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By Captain Jay

OK, here it is. The first of many posts in the new and exciting BurgerBlog. This will be a year long quest for the “best in Key West” cheeseburger. I will explore not only Key West, but will include the Lower Keys as well, looking for the true, undeniable “cheeseburger in paradise”. Jimmy Buffet had it right when he wrote the tune years ago, now I will rate them all. This quest will however be very interesting to all foodies who love this international delicacy, as well as a lot of fun. No fast food here! These tastebuds will touch only privately owned restaurants located from Marathon to Key West. How many “burger joints” are out there you might ask. Hundreds I’m sure. Almost every food slinging establishment in the “Keys” serves a burger, and I plan on rating them all. From beef to bun and everything in between, you’ll never have to ask where to get a great burger again.

Lets start off with the judge/s. I’m a huge foodie. I have a culinary appetite for just about everything, and when it comes it meat, well, I am a true carnivore connoisseur. From steak to BBQ I love it all, but no mater what the cheeseburger I would have to say IS my all-time favorite. The town I was raised in, Englewood, FL, is a quiet town on the southwest side of the state located on the Gulf of Mexico. As a child there was a restaurant we went to on the beach aptly named Barnacle Bill’s. This restaurant wow’d me then with the amazing cheeseburgers they offered. With a fresh hand pressed patty so big I swear it took up most of the plate, and a homemade bud that was toasted how you liked it, this juicy burger was truly the “best burger ever”. Even as I became a teenager, BB’s was awesome. Though moving locations and the economy forced BB’s to close its doors years ago, I can still taste that delicious treat.

Now, since moving to the Keys over a dozen years ago I have searched for that same burger utopia. I have had my favorites over the years, but one thing you can count on is that none are the same as they were when i first tried them. As cooks and kitchen crews come and go very regularly, I have found some burgers aren’t quite what they used to be, and others are definitely better, and others yet are still just as bad as they have always been. Don’t get me wrong, I am not being paid, nor am I getting any freebies out of this, so don’t think for a second that this quest will be influenced in any way other than by burger alone!!

Tiki Bar and Grill burger

Tiki Bar and Grill burger

A Lil History

The origin of the hamburger is one of countless tales and years of folklore. No one “really” knows where or how the burger actually became its mainstay. Some attribute it to the influence of minced meat in the 19th century and recipes brought over to New York by German immigrants from Hamburg. Others offer an explanation of the industrialized era in the beginning of the 20th century bringing forth a need for quicker made meals. Many different stories have evolved over the years as to who truly began the burger craze as well. All we know is this. Wherever it came from, Americans, over the last century, has made the burger what it is today. And that would be THE most popular international food in the world. The cheeseburger is consumed in every major country in the world today. Everyone across the globe loves to sink their teeth into a juicy burger patty.

Widely popularized by fast food chains the burger itself has many faces. From flame grilled or broiled, to fried on a flat grill, in a pan, or skillet can give the burger a different taste. Some are cooked slow and others are kicked out faster than a car can make it around the restaurant. With thousands of choice topping combinations, buns, and condiments, the burger is nothing short of a construction zone on a plate. Millions of fast food burgers are consumed every day in this country alone.

The patty itself is ground beef from any one or number of cuts of the animal. Some are very fatty as others extremely lean. Mostly all are tender and when cooked perfectly release a flavor all its own. This is what makes the burger so special to me.

