A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: TraceyG

Anna Maria Island, Part 1: A Freaki Tiki Good Time

Locals call it the "Florida Easy Button." Coastal Living magazine calls it one of their "dream towns." And Travel and Leisure dubs it a "quiet escape" and touts its "sandy seclusion." Why all the fuss over a simple 7-mile stretch of shoreline, one of dozens along Florida's west coast?

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Maybe it's Anna Maria's wide, pristine beaches, dotted with towering Australian pines. Maybe it's a vibe that's decidedly more artsy and outdoorsy than yacht clubby. Maybe it's the quaint waterside seafood shacks, or the dozens of candy-colored beach houses, or the free rides on the island-wide trolley.

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Or maybe it's the location. Anna Maria is just minutes from Longboat Key and St. Armand's Circle, two places where we could indulge our inner snobs with good wine, gourmet cuisine, and upscale shopping when the mood struck.

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The funny thing was . . . the mood never really struck. That's how charming Anna Maria is.

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But to immerse ourselves in all this charm, first we had to get there. Although Sarasota's airport is the closest one to Anna Maria, we decided to take an early morning flight into Tampa instead, which would allow us time for a leisurely lunch in Ybor City, a mid-afternoon snack in St. Pete Beach, and a scenic drive over to Anna Maria, all timed to coincide with check-in at the house we'd rented for the week.

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Our first stop was Tampa's Ybor City, a historic neighborhood founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers and populated by thousands of Cuban, Spanish, and Italian immigrants in the early 1900s.

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And because it was Christmas, the neighborhood was decked out in its festive finest for the holiday.

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Some folks even came bearing gifts.

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Although I've been known to travel great distances -- even to foreign countries like Anguilla and Brooklyn -- in search of the ultimate cheeseburger or pepperoni pizza, it's not my usual M.O. to seek out . . . a salad. But when I heard about the famous "1905" salad at the also-famous Columbia Restaurant, I knew we had to give it a try.

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The Columbia Restaurant is the oldest in Florida and has been owned by the same family since 1905, now in its 6th generation.

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The restaurant has also expanded over the years, now encompassing numerous dining rooms spanning an entire city block.

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And of course a sizable bar, for sampling the mojitos and sangria.

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We were seated in the main dining room, which is crowned with a spectacular skylight.

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Tossed tableside, the 1905 salad was inspired by the immigrants who worked in Ybor's cigar factories: Romano cheese from the Sicilians, garlic dressing favored by the Cubans to marinate fresh roast pork, baked ham to represent the Spaniards' beloved Iberico, plus Florida tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and Swiss cheese.

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The salad was fantastic -- cheesy and garlicky and perfectly crisp -- but man cannot live on Swiss alone, so we had some other stuff, too.

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After lunch we made our way down to St. Pete Beach for "dessert."

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With its beachfront patio and huge selection of drinks, Bongo's at the Grand Plaza Hotel seemed like the perfect choice.

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Though it was crowded with holiday revelers, we managed to snag two seats near the soothing fountain.

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Refreshing, too, since we had our own little "sprinkler."

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We even had our choice of bands -- Latin-tinged pop at the bar, or a full-on marching band on the beach.

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By mid-afternoon, it was time to head over to Anna Maria. The drive was lovely, particularly as we approached the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay, which connects St. Petersburg to Terra Ceia, near Bradenton.

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The place we rented was one of "The Saints," a group of four bungalows in Anna Maria's southernmost neighborood, Bradenton Beach.

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I was a bit nervous about our bungalow, the 2-bed, 2-bath St. Barths unit, since it was brand-new and therefore had only a handful of reviews, and scarcely more photos. Any hesitation fell away, however, as soon as we set foot in the spacious, spic-and-span home decorated with beachy touches throughout.

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They even left us a welcome bag of snacks and a gift-wrapped tin of homemade Christmas cookies.

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Though late December in Anna Maria can be a bit chilly for swimming, I'd nevertheless made sure to rent one of the two bungalows with a private pool, hoping for the best.

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As it turned out, the entire week was gloriously sunny and unusually warm, with highs in the mid-80s each day.

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Not that it was enough to get Big Baby Angel into that "frigid" 82-degree water.

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That evening for Christmas dinner, we had reservations at the Chart House on nearby Longboat Key.

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We kicked things off with a pomegranate mojito for me, and a Bold Manhattan with chocolate bitters for Angel.

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After gobbling up that calamari, we moved on to the snapper Hemingway topped with lump crab and lemon-shallot butter, and the macadamia-nut mahi with warm peanut sauce and a mash of gorgeous purple Peruvian potatoes.

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We awoke the next morning to greet our first full day on the island, and didn't waste any time ticking the #1 item off our to-do list: Gorging ourselves on stone crabs.

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With our much-beloved Moore's closed due to the owner's retirement, we set off for SandBar, a beachfront spot that prides itself on its purveyors, many of whom are local.

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There was a wait for a table, but the warm sunshine, stunning view, and frozen rum-runners kept us well-occupied.

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Soon we were led to a "front-row" table in the sand, where it was clear that SandBar was a place where everyone can make themselves comfortable.

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Really comfortable.

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Though many spots on AMI have stone crabs, most serve them cold with a mustard dipping sauce. But butter beats mustard (and everything else) any day of the week, so SandBar wisely serves their stone crabs warm with drawn butter.

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Of course, a pile of stone crabs wasn't going to cut it for lunch, so we threw in some blackened grouper tacos with corn and black bean salsa, along with the succulent Gulf shrimp baked with crabmeat stuffing.

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After lunch we decided to do a little exploring, and were treated to a rainbow of adorable cottages and businesses.

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That evening we were scheduled to meet up with some folks we met online through this blog, Steve and Liza, who offered to give us a "barstool tour" of the area. We happily agreed and made plans to meet up at their favorite local watering hole, Clancy's, which was just across the bridge in Bradenton, but might have been an entire world away.

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Only in Bradenton can you end up dancing to a zydeco band at an Irish tiki bar with a couple of strangers you found on the Internet.

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The band, Gumbo Boogie, bills itself as a unique stew of rock, blues, country, and soul flavored with a pinch of New Orleans. All I know is, they were perfect to (gumbo) boogie down to.

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We ended up befriending the accordion player, Ryan, who invited us out to see the band later that week.

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At an old folks' home.

In a trailer park.

On New Year's Eve.

Of course, I accepted. I mean, I was already hanging out with the only accordion player in Florida under the age of 80 playing Creole-tinged favorites at an Irish tiki bar. How much weirder could things really get?

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In fact, we liked Clancy's so much that the "barstool tour" we'd been promised never actually materialized. When I teasingly mentioned this to Steve, he slid down one stool and said, "See? I was on that barstool, now I'm on this one. It's a tour!"

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While Liza and I tore up the dance floor, Angel and Steve were deep in conversation. As it turns out, Steve, also known as "Dr. G," spent his career teaching and mentoring the most forgotten students in the New York City school system -- those kids, like many Angel himself went to school with, who have a better chance of ending up in a gang, in prison, or dead than graduating high school, let alone college.

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Which explains how one can imbibe too many syrupy rum & Cokes at a kitschy roadside tiki bar and end up being brought to tears by the heartwarming stories of one man's lifelong dedication to making the world a better place.

And just to keep things from getting too sappy, it was at that moment that a motorcycle gang rode up on a bunch of Harleys, and I signaled to Angel that we should probably get out of there before the place turned into "Roadhouse."

It didn't take long, however, for me to realize that what I'd thought was a biker gang was, in fact, a bunch of former NFL players who happen to like zydeco.

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As if the night couldn't get any weirder.

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The next day we decided to do some exploring around Anna Maria, hoping for a bit of normalcy after our nutty night at Clancy's. Apparently, it was not to be.

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And we were still a week away from crashing that New Year's Eve party at the old folks' trailer park.
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CLICK HERE for Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 09:34 Archived in USA Tagged tampa bongos chart_house st_pete_beach anna_maria_island columbia_restaurant Comments (8)

Anna Maria Island, Part 2: Shackin' Up

The next day we decided to do a little shopping in AMI's northernmost neighborhood, Anna Maria village.

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Our favorite among the shops was the charmingly twee Shiny Fish.

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In addition to beach dresses, jewelry, candles, and housewares, the store features a sand-dollar painting area and a little ice cream stand.

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Even the fitting rooms were adorable.

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The owner's husband creates much of the shop's artwork, including these cuter-than-cute magnets.

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After spending the morning oohing and aahing over Shiny Fish's beachy wares, it was time for lunch, so we made the short drive down to the Lido Beach Resort and their oceanfront tiki bar.

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There, we ordered up two fish sammies with key lime aioli on luau bread, along with some peace and quiet.

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The rest of the afternoon was a tough one.

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That evening we had plans to meet up with our friend Sara, who'd recently moved to Sarasota after serving her time in New York City.

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We settled on Jack Dusty, the elegant waterfront bar at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, which turned out to be the perfect place to relax and get caught up.

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The cocktail list was sophisticated and creative.

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As the sun began to set, the palm trees twinkled with tiny lights while the sky turned a delicate pink.

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Soon it was time to make the short walk over to Social Eatery & Bar for some dinner.

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Social's unique indoor-outdoor setting was perfect for the warm evening.

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Even the water at Social was pretty. But those strawberry torpedoes were another story.

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But I hadn't picked Social for its trendy scene, or its expansive outdoor lounge, or its cozy fire pits, or its scary-shaped fruit. I picked it for The Volcano.

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That, my friends, is a gigantic meatball, surrounding by a mountain of paccheri pasta and filled with bubbly hot lava. (Fine, it was Bolognese sauce and mozzarella cheese, but don't ruin this for me.)

As if The Volcano weren't enough, Social's menu has an entire section called the "Meatballeria."

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The old saying is true: You can never be too rich, or have too many meatballs.

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Or too much mac & cheese.

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After dinner we took our drinks -- a blackberry julep, the grapefruit Old Fashioned, and one of the best cocktails I've ever had, the puckerlicious vanilla-bean lemonade martini -- to the outdoor bar, where we got comfy on one of the fireside sofas.

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In addition to great company that night, we'd also gotten a great tip from our waiter at Jack Dusty: Go to Tide Tables in Cortez, where we could find the best fish tacos he'd ever had.

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The forecast promised another day of perfect weather, and Tide Tables was just a short bike ride over the Cortez Bridge, so we gave it a go.

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One of the last working commercial fishing villages on Florida’s Gulf coast, Cortez is replete with quaint waterside seafood shacks, and although Tide Tables is the newest one on the scene, that waiter's advice turned out to be spot-on.

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With its cheery yellow exterior, crushed-shell parking lot, and open-air tiki bar offering a front-row seat to the bustle of activity on the dock, we were already smitten before we even saw the menu.

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And by the time we took one bite of those heavenly fish tacos, it was a full-blown love affair.

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But we shouldn't have been surprised, seeing as how it would be difficult to get fish any fresher.

