REVIEW OF: Help Yourself,
Key West, Florida
It seems that every tourist town in the world is known for something special. I guess that is part of what makes it a tourist town. In the case of Key West, and with regards to food, that would be Key Lime Pie. From the moment I stepped foot off of the ship, I was inundated with places selling the “Best Key Lime Pie in Key West.” Tempting? Yes! I used to love Key Lime Pie, and I guess I probably still do, except for what I know it would do to me. One slice of the delicious pie would spike my blood sugar through the roof, cause me at least one night of sleeplessness, and possibly put me back on the road to poor health. So partaking was not even a consideration. Instead, I kept walking, and was determined to make this outing a 3-mile hike around the tourist spots in town.
As I walked, many people stopped to question me about my “I have lost 100 pounds….Ask me how” t-shirt I was wearing. When I shared with a man outside of the local library, he told me I needed to check out Help Yourself, a local restaurant. He said that it was the best cuisine in the area. Of course, the fact that he was lying there with no shirt, a scraggly beard and torn jeans was not a resounding endorsement, but I thought I should stop by. I am sure glad that I did.
Help Yourself, a restaurant founded by Charlie Wilson, is located at the corner of Fleming Street & Margaret Street, off the beaten tourist path. Situated in a simple structure with an outdoor eating area, you would think that you had been transported to the 1960’s and Greenwich Village in New York. Charlie’s motto is simple: “At Help Yourself, we provide convenience, choice and variety to meet the demands of today without compromising on taste or quality. We believe in using ingredients as they should be – natural and organic.” And so she does.
I was impressed with her menu, which contains “vitalizing salads,” “ultimate nutrition,” “nourishing bowls,” “energizing wraps” and “power breakfasts.” Top this off with sides, additional available veggies, vitamins and anti-oxidants, drinks and desserts, and you have a complete fare of available choices to suit any taste. As I always do, I asked Charlie what she would like to serve me since I would be reviewing the meal. Her first choice was the Crispy Tacos, but the last one had just been served to the previous guest. These tacos are surrounded with corn tortillas she makes in the dehydrator with ground corn, flax seed and some other proprietary ingredients. They are then filled with brazil nut meat, romaine lettuce, salsa, guacamole and cashew sour cream and served with a cucumber and corn salad. I saw one and it looked delicious.
Since she could not serve me her first choice, she opted for the Spicy Peanut Noodles. As a food critic, I do not specify what a restaurant has to serve to me. I want them to put their best food forward, and let them make the choice. So, Spicy Peanut Noodles it was. While waiting for Charlie to prepare my meal, she told me that she has been open for about a year. She explained that she buys locally as much as possible, and even shared that her coconuts are picked fresh by a local gentleman and delivered to the restaurant. I then interviewed Billy and Stephanie who were eating the last Crispy Taco, a wrap, salad and Pasta Primavera. They told me that they have been eating there for some time, and love it. They are not vegan or raw, but insist on eating healthy, and they believe that anything they get at Help Yourself will be just that. On a scale of 1-10, she gave it an 8-9 and he gave it at least a 9. High praise for such a small, quaint place.
After the interview with Billy and Stephanie, I went back inside to get my meal. I was given a huge plate full of zucchini noodles, mung bean sprouts, snow peas, carrots, scallions, jicama, cashews and peanut sauce. Along with this, for my drink, I bought lemonade homemade from fresh lemon juice, filtered water and agave nectar. I took my plate and drink to the patio and began to dig in. Was I pleased! The noodles are slightly crunchy, but soft enough to be equivalent to flour noodles cooked al dente. The carrots, snow peas and jicama were all very fresh and flavorful. While I ate, I spoke with Roberta, another diner, who said that she has been eating there frequently since they opened. She said that she loves the food and is most impressed that they recycle. That is very important to her.
When I was ready to leave, I asked Charlie a few more questions about her philosophy of serving her style of cuisine. She shared that she feels it is very important for people to get healthy. She told me about a project that she started recently called “30 Days to Help Yourself.” Working with the local newspaper, they took applications from people who wanted to get healthy. From the almost 100 applications, one woman was chosen. For 30 days, this woman had her meals prepared five (5) days a week by Charlie and Help Yourself. She received free cooking classes from Charlie, and went to the gym to work out. In all, she learned a lot of good lessons, and lost 20 pounds in the process. You can see it all on Facebook at the following address:
Or on the web at www.30daystohelpyourself.com
The fact that Charlie is willing to commit herself to such a worthwhile cause tells me volumes about her and her philosophy. I commend her for this, and encourage everyone to e-mail her and visit her restaurant. I know that I will be back on my next trip to Key West.
|The Raw Gourmand
|P.O. Box 520
Sardis, MS 38666-0520