The Local Flavor

I may be popular, but I am definitely not rating a single patty from any grease slinging burger chain. It’s just, well, just wrong! I have a problem with fast food chains, and at that I will happily keep my opinions to myself. We are talking the real deal. Local restaurants who make a true burger from what we hope are best ingredients available. From fridge to plate we are looking for the best in not only taste but presentation and service. Taste is by far number one and if you have bad service I could really care less, however I will rate service anyway. Presentation is also one of those which will not really affect my rating, but I do have to say, that when you are served a meal and the presentation is nice, it makes you feel that much more apt to dig in. Back to taste though. The taste and rate of all of the burgers will be on a scale of 1 thru 10. Very simple. The breakdown though will be by this:

1. How the burger is made. Is it a pre-made patty, or is it hand pressed into a patty?

2. How it is cooked. Just for a control we will order all burgers to be cooked to “Medium”. This will keep it consistent and rate how close to this the burger will be when served. Many times I have ordered it to be cooked Medium only to have it Well done, or still raw in the middle. Hopefully I won’t have to send it back. Mostly though Medium comes out close. True medium is cooked well on the outsides and pink in the middle.

3. What cut of beef it is. The cut of the burger will determine the flavor. Fatty or lean, juicy or dry will all depend on the cut, and how its cooked.

4. Cooking surface. Whether the patty is fried or grilled or broiled ect. can all affect the burger’s taste.

5. The bun. Not many people think about the bun, but to me it represents the strength of the burger. A good bun should hold together well through the entirety of eating, and should be soft yet not fall apart. A moist bun is also a must as no one wants to have to take a drink to wash down every dry bite.

6. Toppings. Ingredients of the toppings can range from lettuce, to onion, to pickles, tomatoes, and so on. These will be ranked by freshness rather than which toppings are on the burger. Cheese on the other hand will be ranked as a preference by whatever cheese I feel I want on that particular Burger.

7. Condiments will be rated only by what is offered. I will try to keep to a control, and just use Ketchup and Mustard, but from time to time I like others as well, and sometimes none at all. I keep my condiments to a minimum though because I never want to take away from the flavor of the burger itself.

Alonzo's burger

Alonzo’s burger

I am excited all ready. Just writing this I want to go grab a juicy Burger right now! I hope you all enjoy these posts as much as I will enjoy making them!!

By Capt Jay

I am often amazed how life’s outcomes can sometimes turn out to be better than what your expectations are. I have seen this so many times throughout my many years of fishing in Key West. You leave the dock with goals and aspirations of this or that specific species, only to come back to the dock with something amazingly better and completely unexpected. All of your planning and work put forth to catch this specific fish such as a Sailfish or Dolphin is all but lost when that giant Wahoo or Marlin gets hooked and is screaming drag. Then, other times as you fight what you think is a certain fish, you are totally blown away when it finally surfaces next to the boat. This is exactly what happened the other day with Gene Stevens from St. Mary’s, Georgia by way of Westchester, PA.

Gene chartered the Outer Limits for a half day by himself to catch that specific “bucket list” Sailfish. This day unfortunately did not hold great conditions for Sailfish. But that was no reason not to give it 100% either. We have caught plenty of Sailfish on days where you would never expect to see one. The weather was absolutely beautiful though. As the rest of the country is suffering the wrath of all this crazy Polar Vortex weather that has put its nasty grasp around the United States, Key West is the nicest in the land with light winds and highs in the upper 70′s and lows in the upper 60′s. I’m telling you it is fabulous here right now. Generally we tend to like a Northeast to East wind for Sailfish and definitely a good amount of eastbound current. So, our conditions were no wind, flat clam, and no current… Great Sailfish fishing conditions (sarcasm). Either way we had a goal. Now, Gene was no stranger to catching trophy fish. On the way out he proudly showed Cory and I photos of his 525 pound Bluefin Tuna he caught off of Morehead City, NC a few years back. A very impressive catch I must say, but today we were after a Sailfish.

We started out catching bait. As calm as it was I decided rather than try and catch live Ballyhoo which we had been catching almost every trip, today wasn’t going to be a great day for trying to catch these frantic little freak-a-zoids. When there is no wind and no current, Ballyhoo can be a very tough bait to get, and get a lot of. So, I opted for trying to catch some Threadfin Hearing. Being as calm as it was these little baitfish tend to feed near the surface. When they come to the top they leave little rings in the water almost like a large rain drop giving away their position. Using a sabiki rig we were able to put close to three dozen in the live well and we were on our way fishing.