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As the resident pelicans well know.

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We capped off our perfect lunch by sharing a slice of creamy key lime pie.

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And smuggling out some fish tacos in my purse.

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That evening we headed to SandBar to take in the sunset.

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It had been a long day of biking, so that night we stayed close to home for dinner, at Blue Marlin in Bradenton Beach.

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Housed in a 1920's cottage, Blue Marlin is done up in nautical blue-and-white, with maritime-inspired touches in every nook and cranny.

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The menu included stone crab-stuffed shrimp; lobster and shrimp scampi with leeks and sun-dried tomatoes over linguine in a garlic and white wine sauce; and a classic seafood boil with andouille sausage.

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After dinner we took the remainder of our wine outside to the Trap Yard, Blue Marlin's outdoor garden and live music venue.

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It had been such a nice evening that we weren't quire ready for it to end, so we wandered around a bit to admire the Bradenton Beach Christmas lights.

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We'd enjoyed five days of fun in the sun on Anna Maria, and we still had three more left. Surely that would be enough time to squeeze in another Volcano . . . wouldn't it?
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CLICK HERE for Part 3!
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Posted by TraceyG 11:45 Archived in USA Tagged sandbar ritz-carlton shiny_fish anna_maria lido_beach_resort jack_dusty social_eatery tide_tables mar_vista blue_marlin wicked_cantina Comments (6)

Anna Maria Island, Part 3: A New Year's Rockin' Eve

The next day we took a spin around the island on our bikes, starting at Coquina Beach and ending up in the canal-front neighborhoods on Key Royale.

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We'd worked up quite an appetite, so for lunch we decided to take it easy with a little bit of "Old Florida" at Mar Vista, on the northernmost end of Longboat Key.

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Mar Vista is one of the twelve oldest surviving structures on Longboat Key and is the former residence of one Rufus Jordan, who played a significant role in settling Longboat during the early 1900s.

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The large shade trees created the perfect setting for a relaxing lunch.

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We split an order of lightly fried calamari, then moved on to the burrata and arugula focaccia sandwich with truffle-balsamic glaze for me, and the blackened grouper sandwich for Angel.

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By the time evening rolled around, we were still feeling pretty stuffed from our lunch at Mar Vista, and pretty lazy from our around-the-island bike ride. And so, in lieu of a proper dinner, we decided to pop over to Wicked Cantina for a snack.

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The next day brought another perfect blue sky. We decided to take advantage by squeezing in a little beach time before lunch.

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We chose the beach in front of SandBar, with its white sand, clear water, and proximity to rum drinks.

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When it was time to eat, we simply moved a little further up the beach to the restaurant, where we kicked things off with a slab of focaccia dipped in spicy oil, along with an order of crunchy fried conch fritters.

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Blistered heirloom cherry tomatoes + fresh basil + balsamic syrup + creamy dollops of ricotta = the best thing to come out of a cast-iron skillet since macaroni & cheese.

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After lunch, we did a little more shopping. Or, rather, I shopped, while Angel politely pretended to be interested in sundresses and beach coverups.

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We also stopped by one of AMI's most unique spots, the Rod and Reel Pier.

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A working fishing pier combined with an over-water restaurant that serves $3 beers, Rod and Reel is about as casual as you can get without venturing out in your undies.

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We took a long walk on a short pier, slowing our pace to enjoy the glorious breeze off the water.

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Starfish Company was on the agenda for dinner, but a two-hour wait was not, so we headed back to Social in Sarasota for my new favorite cocktail (the vanilla-bean lemonade martini) and my new favorite entrée named for a potential natural disaster (The Volcano).

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Afterwards, we poked around St. Armand's Circle for a bit, then called it a night.

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The next morning marked our last full day, which means I had gone an entire week without a cheeseburger. That's like going a week without brushing your teeth: It can be done, but it's not recommended. And so we jumped on our bikes and raced over to Skinny's Place, an island institution known for its good old-fashioned burgers.

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The place was pretty crowded, but eventually Angel was able to move to the big kids' table.

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Me, I'd have sat on a kid for one of these burgers.

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Those colossal onion rings weren't too shabby, either.

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After lunch we rode around Holmes Beach for a bit, where we came upon this little path to the beach tucked among the palm fronds.

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At the end of the path was the most magical tree house I'd ever seen. (No offense, Dad, the one you built me was nice, too.)

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Suddenly the skies began to cloud over, so we snapped a few pictures and then pedaled away as fast as we could, hoping to avoid getting caught in a downpour.

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We made it home with time to spare, and as soon as the sun returned, we headed over to the Bridge Street area in Bradenton Beach for a little mini golf.

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Of course, I couldn't hit one of those holes if I was playing with a wrecking ball, but at least I am a good sport about it.

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By the time Angel was done thoroughly annihilating me, it was late afternoon, so we headed across the street to The Beach House for sunset.

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The restaurant was decked out in hundreds of balloons for New Year's Eve.

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But we only had time for one quick cocktail, because we had New Year's Eve plans of our own.

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Those plans involved crashing a BYOB New Year's Eve party at an old folks' home in a trailer park in Palmetto, where a zydeco band we'd seen earlier in the week would be playing. The accordion player, our new friend Ryan, had told us he'd put us "on the list," even though we weren't sure there would actually be a list at this shindig.

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Sure enough, there wasn't, and so we found ourselves in the unusual position of trying to talk our way into a party where the hot single guys were the ones with all their original teeth and at least one of their original hip joints.

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We somehow managed to charm our way in and saw ourselves to a festively decorated table, where we popped open the wine we'd brought and took in the scene.

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What we found was not a room full of decrepit old folks with canes and walkers, but a crowd of attractive, vivacious retirees who danced, flirted, and drank like it was spring break in Daytona circa 1991. It gave us hope, yes, but more importantly, it gave us courage: It wasn't long before we joined them on the dance floor, relishing the opportunity to show off our 45-year-old knees.

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In fact, at the end of the evening, we surprised ourselves by accepting a handful of the community's brochures, impressed by how lively and spirited everyone had been.

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And I am not even going to mention that the gate code was 6969.
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Where to next? Come along on a "best of" tour of Philly, a fritter-eating contest in the Conch Republic (the smart money's on yours truly!), one very hoppin' hula hut in the Hamptons, a luggage-less trip to Anguilla, and a "journalistic" trip to...Cuba! Click here to subscribe and you'll receive an email from Travellerspoint when a new post goes up.

Meantime, follow me on Instagram @escape.from.new.york to see what we're eating and drinking in the Big Apple!

Posted by TraceyG 08:54 Archived in USA Tagged beach_house anna_maria_island mar_vista skinnys_place bradenton_beach Comments (1)

The Hudson Valley, Pt 1: City Mouse and Country House

Day 1: Bourbon, Bombs, and Butterballs

This past October marked our third visit to the Hudson Valley. We'd made it through two prior visits without being savaged by bears or attacked by rabid raccoons. We'd survived a 22 35 48 mile bike ride and the indignity of bike helmets. And although we'd had some close calls, we'd never actually been confronted by a jackalope. Overall, I was feeling pretty confident that this whole weekend-in-the-country thing wasn't so bad after all.

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That's because I am the type of person who loves the idea of salt-of-the-earth activities like hiking, camping, and taking in the charms of small-town America. I dream of holing up in a country cabin with no electricity or running water, at one with Mother Nature. I am enamored with travel experiences that harken back to a simpler, more carefree time when the pace was slower, our lives less complicated. But when these ideas become reality and I am faced with things like sleeping bags, beef jerky, towns with the word "turkey," "pigeon," or "goose" in the name, fishing villages that actually smell like fish, or any house without an ironing board, I flinch. (Angel jumps in the car, locks all the doors, and leaves skid marks.)

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The truth is, Angel and I like our "country" experiences to include artisanal cocktails, cashmere wraps, and refurbished farmhouses with heated floors and high-thread-count bed sheets. And we have found the perfect compromise in upstate New York's Hudson Valley: The area is quaint, charming, and bucolic, but with enough expat Manhattanites around to ensure that the whiskey in our drinks might be homemade, but by someone who first made $10 million on Wall Street so he could end up on a farm wearing steel-toed boots and overalls ironically.

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Our first stop on the drive north was at Buttermilk Falls Inn in Milton, NY, which is home to the 40-acre Millstone Farm. As usual, the GPS did a bang-up job of getting us to our destination.

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After beating my head against the dashboard a few times, we finally found the place, and we both agreed it had been worth the detour.

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At least we found the place faster than this guy, who never even made it past the parking lot.

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Millstone Farm produces nearly all of the fresh greens, organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, honey, and eggs used at the Inn's restaurant, Henry's at the Farm, and if all of this is not farm-to-table enough for you, then you are just going to have to milk your own cows next time.

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We settled in at a table overlooking the lake and took in the lovely surroundings.

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We both agreed that we couldn't pass up the day's special cocktail, dubbed the "Apple Butter Bourbon Ball," which is made with Maker's Mark Bourbon, a touch of Pastis, real maple syrup, and Millstone Farm's own ginger-gold apple butter, then topped off with a locally-made sparkling hard cider.

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The name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue even before you've finished one, and so Angel and I referred to it as the "Apple Bourbon Butterball Turkey Bomb," as well as other various combinations of those five words.

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For lunch, we enjoyed a creamy mascarpone and butternut squash soup studded with dried cranberries and garnished with fried sage, followed by a yummy flatbread with roasted Millstone Farm veggies and the decadent lobster mac & cheese.

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And homemade chocolate chip cookies with a glass of cold milk for dunking.

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The property at Buttermilk Falls is expansive, encompassing not just the restaurant, but also an inn, several freestanding cottages, a spa, a barn for weddings, numerous ponds and waterfalls, and the farm itself, which includes an aviary, an apiary, donkeys, and llamas.

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On this particular day they were setting up for a wedding, but apparently no one informed the geese, and so this poor guy was given the impossible task of chasing them away. You know how a toddler in a high chair likes to fling things off the tray, watch you pick it up, then immediately knock it to the floor again? That was this guy with the geese.

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We decided the explore the grounds, taking in the lovely views and emerging fall color.

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We continued walking off our lunch by heading over to the goat and llama barn, which also included one very friendly donkey.

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Before we knew it, it was time to check in at the house we'd rented for the weekend. As we'd done the year before, we chose "Creekside Manor," as we'd taken to calling it, as our home base.

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Situated on four wooded acres at the end of a dirt road in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it village of Red Hook, Creekside Manor put us within easy driving distance of our favorite Hudson Valley towns, yet far enough from civilization to go au naturel in the hot tub if we felt like it.

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When Esquire magazine names a bar in tiny Kingston, NY, one of "The Best Bars in America," you know you have to give it a try. And so, after settling in at the house and unpacking a bit, we gussied ourselves up, then set off for the Stockade Tavern, a Prohibition-style speakeasy located in a lovingly restored, 1880s-era sewing machine factory.

