The past week has been rather hectic for me and my husband, Dan. After all, Friday marked the start of our fourth annual Big Easy International Film Festival  in the New Orleans French Quarter, and since then, it's been a nearly nonstop whirlwind of independent films, interesting question-and-answer sessions, and intriguing encounters – for us as well as the festival attendees and visiting filmmakers. And it's not over yet.
Still, despite such craziness, I haven't forgotten my recent promise  to highlight two of my favorite restaurants in Islamorada , a resort town in the Upper Florida Keys . As I mentioned in my last post, The Moorings Village Resort , a lush property on the ocean side of Upper Matecumbe Key, also oversees two side-by-side restaurants on the bay side of U.S. 1: the Morada Bay Beach Café , perfect for light lunches beside the water, and Pierre's Restaurant , ideal for a romantic, candlelit dinner amid tiki torches. Incidentally, both of these excellent eateries are top picks in my upcoming Moon Florida Keys  guidebook.
While they might share the same beach, though, the Morada Bay Beach Café (81600 Overseas Hwy., 305/664-0604, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., $7-33) and its elegant neighbor offer far different dining experiences. With several colorful tables set upon the sand, plus indoor and patio seating, Morada Bay takes full advantage of its laid-back beachside setting. As I discovered during my last visit to Islamorada, this breezy eatery-by-the-bay also does many dishes well, from tuna tartar and grilled swordfish sandwiches to tempura grouper tacos and the spicy island-style conch chowder that Dan and I both savored. In fact, it's a testament to Morada Bay that, even on an unseasonably cold afternoon in January, it was difficult not to enjoy the open-air ambience and freshly prepared food. Of course, if you're not hungry enough for a whole entrée, you can always opt for lighter fare – like the artichoke salad, which also features avocado, asparagus, and parmesan in a tangy lemon vinaigrette – or sample the tapas menu, which includes dishes like Fritto Mediterraneano with calamari, shrimp, zucchini, and chipotle aioli in a tangy marinara sauce – a particular favorite of mine.
Although Dan and I have typically eaten here at lunchtime, when you can expect items like the Cuban panini, crab cakes, and key lime pie, dinner is equally wonderful. Executive Chef David Peck – serendipitously a native of my home state of Louisiana – features an eclectic, oft-changing selection of seafood and meat dishes, from seared jumbo scallops in a coconut pad thai sauce to filet mignon with asparagus and a green peppercorn-horseradish demi-glace. Of course, the salsa and iced tea are delicious here, too – as are the specialty drinks, such as the Mango Mojito ($18) and the Man Overboard ($18), a concoction of pineapple juice, sour mix, Blue Curacao, and four flavors of Cruzan rum in a 32-ounce mason jar. Yikes!
In addition to scrumptious cuisine, Morada Bay offers a weekday happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m., featuring $2 domestic beers, $3 imported beers, and $4 well drinks. Also, in case you're a night owl, the bar is open later than the dining areas. In fact, if you're here at night, you'll usually be lucky enough to experience some live entertainment on the beach, including open jam sessions around a bonfire every Friday night (10:30 p.m.-close). Another highlight of the Morada Bay Beach Café is the monthly Full Moon Party ($15 cover), which normally begins at 9 p.m. on a given night each month. Essentially a large beach bash, this popular event consists of multiple bonfires, specialty drinks at the indoor and outdoor bars, and an array of live performers, including flamenco guitarists, jazz and rockabilly musicians, electric reggae bands, balloon artists, and stilt walkers. Since no outside seating is allowed, guests are encouraged to bring blankets for relaxing on the sand. Be advised, however, that no young adults under the age of 21 are permitted to participate without parental supervision. The upcoming dates of Morada Bay's Full Moon Parties – which are of course subject to change – include Tuesday, December 21, 2010; Friday, January 21, 2011; Friday, February 18, 2011; and Saturday, March 19, 2011.
For more information about the Islamorada area, including details about local attractions, restaurants, accommodations, events, and other diversions, consult the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce  (MM 83.2 BS U.S. 1, 305/664-4503 or 800/322-5397, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.) or my soon-to-be-released Moon Florida Keys  guide. In the meantime, stay tuned for my next post, which explores Pierre's Restaurant , Morada Bay's stunning neighbor and one of the finest dining options in Islamorada.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad  blog and my Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of the Morada Bay Beach Café  © 2010 Daniel Martone / Text © 2010 Laura Martone