Friends had raved about Square Grouper, at length, and it was the intended dinner destination after our first full day in the Keys. The only downside of Square Grouper is that it’s not a secret and they don’t take reservations. So, unfortunately, when we arrived during prime dinner hours, we were in for a wait. However, directly above Square Grouper, in the same building and run by the same owners, is My New Joint, a cocktail lounge with a raw bar, tapas menu and delicious desserts.
We headed upstairs with the intention of cozying up to a cocktail while waiting for a table downstairs to become available. This plan lasted only as long as it took to briefly peruse the menus. We settled in to a high-top, ordered drinks and began the difficult task of narrowing down potential dishes.
While we considered both the menu and the specials, we allowed ourselves to be tempted with tales of an absurdly large, luscious soft pretzel. The warm, doughy, sweet and salty pretzel arrives on a hook, dangling enticingly over ramekins of sweet heat mustard, IPA mustard and jalapeno cheese dip.
A dozen freshly shucked oysters, half Blue Point and half Maple Point, were served with the usual suspects, horseradish and lemon, but also with a cucumber jalapeno mignonette. The acidity of the mignonette was a perfect compliment to the briny oysters.
Along with portabella fries and roasted cauliflower with green curry sauce (the cauliflower is a must-try – the curry sauce has a hint of heat but isn’t too spicy), we chose our main courses. A skirt steak in lime garlic marinade was tender and flavorful. The marinade complimented the steak without overpowering it. This item is on the regular menu and will not disappoint.
Mediterranean style tuna tartare, one of the specials that evening, was mixed with cucumber, chives, lime juice and who knows what other delectable touches, arrived with fresh flatbread and an orchid.
Live music and a comfortable, social atmosphere surrounded us. Our server was friendly and helpful without being overbearing. (Also, she kept my iced-tea glass full all night, which was no small feat considering that I consumed the equivalent of three full pitchers.) Other diners both wanted to know what we were nibbling as well as offer their suggestions in that convivial way of having known one another for years. We finished our meal with key lime pie, which was light, tart and sweet, as true key lime pie should be. Plans were immediately made to return for a meal downstairs.
A few short days later, just before heading out of town, we made good on those plans and enjoyed lunch at Square Grouper. A brighter space than My New Joint, but with the same modern feel and clean lines, there is an eye-catching aquarium in the main room that looks like it could be a product of Tanked.
Photo via Square Grouper Facebook page
Showing an unusual amount of restraint, we bypassed the appetizers and chose our entrees wisely.
The fish tacos are corn tortillas filled with the grilled fish of the day (yellowtail snapper – fried and blackened also available), pickled red onions, queso fresco and key lime crema. A side of coleslaw (chips and fries are other side options) rounded out the meal.
While the fish tacos are a regular menu item, the Meat Plate was a special that day. Pork tenderloin tips, pork shank and shrimp in a tarragon and dijon grain-mustard sauce over brown and wild rice, with a side of steamed broccoli. The sauce, alone, was to-die-for.
And perhaps it wasn’t so much willpower to skip the appetizers as it was pre-planning for a slice of that incomparable, heavenly key lime pie.
Not only were the meals at My New Joint and Square Grouper the best I’ve had in the Keys, the dishes were some of the best I’ve had in Florida, period. If you’re in the Keys, you must make the drive to these spots. Your tastebuds will thank you.
And now, the best part: Square Grouper/My New Joint is generously offering one gift certificate to a lucky reader, treating you to Square Grouper’s chocolate fondue for two (a $24 value)! You’ll get to choose from Belgian or dark chocolate and dip to your heart’s delight with fresh fruits and pound cake! Good luck, everyone!