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It was the wrong night for quiet sophistication: A music festival was in town and the bar was loud and crowded . . . with all sorts of folks.

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Luckily, however, Angel managed to snag us a table for two near the front, insulating us from the scrum near the band.

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I kept things simple with one of my favorite cocktails, a gimlet (this one made with Brooklyn's own Greenhook Gin), while Angel decided to try the Over the River, made with bell pepper-infused tequila, fresh lime, and green chartreuse, a French liqueur that's been made by Carthusian Monks since the 1700s.

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Both drinks were delicious, and it would have been nice to have another, but our dinner reservations beckoned. And so we made the short walk over to Boitson's, a lively bistro and bar specializing in comfort classics like meatloaf, fried chicken, and prime rib.

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How Boitson's came to be is one of those only-in-New-York stories: The owner, Maria Philippis, named the place for her former Brooklyn landlord, Alexander Boitson, a Ukrainian-American World War II veteran whom she'd befriended. They kept in touch over the years, even after Ms. Philippis moved to the Hudson Valley, and when Mr. Boitson died in 2007, he showed his fondness for Ms. Philippis by leaving her enough money to pursue her lifelong dream of opening a restaurant.

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We kicked things off with an order of butternut squash fritters drizzled with honey, followed by two orders of the over-the-top delicious reason why we came here.

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I don't know why they had to take up real estate with those green vegetables in there, but when the meatloaf is this good, you can overlook an errant Brussels sprout or two.

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It had been a jam-packed day filled with great food and drink, and we were pleasantly exhausted. And so we drove back to Creekside Manor and tucked ourselves into bed.

But not before checking for wild jackalopes out on the deck.

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Day 2: Go Take a Hike

Angel and I are not what you'd generally call the outdoorsy types. We don't camp because there are bugs, and it gets cold. We don't hike because there are heavy backpacks, and it gets cold. We don't ski because there are broken legs, and it gets really cold. Also, all of these activities sound suspiciously like work. Don't get me wrong: We both love and appreciate the natural beauty of the outdoors. It's just that we prefer to take it in from a safe distance, such as from behind a large picture window beside a roaring fire with an Old Fashioned in hand.

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But the weather on Sunday was so ridiculously perfect that even two city slickers like ourselves had to get outside.

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We started with a leisurely drive over to the country club at Copake Lake, whose restaurant, Greens, specializes in local ingredients and a lovely view of the surrounding countryside.

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There, we fueled up on brunch staples for the bike ride to come.

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Well, brunch staples and split pea soup.

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The enclosed terrace was open and airy, allowing a 360-degree view of the fall foliage and bright blue sky outside.

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Inside, a wood burning stove and floor-to-ceiling wine racks create a cozy atmosphere for chilly evenings.

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After lunch, we soaked up the sun on the patio for a bit before heading out.

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As has become our habit, we rented a couple of bikes from Bash Bish Bikes, which is just a short drive from Copake.

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We hopped on our bikes and then spent the bulk of the afternoon taking in the spectacular beauty of Taconic State Park, followed by a ride along the Harlem Valley Rail Trail.

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When we got tired we tried playing possum, but this little guy beat us to the punch.

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Afterwards, we decided to check out Bash Bish Falls, reportedly just a stone's throw from the bike rental.

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Apparently, however, "a stone's throw" means something different out in the country, which I discovered when I realized that I'd walked all the way to Massachusetts to see these damn falls.

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All I know is, next time I foolishly decide to go on a hike, I'm bringing my passport just in case.
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You know I didn't walk all the way to Massachusetts to not see a waterfall, so come along for Part 2, featuring waterfalls, a Dangling Deathtrap of Doom, and another apple-y cocktail, this one named for yours truly!

Posted by TraceyG 06:53 Archived in USA Tagged hudson_valley kingston hudson red_hook boston's buttermilk_falls henry's stockade_tavern copake_lake american_glory ca_mea Comments (2)

The Hudson Valley, Pt 2: Blubbering Heights

Back in Part 1, I'd just been duped into hiking my way across state lines to see some waterfall that was supposed to be just 3/4 of a mile away. (Apparently upstate New York is so close to Canada that they've actually just gone ahead and switched to the metric system.) Still, once we finally arrived, I had to admit that the falls were lovely.

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To me and my blistered feet's utter dismay, however, we later discovered that we could have just driven there. Now that's my kind of hike.

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Worst of all, because Angel declined to walk back by himself, pick up the car, drive across state lines to Massachusetts to pick me up, and then return to New York . . . I was forced to walk back, too.

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That evening we were in need of some serious food and drink to recover from our interstate trek.

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Our first stop was at American Glory BBQ, which was built in 1802 as a firehouse.

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The current owner, Joe, presides over this downtown Hudson gathering place, doling out witty sarcasm and history lessons in a fantastic Noo Yawk accent, along with some damn fine BBQ.

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I'd put American Glory on our list because I remembered having a fabulous Angry Caramel Apple martini there back in 2012. (Some people never forget their first love, or what they were doing when Kennedy was shot. I never forget a great cocktail.) Sadly, however, in the intervening years American Glory has apparently discovered that martinis and BBQ are not exactly a natural fit, and updated its menu accordingly with a list of bourbon drinks served in Mason jars.

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We started with a round of a bourbon-raspberry concoctions, which were quite good but lacked that apple-y fall flavor I was looking for, so I mentioned to our bartender, Chris, how much I'd enjoyed the Angry Caramel Apple last time we visited.

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Chris apologized that the Angry Caramel Apple was no more, then left us to our drinks while he waited on some other customers.

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And so you can imagine how thrilling it was when, just a few minutes later, Chris surprised me with his brilliantly boozy take on apple pie -- on the fly, and on the house! -- which will henceforth be known as the Tracey Apple. (The exact recipe remains a secret, but think bourbon, a touch of cinnamon syrup, one muddled Granny Smith apple, and a dash of chocolate bitters.)

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It was ahhhhmazing.

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It was all I could do to tear myself away from Chris' good company and his creative genius, but pasta awaited. And so we hopped over to Ca'Mea, an intimate northern Italian spot directly across the street.

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There, we feasted on mussels, rigatoni Bolognese, and homemade chestnut-flour gnocchi.

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We should have headed home after that, but it wasn't quite midnight and there was a chance American Glory was still open. They weren't, but they let us in after-hours anyway because we are good company, and even better tippers.

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While chatting with Chris and Joe, Chris's lovely girlfriend Katie, the marketing manager at the nearby Hunter Mountain ski resort, joined us after what had clearly been a very long day at work. Apparently still in work mode, Katie somehow convinced us -- within 10 minutes of meeting her -- to drive up to Hunter Mountain the next day to see the near-peak fall color and check out the resort's "Scenic Skyride" as her guests.

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Maybe it was Katie's enthusiasm and charm, or maybe it was that second Tracey Apple of the evening, but little did we know that we were in for the (sky)ride of our lives.

Day 3: Blubbering Heights

The next day we planned to poke around Hudson's dozens of antique and vintage shops, then grab a quick lunch before heading off for Hunter Mountain's Scenic Skyride. We meandered up and down Warren Street until we came upon Mexican Radio, the cheery-looking upstate outpost of a NYC spot we'd been meaning to try.

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Over chips and salsa and frozen margaritas, we plotted out the route to Hunter Mountain, figuring it would take about half an hour to get there. And it would have, if the road to Tannersville didn't have more twists and turns than an episode of "Game of Thrones."

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The mountainous drive ended up taking nearly twice as long as expected, which meant that we had just minutes to catch the last Scenic Skyride of the day. That turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened to us, because up until that point, we didn't really know what the Scenic Skyride actually was.

What it was, as it horrifyingly turned out, was a detachable chair lift (yes, "detachable," which doesn't exactly inspire confidence), minus the fluffy bed of snow underneath to break your fall if the cables were to suddenly snap, or a mustachioed villain were to cut them with a comically oversized pair of scissors. Just a few thin cables and a slippery bench stood between us, and a grisly end on the jagged rocks below.

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Had we known that the Scenic Skyride was actually a Detachable Deathtrap of Doom, there is no way in hell I'd have gotten Angel aboard that thing, and I wouldn't have been too gung-ho myself. But our new friend Katie was young and adventurous, and I couldn't bear the thought of her finding out that she'd actually befriended a couple of wrinkled old fogeys who were both afraid of heights. And because we were running so late, we had just seconds to make a decision: Either board the Dangling Tramway of Terror or risk insulting Katie by failing to take her up on her kind offer. And so I grabbed Angel's hand and pulled him onto the next bench, throwing caution and common sense to the wind.

It took approximately 3.3 seconds, or 2.5 feet of air between the chair and the rocky ground, for me to realize that I'd made a huge mistake.

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The chair began to climb up the side of the mountain, higher and higher, with a sudden, sickening jerk at each detachment station that triggered an immediate fight-or-flight response, neither of which was useful at 3,200 feet. Instead, I focused on wrapping my sweat-soaked hands around the safety bar, and keeping my sweat-soaked feet inside my ballet flats, and reassuring my sweat-soaked husband that people hardly ever die on chair lifts, or at least they do so only rarely, and I hadn't heard about one on the news lately so maybe -- just maybe -- we wouldn't die after all.

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But probably not.

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As we neared the top, the valley now a vibrant carpet of red, yellow, and orange below us, I forced myself to open my eyes and take a peek.

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It was spectacular.

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For the same reason that airplane landings make me much less nervous than take-offs -- if anything goes awry during landing, I figure I'm headed down anyway -- the trip back down the mountain was somewhat less terrifying, and even Angel managed to open his eyes for a bit when we were close enough to the ground to jump if we needed to.

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As the Skyride neared the station, we catapulted ourselves off that bench like a guy who's been shot out of a cannon, then staggered about before finally dropping to our knees to kiss the sturdy pavement beneath our feet.

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We located Katie shortly thereafter and prattled on about how wonderful the view had been and how kind it was of her to invite us, figuring that if we jabbered on long enough, our legs would finally stop shaking and she'd never be any the wiser.

I'll never know if it was because she felt like celebrating the end of a long workday or because she could actually hear my knees knocking together, but Katie mercifully suggested that we head into town to get a drink. Angel and I nearly tripped over ourselves in our frenzy to get to the car, and we followed Katie down the mountain toward Tannersville and another American Glory BBQ.

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There, we got to chatting with the bartender, which is how we discovered that, astonishingly, she'd already heard about the great success of Chris's Tracey Apple drink at the location in Hudson, and was working on a version for the Tannersville branch. Word really does travel fast up in them there mountains!

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We'd never been west of Hudson before, and Katie was eager to show us around. She thought we'd particularly like a newly renovated arts-and-crafts style lodge called Deer Mountain Inn, so we piled back in the car and once again followed her lead.

