A Travellerspoint blog

USA

By Popular Demand....What's Up Next????

a.k.a. The Neurotic Travel Planner's Sanity Guide

Are you a travel planner or are you more of a "wing it" type of person? I am definitely a planner.

I genuinely overdo everything. "Is today your birthday? Look! I made you a birthday cake with a fondant sculpture of your face." "It's girls night! I made a list of all the places we can go along with a precisely timed itinerary and a breakdown of prices and suggested tips. Isn't that FUN?" "Potluck dinner? I made a 19 layer salad with hand foraged mushrooms and dressing that I made from my own herbs. I also made special pottery bowls to serve it in. Surprise!"

I just HATE when things suck. So when I’m planning a trip, I spend a neurotic and unhealthy amount of time trying to prevent any sucky elements from disappointing me during my travels.

It works.

This means that I typically have a travel calendar planned nearly a year in advance. This keeps me sane.

I know, I know. This is unhealthy. I need to get a life.

In the meantime, enjoy taking a peek at what we have coming up!

(I apologize in advance for photos shamelessly pirated from the internet)

FLIP THIS HOUSE: GUANA CAY EDITION....tune in as Matt and Vicki try to turn a beach house into their own little piece of paradise....with a special bonus edition: a side trip to Eleuthera!

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Girls Trip to Asheville: 8 Women, 3 beds....it has to be interesting.

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Getting our hiking fix at the hike-in only Charit Creek Lodge in Big South Fork: It's not Montana, but it'll do.

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Tortola, BVI: It's time for a trip to the Virgin Islands that doesn't include Mothers in Law.....

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Honduras: Yes, I said Honduras. I know it's the murder capital of the world, but it also has this awesome deserted island where Matt and I will spend 3 days alone and either have the time of our lives or commit a murder/suicide out of boredom. That will be followed by 4 days in an awesome villa on Roatan to make us forget what it was like to live without electricity or ice cubes.

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Matt's Big 5-0 Blowout on Jost Van Dyke: 16 Friends on the barefoot island....how awesome is that?

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Plus a regular smattering of weekend trips just to keep things interesting. Stay tuned, friends, it's going to be a helluva good time!

Posted by vicki_h 16:47 Archived in USA Comments (6)

It’s My Birthday. I'll Eat if I Want To.

48 Hours of Gluttony in Music City.

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It all started when Matt asked me what I wanted for my birthday.

I puzzled. I planned. I pondered.

I came up with…..nothing.

There was absolutely nothing I wanted that I didn’t already have.

Is that not AWESOME?

That alone should have been a remarkable birthday gift, and right then I should have taken any money that might be used on my birthday to buy a goat for a village in Africa, but I am far too selfish for that, so I thought, “Why not DO something instead of GET something?”

And what do I like to do more than anything?

Eat.

Birthdays are the one day a year that you can throw all your inhibitions away and eat yourself into a happy (birthday) food coma. Everyone knows that calories don’t count on your birthday (or holidays, vacations, Saturdays, after midnight, and following any emotional trauma).

I should also point out that eating is also a fantastic distraction from the aging process.

So Matt agreed to load up and head to my eating destination of choice.

I chose Nashville.

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We tend to forget about Nashville. It’s so close, but we never really think of it as a “destination.” To us, it’s just that big city in the middle of the state.

However, it has recently experienced a surge in popularity thanks to the new show Nashville, the inexplicable popularity of country music, and a brief stint as Taylor Swift’s home a choice before she decided NYC was infinitely cooler.

I’m pretty sure its popularity is not attributable to the fact that Billy Ray Cyrus lives there.

While we weren’t paying attention, Nashville became Nowville.

Or, in my case, Noshville.

Nashville’s restaurant scene has exploded in the past few years. A slew of new restaurants have popped up and I wanted to try as many of them as possible.

It seemed like a good time to head down the road for a visit to our mid-state cousin. Home of the Grand Ole Opry. Birthplace of Country Music. Honky Tonk Capital of the World. And baker of more biscuits than you can shake a stick at.

Day 1: Pass the biscuits.

We arrived in time for breakfast at my insistence (and despite Matt’s futile efforts to sleep late). There is no sleeping late when there are biscuits to be eaten.

We drove straight through what I think of as Nashville’s neon corridor of misery, that stretch of Broadway that is littered with neon boot signs and places promising line dancing and country karaoke. It’s like Las Vegas and Dollywood rolled up into one hot, flashy country-fried mess.

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If you are looking for a blog post filled with Robert’s Western World, The Bluebird Café, Printers Alley, and the Ryman….you should probably move on.

I was looking for an experience that was a bit less common. I wanted to take the road less traveled.

Unfortunately, the road less traveled appeared to have been taken over by hipsters.

Forget Nowville or Noshville. When we weren’t looking, Nashville had turned into Hipsterville.

For those of you that aren’t sure you know what a hipster is: 1) you’re lucky, and 2) I’ll give you a hint. You know that new coffee shop that just opened up in your town? The one with the glass contraptions that look like something from a chemist lab and that have the menus hand printed on the back of a recycled brown lunch bag? That 19-year-old faux junkie with the handlebar mustache and the mustard yellow fedora who is choreographing your coffee experience for 8 minutes with his pour-over method using sustainable, fair trade aged Sumatran roast….that’s a hipster.

And if you take a picture of your double upside down cacao cortado with soy, you might be one too.

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I have no shame in admitting it. We are moderately uncool middle aged people. The entire hipster movement is simply baffling to us. I don’t understand the sudden popularity of Victorian-era facial hair, unicycles, and men wearing skinny jeans, rolled up, with boots that look like something my great-grandfather likely wore to milk his cow.

However, hipsters take their food seriously. So, there is something to be gained by a moderately uncool middle aged person if he/she is brave enough to enter the hipster domain.

I had planned our eating carefully, and it included a vast number of hipster joints. Make no mistake, hipster joints make GOOD FOOD. You just have to get past the …..hipsterness of it all.

The first thing you have to do is look past the dim and ineffective vintage light bulbs and rough-hewn unfinished wood that is likely covering every surface to appreciate the wonder that is the menu. Don’t let yourself be immediately discouraged by the barrage of hipster-speak that assaults you from the menu. Dig past all of the locally foraged, ethically sourced, artisanal, salvaged, sustainable, stone-pounded, bicycle delivered weirdness and what you’ll find is really good food.

Move past the bone marrow, sweetbreads, and scrapple. Focus on key words: beef. potatoes. jam.

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Biscuit Love Brunch was a great place for Matt and I to start.

Like any good hipster restaurant, Biscuit Love started as a simple food truck. They recently moved from serving up hot handfuls of butter and flour on Nashville’s city streets to a bona fide brick and mortar restaurant. They only serve brunch, are only open until 3:00, and you can pretty much get anything on a biscuit.

When we walked in, there was a line. Apparently this was an “order at the counter, get a number, have a seat,” kind of place. We waited about 15 minutes.

I am BAFFLED by the number of people that can wait in line for 15 minutes, STARING AT A MENU, and are not prepared to order when they reach the counter.

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I did not have that problem when it was my turn at all. It was 9:00 a.m. and I was ravenous.

Bronuts and an East Nasty,”I blurted out so forcefully it made Matt jump.

Hey man, I was hungry.

I was then presented with a credit card slip to sign and leave a tip. REALLY?

I waited in line 15 minutes to order my own food and get my own beverage and you now want me to tip someone to bring my plate to me? Before they bring it to me?

Apparently, I do not understand the new counter service trend. If you’re making me serve myself, what are you asking for a tip for?

I prefer to wait and see if the person bringing my plate comes out dressed as a clown and makes me a balloon giraffe to go with my biscuit. THEN they will get a tip.

After a very short wait, my plate of bronuts arrived.

These biscuit-doughnut hybrids were made of fried biscuit dough, coated in crunchy sugar, filled with lemon marscapone, and sitting on top of fresh blueberry compote.

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That should have been enough, but then the East Nasty showed up: a crispy fried chicken thigh with smoked cheddar sitting on a flaky biscuit smothered in sausage gravy.

Nasty indeed.

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After breakfast, I wanted a really good cup of coffee. If there is one thing hipsters know how to do well, it’s make coffee.

Unfortunately, Biscuit Love had only moderately prepared us for the full-on hipster establishment experience.

Barista Parlour was the whole enchilada (an organic, locally sourced spaghetti squash, cotija, and lime infused yam enchilada, of course).

We found what we believed to be the Barista Parlour, a non-descript building with a cement block exterior. The doors were all locked, so we walked until we found a concrete courtyard surrounded by high concrete walls. I was starting to wonder if this was a coffee shop or an elementary school in Mexico City. We eventually found the right door and stepped inside.

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Residing in an old car stereo shop complete with roll up garage doors, this place was so hipster that it made me instantly want to put on one of my granny’s old dresses and a vintage cardigan. I suddenly wished I hadn't washed my hair and had grabbed a slouchie beanie on the way out. It was like walking into an Instagram photo. I saw a barista in a toboggan and a leather apron, despite the fact that it was 95 degrees outside. There were small children wearing unnecessary scarves and the all of the chocolate bars had at least 65% cacao.

In lieu of the customary hipster chalkboard menu, the only menu I could see was a small elaborately custom-made affair attached to a wooden board affixed permanently to the area just below the register. As I waited in line, I realized this would give me about .86 seconds to consider my order, while the uber cool barista stood in silent judgment. I had to order before the crowd behind me started angrily waving their beanies and vintage copies of The Catcher in the Rye at me.

Apparently, I was supposed to know what was on the menu before I arrived. I was already failing my hipster exam.

My level of discomfort on a scale of 1 to 10 was about a 4.

Matt’s was a 27. He immediately decided he didn’t want anything and ran to the safety of the bathroom.

I distracted myself by perusing the colorful shelves filled with fanciful appurtenances (I feel like this overelaborate description is necessary to reflect the true atmosphere of the Barista Parlour). There were colorful French macarons, artisan chocolates, gluten-free cookies, and hand-made pop-tarts. There were vintage motorbikes and a wall shelf filled with vinyl record albums.

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When it was time to place my order, I was blessedly quick, simply choosing the first thing I could read without my glasses.

I took my number to my table (apparently a phenomenon here in Nashville….there did not appear to be any restaurant at which one did not receive a whimsical number on a stick to affix in some manner to one’s table). As I tried to decide which industrial upcycled table to sit at, I passed the condiment table. No doubt in a place like this, where coffee making was considered art, adding sugar to your cappuccino would be like putting ketchup on your langoustine at Le Bernardin.

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My coffee could come out tasting like cardboard and turpentine and I wouldn’t dare risk the disapproving stares of the other patrons to get a scoop of Splenda. I wasn’t going to be making that walk of shame. Besides, they probably only had Sugar in the Raw or honey anyway.

After about 15 minutes of careful brewery magic, the barista in the toboggan brought me my Caramel Whiskey Latte.

No wonder the condiment table looked dusty. Who needs it? The coffee was AMAZING.

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Apparently, all you need is a leather apron to make an astonishing cup of coffee.

It was time to leave the hipster-cool of the City. We’d had all we could take for a while. We needed to go somewhere that didn’t require tattoos or facial hair to fit in.
We easily found our conspicuous oversized Land Rover parked in a sea of tiny electric cars and bicycles and made our escape.

Our first stop was at Love Circle, a grassy hill with a panoramic view of the city skyline. Technically the hill belongs to Metro Water Services and technically it’s considered trespassing on the water reservoir that exists up there and technically it’s illegal to park …..but we had been emboldened by our middle aged foray into the youthful hipster world, so we went for it.

