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Sunny With a Chance of Meatballs

A winter weekend in Key West


Any trip that starts with a view of a colossal fuzzy flamingo riding shotgun in the plane has to be good.


It was mid-January. The holidays were over. The fun was over. The eatfest and presents were over. It was just winter. Boring, cold, long soul sucking winter.

We have found that the best way to cure the winter blues is to simply fly away from them. A quick 4 hours from home, we were flying over turquoise water littered with emerald islands.




It was time for a Key West Quickie!

We only had 3 days, so we didn’t waste a minute dumping our stuff at the lovely Air BNB rental we’d found above the South Pointe Gallery and heading straight for sunshine and libations at the Rum Bar, practically next door.






We were sad to find that Bahama Bob had moved on to Papa’s Pilar Rum Factory on the other side of Old Town, but at least he was still there in spirit.


It was a beautiful day to sip rum on a wide shady porch. One quickly turned to …..more than one..... and before we knew it, it was oyster happy hour!




We had sunset sail reservations so we ducked into the White Tarpon, the closest oyster destination which proudly serves $1.00 oysters all day. Sure, you can get them cheaper during happy hour at other places, but we didn’t have time to wait. And “other places” don’t have the always amazing Key Lime Pie Martini.







On our first trip to Key West many years ago, we booked a cheesy boozy cruise on the Fury Catamaran where we drank cheap champagne in plastic solo cups, danced to the live band, and watched a spectacular sunset.


Despite the ultimate cheese factor, we loved it so much we repeated it on later trips and enjoyed it just as much.


So, once again, we found ourselves getting in line for the sunset sail with the endless beverages and live band, Commotion on the Ocean.





Unfortunately, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” We found that the Fury Catamaran on a night when the weather has turned on you is simply a big boat that smells like deep fried wontons. Despite the lack of charm or sunset, we made the best of it and drank enough bottom shelf booze to make it seem amazing.





Even if we were the only ones not huddled inside eating cheap egg rolls.


Like the Fury Catamaran, Amigo’s following the sunset(less) sail is a tradition that has stuck.

What’s not to love about a place where you eat street corn, tater tots, and a giant bowl of nachos while staring out at the craziness of a Key West Saturday night?






Saturday morning brought a sunrise that looked a lot like the sunset from the night before, but that didn’t stop me from taking a brisk early morning bike ride to the pier to watch the sun not come up.




When I got back, Matt was up and about, so we headed downstairs to La Grignote for breakfast. How could we not? We could smell the freshly baked croissants from our balcony.

Set in a cute little conch house on the corner of Louisa and the quite end of Duval, the entrance to the artisan French bakery was filled with potted flowers and plants spilling over the railings with the maddening smell of freshly baked bread filling the air. We walked in and a bounty of baked goods and pastries waited for us behind a perfectly polished glass display counter. Chalkboard menus overhead boasted breakfast entrees like bacon Belgian waffles topped with whipped cream and a French Petit Dejeuner that came with coffee, toasted artisan bread with homemade jam and butter, and fresh Greek yogurt with berries, orange blossom honey, pistachio and homemade granola.




We were seated at a warmly polished wooden table where Matt had the breakfast special which came with scrambled eggs, their own ground sausage mix, bacon, avocado, tomatoes, and a slice of their freshly baked bread.


Unable to resist the pastry counter, I went for a croissant and baked egg cup with bacon. What is an egg cup, you ask? Why, it’s a little basket of puff pastry with béchamel sauce, crème fraîche and a cracked egg on top.


Or a little cup of happiness, whichever description you prefer.


The croissant was flaky, pillowy perfection slathered with real butter and jam.


From there, we spent a leisurely morning enjoying the streets and shops of Key West.











We spent the morning walking the still quiet streets of Key West, shopping, and enjoying all the things that make Key West unique.

Like this dog in goggles riding in a backpack that said “Spank Me.” .


Or this house covered with teddy bears. Which was less charming than the dog in goggles riding in a backpack that said “Spank Me.”



When I was a kid, I watched too much Twilight Zone and was certain my stuffed animals were going to come alive during the night and kill me while I was asleep. This house was like a giant nightmare. That doll alone was enough to make me sleep with both eyes open.