Tucked between Catskill Park and Kaaterskill Wild Forest and set on 168 wooded acres of its own, Deer Mountain Inn was originally one of two summer cottages built in the 1880s for the Colgate family. (It's also rumored that the property once belonged to the Catskill's most notorious Depression-era gangster, Jack "Leggs" Diamond.) It didn't take more than a few seconds to realize that Katie was dead-on when she surmised that I would love this place.

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In fact, I'm not even sure "love" is a strong enough word.

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Inside, the country-chic theme continued, with worn leather sofas, dreer-antler chandeliers, and fireplaces in every room.

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Adding to our good fortune, Deer Mountain Inn's resident mixologist, Darren, was behind the bar, shaking and stirring an assortment of almost-too-pretty-to-drink seasonal cocktails with whimsical names like the Harvey Went and Got All Banged Up and the Vote for Pedro.

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On this day, we decided on the General Custer Invades Oaxaca, made with Xicaru Joven mezcal, Ancho Reyes ancho chile liqueur, and lime, and the Fig + Honey, made with cava, grapefruit, caramelized fig, and peach bitters.

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It had been a long day of heart-stopping terror, and that evening we decided to reward ourselves with an elegant dinner. And so we set off for Terrapin, a stylish American bistro housed in a Baptist chapel dating back to 1831.

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We started with a couple of Terrapin's excellent cocktails, the sour cherry bourbon Manhattan for Angel, and the pumpkin martini with a nutmeg-sugar rim for me.

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I don't always order martinis, but when I do, apparently I down them like I'm an extra on "Mad Men."

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When the waiter came, we barked out orders for every comforting item on the menu, seeing as how we'd miraculously survived a harrowing near-death experience on an unforgiving mountain (as opposed to, um, riding a chair lift): Pumpkin ravioli with oven dried tomatoes and brown butter-sherry sauce! Butternut squash soup with coconut and lemongrass! Braised beef short rib gratinée (luxuriously topped with caramelized onions and a melted gruyere crostini)! Teriyaki sockeye salmon over mizuna greens and crispy leeks!

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And an apple crisp to share.

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Of course, we should have eaten dessert first. Life is short . . . especially when you spend it riding ski lifts.

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Posted by TraceyG 14:42 Archived in USA Tagged hudson_valley terrapin rhinebeck tannersville hunter_mountain scenic_skyride deer_mountain_inn american_glory_bbq Comments (5)

Anguilla, Stage 1: A Marvelous Night for a Swoondance

You have probably heard of the five stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance -- which some psychologists believe can be used to describe the feelings you may experience when a loved one passes. On our most recent trip to Anguilla, we discovered that these same stages can also apply to your Anguilla vacation.

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1. Denial. The first stage of your Anguilla vacation often begins with denial, which is the brain's way of dealing with the unexpected. Denial typically begins as soon as you arrive at your hotel or villa. Common thoughts or exclamations may include, "I can't believe we're actually here!" "Check out that water -- it doesn't look real!" and "I don't believe that anyone could make a cheeseburger this good without crack."

2. Anger. During this stage, lashing out at your own stupidity is to be expected. "Why the hell don't I live here?!" "That guy on the beach cleans fish guts for a living -- some people have all the luck!" and "Why didn't I become a deckhand instead of going to law school?! Idiot!!"

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3. Bargaining. Bargaining may be done with the higher power of your choice, or with your spouse. "Please please PLEASE can't we move here???" "I promise I'll give up drinking/smoking/spending all our money on Lotto tickets/flossing my teeth in front of you if you just let me stay here forever." and "I will never nag you to clean the garage again if you just buy me this beach house (because it doesn't have one)."

4. Depression. This stage usually sets in on the morning of your last full day, with peak sadness reached when you arrive at the airport or ferry terminal. Symptoms include agitation, feelings of hopelessness, weight gain, and excessive drinking (the literature notes a marked preference for rum-based libations).

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5. Acceptance. The majority of people manage to put off entering this last stage for as long as possible. For most, acceptance is achieved with a defeated sigh when the plane door closes or the ferry departs, though in some cases acceptance may be delayed until disembarkment in St. Martin or San Juan. In rare cases, acceptance is achieved only when the grieving vacationers attempt to maneuver their car into their driveway, which is covered in three feet of snow.

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For our third visit in thirteen months (said the spoiled brat), the stages began as scheduled. We arrived on island and made the short drive from the airport to Moondance Villa, a stunning new property near Long Pond Bay, where we immediately entered the denial phase: We don't really get to stay here, do we?!

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That's because, when we weren't even looking, this gorgeous villa fell right into our laps. It was brand-new, had a view to die for . . . and was not yet on the rental market. Since no one had stayed in it before, the villa manager (the lovely Catherine at Anguilla Villa Company) asked if we'd mind reporting any issues or problems, no matter how insignificant, so they could be rectified before high season started. In other words, we were to be the Moondance guinea pigs.

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Well, it sure beats selling your plasma.

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We thought it might be hard to top that view, but the interior of the house was just as lovely. Wraparound sliders provided unobstructed views, lots of light, and let in a constant cool breeze. The furnishings were covered in luxurious fabrics in tropical shades of coral and turquoise. And there was so much space that we could have done cartwheels through the main living area, if we both weren't at the age where breaking a hip is our second-greatest fear. (Number one is that Ferryboat Inn will take out a restraining order against us.)

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Indeed, the house seemed to be tailor-made for two New Yorkers: It was private and remote, with huge closets, huge bathrooms, and a huge kitchen that we'd never, ever use.

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At the back of the house was TV room with cushy, oversized couches, which were perfect for relaxing after a long day of lying in a lounge chair.

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We don't usually watch TV on vacation, but one night after dinner we decided to start binge-watching "Making a Murderer." We made it through two episodes before Angel determined that me screaming at the screen so vehemently had only two possible outcomes -- me suffering death by heart attack, or the TV suffering death by flip-flop -- and put a stop to it.

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And did I mention the jewelry drawer in the master suite? Swoooon.

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After a quick tour of our digs, we dropped our luggage upstairs and immediately set out to stock the place, which meant a couple of cans of Pringles, a liter of rum punch mix from the smoothie shop at SeaSpray Boutique, and an oil drum full of rum to get us through the week.

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Most of the wares at SeaSpray are hand-made, and as usual, we spent an inordinate amount of time in the charming shop picking out an assortment of magnets, seashells, soaps, jewelry, and items depicting all manner of goats.

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Pam at SeaSpray took great care of us, even throwing in a few free limes and some nutmeg to go with our punch.

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On every trip we've made to Anguilla since 1997, we've dropped our luggage inside the front door as soon as we arrive, stripped off our clothes and changed into swimsuits, and raced headlong to the beach for an arrival day swim. But Moondance was already exerting its inexplicable hold on us, as we arrived back at the house to drop off our supplies . . . and decided not to leave.

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Instead, we noshed on the generous platter of cheese, crackers, nuts, and grapes that Catherine had kindly left for us, sipped our homemade rum punches, and simply gazed in silence at the wild sea crashing against the rocks at Long Pond Bay. (As the villa's designated guinea pigs, we also tried to come up with a single negative that we could report back to Catherine, but failed miserably.)

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That evening we realized that we'd have to leave the house if wanted anything more substantial than crackers for dinner, so we headed off for Picante in the West End.

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Picante is one of those feel-good places that isn't going to win any awards for its nouvelle cuisine, isn't going to fold your napkin into the shape of a swan while you're powdering your nose in the ladies' room, and isn't going to offer your handbag its own little stool for the evening.

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But they also aren't going to require you to auction off a kidney to pay the bill, make you feel guilty for polishing off an entire casserole dish full of melted cheese, or raise a not-so-subtle eyebrow when you order that third margarita, and those things count for more than any fancy-pants finger bowl ever could.

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One of the specials that night was a basil mojito, which our server promised he would take back if it wasn't to our liking.

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Eventually we did ask him to take it back . . . and refill the empty glass with another one. (Ditto for that strawberry margarita I had.)

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As usual, I ordered the seafood enchiladas, which are filled with tender chunks of crab, prawn, and lobster, and come smothered in so much melted cheese that there could be a rolled-up Mexican flag under there instead of an enchilada and I'd eat it anyway.

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Angel has always shied away from the enchiladas, presumably because he knows that when I can't stop raving about a particular dish, it is sure to be filled with enough fat and cholesterol to strike him dead on the spot. But on this night he came over to the dark side and ordered them, too.

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When we returned to Moondance after dinner, we discovered what hadn't been completely apparent in the daylight: The house stood virtually alone under blanket of stars. There didn't seem to be another soul around for as far as the eye could see; the only sound to be heard was the crashing of the surf in the distance. Although we found the isolation a bit unnerving that first night, we quickly fell in love with the seclusion of our own little slice of moonlit heaven.

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The next morning we packed up our beach bag and headed over to Rendezvous Bay. RBH has a special place in our hearts since it's the first place we ever stayed on island, and although we've spent many late afternoons lounging on one of the daybeds at The Place, it had never made our list for lunch.

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We dropped our things on "our" daybed, then settled in at a table on the deck for lunch.

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It only took Angel two days to realize that I'd been color-coordinating our attire. Tee-hee.

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For lunch, we kept things simple with a couple of blackened fish sandwiches and a round of frosty piña coladas swirled with fresh nutmeg.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent alternating between lounging in the shade on the couch, bobbing in the turquoise water, and playing coconut football on the beach.

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Of course, we didn't really toss around that coconut. That would be too much like exercise.

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Back at the house, we rinsed off the salt with a quick dip in the pool, then cleaned up for dinner at Sarjai's.

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Housed in the old Lucy's space, I was admittedly skeptical that anything at Sarjai's could top Lucy's deliciously crunchy fried snapper filets.

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Still, the steak au poivre with curry fries sounded delicious, so a Pinot Noir by the glass on the menu caught my eye and I asked for a little taste.

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A very little taste.

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We began our meal with the spicy tuna tartare drizzled with soy sauce and olive oil, followed by the aforementioned steak for me and the much-touted coconut shrimp with Malibu pineapple sauce for Angel.

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So many things in life don't live up to the hype -- New Coke, Y2K, 99.9% of storms called "Snowmaggedon" -- but happily, Sarjai's coconut shrimp is not one of them.

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Back at the villa, we took another dip in the moonlit pool before calling it a day.

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And that's when I knew we'd transitioned out of the denial phase. We really were back on our favorite little chunk of limestone, Moondance really was a little piece of paradise, and we really did have seven more days of eating, drinking, and lazing around in front of us. That's at least 33 more meals!
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Click here to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 05:35 Archived in Anguilla Tagged seaspray picante rendezvous_bay moondance_villa the_place sarjais Comments (14)

Anguilla, Stage 2: There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

The next day, we awoke in the comfortable cloud of our king-sized bed, having slept more hours in the past night that we typically sleep in an entire week. We flung open the drapes and were greeted by another picture-perfect day.

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We listened to the waves crash on the beach. We watched the clouds settle on St. Martin's mountaintops in the distance. We luxuriated in the solitude of just a handful of neighbors. (In New York City, a place without neighbors is called Connecticut.)