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Next up was a drive through Nashville’s prestigious Belle Meade neighborhood. We were planning to make a stop at the Belle Meade Plantation, but after driving past mansion after mansion, we felt poor and dejected and decided the only thing that would make us feel better was pie.

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We stopped at the famed Loveless Motel and Café to see what they had to offer. They have been serving the best biscuits in Nashville since 1951, and it is said that the recipe remains unchanged today.

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Unfortunately, I was full up on biscuits. Not just full up, EAST NASTY full up.

We couldn’t decide on one pie, so we got a pie sampler, because when you are too full to eat one piece of pie, you should just go ahead and get three. The sampler included banana pudding (okay, not technically a pie, but who cares), chess pie, and coconut pie.

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Pie is always good, but next time, I want the biscuits.

We then took a beautiful drive on a section of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which extends 444 miles from Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi. I could only imagine what it must look like in the fall.

Note to self: Come back in the fall. Drive parkway. Eat biscuits.

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We hopped off the parkway at quaint Leiper’s Fork, a scenic village surrounded by farmland just southwest of Nashville. It’s a place filled with farmers, artists, and musicians. Home to the famous Puckett’s Grocery Store, where live bluegrass mingles with meatloaf and collard greens, the village was filled with quaint shops and galleries.

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And this old Jeep Willys which I must have or die.

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Shopping made us hungry, so we headed back to the City for a late lunch.

Having had enough hipster fun that morning, we decided to go as un-hipster as possible: Arnold’s.

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If Arnold’s writes something on a paper bag, it’s because that’s what was nearby. Arnold’s is not cool. Arnold’s is not hip. And Arnold’s doesn’t care.
Arnold’s has been serving up “meat and 3” lunches out of a colorful cinder block building for over 30 years. Nothing is fancy, food is served cafeteria style, and tables are communal – you simply squeeze in where you can find space.

We arrived late, at 2:20. They stop serving at 2:45, so imagine our surprise when the line still stretched out the door. No matter, we had nothing but time.

When we got inside, we had plenty of time to review the menu on the wall. Everything looked like it was cooked in pork fat or fried in lard. It was like heaven.

The good thing about the line at Arnold’s is that it gives neurotic orderers ample time to consider every possible combination of the meat + three before actually having to settle on just one.

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Should I get meatloaf with creamed corn, fried okra, and green beans? What about catfish with mashed potatoes, tomato pie, and collard greens? Oh wait, maybe roast beef with white beans, fried apples, and candied yams????? What about the cole slaw??? DEAR GOD, WHERE WOULD I FIT IN THE COLE SLAW?????? Is there a meat + 4?

While I was suffering a mild panic attack at being limited to only 3 side items, we came to the food line.

Desserts came first. These people have their priorities in order. I immediately forgot all about side items.

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We did not plan to get dessert since we had eaten bronuts, biscuits, and 3 pieces of pie that morning….but they had the pies right at eye level. They were staring at us. “Pick me, pick me,” each one chanted, like a homeless puppy at the kill shelter. We just had to take one home.

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With a choice between roast beef, meatloaf, chicken n’dumplings, fried catfish, or fried shrimp…it was a tough call. I almost ordered the chicken n’ dumplings, but then I spotted the whole roast beef, rare and juicy, as they were hand carving it to order.

“Roast beef, fried green tomatoes, macaroni & cheese, and greens, please,” I said with no hesitation.

Matt went for the meatloaf, corn pudding, green beans, and mashed potatoes swimming in rich gravy.

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We. Ate. Every. Bite.

Shameful.

Delicious.

It was late in the afternoon and we really needed a post-binge nap, so we made our way to 12 South, an eclectic (and yes, hipster) neighborhood just outside of downtown. Not that long ago, this was just considered a rough part of town. Now, it’s one of the hottest neighborhoods in Nashville where you can buy a vintage guitar, drink a craft cocktail, eat a gourmet popsicle, and try on a pair of hand-stitched jeans all in one 10 block stretch only 2 miles from downtown.

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of hotels. Beyond that, I make every effort to seek out the most unique accommodations I can find. I’m not satisfied with the ordinary. I want extraordinary.

The 12th Avenue South Urban Oasis was my idea of perfect. It was Matt’s idea of a fancied up garage, but that was because he didn’t get it.

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Nestled quietly and privately behind the dazzling Savant vintage store on 12 South, this place was literally an “oasis.” Once we entered the gate, it was quiet and peaceful. It was hard to image the hustle and bustle of 12 South was so close.

The garage had been lovingly restored and decorated by the owner of Savant with her own fabulous antiques and unique finds. It was bright and airy. I felt like I had stepped into a magazine shoot.

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And no, it was not entirely lost on me that I was sleeping in the Barista's Parlour's less evil twin.

I loved everything about it.

Well. Almost Everything.

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We enjoyed the cool retreat of the Urban Oasis during the 95+ degree afternoon. Line dried white linens covered the windows to block the sun and the big, blue vintage Westinghouse floor fan created a perfect naptime breeze that went nicely with the ice cold a/c.

When the temps started to drop and we felt like we could eat again, we headed to East Nashville to explore some off the beaten path places for dinner.

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“Off the beaten path” is not Matt’s favorite. It’s really his least favorite. He likes safe, conventional, right-in-the-middle-of-the-damn-path types of places, but it was my birthday, so he chose to be a good sport.

East Nashville is a mixed bag. Not too long ago, it was considered a down-on-its-luck undesirable part of town. However, thanks to urban sprawl and a mix of creative and artistic types, it enjoys a trendy, progressive vibe and continues its upward movement.

Thrillist recently named it one of the coolest neighborhoods in America.

Sounded like a good place to eat.

As we crossed the river and entered East Nashville, I saw a fixed gear bicycle shop, a sign for handmade paletas, and an artisanal chocolate shop with several guys outside with scraggly beards.

There had to be good food nearby.

The hardest thing to decide was WHERE to eat. East Nashville is literally riddled with awesome new places to eat and drink. The place is silly with them.
I had a mental list. We’d see how many we could get to.

We started at Mas Tacos. Another place that started as a food truck, Mas Tacos was supposed to have killer Mexican food.

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We found it easily enough, housed in an old deli building with a faded Winnebago parked beside it. Between the sketchy looking exterior and the freakish line, Matt was already giving me the death stare.

“It’s my birthday,” I said.

I wasn’t sure how many more times that line was going to work.

The line moved fast and in minutes we were inside. The décor in the cinderblock and linoleum building was eclectic and cool. We found ourselves in a dimly lit, rustic room with mismatched chairs huddled around small tables, cacti scattered about, quirky artwork, old-school oscillating fans (no air conditioning), and an old jukebox playing free songs.

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The menu overwhelmed us. There were simply too many amazing choices. The taco choices ranged from fried avocado to cast iron chicken to quinoa sweet potato. There were Cuban beans and grilled corn, sweet plantains and pozole verde.

We ended up with pork tacos, sweet plantains, tortilla soup, and elote (grilled corn with crumbly cotija cheese and lime juice).

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It was all good, but the show stopper was the tortilla soup. Laced with lime, chili, and cilantro, it was chunk full of white meat chicken, fresh tomatoes, grilled corn, peppers, tender avocado slices, and puffy delicious strips of deep fried tortilla.

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Okay, apparently I really liked the corn too.

As I was eating it, I heard someone singing “I’ll make love to you” by Boyz II Men. Thinking it was the free jukebox, I realized it was me.

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Mas Tacos is BYOB, but why would you want to when you can get one of their house made agua frescas? We couldn’t choose between watermelon-lime and pineapple-cilantro, so we got one of each.

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Pretty sure we could eat a second meal if we gave it a little time, we walked over to the Holland House Bar and Refuge for some drinks.

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Facial hair and full sleeve tattoos were obviously a bartender requirement, we noticed as we were seated at the enormous 4-posted bar. The mixologist wore suspenders and held a bottle with an eye dropper. The crowd was chic and vintage. We were definitely in the right place for a craft cocktail.

I ordered the Shennong’s Delight, a light and refreshing (but powerfully strong) blend of Tito’s vodka, lemongrass, orange curacao, ginger, lemon, and champagne. Matt had the Sailing to Byzantium made of El Dorado 5 year rum, crème de cassis, vanilla, lime, and black walnut bitters.

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We only planned to have one drink, but they were so good, we decided to have another. We had spotted a bottle of Leblon cachaça behind the bar. The only good thing that had come out of our trip to Brazil (besides the fact that we made it home with all internal organs intact and found that Matt only had the flu and had not contracted some terminal disease) was our love of a real caipirinha. I say “real” because almost NO ONE in the U.S. can make one properly. Something about the simple ingredients “limes, sugar, cachaça” perplexes them and they insist on adding all manner of other things. We decided to give the suspendered, tattooed, mustached bartender a shot.

He nailed it.

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I felt confident that we could eat again before throwing in the greasy white napkin, so we headed out to find the holy grail of hot chicken, Prince’s Hot Chicken in East Nashville.

If you have heard about the hot chicken phenomenon, it started in Nashville. If you haven't, then you are missing out. There’s a lot of hot chicken in Nashville these days, but it all started with Thornton Prince.

Legend has it that Mr. Prince was quite a philanderer. He came home one morning after a night of womanizing demanding his breakfast and his lady decided she’d had enough. She made him breakfast all right. She made him a breakfast he would never forget, putting every manner of hot spice she could find in the kitchen cupboards into his fried chicken. She wanted him to HURT.

When he took the first bite, she smiled in smug satisfaction, waiting for the cry of pain. Instead, he LIKED IT.

He liked it so well, he made her make it for all of his friends. And so, Prince’s Hot Chicken was born.

Today, Thornton’s great niece owns and operates Prince’s Hot Chicken where you can indulge your craving for skillet-fried, cayenne-swabbed birds piled on white bread with pickles.

Prince’s was not exactly located in the “up and coming” part of East Nashville. It was in the “down and out” part.

We found Prince’s in a defunct strip mall, sandwiched between a wig store and a nail salon. The interior was a sea of green linoleum and vinyl table cloths.

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It was clear that no one in the throng of people hanging around outside or waiting inside was a “visitor.” You could tell these people were here every day, waiting for their deliciously greasy bag of to-go chicken on their way home from work.

We stood out like a pair of hot pink suits at an Amish funeral.

Matt gave me his best “Please, don’t make me” look, but I made him go inside anyway.

Matt’s internal comfort meter was starting to tip to the “I’m about to run” point. I pushed him up to the counter.

As we ordered, two 20-something guys in matching J Crew outfits came in. They looked like they had just hopped off their yacht. I looked at Matt. “You can relax,” I said. “You are no longer the most conspicuous person in here.”

The chicken comes on top of white bread and is served with a pile of pickles. You can get mild (hot), medium (really hot), hot (scorching), xhot (blistering), xxxhot (you will die). Prince’s Hot Chicken is not to be confused with buffalo style chicken. The pepper is violent. It’s nuclear.

The chicken is fried in a cast iron skillet and is then doused with an unholy combination of cayenne and lard. The liquefied fat and pepper oozes into all of the nooks and crannies in the crunchy chicken, dripping onto slices of gooey white bread underneath. I am sure the bread is to keep the nuclear mess from seeping off the plate and into the eyes of any small children that may be standing nearby, lest they be blinded for life.

Legend has it that ordering the XXX will require medical intervention.

We ordered ½ a chicken in the medium. It came with instructions for CPR.