We had afternoon brunch reservations at Hot Tin Roof and I couldn’t have been happier when I walked in and saw a personalized menu, all you can drink mimosa and bloody Mary bar, AND a huge wooden boat filled with BACON.






The brunch at Hot Tin Roof is a thing of beauty. The menu is filled with delightful small plates and you can order as many as you like along with bottomless mimosas, until you explode, pass out, or simply give up in defeat.

While we perused the menu, they brought out chilled seafood and ceviche along with a bacon topped cinnamon roll as big as my head.



They thought they were being clever bringing out that cinnamon roll to fill me up. Obviously, they had never seen me eat.

Asian noodle salad with wasabi seared tuna and sesame ginger dressing:


Crab Louie deviled eggs with pickled veges:


Fried chicken with a little jalepeno cheddar cornbread waffle and maple syrup:


Coffee crusted beef medallion with angel’s potatoes and herbed butter:


Oysters on the half shell:


Corn flake crusted French toast with cinnamon syrup:


A cute little sour cream pancake with banana rum sauce and praline pecans:


Rum and brown sugar roasted banana with sweet mascarpone and toasted pecans:


Oh yes, and mimosas….so many mimosas!



After brunch, we headed over to the Hemingway Rum Company to see if we could find Bahama Bob.






We did not find Bob, but we did find this oddly smiley dog.


En route to our end of Duval, Matt was distracted by a “2 for 1 Mojito” sign, so we popped into Willy T’s for a mojito and a little live music on the patio.






While our friends enjoyed some down time, I talked Matt into walking next door to the bar at La Te Da for their Sunday afternoon Tea Dance by assuring him that there would be a “mixed crowd.”




I did not tell him he would be the heterosexual male providing the mix.

Men, women, old, young….it was a colorful crowd dancing to old favorites by the La Te Da pool. Lasting from 4:00 – 6:30, the Tea Dance was situated perfectly between boozy brunch and a proper Sunday night dinner.



After a day filled with mimosas, mojitos, and too much champagne by the La Te Da pool…it was time for some FOOD.

I have heard Key West maven TraceyG talk up Abbondanza’s spaghetti with meatballs to a degree that led me to believe she had to be grossly exaggerating or was getting a % paid for each meatball sold. No meatball could be THAT GOOD. So, I finally had to try them myself.

Dear sweet heavenly sphere of awesome. That little meatball packed more soul and goodness into a square inch than anything that tiny has a right to. It was supernaturally good.

That meatball changed my life.


We all slept in the next morning and decided on a late breakfast at Blue Heaven. Touristy or not, Matt can’t get enough of their banana bread and BLT Bennies. I just like their weirdness and mismatched garage sale coffee cups.









I think my 3rd grade teacher had this cup.

Not a cup like it...THIS cup.




We worked off all the bread and potatoes with long bike ride through Key West’s quiet streets, one of my favorite things to do.



















Matt was in need of another oyster fix, so we headed to Pepe’s for oyster happy hour. Pepe's happy hour is my favorite with the breezy patio, house squeezed margaritas, and their own homemade chunky cocktail sauce.








Then it was on to Half Shell for some fish lips, beer steamed shrimp, and smoked fish dip.




It definitely hadn’t been a trip for sunsets, but it didn’t stop us from continuing to try. This was the best we were going to get.







We ended the night with key lime pie and giant glasses of milk.

When your night in Key West ends with a big glass of milk….it’s probably time to go home.




We had planned to leave around noon, but a quick moving snow system thought otherwise. Matt roused us all up at 5:00 a.m. and gave us 30 minutes to get packed. All I could say was, “Thank goodness all we drank last night was milk.”

This is the face of someone roused out of bed at zero dark thirty to leave paradise:


And this is the face of someone who just left paradise and found herself in the snow a few hours later:


Until next time! And where is next time? Why, sunny Guana Cay, of course! Stay warm, friends!


Posted by vicki_h 11:48 Archived in USA Tagged key_west florida_keys duval_street conch_republic Comments (6)

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.


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.


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.


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.



It was Key West or BUST, baby.


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!



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









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.





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.







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.





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



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



And shrimp.


And drinks.




And unfortunately shaped shadows.


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.


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.
















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?



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.






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



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!


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.



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




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.






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.








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.







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.





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.





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.




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.



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.




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.



(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.






