A couple of things spring to mind when I think of Key West—tiny roosters crowing at dawn, sun-soaked colors, and a kicked-back breeziness that goes much deeper than Jimmy Buffet. Because before Buffet, there was Hemingway.
Ernest loved it down there at the southernmost tip of the U.S., and not for the river of beer flowing on Duval Street (a more recent development, and he went for the stronger stuff anyway). Mostly he was captivated by the island’s untamed wildness and genuine eccentricity, which live on.
As we slouch toward the dog days of summer, with temperatures rising and hopefully a hint of humidity on the horizon, there are three coastal hot spots in New England that keep insinuating themselves into my brain—places where I catch a faint whiff of that same unbridled wildness. Places that put me in a Key West state of mind. Minus the roaming chickens, but just barely.
Napi’s Restaurant (Provincetown, MA): I never locate Napi’s by design, it seems, only by accident. With Freeman Street’s jungly, overgrown gardens and quirky mosaics, it’s slightly surreal here, like stumbling into someone else’s dream world, set apart from the rest of P’town, although only a block from Commercial Street. Inside, Napi Van Dereck had elaborated on this otherworldly feeling, cobbling together an interior that raises scrap and salvage to crazy new heights. The food’s good, too, at this long-time local institution—Portuguese kale soup or Thai veggie wraps. www.napis-restaurant.com
Crazy Burger Café & Juice Bar (Narragansett, RI): The twinkling fairy lights and aging trellises have just the right casual Key West vibe—you could pluck this place from its location near Narragansett Bay and drop it down on Whitehead Street without missing a beat. And the burgers really ARE crazy—from vegan to ostrich. www.crazyburger.com
The Friendly Toast (Portsmouth, NH): The retro interior is colorful and unstudied, the wait staff pleasantly tattooed. The Toast is a bit of Wild West on NH’s abbreviated seacoast, and breakfast is epic, with Drunkard’s French Toast and awesome Omar’s Home Fries: “a huge pile of red potatoes, broccoli, onions, parmesan, corn, artichoke hearts, and a touch of soy sauce.” www.thefriendlytoast.net