I guess we could have had lunch at Robbie’s Marina Hungry Tarpon restaurant, but there was something about its location just yards away from the bait buckets we hoisted to feed the tarpon that said no, no, no to me. Another time, perhaps.
So, stomachs rumbling, we began our drive south toward Key West. I started Googling for a lunch spot and discovered that the Information Highway holds the key to the Overseas Highway: if you are driving to or through the Keys, get thee to a Mile-Marker Guide! The best one I found was on the awesome Florida Rambler site. Other mile-marker guides can be found on Rent My Island and at the somewhat dryly-titled site called Digital-Librarian. Not a mile-marker guide per se, but an excellent reference for the area is the TheFloridaKeys web site.
Without the Florida Rambler guide, we never would have known about Burdine’s Chiki Tiki restaurant in Marathon. It is off the beaten path, to put it mildly. At Mile Marker 48 you turn east on 15th Street and wind back through a sort of seaside ghetto to the marina. The day we were there, the neighborhood “gatekeeper” was a guy in a wifebeater t-shirt clutching a very large liquor bottle and dazedly watching some scrawny chickens crossing the road (because they can, that’s why!). We wanted to ask if we were going the right way, but he did not seem like the guy to ask and the chickens weren’t talking. Fortunately, we finally spotted the thatched roof of the Chiki Tiki Bar & Grille in the distance and had a nice lunch overlooking Boot Key harbor. Worth the stop!
After lunch, we wove back past the street chickens and their keeper and found our way back to the highway and the famed Seven-Mile Bridge that connects the Middle Keys to the Lower Keys.
Along the way we saw portions of the old Florida East Coast Railway bridge, reminding us that only the 1935 hurricane was strong enough to overrule Henry Flagler’s will to dominate the area. A founder of Standard Oil, Flagler’s dream of a railroad to Key West was lost due to damage from the hurricane but gave birth to the Overseas Highway.
Our Mile Marker Guide kindly alerted us to the many speed traps along the Overseas Highway, notably around Big Pine Key. State troopers are ubiquitous throughout the Keys but especially in this area where the speed limit drops suddenly to 35 MPH. All for a good reason: the protection of the diminutive Key Deer which roam the area. According to the guide, our best bet for sighting deer was to turn off at Key Deer Blvd. (Mile Marker 30) and drive toward No Name Key. We found ourselves driving rather aimlessly through a residential subdivision and just as we despaired of finding our quarry, a little deer came ambling up to my car window, clearly looking for a handout.
Happy to have “bagged” our deer, we found our way back to the highway and continued west, noting the Mile Marker numbers grow smaller and smaller. We were, almost literally, at the end of the road: next stop, Key West!