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We showered -- in an open glass shower large enough to hold our NYC apartment in its entirety -- then floated downstairs to lounge by the pool while lazily batting ideas back and forth as to how to spend the day. (Okay, you know that's a little white lie. Our agenda had been planned, in daily 15-minute increments, for at least the past 8 months.)

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As we contemplated nothing more strenuous for the day than deciding who would get up to fetch the next round of rum punches, the next stage of Anguilla Vacation Grief, anger, began to worm its way in: What kind of suckers were we anyway, with our stupid jobs and our stupid mortgages and our stupid student loans? Why on earth have we tethered ourselves to those annoying iPhones and iPads? Who even needs material goods, when you could live in a shack on the beach and scavenge for your dinner every night? This is how we were meant to be living, dammit: Jobless, homeless, and almost certainly dinner-less. Where had we gone wrong?!?

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We pondered these unanswerable questions as we made the short drive over to Elodia's on Shoal Bay East.

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There, we sprinted for the loungers at the farthest end of the beach, away from the madding crowds.

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For lunch, I feasted on chicken nuggets, while Angel ordered off the adult menu.

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Some people like to bring their own salad dressing when they go out to eat. I like to bring my own nutmeg.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon in deep contemplation of our pathetic workaday existences.

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Back at the villa, we cleaned up for dinner, hoping to drown our sorrows with a round of sunset cocktails at the Viceroy (now the Four Seasons) beforehand.

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The Sunset Lounge is modern and sophisticated, with a cocktail list to match.

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Our bartender muddled the limes for Angel's ginger-vanilla mojito and my caipiroska with gusto, and when I admired her handiwork, she invited me behind the bar to hang out and take some pictures.

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Obviously I was too busy stuffing limes and liquor bottles into my pockets to really focus on the photos.

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For dinner, we had reservations at Veya, a sexy tropical treehouse perched among swaying palm fronds.

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We'd carefully planned the day and time of our reservation to finally catch Omari Banks' acoustic set. Earlier that week, however, we learned that Omari was going to be in Trinidad for a benefit concert, and so we would miss him yet again.

Upon arrival, we were led to a table at the front of the restaurant, overlooking the Mezze lounge and the empty stage.

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Accustomed to being tucked away at one of the tables at the back of the restaurant where I can snap photos with relative abandon, we quickly realized that if we remained up front, we weren't going to see Omari, but we likely were going to see the disapproving stares of the surrounding diners when I started shooting. Not wanting to annoy anyone with the camera, Angel found Jerry and discreetly asked if we could be moved to a more isolated table in the back instead.

Have you ever opened your mouth and stuck not only your foot in it, but most of your calf, too? It turns out that Jerry, who is familiar with this blog(!), knew we'd be taking lots of photos and gave us the best seats in the house on purpose so we'd have a front-row seat for Omari, who had unexpectedly arrived back on island just in time to perform that evening.

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Open mouth, insert entire leg.

And while it's open, you might as well also toss in Veya's mind-blowing banana bread and Johnny cakes.

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We devoured the bread basket in short order, which was a big mistake since we then had nothing to dunk in the extraordinary yellow-pepper soup that the chef presented as an amuse-bouche.

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We couldn't decide between the Vietnamese-style fried calamari with nuoc cham and the conch fritters with a chili-lime aioli . . . so we didn't.

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Angel picked an old favorite for his main course, the grilled jerk tuna with a rum-coffee glaze, caramelized pineapple, and fried plantains.

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I went with something more unusual, at least for me: The tagine mahi-mahi with mashed plantains and cilantro-almond pesto. That might not sound so unusual, but I am one of those people for whom cilantro tastes like soap. (Fun fact: Most cilantro-haters possess a shared group of olfactory receptor genes that pick up on the smell of aldehyde chemicals, which are found in both cilantro . . . and soap. Translation: We're not crazy!) But this is Veya, where the magician in the kitchen, Jerry's lovely wife Carrie, can make even an ingredient that I normally loathe taste so good that not only can I tolerate it . . . I will choose it and happily devour it. (God only knows what that woman could do with a beet.)

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The evening was absolutely perfect: Fantastic food, great company, and a front-row seat for Omari's performance.

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And just when we thought it couldn't get any better, Jerry stopped by our table to chat, and to deliver this:

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That is a dragon fruit, fresh from the garden of one of Veya's servers. Indigenous to Central America, dragon fruit comes from several cactus species, and its succulent stem provides the fruit with moisture in the arid climates where it grows -- like Anguilla.

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Despite its Technicolor flesh, the fruit is extremely mild and reminiscent of kiwi.

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There might also have been a bottle of Champagne for dessert. You know how those restaurant people roll.

The next morning we awoke feeling great, which is not normally the case after Champagne, but can be the case if you accompany that bottle with enough food to create a sizable stomach-sponge.

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It was another day of glorious weather, so we decided to spend it at Ocean Echo on Meads Bay.

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It was well before noon and we had the place to ourselves, so we dropped our things on the nearest loungers and jumped straight into the water.

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Eventually the smell of food wafted our way, so we dragged ourselves up the beach for lunch, which turned out to be the excellent coconut curry shrimp with pineapple, along with the Asian stir fry with jasmine rice.

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After lunch we decided to fight it out over who'd get the last sip of the Ocean Sand Lemonade.

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Obviously, I won.

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Back at the villa, I took a quick shower, threw my hair into a messy bun, sprinted to the car, and gunned it over to my favorite spot on the island, Ferryboat Inn. As you can see, I was just a tiny bit excited about the burger bacchanal to come.

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Now, I have raved about the FBI cheeseburger in numerous posts on this blog, have waxed poetic about it on various online forums, and have even published handy how-to instructions for newbies here. But what I have not done is compose a proper Ode to The Ferryboat Cheeseburger. I think it might be time.

Oh Ferryboat burger, how do I love thee
With a rum punch in hand and a view of the sea.

Other burgers abound, but you are The One
Ground beefy perfection on a sesame-seed bun.

You're juicy and cheesy and too good to share
Ask for a bite? Angel won't even dare.

Delightful Marjorie and Christian preside over the place
Just don't interrupt me while I'm stuffing my face.

Oh Ferryboat burger, nothing in this world is so fine
If you
still haven't had one, you're no friend of mine.

Obviously, this can be set to music as well. There's even an awkward happy dance.

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Ferryboat had undergone a mini-renovation since our last visit, with new tables and chairs and a fresh coat of cheery, lime-green paint.

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After admiring their freshened-up digs, we got caught up with Marjorie and Christian at the bar while waiting for our burgers to arrive.

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As soon as they did, it was like one of those raucous party scenes in a movie where the parents come home and, all of a sudden, everything comes to a screeching halt and the room goes totally silent except for one drunk guy burping just off-camera.

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We'd no sooner finished our burgers and were heading home when -- irony of ironies -- we happened upon these two.

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I would have sworn it was just a coincidence . . . until I heard the big one say, "Hey, lady! Stop looking at my kid like that."
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Click here to read Part 3!

Posted by TraceyG 06:03 Archived in Anguilla Tagged viceroy ferryboat_inn elodias ocean_echo moondance veya omari_banks Comments (13)

Anguilla, Stage 3: Pick Your Poison

The next morning I bounded out of bed at 5:20 a.m., a feat that I could accomplish back home only if the house was on fire (and even then it is doubtful). Naturally, Angel was still asleep, so I tiptoed to the other bedroom to take in the glorious sunrise.

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5:30 a.m.: Maybe I'll head outside to poke around in the gardens for a bit.

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5:45 a.m.: Time to lift up Angel's eyelids to see if he's awake yet. No dice.

5:50 a.m.: Back to the balcony to soak up the sea breeze.

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5:58 a.m.: Doing nothing is boring. Happily, it suddenly occurred to me that the balcony would be the perfect spot for Angel to enjoy a cup of coffee when he woke up. And so I headed downstairs to do battle with that coffee-making contraption I'd seen earlier.

I don't drink coffee, so I don't really know how to work a coffee maker. But how hard could it be? I confirmed that I had coffee, sugar, and cream, then added the grounds to the filter, filled the chamber with water, and flipped the switch.

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After a few short minutes, success! The machine began to gurgle, and out came what looked and smelled like coffee. I triumphantly patted myself on the back as I poured a cup for Angel and delivered it to him in bed.

He was delighted by the coffee (though less so by the 6:15 a.m. wake-up call), and spent the rest of the morning sipping his coffee poolside as we discussed our plans for the day.

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We decided to do a little shopping that morning, with stops at Irie Life and a new favorite, Limin' Boutique.

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Ken and his cute-as-a-button wife Renee run Limin', while Renee pulls double duty by also modeling the bright, beachy wares that line the walls.

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After our spree, we drove up to Island Harbour to have lunch at Elite, which is not new but was new to us. We'd heard good things, and even if we hadn't, you know I'd drive to the ends of the earth for some gnocchi.

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It turns out that Elite is sweet and secluded and makes a mean focaccia, too.

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If that isn't enough to get you up to Island Harbour, then maybe the view is.

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We began the meal by sharing the shrimp panzanella salad, which came with croutons made from more of that fabulous focaccia, then moved on to the penne arrabiata in a spicy red pepper sauce for Angel (with just a smidgen of cheese), and the gnocchi for me.

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After lunch we lazed around for a bit, then decided to head over to Scilly Cay, since it had been 19 years since we'd last been there.

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Nineteen years, and I am pretty sure we are still nursing a hangover from that visit, courtesy of Eudoxie's deadly rum punch.

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Nineteen years, and we discovered that we've actually grown up a bit since then. What used to be great fun -- drunk folks lolling about in the water, awkwardly attempting to slap each other five and yelling, "WOOOO!" -- was now annoying to our old-folks sensibilities. And so we stole away to a couple of hidden loungers, sipped our rum punches, took a quick dip in the water, and caught the next boat back to Island Harbour, all before you could drunkenly holler, "Dude . . . watch this!"

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When we returned to Moondance that evening, Angel wasn't feeling well, and we racked our brains to see if he'd eaten something that I hadn't. (Not that it would have mattered much -- my stomach is made of cast iron.) But we'd shared an appetizer and tried each other's entrees at lunch, had ordered all the same drinks at both Elite and Scilly Cay, so we were stumped as to the cause.

That's because by that time, I'd forgotten all about that coffee I'd made for Angel earlier that morning, and of course so had he. In fact, it wasn't until his insides revolted with such vehemence that they couldn't even pick just one orifice from which to expel that coffee (and everything else in his stomach) that I realized what I'd done: Without even thinking, I'd filled the coffee pot that morning with tap water. And not just your run-of-the-mill Caribbean tap water, but tap water that had been languishing in the pipes of a house that had been unoccupied for weeks prior to our stay.

Looking back, I guess I should have known that something was amiss . . .

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At least he knew I didn't do it on purpose. There's no way I'd poison him in Anguilla and ruin my vacation.

