Hold onto your seats, folks....next stop is the Pink House on Jost Van Dyke!
It's snowing in Tennessee today...but sunshine soon come. Summer is just around the corner.....
Hold onto your seats, folks....next stop is the Pink House on Jost Van Dyke!
It's snowing in Tennessee today...but sunshine soon come. Summer is just around the corner.....
Great Things I Ate During a Weekend In the French Quarter
01.03.2013 - 04.03.2013
The first time I went to New Orleans I was 19. I was working my way through college and I had been living on chicken leg quarters and Ramen noodles for over a year. We made the drive in my dove gray 1981 Pontiac T1000 and my muscles were sore by the time we got there, because the car had no power steering or power brakes. Four of us shared a cheap room at the Holiday Inn. I was young and poor, and the only food I splurged on while in New Orleans was a savory bowl of gumbo at the Gumbo Shop.
Laugh if you will, but in 1989 a bowl of seafood okra gumbo cost the equivalent of two 10-lb. bags of chicken leg quarters, and I could survive on those leg quarters for weeks.
The memory of that steaming bowl of gumbo still makes my mouth water. It was worth every penny.
I may not be 19 anymore, but heading to New Orleans is still as exciting to me as it was on that first trip.
Many people associate New Orleans with nothing more than the debauchery of Bourbon Street. They feel the only reason to go there is to be clad in beads while carrying a 28 ounce Big Gulp cocktail down the street. To think New Orleans is nothing but Bourbon Street is like saying New York City is nothing but Times Square. Bourbon Street is essential, don't get me wrong, but a quick stroll will show you a neon blazed circus filled with hard working transvestites that will let you take their picture for a dollar, strippers trying to lure you in with fish net tights and neon lipstick, and an overabundance of cheap frozen drinks in tacky souvenir cups that are strong enough to eat the chrome off Grandma Laverne's 1978 Lincoln Continental.
Don't see Bourbon Street at all and you'll wonder what you missed, but spend more than 5 minutes and you’ll have wasted valuable time better spent elsewhere.
New Orleans has so much more to offer than Bourbon Street. Let’s start with the architectural wonders that present themselves on every block. The place simply oozes history. You feel like a ghost or a pirate is lurking behind every gated door or in every shadowy courtyard. And what about the music? This city is so musical that you literally can’t walk a full block without hearing live music. Whether it’s pouring out the doors of a jazz club or being pumped through a tinny amp on the street corner next to a cardboard box reading, “Big Tips Only,” there is literally music everywhere.
You also can’t walk a block without running into original art. Turn your head for a moment while walking and you’ll no doubt run head-first into some guy offering to paint your dog from an iPhone picture or lining up original paintings against a fence that rival anything you’ve seen in your local gallery. And the shopping…..you can find everything from estate antiques to vintage war pistols, from colorful designer dresses to size 12 heels in glitter green.
Above all, though, I head to New Orleans for the food. Still taunted by that first cheap date with New Orleans, where she flaunted her goods but only let me hold her hand, is it any wonder that when I return to New Orleans today, all I want to do is eat? New Orleans is a wonderland of sublime eating experiences.
I had three days and planned to see just how much damage I could do.
Friday: Laissez les bons temps rouler!
When you fly your own plane, it’s hard to predict exactly when you are going to arrive in a place. We aren’t Delta and we can’t pinpoint our arrival to the minute. Oh wait, neither can Delta. Regardless, this makes it difficult for a compulsive planner like myself to know exactly what time to make a lunch reservation. Because compulsive planners can’t imagine NOT having a lunch reservation.
That’s why, at approximately 12:23, I began twitching like a 4 year old with ADHD that had just sucked down a 2 liter of Mountain Dew. I had a 12:30 lunch reservation and our wonderful hosts were still showing us around our rental for the weekend. While I was enjoying getting a thorough tour of what I am pretty sure is the most perfect historic townhouse in the French Quarter…I HAD LUNCH PLANS!
Like an idiot, I had worn high heeled boots on the way down, with every intention of changing into flats before walking to lunch. Because we were now in an extreme hurry, changing shoes was out of the question. Expecting a very clumsy person to walk in a hurry on ancient, uneven sidewalks in a pair of high heeled boots is a very, very bad idea. About halfway there, I started sweating, whether it was from the worry of doing a face plant on Chartres Street, from the heavy sweater that I had needed when we left cold TN but that was excessively warm in Louisiana, or from the fear that the possibility of a missed meal instills in my heart, I am still not certain.
We made it to SoBou before they crossed our names of the list. I was only moderately sweaty and both heels were intact, so we’ll call that a success story. Hot Jambalaya! We had made it to the Twenty Five Cent Martini Lunch.
You heard that right. Twenty-five cent martinis. You can choose a vodka or gin martini, pink gin, commander’s palace cha cha, or a pink elephant’s on parade for a quarter, with the purchase of an entrée. They do, however, limit you to 3 because, as the menu states, “that’s enough.”
A two bit martini later, everyone forgot that they were mad at me.
SoBou is located inside the sleek W Hotel, but it’s no hotel restaurant. An offshoot of the Commander’s Palace family of restaurants, SoBou (South of Bourbon) aims to create a stylish restaurant where the cocktails are inventive and the menu is filled with snacks that encourage sharing.
We chose to share The Fries, which were deliciously salted skin-on fries served with your choice of cayenne ketchup, pimento cheese fondue, or pickled okra mayo. I’ll have the pimento cheese fondue, please.
Because hearing the words “share” and “food” in the same sentence causes me to have immediate heart palpitations, I drew the line at sharing the appetizer and told everyone to get their own entrée. I had the crispy chicken on the bone: four adorable little Tanglewood Farms drummies with crispy skin and a Crystal hot sauce sweet soy glaze. Matt had the juicy SoBou Burger.
We couldn’t end the meal without dessert. I mean, I had run 4 blocks in heels. I deserved something, right? The chocolate coma bar was calling to me. It was a flourless dark chocolate torte layered with white chocolate mousse, topped with candied pecans and sea salt caramel covered in milk chocolate. Apparently, the pastry chef did not feel this was enough decadence and also added a shot of chicory coffee milkshake.
Oh sweet little plastic baby Jesus buried in a king cake. This was beyond good. This was pure happiness.
We shopped our way back to the townhouse, stopping in at some great little clothing boutiques and one amazing store filled with designer markdowns. Shopping thrown on top of martinis and lunch? We were definitely off to a good start.
I love walking the streets of New Orleans. You never know what you are going to see and everything from the artistic to the downright weird takes on a level of "okay-ness" that it just wouldn't have anywhere else. Anything goes, and it's all cool.
Even the tuba....that lonely fat guy of the marching band instruments...takes on a level of cool in New Orleans.
We found our way back to the the townhouse and enjoyed a little down time.
I hadn’t stopped long enough to fully appreciate the place during the earlier tour. A two story townhouse with a rooftop balcony and secret backdoor courtyard, this place was smack dab in the center of the French Quarter. This place was FANTASTIC.