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.








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.


“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.



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.









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


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.


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?).


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


Cooler, yes. Better, no.

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










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.


Day 3: Wakey, Wakey, Eggs & Bakey







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.


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?"


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.


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.




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.



The food at this small restaurant was outstanding.

Go here. Now.





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.






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.



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.










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.





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




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.






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.



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.



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)

Tackling the Conch Republic in 15,000 calories or less Day 1

a.k.a., How I ate my way across Key West in 4 days.

Key West is a little jewel of an island that sits at the very end of the chain of the Florida Keys. Connected to the mainland by US Highway 1, it is the southernmost point in the United States. The closest Wal-Mart is 126 miles away and happy hour begins at 7:00 a.m. at the Schooner Wharf Bar. Key West has more churches per capita than any other place in the country, which might have something to do with the fact that it also seems to have more bars per square foot. I guess you can commit your sins on Saturday night and redeem yourself on Sunday morning. It has six toed cats and more chickens than you can shake a stick at.


It is the very definition of laid back. Dotted with conch shacks and palm trees, it has the flavor and feel of the Caribbean without ever leaving home. It's like Spring Break for adults and I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend basking it it's sunny glow.

Day One:

We flew out of Knoxville early in the morning to avoid the summer thunderstorms that are all too common in July and to get a jump start on the day. As the sun came up over the Smoky Mountains, I dozed in my seat as Matt piloted us south.


Before I knew it, the keys stretched out before me......a dotted ribbon of green in a sea of turquoise. We were here!


We landed at the tiny Key West airport, grabbed a rental car, and were on our way.

First order of business was to check into our home away from home, an adorable cottage one block off Duval Street - near the center but closer to the quiet end. The location could not have been more perfect. The house couldn't have been more perfect either. The front structure was a 1 1/2 story open structure with a large den and kitchen. Glass doors stretched all the way across the back, opening onto a middle courtyard with a pool and hot tub. Behind the pool was a separate cottage that housed 2 bedrooms and the most beautiful bougainvillea.


We dumped our stuff and hit Duval Street. I guess Duval Street is the main drag of Key West, housing most of the bars, tourist shops, and restaurants. While there is a lot to be seen off Duval Street, this was our first visit to Key West and I am not ashamed to admit that as much as we kept saying we were going to spend some time elsewhere, we ended up strolling up and down Duval about 90% of the time. It was just so darn fun, we couldn't pull ourselves away.


The length of Duval is right at a mile. If it seems longer than that, it's probably because you've had one too many mojitos down on Mallory Square. If it also seems wobbly in addition to long, you probably should have passed on that third Grainorade from the Flying Monkey.

We headed toward the Southernmost Beach Café, a short stroll down Duval from the house, so that we could grab some lunch with a view of the beach. As we strolled, we noticed a lot of southernmost things. There was Southernmost Realty followed by Southernmost Guesthouse, the Southermost monument and the Southernmost House. I am pretty sure I even saw the southernmost crumpled soda can in the street.

Of course, we had to get the tourist shot of the monument. To not take this photo would be like leaving NYC without a shot of the Empire State Building or visiting Paris without a shot of the Eiffel Tower to send to Aunt Pearl in Idaho. I think it's technically a Key West exit requirement. They make you show them this photo at the airport before they let you out.

I read somewhere that originally there was just a sign, but people kept stealing it. I don't think they have to worry about anyone stealing this. I don't know, after a few Grainorades, I might try.


Within minutes we were at the Southernmost Beach Café, staring out at the waves, and I had a Sunkiss in my hand. This might be the tastiest, and prettiest, drink I have ever had.


A lunch of smoked fish dip, coconut shrimp, and a mango bbq pulled pork sandwich was brought to us by the perkiest, smiliest, chattiest Australian waitress that made me feel like I was being served by a 20 year old Bindi Irwin on high doses of Prozac.


Lunch was a long and lazy affair. By the time we got up, we instantly started moving about 50% slower than we had when we arrived. I think Island Time had set in through a combination of intense July heat, excess food, and sunkiss overload.


That did not, however, stop us from stopping at another bar on the short 4 block stroll back to the house. Seriously, it was so hot you really needed to stop every 3-4 blocks and get another drink to cool off. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


A 4:30 start to the day, followed by a 5 hour flight, followed by drinks and food and Australian waitresses on happy drugs, led to nappy time. We went back to the house and enjoyed the pool and air conditioning for the afternoon. Aaaahhh.......that pool was heaven.