Slow Beginnings

As it was, the action to begin with was nothing short of deathly. And I’m not talking about the fish. Literally we fished for two straight hours with not as much as a nibble. Working an area of about 3 miles east from Sand Key we focused mostly in the range of 100- 150 foot of water. After no luck here we picked up and made a move farther down the reef edge. Starting out a bit deeper this time we found ourselves in the vicinity of a well known wreck just south of Key West. Now with only a half of the day to fish, and very little time left at that, we were nearing the dreaded smell of skunk age.  But then, the magic happened.

 

Gene in the fight

Light Tackle Fun!!

First bite of the day came from a King Mackerel around 12 pounds or so. Then, we had a bait stolen, then another , and then yet another was cut in half. It wasn’t long though before the next bite was “the” bite. As Gene was instructed, the bait was let back to the appropriate distance and the bail shut. Not 5 seconds after, the spinning rod in Gene’s hand doubled over with a screamer. Line peeled off the Penn Battle with ease as Gene could only hold on and hope to slow the beast. Once the fish had made enough of a run the back and forth battle began. Like a tug-o-war these two went at it. The fish would take 50 yards, then Gene 30. Then Gene would gain 40 yards , and the fish would take 30. over half an hour they dueled until finally the best prevailed. Little did we realize what Gene was tangled up with. Another Kingfish was both of our expectations as we had already caught and lost others. Then, as the fish came to the top, those beautiful navy blue tiger stripes shined out from the water like a diamond in the rough. WAHOO! was the scream. After a short back and forth near the boat, like boxers in the final round, the match was over and the gaff finally sank into the 40lb. Wahoo’s side. What a great fight and an awesome fish on light tackle spinning gear as well. Gene will never forget this day as long as he lives and I’ll tell you neither will we. It may not have been a Sailfish, but I guarantee it was just as awesome!!

Gene's 40lb. Wahoo

The Prize!!

Whether your looking for action, a reel good pull, or dinner for the table, Key West has everything for everyone right now offshore. Moderate to strong Gulfstream currents have remained tight up to the edge of the reef with it bringing a consistent blue water bite. Wahoo and Blackfin Tunas have been the main attraction for the offshore enthusiasts as well as a mix of some Mahi Mahi, Kingfish, and of course the ever present Little Tunny. The area southwest of Key West, the famous “End of the Bar” has been the place to be lately as the majority of the action has been best around the couple wrecks that lay on the bottom in this area. Many large Wahoo in upwards of 50 to 70 pounds have been caught recently with many others averaging 30 to 40 pounds. These fish are screamers so be prepared to have a sore arm after tussling with one of these line rippers.

Blackfin Jerry

Jerry Jacobson hoists a heavy Blackfin

The Blackfin tuna bite has been nothing short of awesome. The size of these fish have been a mixed bag as fish from 3 pounds to 30 pounds have been taking all sorts of different presentations regularly. Found anywhere from 120 to 300 feet of water the bite has been really great as the sun get lower in the late afternoons and evenings. Whether trolling, live baiting, or jigging, be ready for some unbelievable action. Mixed in with both the Wahoo and Tuna are a handful of Dolphin that have yet to realize their migration is off. Mostly averaging “schoolie” size, 5-10 pounds, look for these fish to be in the same areas as the Tunas. Kingfish have also been a good bet on the edge of the reef lately. As the water cools off to the north of the Florida Keys, these schooling fish migrate south for the main winter months. Look for these fish to be stationed on the reef edge in 50 to 130 feet of water. Make sure you’ve got wire leaders when fishing in their “neck of the woods” as these fish can make all your rigs disappear in a blink of an eye.

Bruce's Tuna Tango

Buce knows how to do the Tuna Tango!