Thanks to blog reader, Twolittlebirds, I knew about Luke restaurant's 50 cent happy hour. Matt couldn't wait to get his oyster happy hour on, so when the magic hour rolled around, we made our way to Luke, on Saint Charles just outside the madness of the French Quarter. The more casual restaurant offering of chef John Besh, Luke offers platters of huge ice cold oysters for just 50 cents from 4:00 - 6:00. We were all over it.
Luke was all polished brass and wood paneling, crisp dish towel napkins and formal waiters, with an upscale atmosphere that somehow managed to still exude a warmth that let you picture yourself with a burger and beer at the gleaming bar and knowing you'd feel right at home. In addition to cheap oysters, you can sample some of Luke's signature cocktails for half price. The Riverbend, a refreshing blend of vodka, basil syrup, lemon juice, blueberries, and ginger ale went down as smooth as a Gulf Coast oyster during happy hour.
When Matt had his fill, we walked a short distance to Bellocq, a dark and mysterious bar that serves as a tribute to the bordello era of New Orleans and is dedicated to the art of the 19th century cocktail. I loved the dim interior, filled with lush velvet drapes and plush sofas, it was like taking a step back in time. The bar takes its name from E.J. Bellocq, the famous photographer who secretly documented the prostitutes of the Storyville district — arguably the most famous Red Light District ever.
A whole section of the menu is devoted to cobblers, a throwback cocktail that consists of a base spirit, sugar, fresh fruit, and ice — a lot of ice. Cobblers are lower in alcohol than many other cocktails and are meant to be refreshing, smooth, and cold. Just holding one in an ornate wing back chair, you can imagine that you live in the bayou, with the high sun and even higher humidity, and just need a refreshing beverage to soothe your over-heated body. With one sip, I was instantly transported to the veranda of some huge plantation on a sticky, summer day.
I could have stayed in there all night, sipping cobblers and milk punches and pretending I was the southern belle and this was my decadent parlor, but we had dinner reservations at Cochon.
The restaurant’s name is French for pig, and one goal of this restaurant that seems to show up on every top NOLA restaurant list is to honor a Cajun tradition of producing cured, smoked, pressed and shredded pork delicacies. My goal? To find a dinner that didn't involve any of the too abundant Cajun tourist traps that churn out the same predictable menu.
We started off with the crawfish pie, a delicate buttery crust hiding a smoky crawfish etouffee inside.
Matt went for the oyster and bacon sandwich. A good choice if you like oysters, since Cochon makes its own bacon, deep fries the oysters, and throws some mayo into the equation. Even to an avowed non-oyster eater, that sandwich looked mighty fine.
I, however, went for the signature dish: the Cochon: listed on the menu as “Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage, pickled turnips and cracklins.” It may as well have been deep fried, covered in bacon and slathered with mayo, what with the way that slow-stewed meat was molded and packed into a golden, crisp-edged, savory chunk, laying atop a pile of cabbage and turnips that were almost as magical as the pork itself, with a velvety rich texture and loaded with the perfect balance of salt, sugar and vinegar. All of this delciousness was topped with the world's largest (and most delicious) pork rind.
Cochon has a big reputation to live up to. Did it live up to all the hype? One bite of that crispy pork cracklin and I was nodding a delicious, "Yes."
Saturday: Peench da Tails, Suck da Heads and Squeeze da Tip.
Matt and I woke up early, and as our friends slept in, we made the short walk over to Cafe du Monde. Yes, Cafe du Monde, that French Quarter establishment so heavily touristed it makes Graceland feel quaint.
I don't go here for the hype. I go here because I genuinely think they have the most delicious coffee and beignets to be had. Anywhere. Ever. Period.
I like to go early in the morning, when the wait staff are drawing slips for their table assignments and the green vinyl chairs are still piled up on the tables. The sidewalks smell of water and bleach and the tables aren't yet covered with the sticky mess of 13 previous customers. It's quiet and still and there isn't a line of people outside staring at you, willing you with their eyes to stop eating and leave already.
At that time of day, Cafe du Monde is just a wonderful little cafe with delicious hot coffee and tasty treats.
Ahhhh....beignets. Those crispy golden pillows of dough piled high like a deep fried masterpiece. Moist and chewy inside, toasty brown, and buried in a pile of powdered sugar so deep that by the time you leave, you look like the clumsiest member of the Medellín Cocaine Cartel. Bags of powdered sugar beg for the honor of giving their lives this way...... the only honor higher than getting to play a bag of drugs in a movie.
By the way, never wear black to Cafe du Monde.
We headed to Stanley! for breakfast because I heard they served their pancakes with vanilla ice cream. Pancakes with vanilla ice cream turned out to be exactly what I wanted on a Saturday morning.
Although Matt's fried oyster benedict looked mighty tasty.
It was a beautiful day, so we spent the rest of the morning just walking through the streets of the French Quarter, taking in the buildings, the musicians, and the art.
There is more entertainment to be had on Royal Street on a Saturday afternoon than most cities see in a month.
We even caught a couple of weddings, an absolutely spectacular affair in the French Quarter.
Where else can you get this much entertainment for free?
We did some sampling for lunch. Our first stop was unplanned. As we walked past the Jagerhaus, we couldn't help but notice the grill filled with sausages and the cooler filled with crawfish, potatoes, and corn. They were working up a crawfish boil! Apparently, after a couple of lean years, 2013 brought a bumper crop of mudbugs to NOLA and we were here right at the start of the season.
Matt might like crawfish as much as he likes oysters.
Me....I think they are an awful lot of work for a mighty small reward. And they are messy. There is no way to look attractive while eating crawfish. You end up with crap on your face and ooze on your hands, probably a severed leg or two near your elbow, you'll smell like sea water for at least an hour, and all you'll have to show for it is a little bit of tail meat (if you are a lazy eater like me...you won't find me sucking on the heads or trying to dig those microscopic little bits of meat out of their tiny little claws, no sir).
So, I sat politely by, working up my own appetite, while Matt had his fill. We were practically next door to the Erin Rose, so I grabbed Matt's hand and ducked inside.
"What are we doing here?" he asked as he looked around the smoky, dark little bar lined with old bar stools and a few video poker machines. It was loud and crowded and was a total dive.
"Trust me," I said as I dragged him through the main bar to the tiny back room.
There we found Killer Po Boys, the new Po Boy on the block. Who knew that behind the Erin Rose, you can find chef driven sandwiches with unique ingredients like Moroccan-spiced lamb sausage, shrimp with coriander and lime, and beef tongue finished with cream, plantain and pickled okra? Cam Boudreaux and April Bellow turn out inspired Po Boys at a tiny food window hidden behind a smoky little bar. And I was in on the secret.
I ordered up the special of the day: local, wild-caught catfish piled with pickled slaw made on their crusty, light-crumb banh mi-style loaf. Matt grabbed us a couple of bloody mary's from Erin Rose and we were in Po Boy heaven. I took one bite and melted into my barstool.
Sure, it's located in the back of a bar, seating was limited, it's cash only and you have to be at least 21 to enter, and it goes without saying that you must have at least a small tolerance for cigarette smoke and the ring of a poker machine, but with a po-boy like this coming in around $7 or so, this place was hard to beat.