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The fire started slowly, at my lips. Then it spread down my throat and eventually consumed my entire digestive tract. I had read that I should be careful not to touch my eyes, should have plenty of napkins (for the sweat), and that I should use the slice of white bread that comes tucked under the chicken to counteract the heat. I quickly shoved a slice of white bread into my mouth, followed by a gulp of sweet tea.

Dear sweet Lord, but it was GOOD.

When we were finished, that ½ chicken looked like roadkill that had been picked clean by every buzzard in a 20 mile radius.

The verdict: Hot chicken rocks.

Too full for any more food, we decided to wrap up the night at a new bar in 12 South. This way, we could walk home if we had too many drinks, or if we started convulsing from the hot chicken.

I forgot to wash my hands and spent the entire drive back to 12 South concentrating on not scratching my eye so that I didn't blind myself.

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Embers Ski Lodge was modeled after every apres-ski bar I had ever been to back in my skiing days. There was a faux fireplace, a wall sized mural of a snowy mountain, snowflake lights, and rough-hewn logs decorating the walls. The menu had all of the kitsch of an old ski movie, with vintage ski photos, “black diamond appetizers,” and “bunny hill desserts.”

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Even the drinks were themed.

I ordered the Ski School, which was described on the menu as “vodka, vanilla, passion fruit, butterscotch, sparkling.” Imagine my delight when what came out was a foamy delicious, butterscotch tasting cocktail in an old school champagne glass with an adorable little sidecar of Prosecco.

“You sip the sweet cocktail, and then follow it with the dry bubbles.”

It was genius.

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We had packed a lot into one day and were we were TIRED.

It was time to head to bed. I went to sleep trying not to think about this…..

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Day 2: Help! I’ve Eaten….and I Can’t Get Up!

As soon as my eyes opened, I checked the squirrel. He hadn’t moved. Good.

I was still full from the day before, but that didn’t stop me from dragging Matt out of bed to go in search of breakfast. We had eating to do.

There were so many great places to grab breakfast, but we decided to stick close so that we could see a little bit of 12 South.

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I didn’t realize there were so many cool shops. Like Imogene & Willie. Set up in a refurbished filling station named after the owner’s grandparents, this place is apparently famous for their hand-made, high end jeans.

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Or White’s Mercantile. Modeled after an old general store, this upscale shop had everything from baby soft bath robes to vintage cocktail stirrers.

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This neighborhood was a feast for the eyes, but I needed a feast for my belly.

We stopped at Edley’s BBQ. A BBQ joint that serves breakfast? Why, yes. Yes indeed.

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With a never ending need for biscuits to be filled, I ordered the Tuck’s biscuit: a fluffy, homemade buttermilk biscuit topped with savory brisket, and over easy egg, pimento cheese, and red and white sauce.

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Matt had been so envious of my East Nasty the day before that he ordered his own nasty biscuit, Edley’s Nashville Nasty, topped with fried chicken breast and drowning in sausage gravy.

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BBQ and eggs might be my new favorite dish.

We strolled the neighborhood before I decided it was time for COFFEE.

To its credit, 12 South has its own excellent coffee shop, so we had no need to return to the uber hipster Barista Parlour which was one part Instagram portrait studio and one part disheveled beard and ironic mustache gallery.

The Frothy Monkey was just a really good coffee shop.

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Obviously.

These lines were getting ridiculous. So far, we had waited in line for EVERY MEAL. It was time to start going to some places that took reservations!
The coffee was worth the wait. My cappuccino was excellent and Matt was able to order a hot chocolate without fear that the barista would judge his non-coffee choice. No need to flee to the bathroom this time.

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We spent the rest of the morning shopping our way through the 12 South neighborhood.

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They even had a quaint little farmer’s market set up. I bypassed the South Carolina peaches and went straight for the Georgia peach truck. You can’t tell a Georgia girl that they don’t grow the best peaches.

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We grabbed a post-breakfast, pre-lunch ice cream at Jeni’s. Simply amazing ice-cream, this is literally the one thing we have to eat every time we are in Nashville.

It's more likely that the 16-year old workers simply placed the containers wherever was closest so that they could return to discussing whether or not to go to the Minions movie, but I liked to think the ice-cream gods put the brown butter almond brittle right next to the darkest chocolate just for me.

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Next up, I had a surprise for Matt.

When we were in Las Vegas once upon a time, Matt went to have an old fashioned shave. He loved it.

I had read about a place downtown where you could get a straight razor shave, so I had made him an appointment.

I knew by the time I saw the door sign, I had made him an appointment at an ultra-hipster salon.

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By the time I saw the inordinate volume of taxidermy, string lights, antlers, and mason jars – I knew.

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When they offered me free wine in a jelly glass while I waited, I didn’t care.

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Matt truly enjoyed his shave, even if he did have a stuffed fox staring at him while he got it.

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I was all jazzed up on cheap hipster wine, so it was time to eat something. We headed to Germantown to try the new Butchertown Hall, a new place claiming to specialize in smoked meats and sausages using primitive wood-fired cooking techniques.

The name conjured up images of meat and fire. Imagine my surprise when a sleek, tall white building rose in front of me. The interior was clean and artsy, full of caged rocks and barren branches in vases. It felt more like an Anthropolgie store than a meat house.

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The smell, however, was all meat. I was immediately struck by the smoky delicious aroma.

We arrived at an off time, almost 2:00. Thankfully, there weren’t many patrons, because Butchertown Hall does not take reservations and if I had walked Matt up to one more food line, I believe I would have had a mutiny on my hands.

We were seated immediately and set about the task of ordering cocktails. I couldn’t resist the winter-spiced grapefruit mimosa. Matt went with the oak roasted bloody mary.

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The smell of the place had woken our inner caveman, so we ordered accordingly.

MEAT. CORN. POTATOES. BREAD.

Was a more manly meal ever conceived? I literally felt my testosterone level rise as we ordered.

We ordered the oak smoked pork carnitas and the house made chorizo sausage. Both were served with house pickles, thin sliced onions, thick flour tortillas. We also ordered the potato salad and grilled street corn.

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It gave me the meat sweats.

I needed another beverage to slow the heart palpitations, so I got tried the Paloma, a tangy combination of tequila blanco, Pimms, lime, grapefruit, and black cardamom.

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Obviously, that lunch required another nap.

We woke up refreshed and ready to hit the streets in search of more food.

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I felt like Matt deserved one meal that didn’t involve lines, table numbers, mason jars, lack of air conditioning, or general fear for one’s safety, so I had made reservations at Josephine.

Josephine was less than a block from where we were staying on 12 South, so we were able to leave the car at home and enjoy a walk on a beautiful summer night.

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When we walked in, Josephine greeted us with soft lights, white linens, and gleaming glassware. There wasn’t a chalkboard, piece of butcher paper, or recycled, hand-cut, distressed piece of salvaged furniture in the place.

It was elegant without being pretentious. It was filled with middle aged adults in normal adult clothing. There was no unnecessary facial hair. It was just what we needed.

We started off with the pretzel bread and housemade mustard. That was followed by the tomato gazpacho with lump crab and lime for Matt and the arugula salad with fresh peaches and goat cheese topped with mint, honey, and lavender for me.

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For dinner, I opted for the housemade fettucine with tomato, lobster and basil. Matt had the scallops with grilled romaine.

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We received a wonderful little surprise with our check – a delightful little box of ginger cookies with the recipe attached.

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We were tempted by dessert, but this trip was about variety, so we felt compelled to indulge our dessert whim elsewhere.

We made the short walk down to Urban Grub where Matt found a chocolate peanut butter bar and I fell in love with the vanilla bean doughnuts with bacon toffee cream cheese ice cream (say that 3 times really fast), caramel, and chocolate covered bacon.

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Those doughnuts were like warm, soft little pillows of sugar.

They almost made me forget about sleeping in the same room as that squirrel.

Almost.

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Day 3: It's Not Over When I'm Full...It's Over When I Hate Myself.

It wasn't over yet. I didn't want to go home thinking, "I should have eaten that."

We kissed the Urban Oasis goodbye and headed out for our last meals.

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Yes, I said "meals," do you have a problem with double breakfast? Because if you do, you should just stop reading now and go get your smug self some carrot sticks.

To complete the Nashville trifecta of perfect coffee, I followed the Barista Parlour and Frothy Monkey with coffee from Crema, not from the original location, but from the mind-blowing awesomeness that is Pinewood Social.

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Pinewood Social was like nothing I have ever experienced. From the outside, it was a simple brick warehouse. Inside, it was a virtual playground of food and drinks, presented in every bizarre venue possible. First, there was the "Living Room." Plush sofas and overside chairs, vintage tables and throw rugs, as well as a tech table suitable for even the most particular Mac user filled the space, offering up endless nooks and crannies to cozy up in.

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Then there was the bar and restaurant, vintage bowling alley, and a pool deck complete with lounge chairs, cabanas, and an old air stream serving up pool drinks and tacos. When I was there, I didn't think about how absurd it was, I only thought about how incredible the food was.

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My Crema Cubano was perfect, complete with the requisite coffee art. We also snacked on an avocado omelet with crispy fried fingerling potatoes. I say "snacked on" because this wasn't actually breakfast.

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For our grand finale, we headed to Sunday Brunch at Husk. Pulling up to the elegant historic Italianate home, I felt like it was 1880 and we were arriving for Sunday supper. White gloves and a parasol would not have been entirely inappropriate.

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Husk didn't disappoint. We went out in grand style with White Lily biscuits with black pepper and sausage gravy; french toast with peaches, peanut butter, maple and chantilly cream; and chicken fried steak with gravy and a farm egg served with sausage and potato hash.

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As with all good things, it had to come to an end eventually.

I'm not sorry I went and ate half of Nashville. Sometimes, a gluttonous weekend is good for the soul. It's a reminder in our gluten-free, non-dairy, low fat lives that life is rich and is meant to be enjoyed.

Unfortunately, at my age, that enjoyment comes with a price. I am spending the entire month of August on the Whole30 no dairy, no soy, no grains, no sugars, no legumes, no alcohol diet to undue all the damage I have done with this summers sinful vacation eating.

Don't feel too sorry for me. I'll be back off the wagon for a 2 week jaunt to Abaco next month.

Until then, eat well, my friends. Eat well.

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Posted by vicki_h 19:04 Archived in USA Tagged food south tennessee eating nashville josephine husk 12_south mas_tacos hot_chicken leiper's_fork Comments (4)

Forty is the new F Word.

A friend's 40th in Key West

People can run around saying “40 is the new 20” and “I’m not 40, I’m 23 with 17 years of experience,” all they want. The truth is, turning 40 sucks giant donkey balls.

I know. It happened to me 5 years ago.

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You have to check a new demographic box every time you fill anything out.

Young adults literally start calling you “ma’am” overnight like there’s a stamp on your forehead that says, “I AM YOUR MOM’S AGE.” The cute boy that was flirting with you at the coffee shop? Yeah, he wasn’t. He called you ma'am as he handed you your change. There was no way he was flirting with you. You remind him of his mom.

You have to start getting mammograms.

Even the DMV takes a crack at you by ensuring that your driver’s license expires on your 40th birthday, forcing you to go get a new one with a picture where you suddenly age 5 years.

It can be uber depressing.

Unless you plan something fun.

Something that makes you look forward to turning 40. Something that gives you an opportunity to look 40 right in the eye and say, “BRING IT.”

My 40th birthday in the Bahamas made turning 40 one of the most fun things I ever did.

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When my friend Alison’s husband was trying to figure out what to do for her 40th birthday, I offered him 2 suggestions: 1) hire Stephen Tyler to serenade her with “Walk this Way” as Channing Tatum provides a personal lap dance or 2) do a destination birthday.