Matt is an oyster FREAK and he wanted to make sure he didn't miss the 50 cent happy hour oysters, so we eventually pried our pruned and waterlogged bodies out of the pool and headed to Half Shell Raw Bar.


Half Shell Raw Bar was the kind of seafood shack you see next to the boat docks in most Florida towns. Nothing fancy, more likely to have newspaper than tablecloths, usually with a row of Harleys and pick up trucks lined up out front and a row of boats lined up out back, more dive than restaurant with the smell of steamed shrimp and beer wafting through the open doors.


The happy hour oysters are only available at the bar, so we saddled up and Matt ordered 3 dozen. I ordered a bucket of voodoo juice and some more coconut shrimp and conch fritters. As he slurped and sucked, I read through the 9,765 license plates they had tacked up on the wall. If you have ever had a plate stolen, stop by here. Maybe you can find it.


Happy Hour was followed by a visit to Peppers Key West. Matt and I have a true love of hot sauce. We love all things spicy. The more it burns, the better it is. This place was to us what FAO Schwartz is to a kid on December 23rd. Hot sauces of every shape, size, color, and flavor lined a 4 sided bar and all were available for tasting.

We tasted. We burned. We cried. We enjoyed.


With a bag of newly acquired superhot treasures in hand and our tongues on fire, we headed to Mr. Mojito in Mallory Square to cool the burn and watch the sunset.


That's Mr. Mojito himself, right there. I have to insert a funny story here. When I told a friend I was heading to Key West, she told me about the time she stopped at Key West on a cruise. Mind you, my friend is a sweet, quiet girl who doesn't have a lot of cocktail experience. There is a nice bar here at home that specializes in "fancy mojitos." One of their house cocktails is made with X-Rated Fusion Liquor (you know, the fancy pink stuff in the cool bottle?). They call it an X-Rated Mojito. Not realizing this was a specialty cocktail particular to one bar in one city, my friend walked up to Mr. Mojito in Mallory Square and, it being the only mojito she had familiarity with, asked him to make her an X-Rated Mojito. She said that Mr. Mojito, paused, looked at her and said, "What do you want me to do honey, take my clothes off while I make it?"


The Mallory Square sunset celebration is a fun way to watch the sun go down. Crowds were light, so it wasn't the shoulder-to-shoulder sweat-fest that I had anticipated. There were several pockets of people watching various street performers - the fire jugglers, the crazy cat guy, or my favorite, the bad banjo player whose golden retriever wore boxer shorts and walked around taking tips in his mouth and depositing them into a bucket. (Yes, I gave that dog a dollar.how could I not?). I could hear salsa music from El Meson de Pepe and the smell of fried food mingled with the salt tinged air. It was one part carnival, one part Cuban street party, and one part magical sunset. It was 999 parts fun.


We enjoyed our first Key West Sunset.


It was our first day, and we wanted to see everything at once. That translated to visiting way more bars than was practical or advisable in one night. Yes, this was after a 32 oz voodoo bucket and a sunset mojito.

We drank our way through Hogsbreath Saloon, the Smallest Bar, and Sloppy Joe's. I only know this because I had photos of them on my camera the next morning. I really liked the Smallest Bar. It was like an elevator with liquor. And better music.


We ended up at Bobalu's where there was a live band and hot pizza. I am pretty sure that Bobalu's garbage pie at 1:00 a.m. is the 8th wonder of the world.


I think I went to bed after that. I'm not really sure. Duval Street leaves things a little fuzzy....

Posted by vicki_h 06:43 Archived in USA Tagged beach island tropical key_west florida_keys duval Comments (1)

Tackling the Conch Republic in 15,000 calories or less Day 2

a.k.a., How I ate my way across Key West in 4 days.

Good morning, Key West.


What to do today?

Everyone says, "Don't go to Key West for the beach." They aren't kidding.

Key West beaches are nothing to write home about. Most of them are man made, with sand shipped in from the Bahamas, and if you have a fondness for Caribbean beaches, Key West beaches will just make you depressed. My advice is go have another drink and buy a beach postcard. That's all the beach you need.

