Sunday, July 30, 2017

#221 Try Conch

Conch. I have always heard about people rave about conch fritters.

Conch Shells. I love their sunrise colors. 
Hmmmmmm. I must try this thing called conch I told myself. You don't really see it offered much in Pennsylvania though. I always figured eventually I would come across conch on a menu somewhere and give it a go. So when I saw that conch was a huge part of the Florida Keys culture, I was so stoked! I was going to finally try conch! I could not wait. I even picked out a place to try conch fritters in Key West. BO's Fishwagon. I was all set.

So here is what I knew about conch.....Nothing. I knew nothing. I "thought" I knew what conch was but in reality, I did not. I thought it was a type of crustacean. Nope! It's a mollusk. See below.

I often wondered if conch tasted more sweet like king crab or more chewy like a crawfish. Maybe it tasted more like lobster I thought with much excitement. I love shellfish so I am sure no matter what it tasted like, I was going to enjoy it. However, a few weeks before leaving for Florida, I was slapped in the face with the cold hard truth. It went down like this. I was sitting at my parents' kitchen table telling them and my daughter about how excited I was to try conch. I was going to achieve another Bucket List goal. This was so awesome! I'm checking them off like flies!

My mother and my daughter both looked at me weird. One of them asked if I was really going to eat snail. I looked at them puzzled. I said no. I was going to eat Conch, which is crabmeat. They snickered at me. They both insisted Conch was a snail. I insisted it was crabmeat. A Conch is a type of crab. They were like no, it's not. I was like yes, it is. They were like no, it's not. I was like yes, it is. This went on for a few rounds because I am a Virgo so by default, I am always right. Then my daughter pulled up a picture of a Conch on Google. She handed me her phone and I almost puked in my mouth. WTF??

My face upon discovering what conch was.
"That's some sort of giant sea snail!!" I exclaimed. "Gross!!"

Why in the hell did I think conch was a crab? I must have gotten tripped up on one the the Food Network shows that had both crab and conch. I saw little breaded fried balls with a crab like meat mixed in them and I could have sworn the host, I think it was Bobby Flay, call them conch fritters. Maybe they were really fried crabmeat balls. OMG! I was so confused and nauseous and WRONG!! I seriously felt my body grow cold as another wave of nausea flowed through me.

"I can't eat that!" I said, devastated. "It's a freakin' sea snail! A sea snail!!" I could not get the picture of the slimy creature donning a huge pink shell out of my head. They were all laughing at me. However, my daughter also apologized for ruining conch on me. I reassured her she didn't ruin it on me. I was thankful I found out what it was before I spent $10- $12 expecting crabmeat-like fritters only to discover I was about to eat snail fritters.

From that day forward, I whined to everyone who would listen, even if they didn't want to listen, about this whole sea snail fiasco. I was genuinely upset, for real. I was looking forward to delicious crab meat like fritters and I was going to be denied. My heart could not, would not, catch up with my head. My whole world had turned upside down. I was a total mess.

Eventually I got over it after doing some research and finding a really sweet doughnut place I could visit in Key West. Just wave a really good doughnut in front of this gal's face and all is good with the world. It has to be a well made doughnut though. None of that cardboard tasting crap is welcomed in my world. (Turns out the doughnut place was closed on Mondays, the morning I was in Key West. Another devastation. Another upside down world. Another reason I have to go back to Key West.) Anyways, like I said, I got over it. Mostly I got over it because whenever I thought of conch my stomach would turn. I hated that feeling so, I stopped thinking about it.

Cool Asian wine in a Cuban grocery store. 
It was on our second to last day in the Keys that we visited 5 Brothers Two Cuban grocery store for some breakfast in Ramrod Key. So many people on Trip Advisor had raved about 5 Brothers in Key West. It was so popular they opened a second store in Ramrod Key. I was all too willing to visit not only because of the stellar reviews but also because of the prices. Eating cheaply in the Keys is possible but very hard. You miss out on a lot of local cuisine. I do plan to go back and focus on enjoying more of the great local cuisine.

Anyways, The grocery store itself was a simple bodega. They had some staple groceries, wines and cold beverages. They also had a counter and a big menu board displaying their breakfast and lunch offerings. The menu was simple, nothing too elaborate. But small, simple menus are often a good thing. ( Not always but often.) A small menu usually means the restaurant has really fresh ingredients or ingredients that don't sit on the shelves or in the freezer too long. Rather than focus energy on making a ton of mediocre dishes, a small menu usually means the cooks focus on making a few really "wow" specialties. 5 Brothers made some really "wow" food.

The kiddos enjoying a delicious Cuban breakfast at this gem.

