BEST SEAFOOD IN THE "CONCH REPUBLIC" - The Florida Keys best dining

by Bill Vanderford, Southeastern Travel Editor

Though it is said that eventually every seaman or angler worth his salt will spend time in Key West, modern history only shows it as the southernmost  tip of the U.S.A. and only ninety miles from Cuba. This small island that dangles like a big toe between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, however, is so much more! It is the capital of the "Conch Republic", which is now and has always been more like another country. Since the first Spanish explorers took it away from the Seminole Indians, Key West has been inhabited by people of every type and almost every nationality, including pirates, fishermen, salvagers, ecologists, writers, poets, artists, national leaders, and many great and not so great seafaring men. Many of those, in the past and today, come here to forget or run away from something or someone, and are often only known by their first name.

Though Mark Phillips first came here as a young fisherman who was in love with the sea and the multitude of fish that live in the fertile waters near Key West, he never had anything to hide. In fact, he first distinguished himself as a charter boat captain here before doing the same in the Pacific Ocean off Costa Rica, where he met, fell in love with, and married a beautiful American writer, and they decided that Key West would be perfect for both of them.The setting and atmosphere of Key West was an excellent place for her to write about children and for Mark to continue his fishing. His success as an offshore captain, however, eventually led to another occupation.

Rather than waste some of the tasty fish that he was bringing ashore each day, Mark started packaging them immediately and sending them to friends around the country. Soon those friends had other friends asking for the packages of fresh fish, and Mark realized that he had started a business without pay. That's when he decided to open an online company which became an immediate success.It's been years since Key West was launched with the goal of providing the freshest premium seafood and other tropical treats from Key West. Though many things have changed as this business has grown, the basic premise has not.

Today Mark Phillips provides extraordinary seafood, hand picked from the best of the day's catch, then packed fresh and shipped overnight. His staff also carefully selects a delicious array of local sauces, seasonings, and marinades to compliment the seafood, and their Key Lime Pie is truly unforgettable. Each order is thoughtfully packaged and festively wrapped.

The success of the online business and his desire for perfectly prepared seafood to eat, forced Mark to temporarily give up being a charter boat captain and open a restaurant. Luckily, he found an ideal spot in a small alley between two other businesses that is less than ten yards away, but a thousand miles from the madness of Duvall Street in the historical section of Key West.

The wonderful imagination of Mark Phillips has tastefully transformed this tiny nook into a secret, romantic, and very beautiful open-air garden with twelve cafe tables secluded among the gorgeous greenery. It is complete with the sights and sounds of fountains, stone angels, pagodas, and a pond with fish.

Despite the unique surroundings, the real treat at the Key West Seafood and Beer Garden is provided by Mark Phillips, his staff, and three extremely accomplished French chefs. Instead of using fish that have been frozen or shipped in because they are not available at certain times of year near Key West, Phillips only offers types of fish that were caught that same day. Therefore, if the Mahi-Mahi are not schooling off Key West, the menu may offer tilefish, triggerfish, or cobia prepared with special herbs and sauces that make them melt in one's mouth. The menu is always a pleasant surprise of the freshest fish that can be caught near Key West prepared to perfection by the best chefs in the "Conch Republic"!

Like many anglers and entrepreneurs before him, Mark Phillips has found his unique niche in the history of Key West. His love of the sea and his desire to provide the great taste of fresh seafood done right has made him and his services popular throughout the Keys and much of the rest of the country!

SIDEBAR: For additional information about Key West Seafood, go to , call toll-free 800-292-9853, or call the restaurant at 305-296-2038.

Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing and photography, and
has been inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary
Guide. He can be reached at 770-962-1241.