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Key West Food & Wine Fest: Barefoot, Uncorked & Unhinged Pt2

The next morning dawned bright and sunny, prompting us to make a valiant attempt to shake off the previous night's excesses. Of course, everyone knows that the best cure for overindulging is hurling a misshapen object at some plastic pineapples, so that morning we set off for Blue Heaven for some Coconut Bowling.

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Visiting Blue Heaven is like being dropped into an episode of Hoarders, with the addition of live chickens. Along with others like Schooner Wharf Bar, Green Parrot, and B.O.'s, places like Blue Heaven do a brisk business in Key West, since you never know when you're going to need a rusty license plate, an old toilet seat, or an electric duck.

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Blue Heaven might be the only one of these with its own Rooster Cemetary, though.

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Soon the Coconut Bowling got under way.

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Donna was up first. She made sure to bring her own bowling shoes.

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I was up next. Unfortunately, despite my serious game face and careful choosing of both the perfect coconut and the perfect coconut-palm dress, I couldn't have knocked those pineapple pins down if they'd let me play with a wrecking ball.

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Donna didn't fare much better, but she did win this coconut cup for "Most Pins Jumped," and the raffle . . . twice. Must have been her lucky shoes.

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At first we were just playing for fun, until I spotted the grand prize . . . The Golden Coconut.

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Oh, how I wanted that Golden Coconut. I wanted it more than I have ever wanted anything in my whole life, even more than I want to own a miniature piglet with a palm-tree collar who will ride around in the basket of my bike that will be decorated with turtles and cheeseburgers and aliens and who will live with me in my Conch house with the French pocket doors and the huge pool and the outdoor pizza oven and the fridge full of pepperoni, all of which will be right near Louie's so I don't have to walk too far.

You know what that means, right?

No pressure, Angel.

Apparently Angel realized that if he ever wanted to see me naked again, he had to win that coconut come hell or high water. Suddenly, the crowd grew quiet. Only the lonesome strains of a spaghetti Western shootout and the rustling of rattlesnakes hung in the humid air. A tumbleweed drifted by, but I think it was just part of Blue Heaven's decor. Angel wiped the sweat from his brow. He said a little prayer to the patron saint of marital relations. And then he drew his weapon: the largest, heaviest coconut he could find.

Appropriately armed, he settled into his stance. He raised up his coconut. With laserlike precision, he focused on those ten pineapples like Tracey focusing on a bowl of meatballs.

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And then he did this:

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That's nine pins! NINE!!! Enough to tie up the game and force a four-person Coconut Bowl-Off.

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Up first, Angel did me proud by scoring . . . another nine! NINE!!! And on his second go-round, he took out the tenth pin. A perfect ten! Enough to win the Golden Coconut, right?

Wrong. This is Angela.

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And that is The Golden Coconut. The Golden Coconut she won by bowling a strike on her first turn and knocking out two more pins on her second. Given that she probably has a coconut palm in her backyard and plays in a Coconut Bowling league in the off-season, Angel came in a very respectable second-place, bringing home the Silver Coconut or, as we like to call it, the Platinum Coconut.

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And you know what? I love that Platinum Coconut just as much as the Golden Coconut. Perhaps even more, considering how hard-won it was -- and by a damned Yankee, no less. It now occupies a special place of honor in our apartment in New York, and soon we will be installing a special spotlight so that all who visit may admire the Platinum Coconut in all its shimmery, silvery splendor.

After a quick power nap it was time for our last food and wine event of the weekend, Duval Uncorked.

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Duval Uncorked is essentially a bar crawl gone yuppie, which means that instead of chugging cheap beer at every stop, we chugged wine.

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Over 40 businesses along Duval Street participated in this year's Uncorked, offering either food, wine, or both. That's 40 businesses in four hours, and time was therefore of the essence.