We did, however, have a beach need that had to be satisfied, so we decided to drive to Big Pine Key and visit Bahia Honda State Park, reported to be one of the best beaches in the Keys. It wasn't that far and we needed a sunshine break, so away we went.

First stop was at Sandy's Café for café con leche and breakfast sandwiches for the road.


I was happy to see that Sandy's was open 24 hours a day. Sometimes you just need a grilled pork chop at midnight.

We ordered up and waited. The café con leche was hot and delicious, made with lots of sugar, just the way I like it. Local patrons lined up to place their orders, read the paper, and shoot the morning breeze. This guy was my favorite. I think he was looking for the drive-through.


With a hot bacon and cheese sandwich on Cuban bread in hand, we were on our way.


It took about an hour to drive to Bahia Honda and we made it in time for the 9:30 am snorkel trip to Looe Key. Excited, we all checked in, got our snorkel gear, and sat by the boat to wait.


We sat listening to an excruciatingly long and boring and long spiel about snorkel and boat safety, how to wear your vest, how to signal "ok," blah, blah, blah by Captain PT, and were forced to listen to one too many bad jokes in the process. After all of that pre-snorkel torture, the boat barely even got going before the engine died.

No snorkel for you.

You mean I listened to those bad boat jokes for NOTHING? Sigh.


The upside was that we had more time on the beach. We headed over to Sandspur Beach and soaked in the waves until we pruned. Then we soaked in the sun until we fried. It was glorious.

We decided to head out just as some ominous clouds began to roll in.


On the way back to Key West, we decided why not stop at Hogfish Grill? It was right on the way.

After 19 turns and passing 4 mobile home parks, 3 stray dogs, and a boat junk yard, there it was. I can see why folks say it's out of the way. It's not far from the main highway, but as you drive back to it, you keep thinking, "It CAN'T be back here. We must have made a wrong turn. Or 7 wrong turns."


What a great place. With a big thatched roof, tropical plants, and walls that opened to the water, Hogfish Grill welcomed us in. The food? Well, that was great too. We shared some Key West pinks. Oh my. Were those good.


While I was still licking the Old Bay from my fingers, the waitress brought us hogfish and scallops and a lobster BLT with fried green tomatoes. Fantastic.


The rest of the afternoon was spent back in our super fabulous pool.


Before we knew it..it was happy hour! Where to go? Where to go? Should we go back to Half Shell for more voodoo juice? What about Kelly's for wings and margaritas? Alonzo's for the half price menu? Schooner Wharf for live music? So many happy hours. So little time.


We ended up at Turtle Kraal because Matt wanted 50 cent oysters but I wanted to try a new place. Turtle Kraal seems to have 50 cent oysters all day long. Matt got his oyster fix and I ordered up a bucket of bones.


Now, we have some darn good BBQ ribs here in Tennessee...and I know a good BBQ rib. Those Turtle Kraal ribs were good enough to make you slap your momma, your sister, AND your dog. Served up with 6 different sauces, it was BBQ heaven.

There was live music and before I knew it, I was singing along with BBQ sauce smeared from ear to ear.


With our food fix in, we did a little strolling and shopping. I wanted to buy this dress.


Matt wanted to buy the mannequin.

Trying to pretend we hadn't nearly eaten ourselves into a coma already, we headed to the Flaming Buoy Filet Co. for a proper dinner.


Small and intimate, with a great wine list and a divine dinner selection, we both opted for the filet. Usually, when I order a filet at an upscale restaurant, I get a dainty (small) piece of meat with side of vegetables that's usually so miniscule and decorative that you aren't sure if it's an accompaniment or if it's a garnish. If you are lucky, the entire tiny affair has some sort of fancy drizzle running around it.

This is what showed up.


THIS, my friends, was a meal. A nice sized filet, cooked perfectly rare, with a generous pile of mashed potatoes, an ear of grilled corn on the cob, sliced carrots, and a corn muffin with a surprise broccoli floret cooked into the center.

This is eating Vicki-Style.

We waddled our way back down Duval Street and made a few stops.the Bull and Whistle (watch out for the Garden of Eden is all I have to say.....that's just not right......just.....not.....right.....no one needs to see a 70 year old man in his birthday suit with black hiking sandals......just not right.....)..the Flying Monkey for a Mojo (made with PGA so it packs more than a punch, it pretty much hits you with a sledgehammer......), and found ourselves heading to the Green Parrot.

