EX­PLORER Rein­vent­ing an Is­land

In the shadow of Key West, Stock Is­land emerges as a premier des­ti­na­tion

Cape Coral Living - - Contents -

The last key be­fore you cross the bridge onto Key West is Stock Is­land. Not many vis­i­tors know that. And not many vis­i­tors even care. Well, at least it was that way un­til a few years ago. That was when de­vel­op­ers dis­cov­ered the is­land’s po­ten­tial as a water­front hide­away with beau­ti­ful ho­tels that could co­ex­ist with a re­vamped neigh­bor­hood de­signed for fam­i­lies and lo­cals. Fast for­ward and a new Stock Is­land is emerg­ing—giv­ing trav­el­ers to the Florida Keys yet an­other des­ti­na­tion to ex­plore. Be­fore the am­bi­tious plans were even on the draw­ing board, how­ever, Stock Is­land was home to one of the big­ger fish­eries in the Florida Keys. At Safe Har­bour Ma­rina, shrimpers and fish­er­men made a liv­ing on the water bring­ing in their haul of Key West pink shrimp, spiny lob­ster, yel­low­tail snap­per and grouper. At the bustling work­ing dock, weath­er­worn shrimpers could be spot­ted mend­ing their nets, and wooden lob­ster traps were stacked all around. But Stock Is­land also had a darker side, as Cap­tain Ash­ley O’Neil re­calls as she nav­i­gates the Free Spirit sail­boat filled with va­ca­tion­ers out of Stock Is­land Ma­rina for a sun­set cruise. “Stock Is­land used to be to­tal ghetto—drug deal­ing, shrimp-boat trash. The shrimp-boat guys wanted hook­ers and drugs. You didn’t really come to Stock Is­land,” ex­plains O’Neil, who has lived in Key West for 22 years. Con­tin­u­ing, she ex­plains that when Hog­fish Bar & Grill opened in 2008 at Safe Har­bour, Stock Is­land started to change. It caught the at­ten­tion of de­vel­op­ers and en­trepreneurs. Hur­ri­cane Wilma in Oc­to­ber 2005 also con­trib­uted to the slow trans­for­ma­tion by de­stroy­ing a lot of the trail­ers that oc­cu­pied the is­land. Those res­i­dents just up and left when their trail­ers were de­stroyed. Then in 2017, $7.9 mil­lion was pumped into cre­at­ing a state-of-the-art recre­ational fa­cil­ity at Bern­stein Park, with base­ball and soc­cer fields for the neigh­bor­hood kids. Sail­ing along­side the is­land, you can see rusty rem­nants of a work­ing boat­yard that con­trast with the sparkling leisure craft and high-tech fish­ing ves­sels that dock at Stock Is­land Ma­rina to­day. Dis­em­bark­ing at the ma­rina, you are just steps from the Perry Ho­tel Key West. The new­est bou­tique prop­erty on Stock Is­land, the Perry is play­ing a ma­jor role in set­ting the course for Stock Is­land’s tourism fu­ture. Em­brac­ing the area’s fish­ing and mar­itime his­tory, the ho­tel (named for Com­modore Perry of the U.S. Navy) has an edgy in­dus­trial de­sign that brings an el­e­ment of “cool” to the des­ti­na­tion. Wood, brick and metal blend into a mod­ern decor, and a boat-pro­pel­ler mo­tif shows up in ceil­ing fans and hid­den in ab­stract paint­ings in gue­strooms. In­te­rior de­signer Blaire Weiser with Den­ver’s John­son Nathan Strohe firm fo­cused on ev­ery de­tail. Case in point: she searched through vin­tage pho­tos of Ernest Hem­ing­way to find rarely seen images of the writer point­ing a ri­fle at the cam­era. Hang­ing them in the lounge and pool­side bath­room, the pho­tos dis­play Papa’s ad­ven­tur­ous spirit that has al­ways de­fined life in the Keys.

When it comes to din­ing on Stock Is­land, it’s a seafood bo­nanza. The Perry’s chef, Kalen For­tuna, is a reg­u­lar at Fish­busterz, a mar­ket/fish­ery lo­cated just blocks from the ho­tel and a quar­ter-mile from the dock, which means your fish is go­ing to be su­per fresh. In the mar­ket’s walk-in re­frig­er­a­tor For­tuna in­spects black grouper, mut­ton snap­per, hog­fish, mahi-mahi, gray tile­fish, red grouper from the Gulf of Mex­ico and black grouper from the At­lantic. “From all the lo­cal-water fish, black grouper is the most sought-af­ter fish and one of my fa­vorites,” says For­tuna. “Gray tile­fish is my least fa­vorite [be­cause it doesn’t stay to­gether when grilled], but it is the tasti­est and it’s great to fry.” Fresh seafood is a big deal at Fish­busterz, which ser­vices restau­rants through­out the Keys. Man­ager Bryant Gant­ter ex­plains, “We have 16 boats go­ing out to the Gulf where they can ac­tu­ally fish. So we al­ways get yel­low­tail, which is our best seller. The fish­eries know that we need 1,000 pounds of yel­low­tail a day.” At Matt’s Stock Is­land Kitchen & Bar, one of the Perry’s two water­front restau­rants, For­tuna’s top culi­nary cre­ations in­clude a hog­fish ce­viche. “Hog­fish is one of the whitest fishes—in­shore, warm water. It has al­most no blood­line,” he says, which makes it per­fect for ce­viche. His gulf chow­der, made with a creamy corn base and plenty of scal­lops, fish, clams, mus­sels and tasso ham, scores with din­ers, as does his corn­bread mash, a must-or­der side with big fla­vor and a hint of sweet­ness. Catch­ing your own fish is also pos­si­ble. From the Perry’s ad­ja­cent ma­rina, fish­ing char­ters depart daily. Other water ad­ven­tures are avail­able for divers and snorkel­ers, who can book with Lost Reef Ad­ven­tures and head to the reef to seek out fan corals, schools of blue tang and col­or­ful par­rot­fish. An­other op­tion is a Jet Ski tour with Key West Water Tours. Guide Devin Keno takes rid­ers car­a­van style around Stock Is­land, Key West and Bahia Key be­fore let­ting them loose to ride freely—and fast—in open wa­ters. Be­sides water-sports op­tions, boat-to-ta­ble din­ing and brand-new ac­com­mo­da­tions, Stock Is­land has a per­co­lat­ing ar­ti­san scene. Jew­elry de­signer Nick Soto set up shop in­side Washed Up, a funky home dé­cor bou­tique with re­claimed and re­pur­posed fur­ni­ture ac­ces­sorized with whim­si­cal mer­maid art. In his ad­ja­cent stu­dio, Soto crafts pre­cious met­als and gems into rings and bracelets. His Cuban hoop ear­rings, with wave, ze­bra and chevron de­signs, are his big­gest sell­ers. He claims that just about ev­ery woman on Key West is wear­ing them. “They’re a Key West sig­na­ture look,” he says with a smile.

When it comes to din­ing on Stock Is­land, it’s a seafood bo­nanza.

Clock­wise from top: The pool at the Perry Ho­tel, the new­est prop­erty on Stock Is­land, over­looks the water­front; fish­ing and dive boats of­fer ex­cur­sions from the Stock Is­land Ma­rina, ad­ja­cent to the ho­tel; the mod­ern, in­dus­trial de­sign of the ho­tel’s lobby; Key West pinks are on the menu at Matt’s Stock Is­land Kitchen & Bar.

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