Notes from the Keys


We sat on a covered patio staring at a small parking lot along the banks of the John Pennekamp Coral Reef. A few houseboats bobbed up and down along the shore behind big signs advertising them as "BOAT HOTELS." A huge iguana scampered across the lot, pausing to eye us diners angrily. The two of us scowled back, miserably exhausted after a late night of dancing at our hotel in Islamorada.

Our brains were too weary to decide where to eat, so we followed the yellow arrow on a Route 1 billboard that promised breakfast, one right turn away. We drove down a few blocks of shaded side streets and arrived at Key Largo's East edge to find a small bungaloo converted to a diner: the Hiddenout Place.

Two Germans chatted quietly over their pancakes at the table closest to us. At the far table, a lively group of locals laughed loudly over the latest town gossip. A few of the waitresses leaned against the wall, smoking and occasionally chiming in. Their smoke clouds hung around them in the heavy air — we'd only catch a whiff of tabacco when they ambled by to refill coffees and deliver ketchups.

The coffee tasted like old grinds with a hint of dirt, and we waited at least 30 minutes, barely awake, for our meals to mosey over. But when our $5 breakfasts arrived, the sausages were greasy, the eggs fluffy, and the toast saturated with butter. There was no finer feast.

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