I had even worn my Green Parrot skirt in honor of the occasion. Okay, not really, but what a coincidence, right?


The previous night at Bobalou's, our waiter had told us that there would be a great band at the Green Parrot.


Now, I realize that the Key West Public Works Department has an obligation to put up street signs, but a poorly placed DO NOT ENTER sign in front of a bar door messes with a person who has just finished off a Flying Monkey Mojo. They really should think about that before they place their signs all willy nilly all over the place.

Once I was convinced that sign didn't mean me, we stepped inside. The place was hopping. Body to body, it was standing room only. We wiggled and wriggled and writhed our way to the back corner and couldn't believe we found empty seats.

I knew that DO NOT ENTER sign didn't mean anything. I knew it.

Just as I thought it couldn't get any better..I realized we were sitting next to a popcorn machine.

Oh happy day.

Who doesn't love a bar with a popcorn machine?????


The Green Parrot was a little different than the other bars we'd been in. It was a little less shiny, a little less touristy, and there was no fancy cocktail menu with drink names like "Sunshine in Paradise" or "Pretty Purple Parrot." This place was more PBR-in-a-can than Pina-Colada and the staff looked more likely to bet you a beer they could beat you at darts than ask if you wanted a $30 souvenir photograph taken. It was hot, loud, sweaty, and dark with a giant parachute hanging from the ceiling draped with green lights.


I liked it.

The Bobalu's waiter hadn't lied and the band, a salsa band, was great. The drinks were strong and the popcorn was hot and fresh. The crowd was noisy and fun.

What a great night.

Posted by vicki_h 06:43 Archived in USA Tagged beach island tropical key_west florida_keys duval Comments (0)

Tackling the Conch Republic in 15,000 calories or less Day 3

a.k.a., How I ate my way across Key West in 4 days.

Despite the late night, I was awake at 5:30 a.m. No one else was awake, and I didn't expect them to wake for a while, so I decided to take advantage of my early morning solitude.


I grabbed my little travel buddy, Zoey, and walked her down to White Street Pier. Zoey is a great traveller and she loved Key West. It was too hot to take her out unless it was very early in the morning, because she is old and fat, but she loved it all the same. She especially loved that I kept ordering things with bacon and kept bringing the excess bacon home to her.

On a side note, while Zoey loved Key West, she did not love her very special July 4th outfit. She said it made her butt look fat.


It was at this point that I really wished that our travel companions had agreed with me to rent bikes.

It was a looooong way to that pier.

Nevertheless, Zoey and I trucked on. She needed the exercise to work off all that bacon and I was enjoying the time alone. It was a still and quiet morning. Key West was still asleep and the streets were empty with the exception of about 6 people coming out of Denny's that I am pretty sure were still up from last night.

And the guy sleeping on the steps of the Rum Bar. I wasn't sure if he just hadn't made it very far after leaving the night before or if he was trying to get any early jump on the next day's drinking.


Not only was it a long way, but my walk stumbled me right into the middle of the unofficial Higgs Beach Hobo Camp. It's what I get for not paying attention and strolling around in my own little world 99% of the time. Before I knew it, Zoey and I were standing in the middle of about 30 homeless people in various stages of waking up in one of the beach pavilions.


It really wasn't that bad. Everyone was nice to me. Everyone was nice to Zoey. They all wanted to pet her and, the creepy factor totally lost on her, she genuinely seemed to enjoy all the attention.

One guy even tried to pick me up. Although, I'm not sure how that would have worked out. Where do you go on a date when you live under a picnic table?

We made it to the pier just as the sun was peeking it's way into the hazy sky.


Zoey and I were pretty hungry now, so we headed back to Croissants de France and drooled over the bakery counter.


I couldn't make up my mind, so I ended up with a Key Lime Beignet and a Coconut Crème Croissant.



Back at the house, it was almost 8:00 a.m. and everyone else was still asleep. I ate my pastries in glorious silence, but quickly, lest anyone stumble through wiping the sleep from their eyes and, god forbid, expect me to share. As I licked the last of the powdered sugar from my lips, I heard the others finally start to rouse.