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In order to ensure that we didn't waste any time standing around dithering over the map, our fearless leader, Greg, took charge and corralled me, Angel, and Donna like an epicurean drill sergeant: "Move, maggots, move: They've got Stag's Leap over here!" "Abort! Abort! They've run out of crab puffs!"

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Thanks to Greg, Operation Blotto was Mission Accomplished.

One of our first stops was at Cork and Stogie, where we sampled riesling with spinach-artichoke dip, then it was on to lush bar at The Green Pineapple, where we sampled something called Orange Colombo, an orange liqueur from Provence.

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Next it was on to Sweet Tea's, where you might recall that I once ate so much cheese that our waiter became concerned that I might suffer the same digestive fate as Jamie Lee Curtis. So it was a welcome surprise when Sweet Tea's served a luscious lobster mac & cheese . . . like they knew I was coming.

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Next up was the Key West Key Lime Pie Co., which has at least two too many "keys" in the name. They redeemed themselves by serving us these:

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Then we deployed to Grand Vin, where we sampled the Coppola wines, including a new favorite for me, the Sofia riesling.

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That was followed by a quick stop at Flamingo Crossing for their malbec and riesling sorbets, which I would have loved even if they didn't taste so good, because look how purty!

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Onward we marched to Orchid Bar, where the onslaught of wines continued.

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At Nine One Five, this woman was flashing such a lovely grin because she represents Oregon's Cubanisimo Vineyards, whose estate Pinot Noir gave even the white wine drinkers among us a serious case of pinot envy.

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Still more wine and nibbles at Blackfin Bistro and Croissants de France . . .

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. . . and then it was time to hunker down at Tropical Inn for some wine-filled cheesecake pops. You heard that right: Wine-filled cheesecake pops.

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While I photographed these orgasmic orbs of sinful delight, Angel waited in line to get us each one. Unfortunately, however, by this time all the wine was apparently starting to go to his head, because the fool came back with only . . . one. Worse, we were then forced to share it because the line had gotten too long for a second pass through without running the risk that Greg would make us drop and give him twenty for jeopardizing the mission. At least Angel got us a good one: the Zintuous Zinfandel, which was drizzled with white chocolate ganache. I don't know what "zintuous" means, but I'm pretty sure it's not a synonym for "virtuous."

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Next up was the lovely Vino's on Duval for more wine and a gander at their funky chandeliers.

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Then it was on to 801 Bourbon. Here we were served something called Dragon Juice, which was pretty tasty given that it looks suspiciously like stomach bile . . . and probably performs the same function.

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It is bad enough when a drag queen is prettier than you, and even worse when she is handier with an eyeliner. But having bigger boobs is really crossing the line.

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Next up, we sampled some pork osso buco at DeRubies Gallery, followed by wine wine wine more wine oh good god there is so. much. wine. Which is both a shameless boast and a cry for help.

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Oh, what's that? You are exhausted just reading about all this? But we are only halfway through, soldier! Now do you understand why I've already placed myself on the liver transplant waiting list . . . and the gastric bypass "just-in-case" list?

Next up, we stopped into Evolution for miniature cupcakes which, as we have already established, are preferable to normal-sized ones because tinier is tastier. These adorable little minis, in yummy flavors like key lime and guava, were supplied by Key West Cakes and were so cute, and decorated in such gorgeous colors, that I almost couldn't bear to eat one. And so I ate two.

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Next on our list was DJ's Clam Shack, one of those new-to-me places that I might never have tried were it not for Duval Uncorked. And that would have been a shame, since at DJ's we were treated to one of the best clam chowders I've ever had. Most clam chowders rely on vats of cream for their flavor, and this one was creamy, too, but with the unexpected addition of lots of black pepper, which gave the chowder a really nice bite that we all were raving about.

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Before I went inside, someone on the porch mentioned that some girls seemed to be getting extra-large pours at DJ's when they flirted with the bartender. "But isn't that the case everywhere?" I asked. To which this guy pulled a face and responded wearily, "Blondes. It's always the blondes that kill ya." I think he took the words right out of Angel's mouth.