We spent the afternoon with a fist full of dollar bills, wandering from one Royal Street act to another. There was swing dancing. There were trombones and acoustic guitars and bottle-capped tap shoes floating their way down the streets of the French Quarter.
We decided to take things in a different direction for dinner. Our first stop was supposed to be Bar Tonique. I had read about this cozy, craft cocktail bar that took pride in its fresh squeezed juices and house made syrups, and thought it might just be the perfect remedy for the noise of Bourbon Street. It seemed like just the place to hang our hat long enough to forget the screaming hordes that were throwing up on the sidewalk just a few blocks away.
That was, until we walked in and were slammed with a wall of cigarette smoke.
Sorry, Bar Tonique. No matter how quaint your establishment is and no matter how amazing your cocktails, it's not worth losing 10% of my lung capacity to second hand smoke and coming out with my hair smelling like Grandad's old ashtray for the rest of the night.
We walked right back out the door and headed toward Frenchmen Street, where I had heard some great music could be found.
Just past the edge of the Quarter, across Esplanade, you'll find historic Frenchmen Street where music pours out of every doorway and the sidewalks are lined with characters as colorful as the artwork that's painted on the buildings. You won't find shiny beads, frozen daiquiri stands, or t-shirt shops here. What you will find is an eclectic mix of jazz clubs and up and coming restaurants with a bit of art sprinkled in the mix. It's a unique and thriving bohemian neighborhood just a block from the French Quarter.
We put our names on the list at Three Muses, a relative new comer on Frenchmen's Restaurant Row housed inside a tiny storefront. When we were finally called inside, I marveled at the small space that was so incredibly warm and vibrant, with bold artwork, twinkling lights, and a bustling staff. And it was smoke free.
"You typically order at the bar," a waitress shouted to us as she passed by, handing us a napkin with the number 14 written on it, "You're table 14. If you catch me as I pass by, I'm happy to take your order to the bar. If not, just run up there."
The menu was made up of an assortment of tapas and small plates that made my head spin. Every time I settled on a few, a waiter carried a tray by that made me rethink my entire plan.
Matt says I order every meal like it's my last.
I finally settled and basically ended up ordering several plates of carbohydrates. That's what happens when I let myself get too hungry.
There were marinated olives, deep fried pickle chips, mac n cheese with brussels sprouts, french fries with feta, and smoked quail on top of savory turnip greens. There was strawberry shortcake for dessert.
It was lively and cozy all at the same time. The music played as people managed to dance in the few tiny spaces that existed between tables. The crowd buzzed and the band passed a hat from table to table for tips in between sets. I'm still not sure whether 3 Muses was a great restaurant with fabulous live music, or a music club with amazing food and cocktails, or a cocktail bar with great bands and terrific food. Whatever it was, it was a great place to spend a few hours on a Saturday night.
Sunday: Where y'at? Da Vieux Carre, Boo!
EAT restaurant was just a block away and with a BYOB Sunday Brunch, it seemed like just the place to start the day.
As we were seated at a bright and sunny table inside the quaint little restaurant, the water saw my champagne bottle and immediately brought a carafe of juice.
The day started with mimosas and sugary banana fritters dipped in peanut butter.
Then it was on to the Big Breakfast, a plump and juicy fried chicken breast, grits, fried eggs, and a giant fluffy biscuit. I truly believe most of the ills in the world can be cured with a really good biscuit.
A good way to ward off an impending biscuit coma is to walk and the French Quarter is a great place to do it.
Our friends wanted to see a New Orleans cemetery, so we made the short walk over to the Saint Louis Cemetery Number One. Established in the late 1700's, this is the oldest cemetery that still exists in New Orleans. It's an absolute maze of tombs and alleys that holds the remains of pirates, politicians, heroes of the Battle of New Orleans, an international chess champion, victims of the Yellow Fever epidemics and even a voodoo queen within its walls.
I noticed a tomb that was covered with triple x's and had an odd assortment of random items laid in front of it.
This tomb is the reputed burial place of Marie Laveau, the most powerful voodooienne to live in New Orleans. Apparently, the markings and items are offerings that people regularly leave for Marie in hope of receiving a wish or good fortune from her.
I am certainly not an expert in voodoo wish fulfillment, but if I sincerely believed that leaving some random junk beside the tomb of a dead voodoo queen would bring me a wish, I'd certainly think carefully about what I left. I mean, voodoo Marie might look favorably upon the guy that left her the bottle of Jamison or the the pretty scarf, but I'd hate to be the dumbass that left her that half used Chapstick or that soggy Sweet and Low packet.
We did some shopping in the French Market and decided to snack our way through the afternoon.
Snack stop #1: More beignets. Yum. Powdered sugar goodness.
Snack stop #2: Verti Marte Muffaletta. Olive salad + Zapp's Chips = supreme happiness.
Snack stop #3: Domenica's 1/2 price pizza happy hour. $6 wood fired pies and half price wine. Oh, and free cookies. Enough said.
Snack stop #4: (Are you feeling queasy yet?) Bourbon House for Oysters on the Half Shell.
It was our last night and so far, we had avoided Bourbon Street like it was a radioactive pit of nuclear waste. I'd rather spend an 8 hour flight trapped inside an airplane bathroom with the entire cast of Jersey Shore than spend more than 3 minutes on Bourbon Street. But, in fairness, this was our friends' first trip to New Orleans. How could we not let them have the Bourbon Street experience?
So, Bourbon Street it was.
My friend bought two wigs for $20 and really, really wanted to wear them. Hell. As long as I was going to be subjected to the torture of hand grenade drinks, pizza by the slice, and 32 ounce beers, I may as well do it in plastic green hair.
New Orleans isn't just a walking city, it's a walking-with-a-drink city, so we needed to get started with one of Bourbon Street's delightfully tacky frozen drinks to go. We ducked into Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop for a Voodoo Daiquiri. Hey, just because we were about to get our drink on along the boozy debauchery of Bourbon Street...don't think I was about to go into one of those places with blinking signs that pump gallons of industrial alcohol, food coloring, and bottom-shelf booze out of a slushee machine and into a 24 inch tall neon green plastic glass shaped suspiciously like a bong. I was going to try to keep it semi classy. Well....as classy as one can in a plastic green wig.
If you have to visit a Bourbon Street bar, well, this is as good a place as any. The tavern is one of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter and was reputedly once used by the privateer Jean Lafitte. The pub's dark, plain, authentic decor is made complete with wooden beams and walls, a long, plain bar area, and stark wooden tables and chairs. There is not a light bulb in sight...... candles are used during the late night hours. Many say Jean Lafitte still haunts this place. Not only one of the oldest buildings in the Quarter, it's reputedly one of the oldest bars in Americaes......or so we heard every time a mule-drawn carriage full of tourists passed by.
Sitting in the gloom of Lafitte’s with a drink in front of you, it’s entirely possible to believe that somehow the calendar has come unstuck and the streets are thronged with dark-eyed Creoles and fine gentleman and you are a runaway damsel looking for adventure.
