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Jeffrey Byrnes Photographer Fashion + Portraits + Travel

Travel Photography: Key West, Florida

Key West is the southern most, final destination in the state of Florida. Key West is by all accounts a tiny island in the Florida Keys. My wife and I rented bicycles and were able to ride around the entire island very quickly. Before we got on our two wheels and made our way around the island we took one of those uber, not the car service, touristy trains. Being a tourist, you can hop on a freight train for the unadventurous and get a history lesson of the island from one of the plump drivers. While bopping around the seat, photo-bombing the group in front of us taking "selfies," I spotted a restaurant that spoke to me. I made a mental note of where the restaurant was based on how the driver navigated his choo-choo train. 

From the moment we rode past Frita's Cuban Burger Cafe, it was my mission to eat there. The first time I had a cuban sandwich was in Boston. Not the most ideal place to have such a sandwich. It was lack luster, but when you eat something at the bottom of the barrel, that just means that when something is how it should be or when it is served in an authentic environment, it will be life affirming. Frita's would be both culturally relevant and decadent. 

We handed over the credit card, signed the papers, and saddled up on the wheels that have probably been ridden more than a Brazilian prostitute. Our bikes moaned and creaked as we cycled our way around the island. Around a corner, down a street, up the block, to the left, followed by a right, we found a beach. Our bikes were equipped with locks, which we used to safely secure them to some bike racks. The water was beautiful. We had a swim, a few moments for photos, and a few minutes laying in the sand and we were off. During our train ride our the island I made a few photos of things we passed, mostly with my Gopro, photos I'll save for later. As we navigated around I built a map of the island, making note of visually appealing landmarks along the way. This mental database would be what helped me pedal our way to Frita's. 

You should never judge a book by its cover just like you should never judge a restaurant by how many people are dinning. My wife was a bit reluctant when we rolled up Frita's. I was ecstatic because after half an hour and a wrong turn, we arrived. There wasn't a single person eating, drinking, or doing what people do at restaurants. I didn't hesitate or think anything none-the-less. I first learned about Frita Kahlo when studying Art History at The University of Massachusetts. I knew that if there was a restaurant dedicated to her, the food must be as well composed as her paintings were. I am by no means a food critic. I know what I like, love, hate. I am however one for a culinary adventure. I was eager to sit down, order, and stuff my face. 

Everywhere we turned there was portraits of Frita looking at us, greeting us, asking us what we were hungry for. Our table had a bust of Frita painted on it. No matter which angle you sat, she was looking up at you. No doubt the artist who painted her knew a thing or two about perspective. We sat outside, as it was a beautiful, hot day in Florida. Groups of people passed by. Occasionally the brave would stop and read the menu, but most people kept passing by. I kept thinking to myself, "are these people crazy for passing a place like this up, or are they just not in the mood to eat?" My camera was torn from the bag the moment we sat at the table. It was obvious by my behavior that I am not a tourist. Most people get that the moment they see my set up. I made a few photos of our surroundings and a few while the manager came out and took our order. I stood and approached the guy behind the grill. I asked if I could make photographs while he cooked our food. He obliged, even showing a bit of excitement for being photographed, sort of as if it made his day. Dewan from Bangladesh worked the grill like an artist, perhaps the same artist who painted Frita on our table. He was happy to tell us his story as to why he was in Key West, grilling our food. At some point we had a more personable conversation with the manager who took our order. He handed me a business card with his name and email address, so as I could forward him this very post, but during my travels, the business card slipped from my notebook and became a reminder of why I should also write things down in addition to taking a business card. Some book make that card was..

I ordered 2 Cuban Tacos, Sue ordered 1 Cuban burger, I had the ear of Cuban grilled corn, and we shared 3 churros. Like I said, I am no food critic, but what I can say is this, my life changed with every bite I took. The juxtaposition of each element of our food created sinful, lusting, flavor bombs of transcendence. Frita's is the type of restaurant where you will eat something that you will remember. Located off the main road and 90 miles from Cuba, you would think that your eating at a restaurant on the Havana Port.