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Only in Key West can a grown man make a living -- and likely a damn good one, too -- painting pictures of an ostrich popping up in unexpected places.

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Next up, a quick stop at Fin, whose gorgeous interior was right up my alley. Anyplace that gives me a little pillow so I can take a quick nap after stuffing myself silly is A-OK in my book.

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And then a painfully short visit here.

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Then it was on to Fast Buck Freddie's for Ibis Bay's stone crab chowder . . .

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And then Wet Paint Gallery and Montage for still more wine, and the Key West Olive Oil Co. for creamy, delicious polenta squares with corn puree and balsamic syrup.

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After four hours of this . . . why, yes. We did go out to dinner, now that you mention it.

Unable to get reservations at Santiago's on such short notice, and not quite feeling up to the fancy-pants tapas at Fin, we ended up at Finnegan's Wake, which was new for us. Angel loved this place because they served Smithwick's on tap; I loved it because they served pretzel bites and other munchies with a bowl of spicy melted cheese.

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Donna, a woman after my own heart, skipped the pretzel bites and went straight for the bowl of cheese.

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She claimed that there was some sort of vegetable under there, but that's just what people who eat large bowls of cheese tell themselves in order to feel less heart attack-y.

The next day was a bit windy and overcast, which wouldn't normally be ideal weather, but in this case was actually perfect, since this was the day we planned to bike over to Stock Island to have lunch at Hogfish Bar & Grill. Angel had told me some lie about how it would only take half an hour and was downhill both ways, but after about 20 minutes of pedaling I was already trying to remember if that taxi company's number was all 6s or all 7s and whether it might arrive faster if I mentioned that I'm a good tipper . . . and blonde.

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One thing we noticed on our ride was that someone has been plastering graffiti all over Key West. Normally this might not be welcome news, but when the graffiti looks like this, it's really hard to be angry.

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Remember how I thought that guy in Charleston with the cheeseburger bike bell was my true soul mate? I might have to rethink that.

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On we pedaled, all the way to Stock Island. Stock Island is one of those places that everyone likes to refer to as, "Key West the way it used to be." If that is true, then Key West back in the good old days used to have way more pawn shops and way fewer folks with all their teeth.

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Hogfish is perched on a working fishing dock at the end of a sketchy road lined with even sketchier trailers, which serve as a pungent reminder as to why you should never, ever pee in your own yard. Despite this unappetizing lead-in, Hogfish itself is decorated in a funky hodgepodge of signage, sculptures, and used license plates, and the smells emanating from the kitchen set my mouth a-watering.

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Best of all, they have an advertisement for El Shrimp Bucket, which is how I will henceforth be referring to anyone shorter than me.

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Angel started off with the Bahamian conch chowder, which I skipped because I was planning to order a dinner entree for lunch. (All that pedaling!) That turned out to be Mistake #1. That chowder was fantastic: flavorful, spicy, and loaded with potatoes, red peppers, tomatoes, and of course chunks of tender conch.

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My dinner-entree-for-lunch turned out to be Key West pink shrimp stuffed with crabcake stuffing and served over rice. Right off the bat I thought this would be a winner: double carbs! That was Mistake #2. While the shrimp were nicely cooked and the portion was quite generous, the entire dish suffered from an overall lack of seasoning. Which doesn't mean that I didn't finish it, just that somebody needs to turn it up to eleven.

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All was not lost, however.

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That's because Margaritaville? It's everywhere.

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During lunch we met this little sweetheart, Zoe, whose owners declined to leave her with me while they went back to work.

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I mean, it's not like I was going to stuff her in my bike basket and ride away or anything. Hell, I was so tired that I couldn't have pedaled across the street right then.