Although, reality slaps you quickly when a frozen purple drink arrives in a giant styrofoam cup. Ah well....it was Bourbon Street after all.
The Voodoo Daiquiri is a simple combination of bourbon, everclear, and grape soda with crushed ice. It's tacky, but even I can admit it's delicious. You can't do New Orleans without at least one tacky frozen drink, so you may as well have it with a pirate. Right?
Drink cups in hand, we walked out onto Bourbon Street and took it all in. We saw a lot of Tacky Tourist Shops, Pizza By the Slice, drunk college kids with a string of beads in one hand and a sweaty pile of hope in the other, strip clubs, Frozen Drink Bars, and dudes passed out on the sidewalk while their friends took their picture with their iPhones. The smell was one of overflowing garbage mixed with vomit, mule piss, and the slight stench of sewage. It was lewd and stanky, filled with cheap baubles and plastic turtles.
We did, however, meet this very nice transvestite who told me where I could find size 12 zebra print platforms with goldfish in the heels, just in case I needed a pair.
And there was this guy. And his tiger. At a bar. Yes, those are whiskers on his face. I'd really like to know the story there.
Our cups were empty, so we took our friends inside Pat O'Brien's...most touristy place in New Orleans, but one we knew they would love. Why? Because there is a big courtyard, and a fountain, and giant red drinks. It's an obligatory rite of passage to drink at least one hurricane at Pat O'Brien's on your first trip to New Orleans and I didn't want our friends to miss the experience.
What's not to love?
Next, we wiggled into some seats at the Funky Pirate and ordered drinks that did not contain Red Dye 40 or enough sugar to make an entire day care hyperactive for a week. True, this place is the home of the Hand Grenade drink, but they also have a good old fashioned bar and a pretty fine house blues band.
Another first timer experience I didn't want them to miss was a 45 minute jazz set at Preservation Hall. The Hall is a ramshakle old building that has seen better days. After wandering through the sensory overload that is Bourbon Street, the Hall could easily be missed thanks to its understated subtlety. It's plain and old, free of neon and blinking lights. The building's face has been faded by time, now just a dingy gray facade fronted by simple shutters.
During its life, it has been a tavern, an inn, a photo studio and an art gallery. Since 1961 it has been a music hall dedicated to the preservation and honor of New Orleans jazz. On any given night, people line up outside and wait hours to pay their $15, filling the place to standing room only capacity, just to hear true New Orleans jazz.
Not a fan of lines, or of waiting, I had paid the few extra bucks for the "VIP" pass - only a handful of advance entry passes are available to each show, but for about $10 extra, you can bypass the line and get the front row seat. That was $10 well spent, in my opinion. Besides, I got to wear a big tag that said, "BIG SHOT." I thought it complimented my plastic green hair and mardi gras beads quite nicely. If you are going for tasteless, you should go all the way.
As the Preservation Hall Jazz Band played its mightiest, the room sat enraptured....some standing in the back, some sitting on plain wooden benches, others sitting cross legged on threadbare cushions tossed in the floor....everyone entranced by the lively show and the very history that the room seemed to throw you into as you listened. The single room's worn floorboards reverberated with the boom of the bass drum as dust and time and the steamy air of New Orleans swirled against the peeling walls and the smoky paintings of musicians long since passed.
For 45 minutes, we were able to be a part of something timeless and purely New Orleans.
It was late, and at our age, staying out until one of us passed out on the sidewalk wasn't really an attractive prospect. Besides, it just seemed wrong to follow Preservation Hall with a plastic monkey full of banana daiquiri and a glow necklace, so we decided to grab some late night eats and leave the bar hopping to those that were still young enough to recover the next day.
As we walked by a young girl whose friends were holding her hair back from her sweaty face as she clutched a giant plastic cup and vomited on her shoes, pausing in between gags to look up at them and tell them how much she loved them...I didn't envy their youth one bit.
Instead we walked over to Esplanade and into Port of Call. Two years ago, on our last trip to NOLA, I had spent the weekend dreaming of a juicy burger from Port of Call, but that burger was jerked mercilessly out of my clutching hands as we had to make a mad dash home half a day early because of a brewing storm front.
I was going to have that burger.
It was nearly 11:00 p.m. and I did not expect the wall of people that blocked my entrance to this tiny, understated restaurant. Undeterred, I pushed and shoved my way through the crowd until I found the girl with the pencil and notepad.
"How many?" she asked over the roar.
"Four," I said, trying to sound hungry and pathetic.
"The wait's just under an hour," she said.
I wimpered. I looked back at my grumpy crew, who was already mad at me for making them walk the extra 4 blocks in the cold when there were plenty of "Pizza by the Slice" places on the way to our townhouse. If one of them tried to pry that cheaply laminated Port of Call menu out of my hands at that moment, it would have been much like the time my mom forgot her wallet at the TG&Y in 1976 and they refused to take her check, leaving her no choice but the pry the box of Cracker Jacks out of my hands that I had been carrying around inside the store for thirty minutes.
I walked back over to where they were crammed against the wall by the door, sticky laminated menu firmly in my hands.
"Twenty minutes, tops." I said. Hey, all's fair when late night burgers are on the line.
Port of Call is the best kind of dive. If you didn't know it was there, you'd walk right past it without giving it a second glance. It has a cheap sign. It's filled with locals. It has a limited menu. It's dark and loud and crowded inside.
But I knew to go there for two things: A grilled burger topped with shredded Cheddar cheese and a loaded baked potato on the side. I wouldn't leave until I had them.
We were finally seated and I scanned my menu.
All our burgers are half pound ground fresh daily, and come with baked potato with butter. Lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickles on side. Sour cream, cheddar cheese, or mushrooms on potato extra. Chives and Bacon Bits by request—no charge.
I wiped the drool off my chin.
When these showed up, no one was mad at me any more. They were too busy eating.
Yeah, it was worth the wait.
Monday: Bonjou, Y'all.
The sun was shining bright on Jackson Square. Cafe du Monde was setting up their chairs, busy city workers were spraying off the previous night's fun from the sidewalks with soapy water, and the tarot card readers were setting up their colorful tables along the iron fence.
Our time in the French Quarter had come and gone. Ah, New Orleans. Where else can you buy vampire teeth, get your palm read, dance in a parade, pay $1 to have your picture taken with a guy painted silver, eat a gourmet meal and walk next door for a sandwich in a bag, and hear an original song played by what might be the world's best trombone player all on the same street corner? You'll be asked asked fifteen times in a day, "Bet I can tell you where you got dem shoes!" and everywhere you look someone has a bucket or a box or a hat stuck out trying to earn a dollar. You can buy a voodoo doll, a homemade prailine, and a lottery ticket in the same place and chances are you'll see at least one thing that makes you laugh out loud and another that makes you want to cry on each city block.
It's as rich as it is dingy, as refined as it is ecclectic. It's full of hope and promise and color. You don't even have to look very hard for it. Just show up, have a dollar or two in your hand, and the magic of New Orleans will find you.
Bonjour Mes Amis!
