"Want some?" he offers. I elect to be a good wife and not mention it to Vin.
The next evening, we return from a great day of fishing on the flats, the shallow waters bordering Islamorada. Ronnie is ecstatic after landing two enormous (one was 160 pounds!) prehistoric-looking Goliath groupers.
"Grouper?" I ask, when he lands the beast and struggles to hold it for a picture. "They're good to eat, right?" I ask, anticipating an evening at Squid Row or one of the restaurants in town that will cook your catch.
"Well, yeah," Ronnie says, as the guide helps him put the fish back in the water. "But the Goliaths are up to 80 years old. They're protected."
So, after a shower and a heavy dose of hydrocortisone on the many gashes the grouper left on his arms, legs and stomach, Ronnie is dressed in his favorite silk tropical print shirt.
"Come, mighty fisherman," I say, smiling. "Let's go find some young fish."
We arrive at Morada Bay just before sunset. The whitewashed, Key West-style bungalow has a wide porch with pastel painted tables and chairs and sits on a breathtaking chunk of white sandy beach, dotted with white Adirondack chairs and palm trees. The view of the bay is spectacular, especially at sunset.
Digging my feet into the cool sand, I close my eyes and imagine myself never moving from this spot.
When the sun hits the horizon, we move inside and sit at the bar, taking in the well-polished, vintage surfboards and decades-old black-and-white photos of California surfers and a video of '60s-era surfing films. I ask the bartender about the display of flags hanging behind the bar.
"They are sailing flags, I think," he says. "They belong to the owner. He's French."
Despite the casually elegant atmosphere, the menu is a little pricey (Sugar Cane Pink Skewered Shrimp, $24), but the offerings are tasty if not in the normal American super-size portions. I ask if I can add shrimp to my house salad.
"I'm sorry," the bartender says. "The chef won't substitute. He's French."
Next door, just a few yards down the beach and through a gorgeous bougainvillea-lined walkway (turn left at the urn with the fresh rose petals floating in the water), is Pierre's, arguably the most upscale restaurant in Islamorada, also owned by Morada Bay's French proprietor.
Pierre's is almost too chic to be in the Keys. Just down the street sit places like Slimey's Raw Bar and Woody's, the adult entertainment club that warns patrons with a sign on the front door: "Adult Humor and dancers. If total nudity offends you, do not enter."
Pierre's is the anti-Woody's. Walk up the steps of its grand wraparound porch and enter a scene from Out of Africa with wicker furniture, overstuffed leather couches and slow-moving ceiling fans. We decide to sit at the bar and check out the menu, featuring the likes of Hickory Smoked Free Range Buffalo Rib-eye with Fois Gras Yuca Cake, $38, and Soy Lacquered Sea Bass, $35.
The barkeep, a burly, 40-ish man dressed in khaki shorts and shirt, makes us feel at home, so we decide to order drinks and an appetizer. OK, we're too cheap to order a full meal. Still, the bar, officially named The Green Flash Lounge, is lively and friendly and I am pretending to be Hemingway's girlfriend as I sip my mojito and check out the black-and-white (I think I have identified a Keys theme here) pictures of robust people riding elephants and horses.
The next evening is our last in the Keys. There are dozens of terrific restaurants we could choose for our final fete.
"Hey!" Ronnie says. "The fleet's coming in ..."
We sit on the back porch to watch the boats while we decide where to go.
"The Lorelei?" I ask. "Or Lazy Days is good. We could walk there."
In Islamorada, you can count on striking scenery and savory seafood
Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar in Islamorada.
IF YOU GO
Lodging: Bud & Mary's Marina, P.O. Box 628, Mile Marker 79.8, Islamorada, FL 33036; 800-742-7945; www.budnmarys.com. Fishing charters, accommodations and dive shop.
Eating: Islamorada Fish Company, 81532 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, 800-258-2559; www.islamoradafishco.com. Seafood Market next door
- Zane Grey Long Key Lounge (next to Islamorada Fish Company, upstairs inside Worldwide Sportsman)
- Lazy Days, Mile Marker 79.9, Oceanside, 305-664-5256
- Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar, 96 Madeira Road, Islamorada, 305-664-2692; www.loreleifloridakeys.com
- Morada Bay, 81600 Overseas Highway, Morada Bay, 305-664-0604.
- Pierre's (next door), 305-664-3225
- Squid Row, 81901 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, 305-664-9865