And that is how we ended up planning a surprise trip with her husband and 8 friends to Key West.

(Personally, I was hoping for Channing Tatum)

We spent 6 months planning and scheming….. quietly, carefully. Finally, the big day came. Alison was blindfolded and told she was being taken to see a car. Instead, all of us were waiting to surprise her.

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You have to be careful surprising an almost 40 year old woman like that. At our age, we could lose bladder control. Or spontaneously break a hip.

We expected screams. We expected fainting. We expected tears of joy. Instead, we heard, “You mean I’m not getting a car?”

(I told him he should have gone with Channing Tatum)

It was time to load everyone up in the Chieftan and head south.

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It was Key West or BUST, baby.

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Day One: Key West in June....Hotter Than Georgia Asphalt

My planning was impeccable. I had the perfect place to stay. Groceries and drinks were being delivered before we arrived. A beautiful cake and balloons had been ordered. An awesome itinerary had been planned. Every detail was accounted for.

Or so I thought.

I missed one tiny detail.

It’s really HOT in Key West in late June.

Like…really, REALLY hot.

I have had some hot vacation experiences. Like that time we thought it would be a good idea to go to Texas in the summer and eat tacos with hot sauce from a street vendor on the sidewalk. That was just before we caught on fire.

But Key West in late June? It was like walking through a furnace in a gasoline suit.

Even my fingernails were sweating.

There you are, innocently waiting in line to eat when it happens. One minute, you are smiling and enjoying a beautiful day. The next minute, you burst into flames.

It’s called Spontaneous Key West Line Combustion and it can really happen. It’s science, people.

And there is only one remedy: mimosas!

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We found them at Blue Heaven. We also found lobster & grits with toasted banana bread, BLT benedicts, and PIE.

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It was early in the day, and some of our group had never been to Key West, so we thought we'd do some walking around, maybe some shopping, and let everyone get a feel for Key West.

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Within 5 minutes, we said "Screw it." It was too hot to do much walking, so we only made it as far as the Rum Bar. Bahama Bob was behind the bar doing his thing.

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The group quickly became addicted to painkillers. We had to get them out of there after the 3rd round. We had been up since 4:00 a.m. and we didn’t want anyone passing out before we even got checked into the house.

Palm Gardens was PERFECT. Two, 2 story houses, each made up of 2 independent condominium units with a king bedroom, kitchen, den, bath, and porch. We had rented all 4 which gave us private access to the pool.

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Which was good, because no one else would have fit in that pool.

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We spent the afternoon cooling off before heading to Half Shell for happy hour. It was time for oysters!

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And shrimp.

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And drinks.

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And unfortunately shaped shadows.

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Having done the “booze cruise” with the Fury catamaran a couple of times, I had decided we needed something a little classier for the birthday girl. I didn’t want Alison’s pre-birthday filled with memories of overcooked chicken wings and cheap margaritas.

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I had booked us on the sunset sail with Floridays. It was a smaller boat, a more intimate crowd, and a more relaxed atmosphere.

It was an AWESOME boat. Service was impeccable. The boat was classy and refined. The mood was relaxed.

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But, as we sipped our champagne in the sunset, I couldn’t help but wish I had a couple of those greasy chicken wings.

You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but you can never take the trailer park out of the girl.

To prove that point, I forced tequila shots and tater tots on everyone after the sunset sail.

We had drinks at Agave 308. It’s dark. It’s classy. It’s filled with tequila. What’s not to like?

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Afterward, we stumbled over to Amigo’s. You can’t beat Amigo’s for late night eats.

The pork carnitas nachos were simply a thing of beauty. Not to be outdone by the amazing tater tots and street corn.

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And just to be certain that everyone barfed before they went to bed, we stopped at Better Than Sex for dessert.

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Then we all ate a handful of Tums and called it a night!

Day Two: Happy Birthday!

We’d had enough drinks the day before to give an aspirin a headache.

There is only one remedy for that: mimosas!

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What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. This especially applies to alcohol and fried foods, so we headed to Camille’s for a deliciously boozy breakfast.

Every time I walk into Camille’s, I feel like I am visiting 1984. From the orange sherbet walls and colorful vinyl tablecloths to the barbies and fornicating ceramic pigs to the Pet Shop Boys pumping out of the stereo, it screams "Hello, Vicki, this is your adolescence calling." However, despite how awesomely eclectic it is, one does not come to Camille’s for the décor, one comes for the breakfast.

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Matt went snazzy with the chorizo benedict and I went old school with a fried egg, grits, and Cuban toast.

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We had rented a deck boat for the day. Destination: Boca Grande, a small uninhabited island about 14 miles from Key West with a pretty nice little beach. Renting a boat was significantly cheaper than taking a boat out for a day with a captain, and it eliminated the embarrassment of acting like total idiots in front of a stranger. When we act like idiots, we prefer to do it in privacy.

We were armed with sandwiches and adult beverages. It was time to get our boat day on.

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It only took about 40 minutes to get to Boca Grande.

As we pulled up to the beach, I noticed a lot more seaweed than usual. It wasn’t quite a pretty as it usually was, but it still beat any beach on Key West.

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We poured up some beach drinks, found ourselves a shallow spot in the water, and made a day of it.

We proceeded to go through the 5 stages of beach drinking:

Stage 1: SUNSHINE AND HAPPINESS. This is the pre-drinking stage. Everyone is basking in the golden sunshine, cup in hand, marveling at how simply amazing it is to be right where they are.

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Stage 2: LET’S GET THIS PARTY STARTED. There is always that one person that gets a little louder sooner than everyone else. A little rowdier. A little OUT THERE. That person is usually me. This time, it was all 10 of us.

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Stage 3: DUDE, THIS IS AWESOME. This is the full-buzz stage. Everyone is having a killer time. Everything is the most fun thing EVER. Especially more drinks.

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Stage 4: HEY, Y’ALL…WATCH THIS. You have arrived. You are fully intoxicated and it seems really cool to do really dorky things. Like try to put your glass in your swimsuit and try to drink out of it. Or do synchronized swimming. This is the stage where you are most likely to get a black eye or lose a tooth.

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Stage 5: I LOVE YOU, MAN. We’ve all been there. This is the stage where you love everyone. They love you. These people are your BEST FRIENDS EVER. At least one person usually cries. Personal space ceases to exist as everyone talks too close, hugs too much, and generally climbs on top of each other like a bunch of puppies in a too small box. At least this is what happens when women drink.

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It is best to follow the “I love you, man” stage with food, lest you end up in the dreaded 6th stage of beach drinking: Puking like a kid who ate all of his Halloween candy in one sitting.

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We had an amazing lunch spread. We had it all: Champagne, coconut rum, and beer. Sodas. Chicken salad, tuna salad, and turkey and Swiss sandwiches. Chips and dip. Fresh Fruit. Cheese. Crackers.

Know what we didn’t have?

A knife.

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(I realize there is a "cut the cheese" joke just dying to come in here, but it's just not going to happen, folks)

And then, somewhere in the alcohol fueled haze of the beautiful afternoon….we ran out of alcohol. Just. Like. That.

It was probably a good thing. Otherwise, we’d probably still be sitting on that beach.

Time to go!

Back at the house, we had an AMAZING pina colada birthday cake from Key West Cakes. The cake was delicious, beautiful, and they had even delivered it to our fridge before we even arrived.

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Then it was time to head to Alison’s birthday dinner.

I was not about to let my girl spend her 40th birthday somewhere mundane like Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville eating a “cheeseburger in paradise” while sipping a watery cocktail and listening to “Fins.”

I wanted her big day to be exceptional and memorial. What better way to do that than with a dinner on the beach at a private island resort?

Ask anyone “Where is the best place to have a special occasion dinner in Key West?” and you will almost always get the same answer: Latitudes. Jet Set dining at its best, Latitudes is located on the private island resort of Sunset Cay, just a five minute ride on their private ferry from Key West.

As we pulled up to the dock, we knew we were in for a very special evening.

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And we were. It was called “Heat Stroke.” And it was very special.

I had made reservations in February so that I could secure a table in the sand about an hour before sunset, knowing that the restaurant was known for its unobstructed sunset view.

“It’s going to be really hot,” the girl on the phone warned me when I made the reservation. “It’s late June and you’ll have literally NO PROTECTION from the sun. It’s brutal.”

I looked outside my office window. It was snowing. I pictured a beautifully set table in the sand.

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“We’ll take the 7:00 reservation,” I said. What did she know? WE LOVE SUN. Sun is awesome. Sun is our friend. Too hot? Pfffffft. There’s no such thing as too hot.

I remembered that conversation as I sat sweating through my tank dress, gulping down a coconut martini as fast as my throat could swallow while silently apologizing to Mother Nature for making all those snide comments about global warming. Then I started sucking down Matt’s frozen bushwacker, promising God that I would purchase some solar panels and trade in my Land Rover for a hybrid as soon as I got home if he would just cool it down a few degrees.

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Heat be damned, we had an excellent dinner. Even though our faces were sliding off into our laps, the food and setting were hard to beat.

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The cool wedge salad was a perfect first course, with fresh Florida oranges and chilled melon topped with gorgonzola cheese and a papaya dressing.

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Matt had the seafood pasta: fresh tagliatelle pasta with Key West pink shrimp, lobster, and scallops tossed in a parmesan pesto cream sauce with heirloom tomatoes and roasted mushrooms.

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I couldn’t resist the honey and ancho chile crusted waygu beef skirt steak, primarily because it was topped with two big, fat onion rings (remember what I said about the trailer park?).

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Finished up with a mango martini, the dinner couldn’t have been better.

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Cooler, yes. Better, no.

We enjoyed the amazing sunset before catching the ferry back to Key West.

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Now that the sophisticated part of the evening was over, it was time to get the party started. In order to protect the guilty, I shall not divulge the intimate details, but there may have been lots of shots, dancing on tables, a couple of male dancers and a significant loss of one dollar bills, and we might have gotten thrown out of a bar by a guy that looked just like Vanilla Ice (but not before I told him how much I loved Ice, Ice, Baby….which he did not seem to think was as funny as I did)…..but I’m not confirming nor denying anything.

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Day 3: Wakey, Wakey, Eggs & Bakey

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We woke up s-l-o-w. I don't mean slowly. I mean slow. We were slow. We had no aggressive plans for the day so everyone slept in and got up at their own pace. It was a perfect morning to do nothing more than lay around in the air conditioning eating aspirin for breakfast.

Everyone finally roused around noon, so we thought we’d take everyone to the Southernmost Point for the “photo op” since some of our group had never been to Key West.

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We severely underestimated how heat can affect a hangover.

There are many who say that heat is a good remedy for a hangover. These people say you should “sweat it out” and get rid of the toxins in your body.

These people are stupid.

And are masochists.

We should not have tried to beat the heat. We needed to sit in the shade and drink a lot of Gatorade. And think about our life choices.

Instead, we were on bicycles, sweating it out on top of pavement that had to be at least 147 degrees. As we pedaled from our place on White Street toward Duval Street, there was absolutely no shade to be found. At the 4th traffic light we were forced to stop at, we started to die slowly.

It was so hot, my biggest bicycle wreck fear was, "What if I fall off my bike and cook to death on the pavement?"

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By the time we reached the Southernmost Point, we sent the strongest of our bunch in search of water while the rest of us lay limply on the sidewalk, begging for a quick and painless death. When Matt returned (did you really think it was anyone else?), we didn’t even bother to drink the water, but simply poured it over our heads. I think I saw steam.