A Four Day Food Free-For-All at the Key West Food and Wine Festival
23.01.2013 - 28.01.2013
Day Three: Coming Uncorked
I woke up for the second day in a row with a hangover. Wow. This might be a record. Or an all time low. I wasn't sure which category to place it in.
I was going to have to get myself in order. Today was Duval Uncorked....a mile long extravaganza of wine and food tastings. I did the only thing I could: I popped some Advil, drank some water, and powered on. There was food to eat! There was wine to drink! I might need a liver transplant at the end of this trip, but I would not be stopped.
A freakishly early riser, even after staying out all night drinking champagne, I was wide awake while the rest of my gang tried to sleep off the last of their bubbles. It was another gorgeous morning, so I grabbed my bike and took a ride.
Drawn by the smell of freshly baking bread, I found myself at the Old Town Bakery.
As long as I was there, I figured I may as well start carb loading for the day. I grabbed a bag full of pastries and some hot coffee and pedaled them back to the house to see if anyone else was awake, secretly hoping no one was so that I could eat all of it by myself.
Since Duval Uncorked started at 3:30, we opted to do an early brunch at Louie's. Hangovers are for sissies, so we started off with Bloody Marys and house made Sangria.
That was followed by the crab cake Caesar salad for me and the jerk grilled shrimp and plantains for Matt.
While my salad was phenomenal, I have to admit I was a little jealous when I saw John's hangover burger.
I received a text from TraceyG inviting us to do Duval Uncorked with her group because 1) they had a couple of locals with them who knew the best stops and 2) she thought it might be nice for us to meet when we were not in ridiculous costumes chugging champagne from the bottle.
We met up with them at the Southernmost Cafe where the Duval Uncorked check-in tables were set up.
While Tracey and her group slipped up to the VIP line, we stood in the regular line with the common folk. I might have to get me one of those VIP passes next year! Although, I will admit, the line wasn't that bad and the KWFWF staff kept it moving along nicely.
It was a gorgeous day for a drunken stumble classy wine stroll down Duval Street.
Upon check-in, we were each given a sipping glass on a lanyard that we could wear around our necks. Like a little wino necklace. How cute was that?
Then it was time to let the tastings begin!
Duval Uncorked starts on one end of Duval Street. You are given a map of stops, with each stop representing a participating business that is offering wine, food, or in many cases, both. There were about 40 stops in all and we had 4 hours. Sounds very do-able, doesn't it? You try herding a group of semi-inebriated adults through a maze of food, people, and wine.
Our fearless leader seemed up to the task. The Captain, husband of Key West blogger, Prissy in Paradise (aka the beautiful Donna), did his best to keep us moving and get us to the best stops of the tour.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "herding chickens?" Poor man never had a chance.
I'll do my best to recall where we were and what we had, but as we neared the Mallory Square end...things got less clear.
We started off at Pearl's Patio, a ladies-only hotel that offered us bacon wrapped dates. Coming from Tennessee, these were what I would call gussied-up pigs in a blanket. Tasty nonetheless. There was also music by the pool.
Our next stop was the Cork & Stogie, a cigar and wine bar in case the name didn't make that obvious. I believe we had some type of brie and raspberry puffs. We enjoyed them on the breezy patio.
Next up was the Alan S. Maltz gallery, not only filled with beautiful photography, but they also had a cupcake tower from Key West Cakes. Next door we sampled wine at Archeo Gallery, a gallery of expensive rugs. I had to wonder about the person who decided to serve red wine to strangers in the back of a densely packed showroom filled with beautiful rugs....
We then returned to the scene of our current hangovers...the Lush Bar and the Green Pineapple. They treated us to smoked fish dip and crab bisque from the Stoned Crab. They also had a sweet orange wine...Orange Columbo apertif wine.
After stuffing ourselves with delicately sampling that amazing fish dip, we wandered over to the Rum Bar at the Speakeasy Inn. Can you believe they were giving away painkillers? Because we certainly needed some hard liquor to put on top of all that wine.
Sweet nectar of the Gods. They were delicious.
The next samplings were mini key lime pies (either standard or chocolate covered) from Key West Key Lime Pie and a wine laden sorbet from Flamingo Crossing. Sorry...there are no photos of that sorbet. I sucked it down so fast I got a brain freeze.
There was more wine at Grand Vin, champagne ....somewhere.....(things were starting to become fuzzy at this point....thank God we had the Captain or I'd probably still be sitting in an alley somewhere trying to figure out where the hell I was....)
Blackfin Bistro offered more wine and a nice cheese platter.
Then it was on to La Petit Paris. I was not thrilled to find out they were offering calamari....and it wasn't even fried. Not a fan of the squid, I can typically choke it down if it's deep fried and slathered in marinara sauce. No, this was sauteed. All nice and squishy chewy.
I gave it a go. Why not? When in Paris, right? Or was that Rome? Besides, I was in Key West, so it really didn't apply....whatever. The wine haze was settling in.
This is the face of someone not very keen on squid sucking a nice mouthful out of a plastic cup and attempting to swallow it without chewing:
I was proud of myself for trying something new. I ate about half of it, to give it a fair shake. The flavor was actually quite nice, but I simply couldn't make it past the texture. Like boiled worms. And I definitely couldn't eat this guy. Even after 19.5 glasses of wine, that was simply asking too much...where I come from, we call that bait.
With the Captain leading our motley crew, we powered on. The next stop was Croissants de France, who had a little mini-buffet of curried chicken salad puffs, bruschetta, and fruit set up in their lovely garden patio. Then it was on to Vino's on Duval for an exceptional wine tasting.
We were having a ball. It only became more fun when we were ushered into 801 Bourbon by a drag queen offering jello shots. Donna was surprised when she got more than a jello shot.
Sometimes you get a jello shot. Sometimes you get licked across the chest by a drag queen. 801 Bourbon is like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're going to get.
Despite the HUGE line outside DJ's Clam Shack, we piled in because everyone was coming out with little cups of chowder saying it was worth the line. Besides, we got to wait with this little guy:
The chowder was exceptional. And yes, it was worth the line.
After that...there were more galleries....more wine....my brain growing fuzzier by the minute....
We arrived at what had to be the most interesting stop of the day....Leather Master of Key West. They had things in there I didn't even understand....but they definitely got my vote for best server. Of course I meant the lady in the green shirt. What did you think I meant? I barely even noticed the guy with the chiseled abs and bare ass.
Then there were lobster pizzettes at Island Style, chocolate covered pineapple at Kilwin's, more wine at Wet Paint Gallery, a unique coconut wine at the Key West Cigar Club, and chocolate mousse at the Hard Rock Cafe.
We finished strong with conch fritters at Caroline's Cafe.
Duval Uncorked was definitely a fun time. I had seen a lot of shops and galleries I might not have gone into otherwise, and the food and wine were sampling heaven.
In need of some substance, someone suggested we head over to Mangia Mangia. It wasn't far away, they could accommodate our giant group, and a giant plate of carbohydrates might just keep me from having a third hangover, so we headed that way.
