enjoyed wonderful conch fritters, not chewy or heavy in the least, though in an unusual shape (elongated, with rounded edges, a bit like overgrown Cheetos); a nice hunk of charred rare line-caught ahi painted with swirls of soy reduction and wasabi aïoli; and good-size filets of yellowtail snapper (one of the most dependably tasty of local fish) dredged in rice flour and sautéed à la meunière. Sweetish Thai-style green beans and black beans with rice filled out the plates, and we drank the overpriced but clean and pleasant Miraval rosé from a couple of Provençal vineyard owners named Jolie and Pitt. (The wine list here is extraordinary, full of smart choices, most under $50 and a good number in the $30–$35 range.)

The only problem with our meal was that we didn't have the time or the room to also try the tuna poke with avocado, crispy crab roll, broiled Florida Keys spiny lobster with drawn butter, onion-crusted mahi-mahi with Key lime butter, or the restaurant's celebrated Key lime pie — all of which I suspect would have been really good.

The sand near our feet is said to constitute one of the few natural beaches in the Keys, and the water that lapped it was so clear and inviting that three or four of our fellow diners were seen to shed their cover-ups and wade in between courses. I guy could get used to this.