The line for placing breakfast orders was pretty big for such a small place in a Key that if you blinked, you may miss it. I noticed they had conch fritters on the menu. $4.95 for a small order and $7.95 for a large order. That wasn't a bad price I thought to myself. I wouldn't mind paying $5 for something I may hate. It would definitely be less painful than paying $10 or higher.

A giant sea snail with a big pink and peach shell inched it's way across my mind as I debated whether or not to take a chance. I didn't feel like puking this time. Maybe it was because I had been gazing upon so many beautiful conch shells in all the stores I had visited over the past few days. Something with such a pretty shell couldn't taste that bad could it? Perhaps not. I hadn't removed trying conch from my Bucket List.

I had planned too, but then decided not to until after this trip, just in case I got brave. As I stood in line waiting to place my order, the debate went on in my head for a few moments. I openly discussed it with my daughter. My son was getting a pressed bacon and cheese sandwich on this beautiful Cuban bread that reminded me of the round, wide loaves of Italian bread. My daughter wanted a chicken empanada. I definitely wanted to try a Cafe Con Leche. ( I will get to that shortly.) I decided just to get a chicken empanada too. I do love empanadas very much and the ones being offered looked delish.

I guess I will be removing conch from the list I told myself. My mouth had other plans though. When it was my turn to order, I ordered everything listed above but tacked on a small serving of conch fritters. The lady glanced up at me and made a weird face. I think it was because I was making a weird face. "Where the hell did that come from?" I thought to myself. I guess the adventurous personality made a quick appearance to place an order as well. Who knows?

She asked me if I would like anything else. I paused a moment, waiting to see if any of my other personalities wanted to place an order too. Just kidding. I told her I was good. Was I though? I turned to my daughter and informed her that I guess I was going to try conch. She laughed. She is used to my madness. Both my kiddos are. This was really going down I told myself. I had to try at least one since I paid for them.

Cafe Con Leche, how I love you!
When our order was finished, the nice lady handed me our food in a brown paper bag. I also got my Caffe Con Leche. We walked outside and took a seat on some of the benches. I opened the bag of food. It smelled so good. So very good. I passed out the food my daughter and son ordered. I decided to sip my coffee before looking at my fritters. I had no idea I was about to taste heaven. This Cafe Con Leche was nothing short of divine.

It was creamy. It was strong but not too strong. The flavor was deep and smooth. It had a sweetness to it but it was not sugary sweet. I immediately fell in love with this Cuban concoction. I also immediately kicked myself for waiting 3 days to try it. Cuban coffee stands were all over the Florida Keys. I had every intention of trying some of them too but it was a jam packed vacation and I also wanted ot have my relaxation time at night. so I allowed the opportunity to slip.

After a few moments of swooning over my coffee, I reluctantly opened the paper bag with my conch fritters. The aroma hit me immediately. The smelled amazing. The looked and smelled like hush puppies. I love hush puppies. The fritters were accompanied by a ramekin of cocktail sauce. I was still a little uneasy trying one but their aroma and appearance out my mind at ease. I snatched one out of the bag.

I took a deep breath and took a bite. Holy F they were still hot. I began doing that weird breathing thing people do when they have really hot food in their mouth. It's kind of like, you don't want to spit out the food but you are trying to cool your mouth down while the scalding hot food lay on your tongue. I began chewing. It tasted just like a hush puppy. Is there even a snail in here I thought? I held the fritter I just took a bite out of up to my face. I began examining the inside. I didn't see anything.


Conch Fritters.....Like Hush Puppies, but with chopped up snails. 

I grabbed another fritter from the bag and tore it in half, peering at it, looking for a snail. I noticed chopped little tan chunks mixed in with the dough. That must be it. I ate half of the fritter I just tore open. I noticed it then. The conch was chewy like a chopped clam or calamari. ( I do not like calamari.) It tasted almost like a scallop. At least that is what came to mind. I did enjoy scallops. Truth is, I love mollusks too.

I love scallops, clams, and muscles. I do not care for whole oysters but if they are chopped up in a stew or a dip I don't mind them so much. These fritters were actually really flavorful and tasty. I enjoyed them. They also filled me up. I only ate three of the six fritters. I gave my daughter my empanada because between the rich and fabulous coffee and the heavy but tasty fritters, I was good.

I made myself eat one more fritter because I knew I couldn't bring fried seafood in the car with me. It would stink. Neither kiddo wanted anything to do with the other two fritters so reluctantly, I threw them away. I will say though, they were not at all horrible. I was pleasantly surprised. Is conch something I will crave like I do clams? No. Not at all. However, when I visit the Keys again, I will definitely make sure to visit BOs Fishwagon and try their famous conch fritters.

Five Brothers on Trip Advisor.  Key West and Ramrod Key

Chrissy


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