And yes, we got the photo op. Unfortunately, Matt was buying water and I was taking the picture so I had to Photoshop us in. I don’t think you can tell.

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When we realized we were not, in fact, going to die, we made a mad dash to Deuce’s Off the Hook Grill for some lunch in the blessed air conditioning.

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This was a first time at Deuce’s and it was a WINNER. It instantly became everyone’s favorite, and not just because of the air conditioning.

Because of the amazing fish tacos and sweet potato tater tots.

SWEET POTATO TATER TOTS, y’all!

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The food at this small restaurant was outstanding.

Go here. Now.

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We were loath to leave the air conditioning, and the tater tots, but I don’t think Deuce’s was willing to let us stay for the next 7 hours, so we had to pedal on out of there.

It was just too hot for shopping, and no one had seen the beach at Key West, so we took them to Fort Zachary, thinking we might be able to dip in the refreshing water.

Unfortunately, the refreshing water was filled with seaweed and smelled like farts.

So we sat in the shade and ate giant pickles and popsicles instead. Have you ever noticed how many penis shaped foods there are in Key West? I’m just making a point, here, people. Just making a point.

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There was nothing left to do but spend the afternoon in our pool. Even though the pool was heated, it was the coolest we’d been all day.

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Seriously….who heats a pool in Key West in the summer??????!!!!!

It was our last day, so heat or no, we were going to make the most of it. We decided to do a Happy Hour crawl for dinner, starting with oysters and margaritas at Pepe’s.

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Then, it was on to Kelly’s for wings, nachos, and more margaritas (and maybe some nachos and fish dip).

I have a tidbit of advice for Kelly's: Maybe if you let people sit OUTSIDE in your pretty courtyard during happy hour instead of making them sit INSIDE....your pretty courtyard wouldn't be TOTALLY EMPTY.

Just a thought.

Especially considering the courtyard was the only really good thing at Kellys.

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Then we did a little Duval Street Strolling. It was finally cool enough to shop!

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The final stop was at the Little Room Jazz Bar for what was supposed to be one drink. You know, since we were flying out in the morning.

One drink did not happen.

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As a dog returns to its vomit…….

Some of us never learn.

Home again, Home again!

We filled ourselves with doughnuts and bacon before heading home.

I learned that a “side of bacon” at Sandy’s means “a pound of bacon.” It was a thing of beauty.

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It had been a whirlwind, but it had been fabulous. It had been hot, but it had been fun. It had been exhausting, but it had been worth every second.

There was nothing left to do but put the inflatable margarita in the trash and fly home.

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What's next? Why, getting stranded naked in Abaco, that's what!

Posted by vicki_h 12:39 Archived in USA Tagged key_west florida_keys duval_street conch_republic Comments (4)

Almost Roughing it in Ellijay, GA

A glamping anniversary

Have you ever thought about camping but decided that a weekend in the woods in a leaky tent that smells like plastic and mildew with absolutely no creature comforts and just the clothes on your back does not sound like a good time? Maybe you’re not really into eating just what you can carry on your back, hunt, or catch? Foraging for food and clean water, building a fire from twigs and rocks, and finding your way with a compass does not sound appealing? And you definitely draw the line at pooping behind a tree?

Do you crave a oneness with nature but are too afraid of literally becoming “one with nature” (as in becoming bear poop and decomposing under a pine tree) that you just take a pass?

Is this how you feel about camping?

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Well, I have found the answer.

It's called "glamping."

Yes. You read that right: GLAMPING. As in Glamourous Camping.

Gone are the days where a campsite is simply a place to pitch a tent and dig a hole to poop in. These days, camping can mean plush bedding and gourmet food.

Glamping is not for the die-hard, freeze dried food eating, REI shopping, ultralight backpacking group of outdoors-people. No, glamping is for those of us who love nature, but do not love sleeping on the ground and trying to pee while holding oneself upright with a tree branch and praying you don’t dribble on your pants leg.

I have paid my dues. I have hiked 15 miles into the wild with a pack loaded with crap on my back in the snow with wet feet and blisters only to sleep on the ground with one eye open all night wondering if a bear was going to smell the cherry chapstick I forgot to take out of my pocket.

I learned the hard way that a two man pup tent does not come with two men. Or any puppies.

THIS is not fun:

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Neither is this:

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Nor this:

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Okay, this is a little fun, but not when you are doing it because you are in so much pain that you decide 6 miles of drunk hiking is worth the risk:

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I was ready for a different kind of camping experience.

Sleeping bags and granola bars are so 20th century.

Glamping is nature served on a silver platter.

Pack the fur throw and champagne, friends…..we’re going glamping!

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For as long as I can remember, the Resort at Paws Up just east of Missoula, MT has been on my wish list. A ridiculously indulgent blend of unsurpassed luxury and pristine wilderness, this glamping resort offers guests a stay in a posh safari-style tent with jaw dropping views and a plethora of wilderness experiences, not to mention a private chef and butler to draw your bath in your outdoor copper bathtub and lay out the s’mores while they pour your wine.

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Stolen Shamelessly from the Paws Up website

However, the $1800 a night price tag is likely to keep it on the wish list for a while.

Like, forever.

So, imagine my delight when I discovered a glamping resort just 93 miles (as the crow flies) from home, thanks to JoAnn Antonelli and Rick Lucas, who have created a whimsical retreat in the north Georgia mountains called the Martyn House.

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The Martyn House was born when JoAnn and Rick first stepped foot onto the 18 acre property in Ellijay, GA in 2007. The 1930’s farmhouse became their home. Later came Rick’s photography studio. Later came JoAnn’s art studio, lovingly built from the old barn that was in the final stages of collapse.

A trip to India provided the final inspiration, as Rick and JoAnn decided to bring their experience with the luxurious sleeping tents they stayed in in southern Rajistan to Georgia. Their bohemian chic tents are made from intricate Indian fabrics, with details like hand sewn mirrors and meticulous embroidery. The colors are bright and festive, giving an air of magic to each unique tent. Each tent is complete with antique furniture, cozy linens, working lights, bathrooms with on-demand hot showers and running water, a propane heater for extra cold nights, an in-room French press along with a supply of coffee and tea products, wine glasses and JoAnn’s handmade pottery mugs, and soaps that JoAnn makes herself. Each tent also has a covered front porch with twinkling string lights, perfect for curling up with a glass of wine at night or a hot cup of coffee on a chilly morning.

Rick and JoAnn are also amazing cooks and make incredible meals for guests, using many of the ingredients from their own garden.

I ran across the Martyn House totally by accident in my never ending search for “someplace new” on the interwebs. As soon as I saw the fairytale destination that Rick and JoAnn had created, I knew it was the perfect place to spend our 15th anniversary.

“We’re going GLAMPING!” I shouted enthusiastically at Matt as he came home one evening.

“For our anniversary. GLAMPING!”

He stared at me, obviously not comprehending how stupendously awesome this decision was.

I heard crickets.

“GLAMPING!” I said again, arms wide and waving with all the enthusiasm I was trying to shove from my brain into his brain.

“Huh?”

He blinked.

It was like I was speaking Chinese.

“Fancy camping. We’re going fancy camping.”

“Yeah, okay,” he said as he went back to checking the mail.

Okay, so maybe he wasn’t as inspired as I was, but that was just because he didn’t know yet.

Martyn House was going to be perfect.

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The first thing I saw as we pulled down the driveway was the lion that was charging our vehicle.

“OH MY GOD!” I shouted to Matt. “Roll up the window!”

It was too late. Within minutes, I saw nothing but giant golden paws and fur and teeth mauling my husband of 15 years.

As I looked over at Matt’s grin, I remembered we were not, in fact, on our way to our Abercrombie & Kent campsite in the Serengeti, but were in Ellijay, GA and this was not a lion, but the biggest golden retriever in the universe with his wiggly body halfway inside our rental car while giving Matt a tongue bath.

We had just met Hank, the 91 lb. baby of the Martyn House family.

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Just behind Hank were Maya, the yellow lab, and Grace, the black lab…just as wiggly and welcoming.

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Off to the side, a flash of yellow caught my eye. No, not a tiger, but I don’t think he knows that.

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Milo the cat was hiding in the grass watching from a distance.

Otis, the other cat, was not as shy and immediately came to say “hello.”

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Throw in some heirloom chickens, one giant rooster, and a couple of unconventional artists and you have the wonderful cast that makes up the Martyn House.

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It was the opening weekend of their glamping season and we were the only guests. We had the entire place to ourselves.

As Rick gave us the grand tour, a parade of dogs and cats trailing behind us….I knew this was going to be a wonderful weekend.

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On the way to our tent, we stopped at Rick’s studio where he had Matt sample his new beer making project. As Matt two fisted some craft beer, I knew Matt thought this was going to be a wonderful weekend too.

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Rick also gave us a tour of JoAnn's studio, where she makes pottery and handmade bath products, or whatever suits her creative fancy. The studio was warm and inviting. As it turns out, guests can even stay in the studio.

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We also visited the chicken coop and the outdoor tent where JoAnn and Rick have created an amazing outdoor living space. They host many of their group dinners here. It had an outdoor bar, a dining area, a cozy hammock, and a living area with vintage pillows and throws. Next to it was a colorful fire pit for chilly nights.

Seriously, could this place be any more awesome?

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Even the port-a-potties were cute. I never thought I'd find myself thinking the words, "I can't wait to use that outdoor toilet."

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As we wandered down the wooded path away from the main house, I could see 4 tents scattered at a distance from each other in the woods. Each one was placed to allow it ample privacy from the others.

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I immediately fell in love with our tent: Ridge Roost.

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The gorgeous black and white striped tent stood in fanciful contrast to the early-April forest around it.

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With a cozy porch, a king sized bed covered with beautiful linens, a free cat, a full bathroom with running water and a hot shower, and a jovial guard dog to keep the raccoons at bay…what more could we want?

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How about an outdoor bathtub?

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The spell was complete. We were enchanted. Even Matt was excited. Probably because he realized at some point I was going to take off my clothes and get in a bathtub in the woods…but whatever. He was excited.

Unable to tear ourselves away from our glampsite, we did nothing but chill out in our tent for a while.

No TV. No internet. No sound but the wind in the trees and an occasional bird.

It was perfect.

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We were having dinner at the Martyn House that night, so we decided to grab lunch in the nearby town of Blue Ridge. We have eaten at Harvest on Main, a wonderful little restaurant there, on several occasions and always try to stop in when we are anywhere nearby.

Blue Ridge is a charming little mountain town. It’s adorable streets are lined with quaint shops, art galleries, and cafes.

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Harvest on Main is a cozy, rustic restaurant that reminds me of something we’d find in Montana, not in north Georgia. The first things you smell when you walk inside are their house smoked meats. The scent mingles with the smell of fresh baked bread and creates the most welcoming atmosphere you can imagine.

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We started off with their baked brie, blue crab, and cilantro casserole served with warm corn chips.

Just as we were licking the last of the warm, creamy melted sour cream, cream cheese, and brie from the dish, we were brought two house salads with their delightful pickled green beans.

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For entrees, I had the amberjack over their house chickpea stew topped with sauteed spinach, and Matt had the local trout served on top of their house-made corned beef hash (house-smoked corned beef, sweet potatoes, & onions) and topped with lemon-pickled onions and arugula.

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Just to make sure we didn’t leave before eating everything on the menu, we had the chocolate pudding cake with vanilla ice cream. The moist cake was layered with what tasted like a hazelnut cream cheese filling and topped with caramel drizzle and pecans.

