A Travellerspoint blog

Let Them Eat Cake Part I

A Four Day Food Free-For-All at the Key West Food and Wine Festival

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.





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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)

Posted by vicki_h 15:23 Archived in USA Tagged food island tropical wine key_west kwfwf

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I could stare at that photo of the grilled mashies at Pepe's all day! :)

by TraceyG

Hi Vicki!

You probably don't remember me but I used to post on USVI-on-Line as MarciaMarciaMarcia then Agent99 and I remember enjoying your trip reports so much. I don't remember how I came upon your travel blog but I pop in every few months to read your reports. They are still as good as always.

Anyway, my family of 4, Pete, me and our 2, now adult boys Quinn and Luke, have an opportunity to take a last minute trip together to Key West over New Year's. There was a last minute cancellation for the week that we were able to jump on. We'll be there Dec 29 to Jan 5. Three of us have been there only once, last March for a quick 3 day escape last March without a clue where to go and what to do. This will be Quinn's first trip. For a Hemingway devote he is especially excited.

That brings me here. I recalled your fun and detailed reports and have my notebook in hand. Just wanted you to know that your reports are appreciated far and wide! So many thanks for being our tour guide!

Wishing you, your husband and pups beautiful holidays and a wonderful 2019! If you are ever up to "The Other Cape", Rockport MA, please look us up and we'd love to show you around.

Warm regards,
Julie from Rockport

by JulieFar

Julie - Hello Stranger! If you haven't already found her, check out the Travellerspoint blog by TraceyG called Escape From New York. She is a virtual Key West EXPERT and I always pour over her reports before I go. :-)

by vicki_h

Thanks Vicki! On my way to check out Tracey's blog. Merry Christmas!!

by JulieFar

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