Key West’s Firefly Restaurant Review – Southern Made Scrumptious

 

Take one bite of Firefly’s fried chicken and you no doubt will want to return to Firefly as many locals do just for the chicken. 

 

 

It’s not because Firefly is only the second place to offer fried chicken in Key West –-the other is a gas station.  It’s because this has to be the best fried chicken you have EVER tasted—moist on the inside with a delectable crust and served with authentic and equally tasty ham-hock collard greens. 

 

 

Having made the mistake many a time of finding a perfect restaurant dish and returning only for that one dish, it’s easy to warn Firefly goers to not do that.  With the luxury of a tasting menu that exposed us to much of what Firefly offers, it became clear that it’s not just a matter of serving the best fried chicken.  

 

 

Firefly offers a long list of superlative “best-ever “ dishes—from a savory cornbread appetizer to Key Lime cake dessert to surprises like crispy pig ears and much in between.

 

Strictly beer and wine due to the steep expense of a full bar liquor license in the Keys, it hasn’t stopped Firefly from offering creative drinks and best drink pairings.

 

 

We started off with two cocktails:  “Heart Breaker” made with muddled raspberries, sparkling moscato and fresh lime and a touch of mint; and “Michelada” a Key West Bloody Mary mix topped with a corona and garnished with a pickle, lemon and lime. 

 

 

These were not only photogenic drinks, but had in common that they both were drinks with generous portions of food—raspberries in one case, pickle in the other—so that these cocktails did double duty as appetizers.

 

There were ten starters on the menu the night we visited and we were able to sample six of them, which made it quite clear that a good way to visit Firefly would be to bring a large group of friends and stick to shared starter samplings.

 

 

The “Fall Skillet Cornbread” made with sausage, butternut squash, cheddar and sage tasted like the best Thanksgiving stuffing you’ve ever had.  Some might think of cornbread more as a side dish than a starter but you would be wrong at Firefly.  This is a standalone item that coupled with another starter could very well be your entire meal.  The crispy crust gives it a nice texture, but what is truly outstanding is the balance of sausage in the mix.  You know it is there but it never overpowers your palate as many other sausage dishes do.  Tip:  Skip the butter that comes with it.  It is totally unnecessary.  Second Tip:  Try to take some home with you as it makes a delicious snack or breakfast the next day. 

 

Firefly’s “Deviled Eggs” are made with a house B&B relish and are served with pickled duck ham that is also a cornerstone of Firefly’s “Meat and Cheese Plate” starter.

 

Not one to grab pork rinds as a snack, I was won over by the agave jalapeno sauce on Firefly’s “Pork Rinds” starter.

 

For food adventurers “Crispy Buffalo Pig Ear” made with a blue cheese dust, compressed celery and served with a cute tiny loaf of bread opens a door to a twist on bacon taste. 

 

 

It’s as though you are eating a thick and very salty crisp of bacon.

 

“Pimento Teas” were mini-sandwiches on tiny fresh-baked bread filled with aged cheddar and cream cheese and B&B pickles.  The creaminess of the tasty cheese is such that you just want this starter to linger in your mouth for as long as possible.

 

“Skillet Mac & Cheese” is topped with the same cornbread crust as the standalone “Fall Skillet Cornbread”.  This is just the comfort food you’d expect it to be, but if you are sticking to a starter only meal a tip is to choose between the cornbread or this dish.   My vote would go to the cornbread.

 

Looking up from this feast of starters we were able to tune in what seemed like a very happy crowd. 

 

 

Firefly is the kind of place where people at nearby tables who are ooing and ahhing over their food also chat you up to ask how your dish is.   We heard customers going on about how they never liked brussels sprouts before saying how delicious the ones served with the fried green tomatoes were.    It also wasn’t a surprise to hear the waiter talking about how someone wrote a book about how to quit your job and move to Key West.  A variant of that conversation is as ubiquitous as the roosters you find strutting freely throughout Key West streets.

 

 

When we visited there were six main course selections on the menu, of which we sampled three.

 

The aforementioned “Fried Chicken” comes with mashed potatoes, brown gravy and collard greens.  Make sure at least one person at your table gets this dish so you can at least have a healthy taste.

 

 

Firefly’s “Flat Iron Steak”, usually in 10 oz. portions, is butter-basted with warm horseradish cream, fingerling potato salad, and served with charred brussels sprouts.  This is the choice meal on the menu for any beef lover.  It has a welcomed saltiness that tones down the richness of the meat.