By the time our dinner reservation at Straw Hat rolled around, Angel was in full-blown digestive distress, and it was clear that he was in no shape to go out. I picked up the phone to cancel, but before I could get through, Angel hauled himself off the sofa and insisted that he could make it. (I didn't believe him, of course, and when he actually volunteered to pose for some photos, I knew he'd gone plum delirious.)

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If you are new to the island and wondering if you should add Straw Hat to your list of dinner reservations, consider this: If you are suffering from all five symptoms in a Pepto-Bismol commercial at the same time and still want to go out to dinner because "It's Straw Hat!!," that's a pretty good sign that this place is worth your while.

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He staggered into the place like a man on his last legs and slumped into his seat at the table, where he looked like this . . .

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. . . but probably felt like this.

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Our table was ridiculously romantic: Right on the edge of the sea, illuminated by string lights and candles, with the sound of the surf and some reggae music floating on the light breeze.

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I didn't think Angel would be able to eat much, but that didn't mean his half would go to waste. And so we ordered up the lobster spring rolls to "share," followed by the lobster mac & cheese with gruyere and parmesan sauce for me, along with a mild-sounding melon-mojito snapper for Patient Zero.

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Angel took approximately two bites of that snapper before he turned green, and so we explained to our server, as politely and discreetly as we could, that we'd be taking the meal to go (though not before I inhaled that entire order of spring rolls as an act of good faith).

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The lovely Doris quickly noticed that we were leaving early and inquired as to whether everything was okay. We assured her that both the food and the setting were perfect, but unfortunately Angel hadn't been feeling well. At that she sprang into action, filling a to-go container with bitters and seeing us off with the utmost care and concern.

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For his part, Angel was the consummate professional, still shouting out photography tips as he crawled to the car gripping his belly.

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We got him home, tucked him into bed, and made sure he was on the side closest to the bathroom. And that's when I realized I'd entered Stage 3 of Anguilla Vacation Grief: Bargaining.

Dear Lord, please let him feel better so I can work in a second cheeseburger.
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Click here to read Part 4!

Posted by TraceyG 05:21 Archived in Anguilla Tagged elite irie_life straw_hat moondance scilly_cay limin_boutique Comments (13)

Anguilla, Stage 4: Doing a Little Moonlighting

Another day, another spectacular sunrise. Angel was still sick, so I let him sleep until 6:30 this time.

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We spent most of the morning at the pool, not wanting to head off to the beach until we could judge Angel's condition.

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Here he is praying for one more cheeseburger.

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We had to share the pool with a visitor, but he didn't drink much, so we didn't mind.

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Unfortunately Angel still wasn't feeling well as the morning progressed, and neither Pepto-Bismol, nor ginger-ale, nor bitters, nor even rum had done the trick. We figured we had nothing to lose by getting him a big bowl of rice to soak up the remaining poison, so we set off for Ocean Echo for some stir-fry.

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There, Angel managed to smile his way through a swim at Mead's, but when the water looks like this, you'd probably find yourself beaming even if the grim reaper was standing on shore just waiting for you to get pruney.

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Our man Delacroix took great care of us, making sure my glass of boozy lemonade remained filled and chilled.

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The rice helped settle Angel's stomach a bit, and we both managed a short but sublime period of pure, unadulterated joy.

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By that evening, however, Angel was back to feeling pretty awful, and Stage 4 of Anguilla Vacation Grief, depression, was starting to set in. Not only did we have just three days left, but at the rate we were going, we were going to spend all three of them not at the beach, but in bed (Angel) or at the pharmacy (me). Worse still, we were going to spend all three of them cheeseburger-less. (You know things are bad when the person who is dying of dysentery is actually less upset than the one who didn't get her second cheeseburger.)

That night we stayed in for dinner, since Angel wasn't eating much anyway and resting up would do him some good.

We agreed that I would set the table and prepare the wine while Angel made a quick run over to CeBlue to pick up a couple of pizzas. (Yes, we sent poor, sick Angel out instead of me. Do you really think that pizza would actually make it back to the house if I picked it up?)

We'd had lunch at CeBlue on our previous trip, and the brick-oven pizzas had been divine -- charred, chewy dough with bubbly, blistered edges and a variety of fresh toppings.

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This time, however, we were disappointed: Instead of brick-oven pizza, we ended up with two rounds of cardboard topped with some sauce. Luckily we still had enough lobster from that Straw Hat mac & cheese to salvage them.

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The pizza might have a been a letdown, but the evening itself was positively magical: A full moon danced off the nearby waves, bathing the pool and patio in shimmering moonlight. We soaked up the spectacular surroundings, trying to imprint them on our memories forever, as we sipped our wine, dangled our feet in the pool, gazed at the glowing moon, and counted our many blessings.

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By the next morning, I was getting desperate to make sure Angel enjoyed his last few days of our vacation, despite the fact that he probably should have been enjoying a stay at Princess Alexandra. And so we set off for a morning swim at his favorite beach, Maundays Bay.

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I continued my campaign ("Make Angel Great Again") by then whisking him off to CuisinArt, where I figured that if his favorite drink on the island couldn't cure him, nothing could.

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We kept our lunches on the light side to avoid riling up Angel's insides any more than necessary.

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We spent the rest of the day back at the villa, Angel alternating between napping in the cool AC and joining me at the pool.

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Happily, by that evening Angel felt well enough to go out again, and so we got dressed and popped over one of our favorite spots on the island, E's Oven.

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Have you been to Anguilla more than a few times, but still haven't been to E's? Look, I know you love dining on the water. It's breezy and beachy and romantic. But you can't see the waves at night anyway, and even if you could, there is no sight -- day or night -- more glorious than E's coconut-crusted grouper with banana-rum sauce atop a bed of curried beans.

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The grilled red hind amuse-bouche and spiny lobster spring rolls with orange-chili sauce are no slouches, either.

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And because Angel wasn't feeling well enough to finish his grouper, somebody got to have the leftovers.

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We still have 36 hours left, and that's plenty of time for meatballs, BBQ, lobster pasta, chicken roti, and even some old-school guavaberry coladas. Click here to read Part 5!

Posted by TraceyG 04:44 Archived in Anguilla Tagged cuisinart cap_juluca e's_oven moondance_villa ocean_echo Comments (8)

Anguilla, Stage 5: Accept the Things You Cannot Change

The next day Angel was feeling even better than the night before -- well enough, in fact, to re-heat the last of his E's Oven leftovers and swat me away when I volunteered to act as his royal taster to make sure he wasn't being poisoned (again).

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It was our last full day on island, so we set a brisk pace to make sure we could include everything we wanted to do.

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As you can see.

As lunchtime drew near, we set off for Tropical Sunsets, where we knew they'd make us an off-the-menu guavaberry colada. Both the color and the taste of a guavaberry colada are a bit reminiscent of Pepto-Bismol, and Tropical Sunsets has comfy loungers, so we decided that this visit was actually part of Angel's treatment plan: He would take his "medicine" and spend the day resting.

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Angel ordered a simple turkey club, while I decided that if I wasn't going to get another Ferryboat cheeseburger on this trip, then I was going to drown my sorrows in BBQ sauce.

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Incredibly, even though Angel was feeling better than he had in days, he still managed to have a near brush with death, this time thanks to a stealthy toothpick hidden in his sandwich, which he almost swallowed.

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The rest of the day passed much as the ones before it: Swim, rest, repeat.

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I even managed to get some exercise, walking all the way down to Gwen's for one of her super-sized rum punches.

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It was our final night on island, and we were going to Dolce Vita, come hell or high water or hospitalization.

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It was Dolce Vita's last night before closing for the season, and while Angel had warned me that they would probably be out of many of their regular menu items, I was secretly hoping that in an effort to get rid of every single thing in the kitchen, we'd be asked to "pitch in" and devour plate after plate of gnocchi and lasagna and risotto until it was all gone.

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We settled in at our usual table (is there any bigger thrill than being able to say you have a "regular" table at Dolce Vita?!), then put in an order for two glasses of wine and the tuna tartare.

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Angel was feeling better, but still not 100%, so he ordered a side of meatballs as his entrée. I've taught him well, y'all.

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As it turns out, Angel was right about the menu, so I had to settle for the lobster pasta in pink sauce being served with shrimp instead. Oh, the sacrifices.

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Our flight wasn't scheduled to leave until early afternoon, so the next morning we found time for one last swim at Shoal Bay before packing our bags.

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As we bobbed in the water and buried our feet in the powdery sand, I felt the evil tentacles of Stage 5 of Anguilla Vacation Grief, acceptance, begin to wrap themselves around me. The clock was ticking, and soon -- whether we accepted it or not -- we'd have to board the plane and head home. And so we made the most of our last few minutes.

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(Did you know there is actually a word for this? We can thank our German friends for torschlusspanik, which refers to that panicky sensation of time running out.)

When we arrived at the airport, we learned that our flight was delayed by an hour, giving us time for a quick lunch and postponing the acceptance process by another 60 minutes. The Roti Hut is just down the road, so it seemed like the perfect spot to grab a bite and still make it back to the airport in time for our flight.

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Now, I don't know if it's because I am dressed in street clothes, or because the breeze inexplicably dies down, or because the temperature somehow shoots up by 25 degrees, but every time we head to the airport after a trip to the tropics, it is always the hottest day of the entire trip, unbearably hot, and I invariably develop a bad case of THTDH ("The Heat is Too Damn Hot"). (Angel suspects that I fake overheating just to avoid carrying my own luggage. I don't, but I will keep that idea in my back pocket for when it's time to do laundry or take out the trash.) And so it was at the Roti Hut -- a place with less air circulation than a hermetically sealed space capsule -- that a most severe case of THTDH set in and I nearly passed out in a pool of my own sweat.

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I fanned myself with the menu. Angel pursed his lips and blew cool air on me. Finally I gave up and chugged a bottle of Heineken, then ordered a second one to serve as a cold compress for my sweaty forehead.

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Right as I was on the verge of heatstroke, the roti arrived and I managed to perk back up. That's because what Roti Hut lacks in ambiance and AC, it makes up for with the roti: They were soft, pillowy, just-spicy-enough, and loaded with perfectly fork-tender chicken and veggies.

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Too soon, it was time to head back to the airport. As we unloaded our bags from the trunk and bid farewell to our sand-covered rental car, I began to accept my fate and allowed Angel to drag me to the gate.

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It wasn't easy, but chugging that Heinie at the Roti Hut definitely helped.

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Angel recovered from his stomach bug; I recovered from my heatstroke right after Angel carried my luggage into the airport; and soon it was on to the next trip! Come along for a butterball turkey bomb in the Hudson Valley, a "best of" tour of the City of Gluttony Love, a freaky-tiki good time on Anna Maria Island, a fritter-eating contest in the Conch Republic (the smart money's on yours truly!), and one very hoppin' hula hut in the Hamptons. Oh, and that luggage-less trip to Anguilla! Click here to subscribe and you'll receive an email from Travellerspoint when a new post goes up.