I could smell the garlic from the sidewalk. I had visions of a platter of perfect al dente pasta with a savory sauce loaded with meatballs, and maybe a handful of shredded parmesan tossed in for good measure. I couldn't have been more disappointed when there were no meatballs on the menu.
So what did I do? I went in an entirely different direction.
Note: it's not a good idea to do some creative ordering when you have had 37 glasses of wine, no matter how small the glass is.
I am not sure WHAT I was thinking when I ordered THIS.
Actually, I'm not even sure what Mangia Mangia was thinking when they came up with that dish. What...was the chef just sitting there one day and said, "Hmmm....I think I'll take some huge rigatoni and throw in a little shrimp. Well...that doesn't look very good...maybe if I toss some half cooked tomatoes on it, that will liven things up. Nope. Still needs something. I know, I'll dump a salad on top."
Seriously. What was that? It only made it worse when I looked across the table at Matt's plate. I think I had to wipe the drool off my chin. There might not be anything I hate more than a misorder.
Day Four: Last Call
I was so happy when I woke up without a hangover the next day that I celebrated by riding my bike over to Glazed Donuts while waiting for everyone else to wake up.
I expected doughnuts. I did not expect fried dough perfection. This place had the most amazing looking doughnuts I think I have ever laid eyes on. With flavors like Blood Orange Bullseye, Key Lime, Pina Colada, and Maple Glazed Bourbon Bacon, I didn't even know where to start.
I started by ordering a key lime, banana dulce de leche, chocolate lovers, and a maple glazed bourbon bacon.
If you don't think happiness can come in a cardboard box, then you have never been to Glazed Donuts.
It was an overcast morning and the guys were moving slow, so I talked Teresa into going to see some birds.
Days before, while eating lunch at the New York Pasta Garden, one of the waiters noticed my fascination with the parrots and told me I should visit Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden. Well, when I noticed that it was less than a block from our house, I was in.
I will admit that we had to go around the block twice before we figured out where the entrance was. That just gave us more time to look at all the wonderful houses. I think Key West has the best porches in the entire United States.
We put our $20 in the jar on the table and stepped through the gate. I'm glad we did. Nancy is an artist and environmental activist who has been rescuing abused and orphaned birds for 25 years. The birds were sweet, funny, and entertaining. At 10 a.m. each day, you can learn about the birds and even hold some of them.
I literally could have stayed in there all day. Teresa finally reminded me that the guys were waiting and it was getting dangerously close to lunchtime.
Apparently, they hadn't all eaten 4 doughnuts that morning.
We grabbed sandwiches at the Eaton Street Seafood Market before riding our bikes over to the KWFWF's outdoor wine market. Not a restaurant, but an actual seafood market, Eaton Street will literally take your seafood out of the cooler and cook it for you for lunch. The softshell crab sandwich was fantastic.
Then it was on to the outdoor wine market where we could sample more wine (if we hadn't managed to get enough already) and peruse a varied assortment of farm fresh goodies and handmade wares that had been crafted by local artisans.
I laughed when we arrived just as TraceyG and her husband were pulling up. I assured them we were not stalking them...and I think she believed me. Thank goodness she never found that GPS tracker I put on her bike.
After that, it was back to the house for cocktails and downtime with the girls. All this eating and drinking was exhausting!
Matt had discovered another great oyster deal, 50 cent oysters all day at the White Tarpon. I told him to count me in because I had heard that they had a mind blowing key lime martini and god knew I needed another drink!
Expecting something creamy, which was the only experience I'd had with key lime martinis, this was a pleasant surprise: not creamy at all, shaken tableside, not overly sweet, and poured so heavy that we couldn't even pick the glasses up.
John and Teresa wanted to do some shopping, so Matt and I sauntered over to Santigo's Bodega for some snacks and sangria.
I had wanted to try Santiago's on previous trips, but we just never got around to it. It was an overcast afternoon with just the perfect amount of breeze, and it just seemed like a great day to sit outside on their patio with a glass of sangria.
The food was GOOD. We tried the empanadas, shrimp and chorizo skewers, and saganaki (flaming haloumi cheese sprinkled with oregano) with warm pita bread. I also ordered the angel hair with meatballs, because the disastrous meatball denial and subsequent misorder at Mangia Mangia was still stinging my psyche.
The meatballs definitely helped.
John and Teresa didn't feel like getting back out, so Matt and I wrapped up the day with a late night trek to Taco Night at 2 Cent Gastropub. What a good idea! We loved this place. Twinkling lights, live music, great wine, and $5 tacos!
It's always the day I hate, but I think my liver and digestive system were looking forward to some down time.
I made a final pastry run to Old Town Cafe and grabbed coffee at Cuban Coffee Queen.
Before I knew it, we were wheels up and headed into the great blue yonder.
I have my calendar marked though. Looks like I have just 346 days to get myself ready for the 5th annual Key West Food and Wine Festival. Who knows, maybe I'll see you there.
Read reviews from other Travellerspoint members.
A Four Day Food Free-For-All at the Key West Food and Wine Festival
23.01.2013 - 28.01.2013
Arrival Day: Just in Time for Sunset
It was cold in Tennessee. It had been snowing. Things were icing over. My car door was frozen shut when I tried to go to work. It was definitely time to head somewhere warm.
When we arrived in Key West, it was in the 70s and the sun was just beginning to set. I think the Key West sunset I saw from our plane might be the most beautiful Key West sunset I have seen yet.
It was late and we were famished, so we headed to the closest place where we knew Matt would be able to find some ice cold oysters, Half Shell Raw Bar.
Despite having been here on multiple trips, this was actually the first time we had ever really eaten here, our previous visits being relegated to the bar while Matt mercilessly sucked down platters of 50 cent Happy Hour oysters. The first thing he noticed was that the HH oysters were off the menu. Looks like we'd have to look elsewhere for cheap oysters.
Feeling sorry for Matt's loss, I consoled myself by eating a whole lobster with crab stuffing, an order of Key West pinks, and a slice of key lime pie.
I'm not sure if Matt felt better, but I certainly did.
Day One: Let the Eating Begin.
I hadn't properly conditioned myself before the trip by eating ridiculous amounts of food and consuming absurd volumes of wine, and I was worried that my stomach and liver were not ready for the assault that was at hand. So, much like the fool who has never run before and decides to start her first marathon at a full on sprint, I thought I'd start things off with a giant boozy breakfast at Pepe's.
Worried that the mimosas, 2 eggs, and giant slab of banana bread wouldn't be enough to start the much needed stomach stretching, I also opted for the fried mashed potato patty special.
It was a good call.
After sufficient carb-loading, we got our bikes at Eaton's and spent the morning shopping and looking at all the wonderful little houses that Key West seems to have hidden in every nook and cranny. I can literally spend all day in Key West doing nothing more than riding my bike and gawking at stuff.
My original lunch plans got shot to hell when we found ourselves on the opposite end of town from our original destination and RAVENOUS (the stomach stretching and carb loading were apparently starting to work).
I surprised everyone by not throwing a tantrum and launching myself onto the sidewalk in a fit of hysterics, which is what I typically do when things don't go exactly according to my plans, and walked into a restaurant I had never heard of and knew nothing about (apparently the early a.m. alcohol consumption was also working - if nothing else, it made me significantly more accommodating).