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Because a day of sloth and gluttony is best enjoyed with a glass of wine, we headed back to the Martyn House and took a take a pre-dinner walk down to Grace’s pond with a bottle of wine to find the “outdoor living room” Rick had told us about.

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Rick and JoAnn have taken “creative loafing spaces” to an entirely new level. In every nook and cranny of their property, there is another cozy place to curl up with a glass of wine, a good book, or a wet dog as the case may be.

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Maya was obviously embarrassed by her overly exuberant leap into the pond, so she put herself in time out in the corner until she was dry. Sweet Maya.

We had opted for a private dinner on the farm that night, but the weather forecast was calling for storms and I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d get rained out. We pulled on the wellies, grabbed the umbrella, and hoped for the best.

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We shouldn’t have worried. Rick and JoAnn had us set up in the dry on their porch, complete with vintage linens, a glowing chandelier, and the romantic flicker of candles.

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The rain held off as we enjoyed a starter of roasted red eggplant with feta cheese. The eggplant was perfectly charred on the edge, soft in the center, and topped with savory cheese.

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This was followed by what Matt referred to as “the best salad I’ve ever had.” The salad had pickled garlic, local smoked bacon, olives, goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, and fresh green beans.

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This is Matt’s “stop taking pictures of me while I eat” face:

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For our main dish, Rick brought us a deliciously fried chicken breast on top of rustic mashed potatoes with roasted broccoli and cherry tomatoes.

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Dessert? Of course we did. A raspberry sorbet with chocolate.

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As we scooped the last of the sorbet from our dishes, Rick was lighting a fire for us where we enjoyed champagne and roasted marshmallows as we watched the distant lightening grow closer and closer.

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We ran back to the tent when the thunder started, wondering if we’d make it back before the storms. The tent looked even prettier at night.

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We turned on our electric candles (because real candles and cotton tents go together like Kanye West and Taylor Swift) and climbed into the big, cozy bed. The sheets were soft and smelled like fresh laundry. The down pillows were perfectly plush. The tent had flaps that could be lowered with ropes and secured for windows and a door if we wanted the tent secured, but we wanted to feel the cool night air so we left them open, leaving a secure mesh screen to keep the bugs out.

When the rain started, I worried we might get blown away. This was no 10 minute rain shower. This was a full-on, raining-like-there-was-no-tomorrow downpour that lasted for hours with wind and thunder and lightning. We couldn’t have ordered a more magical experience if we’d had the weather gods on speed dial.

It was remarkable. The sound of the rain pounding on the roof of our tent and the fresh-electric smell of the storm outside while we were cozy and warm under piles of soft blankets was simply mind blowing.

The best part of glamping vs. camping in a rainstorm? The story doesn’t end with ….”and then the tent blew away.”

We were snug as two bugs in a rug.

We fell asleep to the sound of the rain beating rhythmically on the roof.

It was around 2:00 a.m. when I was awakened by a sound under the bed. My first thought was, “Rooby and Bella might need to go outside,” and then I remembered I wasn’t at home.

I was in a tent.

In the woods.

And something was thumping around under my bed.

It’s all fun and glamping until you wake up with a possum under your bed.

I did what any strong, modern, capable woman would do.

I woke Matt up.

“There is something under the bed,” I hissed, shoving the flashlight from my nightstand at him.

“What do you want ME to do about it?” he hissed back.

“Get it OUT,” I whispered.

As I sat holding my electric candle, prepared to beat something off his face should he come back up with fangs and claws attached to his skull, Matt peered cautiously over the edge of the bed.

And laughed.

“It’s Hank,” he said. “He must have snuck in after we went to sleep.”

I never thought I’d be happy to have a 91 lb. dog under my bed. At least I didn’t have to worry about possums.

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The next morning was a chilly 48 degrees. We had slept with the windows open so that we could enjoy the cozy bed and the storm. The morning air was crisp and cool, so Matt fired up the heater. The tent was warm in minutes.

Our tent had an electric pot for heating water and a French press with coffee, hot teas, sugar, and creamer. We had coffee and cocoa on the front porch watching the sun peek out through the trees.

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Breakfast is provided by Rick and JoAnn every morning, so we made our way to the farmhouse around 8:30. Because it was only the two of us, Rick served us breakfast on the cozy porch again.

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He started us off with homemade smoothies and fresh fruit.

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Then it was hot coffee and toasted English muffins with jam and butter.

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Finally, he brought omelets made with cheddar cheese, spinach, and mushrooms and a platter of local bacon. There is no picture of the bacon because I ate it all.

I really like bacon.

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We didn’t have a very ambitious itinerary, which was good because I was lethargic from all the bacon.

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We strolled around the quaint town of Ellijay, checking out its cute shops.

There are a lot of things to do near Ellijay – countless wineries, farms, orchards, and scenic drives….but we managed not to do ANY of those things because we really just wanted to get back to the Martyn House.

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There was an outdoor bathtub with my name on it.

But not before we had lunch. What? Do you think we are CRAZY?

We stopped in at 1907 for a wine-fueled lunch of smoked trout dip, a fried green tomato burger with bacon and pimento cheese, and apple crumble with salted caramel sauce. No, that was not shared. That was just MY meal.

Matt had some more trout. I was starting to think he had a trout problem.

When in north GA.....have the trout?

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This is the owner, Wayne Sloop. He came out to pose for a very enthusiastic photo.

Whew.

I was worried that he knew I had stolen 10 of those delicious burgers and had them in my pocket.

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Oh wait. That was only in my head. Kind of like when someone runs over you in the grocery store aisle and you cuss them out in your head but in reality you find yourself apologizing to them for being made of actual matter and for not being able to read their mind so that you wouldn't be standing where they wanted to walk without looking first.

All I really had in my pocket was my lens cap. Darn it.

When we got back to the Martyn House, the sun was shining on a beautiful 80 degree afternoon. We took advantage of the beautiful weather and just enjoyed our surroundings.

With wine.

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And then there was that bathtub.

I could not pass up the opportunity to take a bath in the woods.

Bathtub in the woods + bubble bath + champagne = best bath EVER

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Seriously one of my favorite life experiences of all time. It was like skinny dipping, but with bubble bath and warm water. And without my irrational fear of leeches.

A couple of years ago, Rick and JoAnn bought an old building in downtown Ellijay that became one part coffee shop, one part art gallery, and one part live music venue. On Saturday nights, they host live music and dinner in their “listening room.” We had decided to have dinner there that night because it gave me a reason to pack boots with 4 inch heels on a camping trip.

Seriously, what's the point of glamping if you can't pack heels?????

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In Towne, their coffee shop and bistro, was as charming and visually appealing as the Martyn House. Each space was unique and eclectic, filled with original art, their own special style, and a sprinkle of sunshine.

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On Saturday nights, they offer a small menu for dinner to be served while you listen to a 2 hour live music show. It’s BYOB, so we were able to take our own wine for a modest $5 corking fee. We ordered at the counter in the coffee shop, dropped off our bottles of wine, grabbed some lemon infused water in colorful mason jars, and found our way to the cozy listening room. When we ordered, we were given a table number. The tables were covered in brown butcher paper with the numbers on top and warm, inviting candles beckoning us inside.

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Still pretty full from that mammoth burger at 1907, I thought I was “ordering light” (yes, I know – Vicki Ordering Light is as much an oxymoron as Vegetarian McDonald’s) when I asked for the “fish stew.”

The hearty stew had 3 giant fillets of meaty fish in it and was topped off with a crazy good slab of buttery toasted bread.

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That's when I remembered that eating light is for wimps.

So I ordered dessert.

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Matt had the trout and double chocolate cake, but I didn’t get a picture because because all the trout was getting weird (and maybe because I had whipped cream all over my hands).

Nate Currin, the artist of the night, entertained us for two hours with his warm stories and wonderful music. Maybe it was the second bottle of wine talking, but we thought he was pretty darn good.

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When we cozied in for the night in our tent, we decided to close the windows and zip the door because it was going down to 32 degrees. While we liked sleeping in the cool air, 32 degrees crossed the line from “cozy” to “crazy,” so we turned the heater on low enough to keep it cool, but ensure we didn’t wake up with icicles in our noses.

The zipped door kept Hank out, but it didn’t keep Otis out. Otis made it immediately clear that he'd be sleeping with us thankyouverymuch.

I guess he doesn’t like icicles in his nose either.

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We woke to another perfectly beautiful day. Our days had been warm and sunny, our nights cold and crisp, perfect glamping weather!

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Rick had breakfast waiting for us on the porch again.

More homemade smoothies:

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Then it was stoneground grits, local sausage, focaccia bread, and scrambled eggs with avocados.

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Martyn House had been everything I hoped for. It has been magical, fanciful, and enchanting. It had been luxurious and indulgent. It was romantic and private. We ate meals on a fantasy porch, we sipped wine in fairy tale tents, we snuggled under fur blankets while listening to the sound of the wind and rain whipping through the trees, we woke to the sounds of birds and had coffee with the forest, we followed paths to secret corners with tree stump tables and crystal chandeliers, we found our way home at night guided by twinkling string lights and the full moon.

I ate slowly, not wanting to break the spell.

It was almost midnight and my carriage was about to turn back into a pumpkin. A quick flight home would bring work and deadlines, a house that needed to be cleaned, and groceries to buy.

But it was still morning, and I was still Cinderella and I was going to live like there was no midnight.

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Posted by vicki_h 13:00 Archived in USA Tagged camping georgia glamping blue_ridge ellijay martyn_house Comments (3)

Key West.... One Bite at a Time

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To everything there is a season.

A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

There is also a time to eat.

Let's face it, I love to eat. Especially on vacation. When I am on vacation, I eat like a bear that has just come out of hibernation. A bear with a sweet tooth. And who may be a wino.

When we found ourselves in Key West for a long weekend in January, it seemed like the perfect time to do just that. Temps were balmy, in the mid 70s. Warm enough for shorts, but not warm enough for the beach. So, unless we wanted to spend 3 days looking at Hemingway's 6 toed cats, we had a lot of time to fill.

I had planned the trip to coincide with the annual Key West Food and Wine Festival, but after realizing our travel companions don't really like wine, I decided to forgo most of the Festival events and create my OWN Food and Wine Festival.

It was to be 3 days of strategic eating. I had an EATING ITINERARY, people. The food fest was about to be ON.

There is nothing better than an eating vacation.

Let the eating begin!

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"Pace yourselves, " I cautioned. "You don't want to eat too much at any one place."

We were behind schedule.

We had arrived in Key West on time....landing just before noon on a clear, breezy Wednesday.

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The trouble came in when Key West Hideaways couldn't seem to send the shuttle picking us up to the right place. Key West Hideaways had convinced us to let them arrange for our bicycle rentals, telling us they would send a free shuttle from the bike place to pick us up from the airport. As soon as I heard the words "free shuttle," I was convinced.

They sent the shuttle to the commercial airport, although we had told them we would be at the general aviation FBO. After several confused phone calls between me and the shuttle driver, he finally found us.

However, the real confusion came in when he turned out to be from the wrong bicycle company. He dropped us off at the bike office and left. Unfortunately, no one at the bike company had any idea who we were. There was no record of our reservation. I had paid a deposit, so simply changing rental companies wasn't an option. Six very unproductive phone calls back and forth with an extremely rude and unhelpful young lady at Key West Hideaways who kept insisting "that is the only bicycle company we do business with so you must be mistaken about your deposit," and we were unceremoniously dumped on the sidewalk with our luggage like hobos.

With no ride.