Can't wait that long? Follow me on Instagram @escape.from.new.york to see what we're eating and drinking in the meantime!

Posted by TraceyG 07:08 Archived in Anguilla Tagged dolce_vita shoal_bay roti-hut tropical_sunsets Comments (8)

Labor Day in Key West. Literally.

In the great annals of First World Problems, it's hard to top, "I'm going to miss Labor Day in the Hamptons because I have to spend the weekend in Key West." I know. I knowww. But a new tenant was moving into our condo in Casa Marina, and because we are what some people call "fastidious" and others call "on the spectrum," we decided to fly down to ensure that the place would be ready. (Sure, we could have hired someone to inspect the place and make sure it was up to snuff, but have you ever seen my meticulous husband clean something? You'd think we let Ebola patients lick our plates.) And so we hopped a quick flight to Key West for what was shaping up to be a charmed visit indeed.

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Well, at least until we arrived. Because sweet baby Jesus, it was hot. And lord, it was stifling. It was like being waterboarded by a sopping wet towel fresh out of a hot dryer, which doesn't even make any sense. That's how hot it was.

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We cabbed it over to the condo, where we were mercifully greeted by the shady tropical gardens and inviting pool.

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There's a man in New York City named Jimmy McMillan who turns up every four years to run for mayor. McMillan's political party is called, "The Rent is Too Damn High," a phrase that also happens to be his entire political platform. A reporter might ask about his position on, say, the treatment of carriage horses in New York, and McMillan will respond, "Ain't no money to be takin' carriage rides, because THE RENT . . . IS TOO DAMN HIGH!" Or a debate moderator will ask what McMillan proposes to do about the city's broken educational system, to which he will respond, "All I learned in school is that THE RENT . . . IS TOO DAMN HIGH!"

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I was the Jimmy McMillan of Key West. No matter what anyone said to me, my response was the same. "Where do you want to go for lunch?" Angel would ask, to which I would respond, "Who cares? I'll be dead before we get there because THE HEAT . . . IS TOO DAMN HOT!" "Do you want to ride down Duval or Simonton?" he'd press. "What does it matter? The asphalt's melted clean off of both of them, because THE HEAT . . . IS TOO DAMN HOT!" Everywhere we went, I muttered this phrase over and over under my breath, while the sweat collected in the crooks of my elbows and my hair swelled to angora-rabbit proportions.

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But before we could go oozing around town, we first had to take inventory of our supplies.

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We had a handful of cleaning products, but a closet full of coat hangers. Priorities.

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After a short discussion, we decided that Angel should start working while I rode to the store to pick up the items we still needed.

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I idiotically thought I'd gotten the sweeter end of the deal, until I stepped outside and beads of perspiration popped out of my pores with an audible zoink, like a nervous cartoon character in the face of an oncoming freight train.

But the alternative was scrubbing the walls with a toothbrush, or cleaning in between the hardwood floorboards with a pair of tweezers, or whatever other painstaking projects Angel had invented for himself, so I soldiered on. Despite the disorienting heat, I still managed to remember the most important items on my list: Potato chips and piña coladas.

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Now, Angel has a lot of great qualities, but unfortunately being lazy isn't one of them. When there is a task at hand, he absolutely refuses to slack off or take a break until the task is completed, thoroughly and perfectly. Which is great when the task is buying me a birthday present, but not so great when that task is scrubbing grout.

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Even the Rain Man of Household Chores has to eat, though, and so I dragged him off to Southernmost for nachos and key lime coladas.

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The three-minute bike ride from Southernmost back to our condo was a sickeningly sticky affair, so as soon as we arrived back home, I pulled my bike inside the gate, dropped it to the ground, and sprinted headlong into the pool fully-clothed, crying out, "SWEET RELIEF!!!!" as the pool overflowed with gallons of my sweat.

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That night, Angel calculated that he'd lost approximately 82 minutes and 45 seconds of work thanks to that lunch at Southernmost, so for dinner he suggested that we stay in and order pizza.

The weather outside was an actual pizza oven anway, so it did make sense. Plus, I'd lost approximately 15 lbs. of water weight that day and needed to bulk up. Who needs one of those plastic sweat suits when you've got summer in Key West?

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The next day we woke early to squeeze in a bike ride before the day got too hot.

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We lasted about 20 minutes before calling in for reinforcements.

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Soon it was time for lunch, so this time I dragged Angel to one of our go-to spots, Agave 308.

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We settled in at our usual table in the window and ordered up our favorite drinks on the island: A sweet-tart Paloma made with strawberry-infused tequila, grapefruit juice, and muddled strawberries for me, and a Mexican Mule with ginger syrup, fresh lime, and a skewer of candied ginger for Angel.

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As, er, side dishes, we split an order of chips and salsa, then enjoyed the island gazpacho topped with blue crab salad and the roast pork tacos with spicy slaw.

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Later, the bartender brought us an experimental freebie: A "Samoa" cookie with house-made vanilla tequila, coconut, and dark chocolate. Or as Angel called it, a Girl Scout with a driver's license.

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We worked nonstop the rest of the day, and that evening my furtive texts for help were finally answered when our friends Mark and Steve invited us over for dinner. Angel reluctantly put aside his latest project (I think he was perfecting the trim in the kitchen with an eyeliner brush) and we pedaled over, making a quick stop at funky Vino's on Duval to pick up some wine.

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Mark runs the fabulous Key West Food and Wine Festival, which is a great event if you like food, wine, and seeing how much your liver can take before it cries "uncle." It soon became apparent that Mark had decided to do a dry-run for the fest that evening, serving up everything from grilled lobster and shrimp to steak, corn on the cob, asparagus, and melon and prosciutto skewers, along with roughly 6 bottles of wine . . . per person.

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We enjoyed great food and good, if rather opinionated, company.

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For dessert, Mark's friend Joey, a pastry chef extraordinaire, brought some coconut cake. If you've ever seen an episode of "When Animals Attack," then you know how the cake came to look like this after about 30 seconds.

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The next day we gathered up anyone who wasn't still passed out from the night before and hoofed it over to Santiago's Bodega for a little hair of the dog.

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The fire was just to make sure everyone was fully awake.

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That afternoon we divided up the remaining tasks at the condo: Angel spent the afternoon using one of those CSI-style ultraviolet lights to ferret out invisible stains on the plantation shutters, while I lounged in the pool with a key lime colada.

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After a few hours we assessed our progress and decided that the house was probably clean enough to pass inspection by the folks who sterilize hospital burn units, which meant that Angel was somewhat pleased with our work thusfar. We decided to celebrate at Kelly's happy hour, because nothing says a job well done like a bowl full of melted cheese.

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The key lime margaritas at Kelly's turned into dark rum pina coladas at Louie's, and at that point there was no turning back: It was time to get down with our bad selves, as well as any poor unsuspecting bystanders, at the Green Parrot.

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I decided to take the next morning's sluggish pace as a sign that Angel was due for a break and, more importantly, I was due for a burger. And so we headed off to Frita's Cuban Burgers, where the menu promised an explosion of flavor on a freshly-baked Cuban roll.

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Frita's manages to squeeze an impressive amount of tropical bric-a-brac, homages to Cuba, and even bartender roulette into its charming little space.

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If you need to eat-a-Frita on the fly, there's also a food truck outside.

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We grabbed two seats at the tiny bar inside and ordered up a round of the house special, sangria slushies.

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We both had to try the signature frita, a beef and pork patty seasoned with garlic and Spanish spices, then topped with spicy ketchup and crispy shoestring fries.

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To that we added cheese arepas, freshly-baked empanadas, and a plate of rice 'n' beans that put all others to shame: Coconut-ginger jasmine rice with black beans, sweet plantains, and salsa verde, all smothered in melted cheese.

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And a cute little flan for Angel.

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The next day was our last full day of work, and it was sure to be a long one. We decided to fuel up with egg white omelets and fresh juice.

Just kidding! We had cheesesteak spring rolls.

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In addition to the Breakfast of Champions, the Rum Barrel on Front Street also has some healthy options, like fresh green salads and grilled fish.

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Along with that "juice" I mentioned earlier.

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It was our last evening on island, so we met up with friends for dinner at Azur to take advantage of their locals'-only summer special.

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All food and wine was half-off, so we decided that the best way to get our money's worth was to order everything on the menu and let the savages fight it out.

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I don't know who thought it would be funny to pile up all those wine glasses in front of me for this photo, but the joke's on you if you think you're getting your glass back afterwards.

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On our last day, our writer/blogger/photographer friend Claudia drove down to Key West for a planned stay on nearby Sunset Key, and invited us over to the island for lunch. Although our flight home was scheduled for that afternoon, the timing seemed doable, so I agreed.

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I knew, however, that Angel would consider every possible scenario, and a whole bunch of impossible ones, before ultimately deciding that it would be way too risky to make the 10-minute boat ride over to Sunset Key on the same day that our flight was to depart. What if the boat breaks down? What if it sinks? What if it is torpedoed by a wayward Navy jet, or destroyed by a large mechanical shark? The variables were many, and thus my chances of getting Angel to agree were slim.

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Or so I thought. Turns out, inhaling all those cleaning-product fumes was good for something.

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As fate would have it, we ended up on the same boat over as Claudia, which gave us a little extra time to get caught up before lunch.

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Or, you know, to post a quick Snapchat.

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A cruise ship was in port as we departed, and while cruises are not my cup of tea, it's hard not to marvel at how man can design 150,000 tons of steel to stay afloat, but cannot invent a pair of pantyhose that doesn't run within 20 minutes of putting them on.

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Upon arrival, we asked for a table indoors so we could eat in air-conditioned comfort, which is really a crime at a place as lovely as Latitudes. Still, it beat branding my forearm on one of those wrought-iron chairs baking outside in the sun.

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After settling in, we ordered up an assortment of libations and then got down to the serious business of food styling.

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Next up, a photogenic tuna tartare with miso-yuzu aioli, a perfectly posed lobster and crab cake with grilled corn salsa, and a casually candid fish sammich with key lime tartar sauce.

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Our lunch was over all too quickly, and soon it was time to say our goodbyes and head back to Key West to catch our flight.

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As usual, we skidded into the airport with just minutes to spare, worn out and exhausted, and even though the airport was nice and cool, I found myself again thinking of Jimmy McMillan's catchphrase, but tweaked just a bit.

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"THIS VISIT . . . WAS TOO DAMN SHORT!"
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What's up next? A marvelous Moondance in Anguilla, death-defying feats of stupidity in the Hudson Valley, a boozy "swingers" weekend in Philadelphia, and a rockin' New Year's Eve at an old folks home on Anna Maria Island. Check back soon or click here to subscribe and you'll receive an email when a new post goes up!

Just want more Key West? Come on vacation, leave on probation.