Besides, this restaurant had parrots.
And glasses of wine that were bigger than my head for $7.
That is not just an illusion of perspective. That was a seriously huge glass of wine.
They also had gargantuan sandwiches. Apparently, the New York Pasta Garden is the Texas of Key West - everything is bigger.
With it being our first KWFWF, we had not opted for the VIP passes that included almost all events, we had only chosen one event per day. Since our daily event wasn't until later that evening, we made it a leisurely trip back to the house, doing plenty of gawking along the way.
So a dog walks into a bar...........(by the way, that guy was drinking tequila).
Having realized there were no 50 cent oysters to be had on this trip at Half Shell, Matt had spent the previous night tossing and turning, in a restless fit of desperation. He was soothed at breakfast, however, when he saw that Pepe's had 60 cent oysters during happy hour. I was happy because I saw that Pepe's had happy hour margaritas made with their house squeezed juice. We headed that way.
After we did the happy hour thing at Pepe's, we realized we had time to make it to Mallory Square for sunset, something I never get tired of seeing.
I guess when you have a boat this big, you don't care if you are being an asshole by parking it in the one EXACT SPOT where it will block the view that hundreds of people have been waiting an hour to see. I guess if I had a yacht with a helicopter on it, I might not care either.
It was finally time for our first official KWFWF event. We had tickets to one of the neighborhood strolls. We had chosen the Petronia Street stroll because the event guide just made it sound like the one I didn't want to miss: "On Thursday evening you can board the Old Town Trolley and ride through Key West's Historic old town to take a stroll to some of Key West’s most famous and unique neighborhoods and sample food & wine from our one-of-a-kind restaurants. Petronia Street is the historic entrance to Bahama Village. Stops include can't-miss Santiago's Bodega's selection of Spanish-style tapas, world famous and perennial favorite Blue Heaven, sweet and savory crepe favorites fron Brittany, France at La Creperie Key West and Sugaree Shack, the most recent addition to a fabulous restaurant row."
It might have been overzealous to have 2 of Pepe's margaritas before heading out on a wine stroll that included 5 glasses of wine....but that thought didn't cross my mind until the next morning.
We boarded the trolley that would take us to our first stop - Santiago's Bodega. We were each given an etched wine glass that was ours to refill along the way and to keep once the night was over. Each glass was filled with a New Age White White Cocktail, one of Argentina's hottest wines, often served on the rocks with a slice of lime, referred to as a "Tincho," named after the boyhood nickname of the cocktail's creator, Valentin Eduardo Bianchi, third-generation owner of the winery. Despite the exotic nature of our first wine, the trolley ride was quiet and uneventful. Our group wasn't (yet) a rowdy one and everyone was simply looking forward to seeing what the night had to offer.
We were dropped off at Santiago's Bodega, an intimate tapas restaurant that I had been itching to try on each trip to Key West due to its consistently high marks from diners. I felt sorry for the patrons who were dining there that night, possibly unaware that this rambling horde of people was about to descend upon their quiet dinner, glasses in hand, ready to line up and see what bite Santiago's had prepared for us.
We were given a Crostini topped with manchego cheese, roasted sweet peppers, and prosciutto and finished with a white balsamic reduction. Small, but tasty. It was paired with a glass of 2010 Matchbook Dunnigan Hills Chardonnay.
As we all stood around, glasses in hand, one small crostini to two glasses of wine, everyone started to get more colorful. Or maybe it was just me.
We "strolled" toward Blue Heaven, the next stop on our tour. We were shown back into the courtyard where we found pork tenderloin medallions with a curry butter sauce and mango chutney. It was quite delicious. It was paired with a glass of 2010 Shooting Star Pinot Noir.
For those of you who have not been keeping up, I had now had 2 Pepe's margaritas, 3 glasses of wine, and 3 bites of food.
That's probably what made me think I could hula hoop. And ride a stationary carousel horse.
At this point, I was fuzzy. The wine to food ratio had been extremely disproportionate and I was in need of some food with substance.
God bless La Creperie. When we walked in, they had an assembly line of crepes going that made my head spin. Or was that the wine? Whatever. It was OUTSTANDING. They were cheerful, they were fast, and they were churning out fresh, hot delicious crepes that were not only delicious but were BIG.
Oh thank you dear sweet lord.
We even had a choice: red velvet, key lime, or Nutella. I promptly got into the red velvet line and patiently waited my turn. I received my crepe and a glass of Pillar Box Red Blend from Australia. I really can't tell you about the wine....I was devouring that crepe like a woman who had just gotten out of prison.
We had come to the last stop on our tour: the Sugaree Shack who loaded us down with cupcakes and a glass of Cigar Box Reserve Malbec.
There is nothing that makes a drunk girl happier than a cupcake.
Unless it's two cupcakes.
Day Two: Take Two Aspirin and Call Me In the Morning
It could have been worse. Yes, I had a bit of a headache and I was moving a little slowly, but all things considered, I was doing pretty good considering that I had been clutching my wine glass with two hands by the end of the night, licking frosting off my fingers.
I was in search of strong coffee and I found it a short stroll from the house at 5 Brothers.
We had the girls with us and 5 Brothers seemed to be the doggie place to go. These guys told us so:
Seriously, is there anything cuter than a giant pack of Corgis?
One cafe con leche with sugar and one egg sandwich on Cuban bread later, I was feeling pretty okay. The girls gave 5 Brothers two paws up.
Our KWFWF events for the day weren't until late that evening. I had opted for special dinner being offered at Southernmost Cafe followed by the much anticipated "Let Them Eat Cake" party.
I was tempted by the Grand Tasting, but at $130 a ticket, I just couldn't convince my group to go. Besides, with my unsophisticated palate, if I paid $130 for a wine tasting I'd be like the fat kid at the buffet, trying to get my money's worth by consuming in bulk, no doubt ending up like an unwanted poor relation that shows up at a country club wedding, gets drunk on boxed wine, and winds up on stage singing "Love Stinks" while everyone pretends not to watch.
Looking for a new Key West experience, I had booked us a charter boat for half a day. We weren't looking for a day at the beach. We wanted to do something new, see things from the water, and get the girls out for the day. "Take Me There Charters" advertised itself as "dog friendly," so that sealed the deal.
We were going on a boat day!
Cpt. Tommy was incredibly easy going. We just told him that we simply wanted to ride and see some sights...maybe a dolphin, maybe a cool beach, whatever he recommended. We weren't looking to swim or snorkel, we were just out for some air.
Although it was beautiful, it was windy. Despite the challenges, Cpt. Tommy gave us a great day.
We first went to an area he called the mud keys, about 15 miles northeast of Key West. These were small mangrove islands that were highly dissected by navigable creeks. As we approached the area, the colors of the water were striking.
What was usually clear blue water was sort of a cloudy greenish, due to the time of year and the wind, but wow, it was still beautiful.
Then we went looking for dolphins. We knew we were in the right place when we saw this boat. It had a very sophisticated dolphin tracker.