For his entree, Angel went with Hogfish's signature dish, the hogfish sandwich. So often a restaurant's signature dish is a letdown, but not at Hogfish. Their hogfish was sweet, tender, and perfectly seasoned. I might even say that it didn't even need that gooey layer of Swiss cheese on top, but that would just be crazy talk.

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Which leads me to Mistake #3 - not getting my own side of French fries. See, Angel's sandwich came with a side of skinny, crispy fries lightly dusted with Old Bay seasoning, which of course went perfectly with the Ranch dressing that came with my side salad. The fries were so good, in fact, that after lunch I ordered my own batch . . . and some more Ranch. (Again, all that pedaling. Do you understand how far 3 miles really is? On a bike it's like they're measured in dog years.)

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Just down the dock I saw this gorgeous silver bengal cat. Don't worry, Other Cat. You're pretty too.

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Upon our return to Key West, we pedaled around deliriously in search of liquids to replenish ourselves after La Tour de Stock.

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That evening we were set to meet up with two new friends, Ryan and Melissa, at the Gardens Hotel for jazz and (god help me) more wine. Ryan and Melissa knew me from this blog and, although I didn't know what they looked like, it wasn't really a problem: We just had to find the one couple who weren't card-carrying members of AARP and voila, there they were. The Gardens Hotel: It ain't for whippersnappers.

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We enjoyed two bottles of rosé poolside before moving on to dinner at Grand Cafe, where our slick waiter explained that our "free bottle of wine" coupon was good for a free bottle of cheap house wine, or it could be used for 50% off one of the more expensive bottles on their menu. Being that the four of us have more taste buds than money, you can guess which one we chose.

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And since none of us are mathematicians, we ordered two, because it was like getting one for free or half-off or two-for-one or whatever. I never was very good at trigonometry.

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You know what I hate almost as much as when one of my favorite dishes gets taken off the menu? When they change said menu item but neglect to tell anyone. Did you really think, Grand Cafe, that I wasn't going to notice that you left that quart of heavy cream out of the Key West shrimp over penne pasta? And all of the truffle oil? This, after I talked nonstop about it for weeks and even convinced poor Melissa to order it, too? Granted, it was still very tasty, but a dish without cream is like a day without sunshine: Not so Grand.

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Although Monday was our last day on the island, there was still one thing to look forward to: Meatloaf Monday! And so we headed off to Harpoon Harry's.

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While I thought the meatloaf was pretty good, Angel decided that the meatloaf was too mushy for him and declined to finish it. Although I agree that a nice charred crust would have been nice, refusing to finish a meatloaf is like turning down a winning lottery ticket because you hit for $100 instead of $1,000. I guess it was my lucky day, though, since Angel then proceeded to cut off a large chunk of his meatloaf just for me.

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You know what happens a few hours after mashed potatoes, gravy, and 1.5 meatloaves, don't you? No, not a trip to the emergency room. Pizza!

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Although I'd already packed away the camera and had to rely on my iPhone, I think you can still tell that Bobalu's pizza is made exactly right: Greasy, saucy, not too much cheese, and tons of pepperoni. In other words, it is the perfect food after a long night of drinking.

Or a long week, as the case may be.

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Can't get enough Key West? See more of our Conch Republic adventures here and here.

Want to check out the 2013 Key West Food & Wine Fest? Click here!

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Posted by TraceyG 16:35 Archived in USA Tagged key_west florida_keys key_west_food_and_wine_festival

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Comments

Holy Crap. You really deserve a new liver. I think we could take up a collection for you on TA. You totally earned it.

Thanks for the TR! Great pics as always! We'll try some of your new spots in March.

by amy

The KWFWF sounds like a great time. We're looking forward to attending next year. I can't believe I hadn't heard about it until now.

by Terri

Every time you write a new post is a major cause for celebration.

by Doug Lynn aka ybbhomeless

That was a whole lot of delicious!

by VickiH

Reading about all the food and wine makes my head spin...but also makes me get really excited for November! Excellent blog.

by NellieX

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