Whatever it is your looking for, be it action, a trophy fish of a lifetime, or something for the grill, Key west is the place to be right now. Get Down! and Get Some!!

The Pretty… and The Pretty Ugly

by Captain Jay

Key West shows many different faces when it comes to the weather. In the winter, like now, the weather we get is usually dictated by the north and northeast cold fronts that show their ugly little faces about every seven to ten days or so. Sometimes even sooner than that. Yet in the spring and summer the bad weather comes from 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Strong south to southeast winds push low pressure systems up from the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea and create some nasty weather. However, there are also the other times (the majority) where the weather here is so beautiful you realize why they call it “paradise”. Rather than bore you with why the weather does what it does just see for yourself with these pictures and videos. Enjoy!

My Backyard

My Backyard on the Gulfside of the Islands

 

Backyard Morning Sunrise

The Sunrise from My Backyard

 

Key West Harbor Sunset

Key West Harbor Sunsets are Breathtaking

 

Heading Home

Sometimes to get home you have to go into this

this storm in particular was backed with gusts of 62 knots and driving rain. From just 7 miles away from the dock it took us almost 3 hours to get home.

The Front Rolling In

 

 

 

By Captain Jay

Here we are, the Wahoo run is upon us. Every year at some point during the fall and winter Florida Keys fisherman get an always expected Wahoo migration. These torpedoes of the open ocean are one of my most favorited of all the Pelagic fishes. Extremely fast and amazingly cunning, a Wahoo can rip 250 yards of line in a single run, then turn right back toward you and be gone in a blink of an eye. Most of the time leaving you with jaw dropping excerpts like “WTF”. Believe me it happens a lot more than you can imagine. Many times I hear from other Captains how they had on a monster that dumped 3/4 of the reel only to shake the hook after such a screaming run, or they got it almost within gaff distance only to watch the tiger striped joker shake its head and leave you saying “Uhn Uh”. Even the best Captains can be made to look bad when it comes to Wahoo. Most Wahoo are lost during the first run or right next to the boat. Now this article you might think is going be all about how to capitalize on that awesome bite. Well, not so much my friend. That knowledge is sacred and is only shared amongst my clients who come down for this great time of unbelievable fishing.Gilbert's Wahoo

During the Wahoo migration to the Lower Keys, many other species inhabit the offshore waters as well. As the bluewater cools down up north, many baitfish such as Sardines, Pilchards, Ballyhoo, and Flying Fish get pushed south to Keys waters. This push of bait in turn brings larger fish such as Bonitos (Little Tunny), SkipJack and Blackfin Tunas, Mahi Mahi, Sailfish, King Mackerel, Barracudas, and of course Wahoo who all come to feast on the bounty. It’s the full cycle of life from the baitfish all the way to the sharks that feed on the predators. During this spectacular time of fishing in Keys waters also come many cold fronts which seem to be back to back to back. Windy and sometimes sloppy conditions can make many days fishing for these lunkers a reel chore.

Ocean Meat Missile

Timing is everything as Wahoo tend to like calmer days preferably with a light north to northeast wind. Now I say this, and some may want to dispute this with me, but I will tell you my largest Wahoo Ive ever caught as a Key West captain was 85 pounds and it was as rough as any day I’ve fished. But for the most bites I feel a light wind and almost a ripple on the surface is the best. Closer to the full moon as well is when the bite is hottest. A few days before and a few days after the full moon tend to be my favorite “best” times to fish for Wahoo. Depth is key as well. These fish can be found anywhere from 75 feet of water right up on the outside of the reef, to 400 or 500 feet deep miles offshore. Finding these fish can be tough sometimes but look for current edges and temperature rips which is usually a good sign of Wahoo country.

Now get down here ASAP for some great Wahoo action as the full moon has just shown its big ole face and the wind is light to moderate out of the north/northeast. It’s time for an awesome Wahoo bite, the next few days are going to be spectacular.