Laugh, but that dog spots dolphins. It would bark and point when it saw one. Apparently, as a puppy, it got so excited the first time it saw dolphins that it jumped in the water in the middle of a pod. No one knew what to do....or what would happen. Apparently, the dolphins checked the puppy out and then moved on their way, leaving it alone. The dog grew up and learned not to jump in the water, but it never lost its love for the little creatures and now spends its days on a boat, happily watching for them in the waves.
The boat dog looked. We looked.
And what do you know....we found dolphins!
Cpt. Tommy pointed out a mother and baby. I truly don't think I have ever seen anything cuter than a baby dolphin.
Unless maybe it was that pack of Corgis. Or that pug drinking tequila at the bar.
When we'd had our fill of frolicking sea creatures, Cpt. Tommy asked if we'd like to go to a deserted island called Boca Grande and let the pups get out to stretch their legs.
We pulled up to a long stretch of white sand. I made a mental note, "MUST COME BACK IN SUMMER."
Not only was it peaceful and gorgeous, it sure made for some happy dogs!
Cpt. Tommy brought out some chairs and we just took a load off for a while. We could have stayed longer, he had already kept us out past our charter time and made it clear we could stay out as long as we wanted, but we hadn't packed a lunch, not anticipating more than a half day, and stomachs were starting to growl.
We packed up the pups and headed back to the marina.
When we got back we were STARVING. We passed by Paseo on our way back to the house and I knew in an instant what I wanted.
Paseo bills itself as "Caribbean" fare and serves it up in a simple shop with a counter and a few outdoor tables.
I wanted to try their famous fire roasted corn: a perfectly charred corn on the cob slathered in butter, salt, lime, cheese, and cilantro.
I also got the Caribbean bowl: jasmine rice smothered in black beans, warm salsa, shredded cheese, sour cream, jalepenos, and one unbelievably divine chicken thigh....all served with love, peace, and a handful of tortilla chips.
Oh. My. Goodness.
I practically needed to smoke a cigarette after eating that meal.
Our dinner plans were at 7:00, so we took it easy for the rest of the day.
I had made reservations that night at Southernmost Cafe when I saw they had a special KWFWF dinner featuring lobster.
Southernmost Cafe has a great location right on the ocean, so we had been several times for lunch, but we had never been for dinner. I couldn't imagine a better setting.
The dinner started off with a lobster bisque, which I expected to be heavy on the bisque and light on the lobster. I was pleasantly surprised to find it filled with huge chunks of tender Maine lobster. This was paired with a glass of Round Hill Chardonnay. Next up was a grilled half tail on served on top of lobster mac & cheese topped with a chili lime buerre blanc paired with a glass of Mark West Pinot Noir. When I thought it couldn't get any better, I was brought a key lime mousse with a glass of Zenin Winemakers Moscato.
It was time for "Let Them Eat Cake" at the Lush Bar in the Green Pineapple.
TraceyG had not originally planned to attend the KWFWF due to some trip conflicts. Disappointed, because I thought it would be great to meet her, imagine how excited I was when she told me she and her husband were going to make the trip down after all. We agreed to meet up at the Lush party (no pun intended...but wow...what a perfect name for a place to have this party....).
My group was leery of any party that I dragged them to that involved costumes. They have been that way ever since New Year's Eve 2010 when I saw that a local bar was having an "All 80's New Year's Eve" and convinced them all to go in costume. It wasn't my fault. The ad said, "Costumes Encouraged." Well....we walked into a bar filled with wall-to-wall people and.....we were the only ones in costume.
And our costumes were not such that we could blend. We had not been subtle.
Okay, John and Teresa might have been able to blend, but Matt looked like a gay biker and I looked like some Madonna/Cyndi Lauper reject with giant hair.
They never forgave me.
So....when I knew there was a potential costume opportunity, I checked with the girl in the know, TraceyG.
"Is this a 'wear a mask' event or is this a full-on costume event?" I asked.
"I have heard from my inside sources that costumes are a GO," she replied. "It may just be me and you, but I'm going all the way."
So I pulled out my inner Marie Antoinette and let her freak flag fly.
I was in girlie girl heaven. There was cake. There was champagne. There was a DJ pumping out dance tunes. We munched on cupcakes with glittery sprinkles and the champagne flowed. Everyone looked fantastic.
I was finally able to meet TraceyG and she was every bit as funny in person as she is in her blog, but she really stole my heart when she started drinking out of the champagne bottle. I thought no one did that but me!
And yes, that is my real hair. I decided to forego the wig and instead employed a foolproof tactic from my 80's high school days involving a giant can of superfreeze hair spray and a hair dryer. Those of you ladies who were teens in the 80's know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.
(Photo courtesy of borrowed shamlessly hijacked from the KWFWF and Sheelman Photography)
(Photo courtesy of borrowed shamlessly hijacked from the KWFWF and Sheelman Photography)
Yes.....there was too much champagne consumed....but who cares. It was a great night!
(Photo courtesy of borrowed shamlessly hijacked from the KWFWF and Sheelman Photography)
A Four Day Food Free-For-All at the Key West Food and Wine Festival
23.01.2013 - 28.01.2013
It was back in September, as I was reading the latest entry on my favorite travel blog, Escape From New York by incredible funny girl and travel writer extraordinaire, TraceyG, that I saw these magical words, "Mark Certonio, the liver-loathing genius behind the Key West Food and Wine Festival........piqued my curiosity by mentioning that one of the new events for 2013 is a masquerade Champagne-and-cake dance party called Let Them Eat Cake......"
The only thing I love more than tropical islands with food and wine are tropical islands with food and wine and champagne masquerade parties.
Cake. Champagne. Marie-Antoinettesque girlie glitz. It was like a dazzling sparkler had gone off inside my brain and I couldn't turn it off.
Still in its infancy, the Key West Food and Wine Festival lacks all of the hoity-toityness of other cities' events and replaces it with a fun and funky festival that is enjoyed in flip flops with the amazing Key West sunset as a spectacular backdrop. The fourth annual KWFWF would be four days filled with events like a kick off your flip flops beach party, food and wine seminars focusing on special topics like Tequila and Tacos or Blind Wine Tastings, and a mile long stroll down famed Duval Street with 40 vendors offering scrumptious bites and sips. There was coconut bowling, strolling neighborhood dinners, shrimp cook-offs, and a Grand Wine Tasting in a sculpture garden.
Oh, and let's not forget....a cake and champagne masquerade party.
Now I just had to figure out how to convince Matt to go. I decided it was best to just mention the food and wine and leave out the costumes part.
We were Key West Food and Wine Festival Bound!
DISCLAIMER: Further reading of this blog entry while hungry or dieting may result in loss of willpower, excessive food intake, and possible binge eating. Some readers have been known to develop symptoms such as slurred speech and blurry vision as a result of psychosomatic liver disease from second hand drinking. The writer of this blog assumes no responsibility for readers' subsequent actions such as eating an entire frozen pizza out of the box or feeling the sudden urge to consume excessive quantities of alcohol.