As luck would have it, I got a call from the ACTUAL bike company that Key West Hideaways had booked us with asking what time we wanted the bikes delivered. And it WAS NOT the one the young lady kept insisting "is the only bicycle company we do business with." I asked him if he could pick us up. He said he would be there in 5 minutes.

Fifteen minutes later, we were still on the sidewalk with our luggage like hobos.

I called him back.

He said Key West Hideaways had called him and told him not to come pick us up. They were sending someone.

Son of a B*%$#.

Two more phone calls to Key West Hideaways, and a rangy late model mercedes with a "For Sale" sign tacked in each window pulled up.

Thankfully, it was not the young woman I had spoken to, because there would have likely been bloodshed, right there on South Street in front of all the nice people who were sipping their Cuban coffees at the cafe next door.

He was polite and apologetic and made several lame excuses about the confusion. And about the fact that we had to cram our bodies in on top of our luggage in the tiny back seat. Steve's leg was at an unnatural angle that I was pretty sure was going to cut off the circulation to his foot. I hoped the ride was short so that amputation of a limb wouldn't be necessary.

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As we rode through the streets of Key West, someone from the bicycle company called me again.

"I'm over here at 828 Olivia to deliver the bikes, but no one is here," he said.

"That's because Key West Hideaways gave you the wrong address. We are at 1019 Varela," I sighed.

We were finally dropped off at the correct house and got our bikes at the correct address, no thanks to Key West Hideaways. But we had lost an hour.

Our eating schedule was now behind.

Oh, the horror.

"Where are we going?" Matt said as we walked down White Street, "I'm seriously hungry." In anticipation of the impending calorie-fest none of us had eaten breakfast and it was going on 2:00.

"Not far," I responded. "See? Right there." I pointed to the Chevron Station.

"What? Where? I only see a gas station," Matt said. He was getting grouchy, like a hungry toddler that missed out on the graham crackers during story hour.

"Yeah. The Chevron Station," I said.

"We're not eating at the gas station," Matt replied.

"Oh yes we are."

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At the corner of White and Truman, right next to the bathrooms in the Chevron parking lot, we found White Street Station, a colorful food truck surrounded by tropical plants and brightly colored drums in the parking lot of the Chevron Station. We put our things on a yellow wooden bench next to a red ironing board that served as a table and walked up to the window to order.

"All of our fish is fresh, just caught," he said, "The fish tacos are excellent. I also recommend the Orzo as a side today. It's really good."

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Matt couldn't resist the fish tacos. The fish was insanely fresh and was prepared Caribbean style, topped with mango and black beans.

Fish Tacos almost sounded healthy to me, so I opted for the daily special: the Grilled Mac.......two giant crusty slices of Texas toast layered with American cheese and wrapped around a creamy slab of macaroni and cheese atop a pile of tender, braised short rib.

Oh my yumminess.

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Matt stopped complaining about the Chevron Station when he realized he could run inside for a beer.

With the hunger monster quieted for a few hours, we took the time to head back to Mango Cottage and settle in. Despite being less than pleased with the rental company so far, we did love the cottage. It was squeaky clean, newly renovated, and cute, cute, cute.

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Until we lifted the cover on the hot tub. It was filled with funky green water.

Have you ever heard the story about the farmer and the mule?

A farmer had a really stubborn mule. He was out trying to plow the fields one day and the mule wouldn't budge. He looked at the mule and said, "That's one." After the plowing for a while, the mule stubbed up again, refusing to move. "That's two," the farmer said. As the day grew long and the mule grew tired, he bucked up on the farmer again. This time the farmer didn't say anything, but pulled out his shotgun and shot the mule dead. As the farmer came into the farmhouse that night, tired and dirty, he looked at his wife and asked for dinner. "It's not ready," she said flippantly. The farmer looked at his wife. "That's one," he said.

Key West Hideaways? That's two.

The one absolute when we are on Key West is Matt's daily visit to some place for oyster happy hour. It's as certain as death and taxes.

So we found ourselves at the White Tarpon late in the afternoon. The oysters are no longer 50 cents all day, but $1 an oyster still wasn't too bad, especially considering how large and fresh the oysters were. Matt was definitely in his happy place.

A key lime martini quickly put me in my happy place as well. Although, my happy place is pretty easy. It pretty much includes any place with cupcakes, cocktails, pork rinds, or half price shoes.

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We had early dinner reservations at Hot Tin Roof, hoping to eat dinner to a beautiful sunset.

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The meal started off with delightful cocktails: a Hemingway daiquiri and the best caipirinha I have had outside of Brazil.

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As we perused the menu, the sun began to sink its way toward the sea. Seated on the outdoor porch, we watched it go down in a blazing ball of orange.

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Then the food orgy began:

We started with creamy melted manchego cheese topped with spicy chorizo and pico de gallo served with warm tortillas and a steamy bowl of mussels.

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As the sky turned from fiery orange to cool shades of blue, we discovered that our menus were illuminated. After a couple of cocktails, a lighted menu is fabulous entertainment.

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Next up was the lobster cocktail with roasted corn guacamole, cumin crema, and yukon chips; caramelized grouper with chorizo, corn, carrots, red pepper, poblano, and coconut; and a pan of lobster mac and cheese with creamy manchego cheese.

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After dinner, we headed to The Porch for cocktails. Even though it was located right off crazy Duval Street, it seemed a quiet oasis far from the throngs of people with their big gulp frozen daiquiris and Sloppy Joes t-shirts. As we entered the front door of the old house, a bar to the left was serving up craft beer and a bar to the right was dreaming up creative craft cocktails. This made everyone happy.

This bar was different from the "Duval Crawl" bars of Key West. It was cozy and cool, quiet, and the cocktails were a knockout. My banana bread bourbon old fashioned was crafted slowly, with care, and was absolutely fantastic.

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Did a man in a sparkly tutu walk into The Porch while we were enjoying our cocktails? Maybe he did, but we were still in Key West, after all.

We decided to make one final stop before heading home, and the Green Parrot it was. I needed popcorn, bad lighting, a hint of danger, and an atmosphere that promised at least the chance of a bar fight to make my evening complete. The Green Parrot is the perfect dive bar. It's a dive, without being too, well, divey. It's just gritty enough to be interesting, but still more charming than squalid.

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In hindsight, we probably should have skipped that final stop. I think that "one last drink" was how I ended up with a gorgeous headache the next morning and a tote bag filled with popcorn.

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I woke up early the next morning. It was before sunrise so I decided to grab some Cuban toast and cafe con leche at Sandy's on the corner and pedal my way down to White Pier, just a few blocks from the house.

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I would love to show you some glorious photos of that sunrise, but, while I managed to lug my 7 lb. camera all the way down there, I forgot the battery.

I blame it on the Green Parrot.

All I have is this crappy iPhone photo:

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Before long it was time for second breakfast, or was it pre-lunch? Whatever it was, we were going to do it up proper at Blue Heaven. I never tire of the colorful courtyard atmosphere and lively bar. On this particular morning, they had live Reggae and for a moment, I felt like I was in the breezy Caribbean.

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While we waited for our table, I wandered upstairs, simply curious what was up there. It turned out to be the overflow seating area. Colorful tables, eclectic decor, and this super cute little private room:

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We were seated in the courtyard with chickens running nervously around our feet, cats lazily sunning themselves on the metal roofs, and the sounds of the Reggae band drifting over on air that smelled like pancakes and home fries.

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Matt had the BLT Benedict. Not to be confused with the traditional meaning of BLT, at Blue Heaven, BLT means "Bacon, Lobster, and Tomato."

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Because I felt like I had already eaten breakfast, with the thick slices of buttery Cuban toast I scarfed down on the pier, I opted for lunch. The Caribbean plate came with tender lobster cooked in wine, butter, and spices and served with Blue Heaven's key lime hollandaise sauce; savory black beans; rice; asparagus; tangy cole slaw; and a slab of moist cornbread.

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Of course we couldn't leave without a couple of slices of their mile high key lime pie.

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We then took Steve and Alison on a bicycle tour of Key West.

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We ended up at the Martello Tower where we took a quick tour of the Key West Garden Club's beautiful oceanfront garden.

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All that pedaling made us hungry. It was oyster o'clock, so we headed back to the White Tarpon. This time, I got my own platter of ice cold oysters and washed them down with a hard cider.

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Matt is going to be sorry he encouraged me to eat oysters. If I really get hooked on them, he's either going to get to eat 1/2 as many or pay twice as much.

Truth is, I didn't really even WANT the oysters. I don't LIKE oysters. I was just eating at this point to be eating. A vicious cycle was starting to take hold: get up, eat, ride bikes, eat, walk around and shop, eat, drink cocktails, eat, watch the sunset, eat. Before it was over, I would be eating in my sleep.

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That evening, we had tickets to one of the two Food and Wine Festival events I had decided our friends would probably like: Henry Flagler's Welcome Party at Casa Marina.

Okay, who am I kidding? I didn't care if they liked it or not, I just wanted to see the beach at this gorgeous resort. It was not disappointing.

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The KWFWF had set up a nice soiree right on the beach at sunset, complete with live band, wine flowing like water, and twinkling lights hanging from the palm trees.

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The snacks were pretty good too: a pastry of baked brie with figs, specialty pizzas, cheeses, and a carving station with mountains of fried onions. Yes, there was some meat too, but did you see all those fried onions????? Who can concentrate on meat when there are UNLIMITED FRIED ONIONS?

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After a dozen oysters, two slices of pizza, countless glasses of wine, tender beef with a crusty roll, a mountain of fried onions, and enough cheese to constipate a horse, most people would have called that dinner.

But we were on a mission.

So we waddled our gluttonous selves away from Casa Marina with no shame and headed to the Rum Bar to sip their delicious painkillers until we thought we could handle more food.

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It wasn't long before we were ready for dinner at Square One, a short walk from the Rum Bar.

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Their creative cocktails were a hit. Mine was a Bufala Negra: fresh basil, balsamic vinegar (yes...vinegar!), agave nectar, ginger beer, and bourbon. It was quirky, but delightful.

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We then severely overordered. And overate.

There were soft little pretzel bites with savory herb butter.

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There were pork potstickers with pineapple hoisin sauce and a massive platter of lobster cobb salad with arugula, fresh tender lobster, crispy pancetta, egg, avocado, roasted corn, manchego cheese, and a togarashi ranch.

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There were pulled cuban pork sliders with sweet plantains and red onion marmalade on pretzel buns with crispy fries and a lobster roll with shredded lettuce on a pretzel hogie.

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There were shrimp and grits with spicy poblano peppers, manchego cheese, and caramelized corn butter and a pound of drunken mussels cooked in vermouth, fresh herbs, and shallots.

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Too full to go to bed, we ended the evening with cocktails at Point5, the upstairs bar at Nine One Five on Duval Street. The breezy front balcony was a perfect place to watch all that was coming and going along Duval.

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Eventually our choices narrowed to 1) stomach pump or 2) go to bed, so we called it a night.

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We woke up the morning and did a group cheer to get us psyched up for the day's eat fest.

It started at Firefly on Petronia. Their menu promised all manner of fried goodness, and they delivered. We started off with mango mimosas, to wash it all down and then ordered all the fried things we could find on the menu.

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Fried okra, deep fried mini corndogs, and deliciously cheesy stuffed peppers.

Then fried chicken and waffles, fried chicken and biscuits, and fried crab beignets on a bun with crazy good garlic fries.

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Oh....and then there was that one person who ordered a salad. I think she was starting to feel guilty about what she was doing to her internal organs, but never mind her. We would get her back on the food train before the day was over.