 

Not to be missed is the New Orleans style “Gumbo”, made with chicken, shrimp and house-made Andouille sausage, served with rice and hush puppies. 

 

 

Unlike other gumbos the predominant taste is shrimp, not overpowering sausage.  It is sweet and peppery at once. 

 

The beer and wine list had much to choose from.  Xingu black beer from Brazil was an especially good pairing and one that we learned from Firefly owner Tricia Coyne is typically used to help lactating mothers produce more milk. 

 

 

Two dessert wines were sampled—“Viking Blod”, a honey wine that the term “honeymoon” comes from and “Moonlight Meadery Fling” a strawberry rhubarb mead that was especially refreshing and delightful.

 

 

Desserts are not an afterthought at Firefly and you should go knowing to save room. 

 

 

“Key Lime Cake” made from a recipe of the pastry chef’s mother was a welcome twist on the key lime pie that you find all over the Keys. 

 

 

“Fudge Bites”—homemade fudge on a chocolate chip cookie base with pretzel crumbles and frosted flake anglaise—gives you not only a great chocolate jolt but that same feeling of satisfaction that you get when you lick out the cookie dough bowl. 

 

 

As superlative as these two desserts were, the hands-down winner of them all was a strawberry peach cobbler served with locally made ice cream. 

 

 

Tip:  DO NOT skip dessert.  In fact, if you are a party of two have two desserts and if you are a party of three have three, etc.

 

There’s a lot special going on at Firefly and meeting the young and energetic chefs and owner goes a long way in shining a light on how it all comes together. 

 

 

Owner and manager Tricia Coyne met up with her boyfriend and chef Michael Price in culinary school in Atlanta.    She laughingly tells you that he more or less announced that they would be moving to Key West and opening a restaurant.  He might have been tempted to do something Asian but her obvious business acumen steered him instead to his roots in Southern cooking. 

 

Price explains, “Before I was a chef I was a police officer in Northwest Georgia for 5 ½ years.  In order to get my stress levels down cooking was my outlet.  When I decided to move on from that my family asked me what I wanted to do and I said ‘cook’.  Next thing my Mom had called the Culinary Art Institute in Atlanta and that was that. 

 

“Actually most of what I learned before school was from my Dad.  He had grown up cooking  and we always had a big garden on our 24 acres.   He taught me how to pickle, cure meats and he was like an in-house pastry chef.”

 

 

The other chef in the kitchen is Russ Ferstle, whom Chicagoans might be intrigued to know had spent years in Wicker Park trendy restaurants, including the forebear of Mado

 

Ferstle says, “The winters just got to me.  I came down to Key West six years ago, first working at different restaurants in the area.”

 

Ferstle and Price are a good match, with Price explaining that their different interests mesh into the menu.  His forte is cooking over fires while Russ likes to cure meats and cheese.  Price continues, “Tricia wrangles out the crazy.” By that Price means her yay or nay on introducing duck tongues, pig ears, beef heart tartare on Valentines Day and more.  These are all menu items she has approved, making you wonder just how wild and crazy the chefs would go if left to their own devices.

 

They work as a tight team and when they are not working this much tattooed group like to hang out together in their spare time.  It’s not altogether clear when that spare time is.  In addition to the restaurant hours (see below) the group attributes much of their success to getting in contact with local farmers and knowing which things are in season, if only for a month.

 

That’s why you will likely see a different menu when you go. They are changing it up all the time.  Yes, the fried chicken will be there and other mainstay staples like the cornbread, but as Price says, “Cooks get bored if they are doing the same things over and over again.”

 

They won’t get bored and it’s unlikely you will either.  Pigs ear and one-of-a-kind cornbread type offerings are examples of where food explorers can go.  If you are looking for an exciting restaurant to work in this may be your place.  Know in advance however that Coyne says although tattoos aren’t required they certainly are preferred.

 

Firefly Restaurant

223 Petronia Street, Key West, FL 33040

 

Open seven days a week!
Monday-Friday 10am-10pm
Saturday and Sunday 9am-10pm

Brunch is served until three.
Happy hour is 3pm-6pm every day at the bar.
Supper is served from 6pm-10pm.

 

For reservations call 305-849-0104 or make a reservation through Open Table

 

For more information visit the Firefly Restaurant website.

 

 

 

 

 

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