Original Marathon Seafood Festival
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Marathon City Park
For those of you who don’t know … I grew up in the Florida Keys (from age 2 until I moved away for college at age 18). While I was a kid, I lived in both Marathon and Plantation Key (bouncing back and forth between my divorced parents’ homes) and went to high school at Island Christian School in Islamorada. I left the Keys after graduating from high school and moved to Tallahassee, Florida, for a four-year stint at Florida State University — and, at the time, what I considered to be bigger and better things. While I’ve always considered the Keys my “home,” never did I expect to miss the crystal clear waters and fresh seafood as much as I have, now that I’m older (and somewhat wiser).
It’s always entertaining to see the reaction when I tell someone I grew up in the Keys. “What was it like?” is typically their initial question, and I simply explain it’s like growing up in any other small town in America — except you live on an island, in one of the world’s most beautiful tropical locales. Here there’s a strong community minded focus, the type of thing where everyone knows everyone. Did I mention I graduated with only 12 people in my high school class? Yeah, it’s that kind of singular bond you experience while being a Keys resident (“Conchs” they’re called if you’re born there – two of my sisters were born in Key West).
It’s with that same authentic ethos that the community of Marathon gathers together each spring for the annual Original Marathon Seafood Festival, a weekend-long outdoor affair comprising local vendors, live music, carnival-style games and tons of fresh seafood caught in the waters right off the Keys. My family went to this event every single year growing up, and after missing out the last several years, I was stoked to return this past weekend with Kenny, my mom and stepdad, and my youngest sister.
The perfect weather (sunny and 75) first set the stage for a spectacular Sunday at the festival. After grabbing a cold one from the beer tent ($4 each with souvenir cups, plus $3 refills), we roamed around the vendor village and landed some great finds — a colorful bikini cover-up for me and a new Hawaiian sling for Kenny. We tossed a few unsuccessful throws at the dunk tank game and then moved on to our originally intended target: the seafood.
As a lover of seafood, I was in heaven. I’m talking about plump raw oysters on the half shell and flash-fried dolphin (the fish, not Flipper) that boasted the ideal amount of breading without totally masking the taste of the white, flaky fish. We had a couple of dishes that were less impressive — the grouper croquetas carried a foul fishy flavor we didn’t necessarily enjoy, and although the conch fritters came as a sizable portion, we would’ve liked a bit more meaty conch in the mix. The homemade potato chips acted as a crispy snack, while the cool conch salad blended the perfect amount of spice with a refreshing bite from the chewy conch and crunchy veggies.
Then there were the stone crabs (3 claws for $10 or 7 claws for $20 — a steal!), which can be described in two words: simply divine. We even took some home to Miami with us to enjoy that evening. They not only wowed our tastebuds again that night, but they also served as the perfect ending to a fantastic day spent in the fabulous Florida Keys.