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The will is weak.

Especially when tater tots are on the menu.

The guys had decided their new favorite place was the Rum Bar so we headed that way. If I learned one thing on the island of Jost Van Dyke, home of the Soggy Dollar Bar and home of the painkiller, it is that it is never too early for a painkiller.

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We spent the day shopping up and down Key West's quaint streets in between snacks. We had decided that the best way to see the sights was on the way to and from our eating opportunities. If we followed the food, we'd naturally see the sights along the way. We wanted to see Hemingway's House. Did we pay admission and take a tour? Of course not. We snapped a selfie by the gate on the way to Firefly for a mango mimosa and a plate of fried okra. Just like we grabbed a walking photo of the harbor and the boats as we made our way to Half Shell for a pound of beer steamed shrimp and grabbed a glimpse of the Southernmost Point as we made a quick detour on our way to the Rum Bar for painkillers.

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It had been almost 3 hours since we'd had anything to eat and it was making me nervous. Certain that my stomach would shrink, we needed food and we needed it fast. As luck would have it, it was oyster happy hour.

We decided to try Pepe's for oysters just for a change of scenery, if nothing else.

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I liked Pepe's oysters best. They were served with lime instead of lemon and their house made cocktail sauce was so thick and chunky it was more like salsa. Paired with one of Pepe's hand squeezed margaritas, it was afternoon perfection.

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Since it was their first visit to Key West, we wanted Steve and Alison to enjoy a proper Key West sunset. That meant NOT at the sunset celebration where they could only catch a brief glimpse of it obstructed by 27 boats as they peered around the back of a guy with a combover and a Patriots jersey who was busy watching a guy juggle fire. Don't get me wrong, I love the festiveness of the sunset celebration, but it's not ideal if you actually want to SEE THE SUNSET.

We had done the Commotion on the Ocean sunset cruise on our first trip to Key West and, despite the total cheese factor of it, I loved it. It was not a classy affair, but I knew that. Bad wine and cheap beer were served in plastic glasses, cheap deli trays from the local supermarket lined the counter promising "free eats" as the smell of old grease filled the air. I was pretty sure I could smell cheap meatballs and frozen chicken wings cooking somewhere. The boat was also crammed with bodies. Bodies everywhere and all of them clutching a plastic solo cup of boxed wine.

I still loved it.

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The band was good, the sunset was amazing, and the atmosphere was the kind of cheap fun you can only have at a frat party or, if you are over 22, on a cheesy party boat. I can't explain it. I loved it the same way I love the $1.09 bean burrito at Taco Bell or the way I love watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians when no one is looking.

As we boarded the boat, I promised myself I would enjoy the band and the sunset but I would not drink the bad drinks on the boat.

Three glasses of boxed wine in a solo cup later I found myself enthusiastically accepting a crappy margarita like it was heaven's nectar handed to me from an angel. It was even worse than the boxed wine. I drank it anyway.

We watched the sun as it made its way toward the horizon.

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Before I knew it, I was drinking cheap champagne out of a plastic cup.

What is it they say? Wine before liquor? Never been sicker? Or is that beer? Did it matter? I was pretty sure I was going to be sorry I drank from the "Cup of Gallo" no matter what order I did it in.

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As the boat made its way back toward the harbor, the band cranked out oldies. Everyone was smiling and drinking champagne, snapping selfies in front of the fiery sky, laughing, having a good time. It was lovely.

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And then they played Rocky Top.

My friends, you always know who the hillbillies in the group are when the band starts to play Rocky Top.

If you are from East Tennessee, and you hear Rocky Top, it doesn't matter where you are or what you are doing. You can be in church, at a funeral, or walking through the mall and you are instantly and inexplicably compelled to start singing at the top of your lungs and throwing in a lot of "Yee Haws" for good measure.

Or maybe it was just the boxed wine singing.

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There was only one thing that could follow Rocky Top: tequila shots.

I mean, what better to do after drinking cheap wine, cheaper champagne and a margarita made with bottom shelf liquor?

We got off the boat and found Agave 308. The decor was creepy and dark, but in a fun way. I liked it.

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With absolutely no plans for dinner, we wandered in search of Garbo's. Or was it Grunt's? Garbo's at Grunt's? We weren't sure. I just knew they were supposed to have great tacos. We found what we thought was Grunt's and wandered around looking for something that appeared to be serving tacos. I did see what appeared to be a stand of some sort in the back, but there was nothing making it obvious that you could get food there. I also saw a sign shouting "Tennessee Steve's BBQ" with an arrow that confusingly terminated in a chain link fence.

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Unfortunately, the Grunt's / Garbo's set up seemed designed for those in the know and was simply confusing as hell for a group of people who had consumed entirely too much boxed wine and cheap tequila, so we made our exit, and headed straight for the predictable safety of Amigo's.

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Not only did they have tacos, they had tater tots.

And fire roasted corn.

And GOOD margaritas.

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Because we NEEDED another drink.

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The following morning, we all made it a point to get up in time for the sunrise. This is not hard to do when you fall asleep at 10:30 pm. It is hard to do if that early sleep was induced by a tater tot and tequila coma.

We grabbed hot coffee at Sandy's and rode our bikes to the pier to watch the sunrise.

It was spectacular.

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A sunrise that spectacular called for a hearty breakfast, so we headed to Camille's at the recommendation of our surly waiter at Pepe's the night before.

We hopped on the bikes and headed that way.

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Camille's was kitschy cool. With orange sherbet walls, vintage movie posters, and a smattering of quirky nicknacks, Camille's was one part crazy old Aunt Hilda's house, one part 1950's Hollywood diner, and one part Old Florida Retirement Community Party Room. Camille's had also stolen my 1984 high school mix tape collection.

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We ordered mimosas and bacon bloody marys, diving into the menu with gusto.

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Matt had the carb cake benedict. No, that's not a typo. Sure, there were some crab cakes in there somewhere, but it was really a carb cake. Especially with that pile of cheesy delicious grits.

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I went for the omelet special which was loaded with sun dried tomatoes, bacon, asparagus, and lobster. It came with a side of perfectly toasted, buttered Cuban bread and crispy home fries.

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Then we all went home and took a nap.

I wish I was joking, but I'm not. It was only 10:00 a.m. and we needed a nap. This eating quest was wearing us out.

It was when I woke up from my late morning nap at Mango Cottage that Key West Hideaways got their final strike. We ran out of toilet paper.

Now....I am not one of these "high maintenance" rental people that has unrealistic expectations of a vacation rental. But when I pay $2471 to spend 3 days in a 765 square foot house.....I should not have to go buy my own toilet paper.

We were up and at 'em in time to ride our bikes to catch the 11:45 a.m. shuttle to the second KWFWF event I had purchased tickets to: The Hogfish Grill Shrimp Boil on Stock Island.

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I loved almost everything about the Shrimp Boil.

I loved the table of endless wine.

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I loved the appetizers of ceviche and coconut shrimp.

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I loved the giant bowl filled with amazing shrimp, lobster, sausage, corn, and potatoes topped with the most delightful cornbread square I have ever had the pleasure of eating. The food was FANTASTIC.

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I didn't like being seated at cheap, crappy tables with no shade in the broiling sun in the freaking parking lot. It was almost as "unclassy" as the Commotion on the Ocean. At least the boat had a band.

It had all the atmosphere of a potluck in the church fellowship hall or dinner at a table set up outside of Lowe's selling girl scout cookies.

We left on the first trolley.

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We wasted the afternoon sipping painkillers at the Rum Bar and eating shrimp and oysters at Half Shell.

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Now that they had seen a proper sunset, we wanted Steve and Alison to experience the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration. We headed that way just as the sun was making its way toward the horizon. It was the usual assortment of fortune tellers, fire eaters, magicians, and pigs in top hats. There were popcorn carts, mojito carts, and guys whacking into green coconuts so passers by could grab a straw and sip them as they watched a guy on a unicycle juggle swords.

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We hadn't made any plans for our final dinner. I like to leave the last night open so that we can see what catches our eye during the trip. What caught our eye was the promise of "all you can eat crab legs" at Camille's that morning.

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We should have felt ashamed. We had been eating about 8,000 calories a day. The last thing we needed was "all you can eat" anything unless it was Lipitor or a colonic.

That didn't stop us. We dove in with enthusiasm, like we had not already eaten 3 times that day. The crab legs were large, perfectly prepared, and Camille's was generous. Of course we all had to get at least two orders lest we violate the secret code of "all you can eatness" which says you must get at least 2 plates of whatever it is or be forced to spend the rest of your existence as a chump who didn't get her money's worth.

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We decided to go out in a blaze of glory. It was time for dessert.

We stopped at Better Than Sex Desserts on our way home.

Walking inside was like entering a whore house, but one that traded chocolate instead of sex. It was dark and sexy. You could catch glimpses of the red walls from the dim lighting cast by the ornate chandeliers.

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From our illuminated iPad menu, we chose our desserts. For Matt, that was their signature dessert, the "Better Than Sex," which looked like a deep, dark chocolate bread pudding. I ordered the "Jungle Fever." It was described as, "Smooth. Soft. Supple. A warm airy chocolate cake full of body that’s oozing a subtle chocolate pudding underneath. Rubbing up against cool white vanilla bean balls." And vanilla bean balls they were.....

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They also served wine in glasses rimmed with dark chocolate. The chocolate was soft and melty, but didn't slide down the glass. As Matt sipped, I figured out why it was so dark in here. When he looked up, he had a line of melted chocolate across his forehead from the glass. If they didn't dim the lights, no one would leave this place feeling sexy. Instead, they would look like a 4 year old that got into the Halloween candy without permission.

It was uniquely indulgent and delicious. I was a fan.

Who am I kidding? I am a fan of sugar. Period. It could be a cheap, stale donut on a paper plate in the Kroger parking lot and I'm going to like it.

But throw in some red walls and velvet curtains and you make my day.

Or night.

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I woke up the next morning knowing it was time to pack up and head home. It had been a ridiculously indulgent few days.

I decided to take a total body inventory to assess the damage.

My mouth felt dry, like I had spent the past 10 hours snacking on cotton balls. Woman can not live on wine alone, I supposed.

The back of my throat was a little sore. I attributed that to belting out Rocky Top loud enough for folks in Michigan to hear.

My chest felt normal, but that was only because the fat had not yet had a chance to harden and make it's way into the lining of my arteries. It just needed a little more time.

My stomach was physically protruding over the elastic band of my PJs. I could poke it. It felt soft. Much like I imagine the Pillsbury doughboy would feel if you could poke him for real.

My butt cheeks were sore. No doubt because my butt was at least two sizes bigger than it was when we arrived, which made my bicycle seat increasingly uncomfortable as the trip wore on.

I was very sleepy from going to bed at midnight and getting up at 6:00 a.m. every day to see the sunrise.

And, inexplicably, I was hungry.

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I'm back home now and I am paying the price of gluttony.

I'm not as young as I used to be. My 44 year old metabolism can't quite keep up with a 9,000 calorie a day diet. The only cure for the food vacation hangover is, of course, lots of deprivation and raw vegetables.

I’ll keep telling myself that the miles and miles we walked and biked more than made up for our obscene caloric intake, but really, deep inside, past the thick layers of adipose tissue, I know better.

Was it worth it? Was 3 days of gluttony worth this horrible kale and spinach juice that is serving as my lunch today?

Yeah. It was.

Bottoms up!

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Posted by vicki_h 07:29 Archived in USA Tagged food island tropical wine key_west kwfwf duval_street Comments (2)

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