I guess they can't hold their flying monkeys like I can.

We made it a lazy morning by the pool, finally heading out around noon. We did a little shopping as we made our way over toward Blue Heaven.


Yes. I chose the most popular, crowded, well known, crowded, talked about breakfast spot for Sunday Brunch, the most popular, crowded, well known, crowded breakfast day. Did I mention crowded?

I never said I was smart.


Sure, there was a wait, but they had a breezy garden bar, Grey Goose Bloody Marys, and a little lady channeling Minnie Pearl was putting on quite a show.


Besides, I wasn't hungry yet. I was still full of pastries.

Two bloody gooses later (bloody geese just doesn't sound right, now does it?), we were seated as Oksana-the-waitress-with-the-thick-Russian-accent-who-just-happened-to-be-a-University-of-TN-Knoxville-grad told us about the specials and the brunch rooster strutted back and forth behind our table.


I settled on shrimp and grits with the homemade banana bread. Matt dove headfirst into the strawberry and blueberry pancakes. I'm not sure who won the ordering contest. Both were simply divine.

And that wasn't the bloody goose talking.


Unaware that 2 drinks along with a giant pile of food could possibly leave me inebriated, I had to throw out the white flag after brunch and go doze off my buzz. I gave. Duval Street won. I was spinning! That bloody goose will sneak up on you. Watch that one.

Sneaky goose.

Appropriately de-goosed, we later did a little more shopping and strolling. We hit Flamingo Crossing for coconut and lime ice cream.


We said "hello" to the hot dogs.


We checked out some potential new rides.


Matt dragged me a way from the bicycle full of Chihuahuas so that I wouldn't be arrested for stealing. I was pretty sure I could fit all 4 Chihuahuas inside my purse but he wouldn't let me try.


I found beautiful handmade jewelry at Besame Mucho, quite literally the best smelling store in the universe. Matt talked me out of buying a $1000 friend for Zoey at Dogs on Duval. We found cool t-shirts for Matt at Graffitti. I drooled over $178 swimsuits at Aqua.


Before we knew it, it was time for a sunset sail. Typically, I hate things like this. I am not one for crowds, tourist attractions, or booze cruises. However, we were traveling with friends and pretty much planned this trip around their tastes and things we thought they would like. So, I lined up with 122 sweaty people in Key West tank tops and sun visors and boarded the Fury Catamaran. Yes, I know. I sound like a booze cruise snob, and I guess until last week, that's exactly what I was.

Who knew I had been turning my nose up at such a super fun time?

I owe every wife-beater wearing, flip flop flopping, booze cruise loving tourist an apology.



I loved the live band. I loved the never ending plastic glasses of cheap champagne. I loved waving at the folks on Mallory Square as we sailed by. I loved lining up at the edge of the boat with 122 other people to take a picture of the sunset.

Call me a convert. I had a great time.

It might have had something to do with the fact that there was a freakishly beautiful sunset that night.

Nope. These colors have not been digitally altered.


It was almost 9:00 by the time we got off the boat with the other 122 people and we were HUNGRY.

We made our way down to Amigo's for some frozen margaritas and square tacos.


Amigo's has cool bar seating facing the street, so there is live entertainment no matter when you go. Amigo's also has an extensive collection of unique hot sauces categorized by heat. I particularly liked how the hotter the sauce, the raunchier the name. A mild sauce, for example, would be Melinda's Mango. Isn't that sweet? A medium sauce? How about Rectal Rocket Fuel. A hot sauce? Why, that would be See Dick Burn or Bubba's Butt Blaster.


I ordered a frozen margarita and the waitress upsized me to the "Big Guy." I only got 2/3 of the way through that monster before I was toast. TOAST.

This was the first time in my life I was full on drunk twice in one day.

I am so ashamed.
(not really, but my mom is reading this)


The food at Amigo's was my husband's favorite of the trip. And he is the seafood fanatic of the family. Their shredded beef and slow roasted pork carnitas were pretty fine.


I think I managed to stumble my way back to the house. I have a vague memory of going to bed with my stomach on FIRE. But I liked the burn. Mmmmmm..Amigo's. I love you.

Posted by vicki_h 06:42 Archived in USA Tagged beach island tropical key_west florida_keys duval Comments (0)

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