Posted by TraceyG 04:51 Archived in USA Tagged key_west santiago's green_parrot key_west_food_and_wine_festival southernmost_beach_cafe Comments (12)

A Weekend in East Hampton: Fancy That

One of the things I enjoy most about writing a travel blog is all the interesting people I've met as a result. Well, that and all the free food.

And so, when I received an email from Carol -- the manager and resident den mother at East Hampton's posh Huntting Inn and the former co-owner of Mango's Seaside Grill in Anguilla -- inviting me and Angel to be her guests at the Huntting Inn for a weekend, I jumped at the chance. Because what could I possibly enjoy more than some lively conversation about two of my favorite places?

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Well, anyway.

East Hampton is believed to be the first English settlement in the state of New York, built on land purchased from the Montaukett Indians in 1639. Through strict zoning and preservation laws, the town retains much of its colonial history today.

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It also maintains a little bit of its natural beauty, too.

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The Huntting Inn is the quintessential country inn and the place to stay in East Hampton.

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Occupying a prime spot on the village's chi-chi Main Street, the Inn was built in 1699 for the second Presbyterian minister of East Hampton, Reverend Nathaniel Huntting, who raised 10 children there with his wife Mary, who presumably died of exhaustion.

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Today, the Inn has the comfortable, worn-in feel of your grandma's country house, with beach chairs and umbrellas lining the halls, magazines and restaurant menus piled high near the cozy couches and on the covered porches, and board games resting on the hearth of the centuries-old stone fireplace, awaiting the occasional rainy day.

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A bright breakfast room serves up fruit, pastries, and fresh-squeezed juices in the morning.

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Outside, the manicured grounds are dotted with inviting benches and other places to enjoy the sunshine.

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I just wish someone had told us to bring the Rolls or the Bentley.

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The rooms are spacious, done up in soothing shades of sea and sky and sand, with large ensuite baths and plenty of thoughtful touches, like fresh-cut flowers from the Inn's garden, and dark-colored towels for removing makeup.

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We typically drive out to the Hamptons after work on Thursday or Friday and return to the city late on Sunday, so the drive takes about an hour and a half each way. But on this particular weekend we departed mid-afternoon, and apparently so did all eight million people who live in this city, since the normally 90-minute drive took a whopping 240 minutes. I'm no mathematician, but that's 15 miles an hour . . . for FOUR HOURS.

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If that isn't enough to drive you to drink, I don't know what is. And so you can probably understand why we needed to make a pit stop in Bridgehampton before continuing on at our snails-are-passing-us pace.

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One of our year-round favorites, Almond restaurant in Bridgehampton boasts 100-year-old tin ceilings, classic white subway tile, and on-trend "bottled" cocktails, which allow the mixologist to fine-tune a particular concoction and bottle it, ensuring that it's perfect every time.

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Though a lemongrass-infused Cosmo with house-made cranberry syrup is pretty much perfect all the time.

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Of course, you couldn't really blame anyone for wanting to be in the Hamptons that weekend. It was late September, that heavenly sliver of time between summer and fall when the ocean is at its warmest, temperatures hover in the low 80s, and the sky turns a deep cobalt blue. Late-harvest tomatoes compete with pumpkins and squash for bin space at the farm stands, red and gold mums start popping up in window boxes, and in the villages, shop windows gradually transition from sundresses and espadrilles to chunky sweaters and cashmere wraps.

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After checking in with Carol and settling in to our room, it was soon time for dinner, so we made the short walk down Main Street to the 1770 House.

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The 1770 House actually dates back to 1663, when it was built as a private home; over 100 years later, in 1770, it was converted to an inn. Today, the inn is known for its famous "Tavern Meatloaf," which East Hampton's Ina Garten, also known as the Food Network's Barefoot Contessa, has been raving about on TV for almost as long as I've been raving about cheeseburgers on this blog.

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But this isn't just any pub grub, and so the Tavern -- located, speakeasy-style, down a dimly-lit, narrow flight of stairs -- is guarded by a gate, and an always-full reservations book.

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Seating is in a cozy, low-ceilinged room with comfy, pillow-strewn banquettes.

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We started off with a salad of local heirloom tomatoes, then moved on to the main event -- the famous meatloaf with garlic sauce for me, and the succulent short ribs for Angel, which you know are good when they can distract me from a meatloaf.

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For dessert, we couldn't resist the local berry crumble.

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The next morning we decided to walk off last night's meaty excesses along the East Hampton Village Nature Trail, which is just steps from the Inn.

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The Nature Trail ended not far from the Huntting Inn, but the day was so gorgeous that we decided to keep walking, past famed Further Lane and the other wide, tree-lined streets near the beach.

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Of course, when you're part of the one percent, massive hedges aren't enough; you're going to need a guard dog, too.

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But not just any dog.

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Or even just any dog.

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We finished our walk by making a wide loop toward the ocean.

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East Hampton: Where the huge mailboxes are sized proportionately to the bills deposited into them.

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We'd worked up quite an appetite after all that walking and stalking, so we made the short walk over to Cittanuova in the village for lunch. Blending sleek European style with a beachy Hamptons vibe, Cittanuova's glass pocket doors merge the airy indoor space with the shaded garden out back.

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We settled in at a cozy table near the soothing fountain, then tucked into two orders of the panzanella, which turned out to be the best I've ever had . . . including the ones I've had in Tuscany.

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Then it was on to a simple but satisfying spaghetti with San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, and basil for me, and the panini with prosciutto San Daniele, stracchino cheese, arugula, tomato, and white truffle oil for the Ange.

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After lunch we milled around the village for a bit, taking in the sights.

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By late afternoon the sun was hot and our wallets were empty, so we decided to stop by Main Beach for a bit, using the beach passes provided by the Inn.

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While there are an unlimited number of beach passes for those lucky enough to own property in East Hampton, for non-residents -- those who can bear to part with upwards of $900,000 to rent a house for the summer -- the town issues only 2,900 coveted permits each season. And so stories of bribery, threats, tears, and extortion abound, involving everyone from federal judges and Congressmen to actors and hedge-fund moguls.

Which is why, for just the briefest of moments, I giddily contemplated auctioning that beach pass on eBay.

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The ocean breeze made us thirsty, so we headed off to Bay Kitchen Bar, which overlooks East Hampton's Three Mile Harbor.

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I'd heard that Bay Kitchen Bar had added juleps to their cocktail list, so we snagged two water-view seats on the upper level patio and ordered up a Blackberry Julep with muddled mint, blackberries, bourbon, agave, and lime, and a Root Beer Float Julep with vanilla vodka, root beer, bourbon, and vanilla extract.

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We moved down to the Adirondacks on the lawn as the sun began to go down.

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There, we were joined by this friendly speckled chicken? miniature turkey? No wonder the locals call us citiots.

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That evening we had reservations to take Carol to dinner at the Huntting Inn's Palm steakhouse.

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The place was packed, and even with all of Carol's pull, we still ended up waiting over an hour for our table to be ready.

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That turned out to be a lucky break, as it gave us plenty of time for chatting and laughing and wine-drinking, and although I had brought my camera along, I respected our lovely hostess's protestations that she was feeling somewhat camera-shy.

What I can tell you is that Carol has lived enough life for at least two or three people, and she recounted much of it in hilarious detail, regaling us with stories of her former life as a nun, her years of being relentlessly pursued by her eventual ex-husband, the late Mango Dave, and her stint operating one of Anguilla's best-loved restaurants, Mango's (including through Hurricane Luis, which destroyed the restaurant shortly after it opened).

Finally, our table was ready, and we wasted no time in ordering up a feast of steakhouse favorites: Fried calamari, veal parmigiana, filet Oscar, macaroni & cheese, creamed spinach, and cheesecake for dessert.

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Best of all, we didn't have far to go to crawl into bed afterwards.

The next morning we stopped by Round Swamp Farm, which you might recognize as the market where celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay, Eric Ripert, and Geoffrey Zakarian like to get their produce when they're out east.

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But of course I wasn't there for the celebrities, and I definitely wasn't there for the veggies. I was there for the fried chicken.

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And maybe some other stuff, too.

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Soon it was time for lunch, and again the day's weather dictated that we spend it outside. So we decided to make the short hop over to Montauk for lunch at the Montauket.

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Perched high on a bluff overlooking Fort Pond Bay, the Montauket is one of the last holdouts of the old fishing-village era of Montauk, which is unfortunately being rapidly replaced by a trendy young crowd looking to expand ever eastward from the Hamptons. (One can only hope that they eventually keep going and fall into the ocean end up on Block Island.)

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The Montauket's vibe and décor are genuinely old-school, which provides a nice change from all the hipster spots in Montauk that have spent thousands of dollars and hired teams of architects, designers, and consultants in an attempt to look . . . genuinely old-school. But despite those efforts, I doubt any of them have one of these:

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Lunch was good, but it couldn't compete with the fantastic view.

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After lunch we headed over to one of my favorite spots to while away a sunny afternoon, the Montauk Yacht Club on Star Island.

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Originally built in 1929, MYC underwent an extensive renovation a few years ago and now boasts everything from a surf camp and sailing lessons to nightly bonfires and S'mores during the summer. Done up in spiffy navy and white for the boating set, it's the perfect spot to take in the view while enjoying a cocktail or glass of wine.

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Or some truffle fries covered in flurry of Parmigiano-Reggiano slivers.

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The afternoon passed in a happy haze of sun and sea.

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Before we knew it, it was time to head over to Montauk Harbor, where we planned to take a private sunset cruise.

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The captain had told us we could bring our own beverages, so we made a pit stop at Lynn's Hula Hut for a couple of Hula Juices to bring aboard, then grabbed some sweatshirts from the stash we keep in the trunk, just in case. (It's the Hamptons: You never know when you might find yourself at an evening clam bake, a bonfire on the beach, or frozen out by an air conditioner set to 60 degrees because some socialite showed up to dinner in a fur . . . in July).

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Montauk Harbor is actually the northern part of Lake Montauk; a cut allows boaters to access Block Island Sound and, beyond that, the Atlantic Ocean.

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Although it was early evening when we set off, the cloud-speckled sky was already giving us an inkling that that night's sunset was going to be a good one.

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As the sky turned a rosy pink, we plied the waters of Montauk Harbor and were treated to the sight of the fishing boats returning with the day's catch.

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And as predicted, the sunset was spectacular.

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Soon it was time to head home, but not before a pit stop at one of our favorite Mexican dives, La Superica in Sag Harbor.

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Of course, because this is the Hamptons, that dive has a water view and plays host to sailors from the Breakwater Yacht Club after their Wednesday night races, but you know us: We're not too picky.

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Besides, is there any better way to end the weekend than with frozen margaritas and overflowing platters of enchiladas?

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I don't think so, either.

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Want more Hamptons? Click here for my A to Z rundown of everything to gobble, guzzle, and gaze at on my favorite little strip of sand!

Posted by TraceyG 10:44 Archived in USA Tagged montauk hamptons sag_harbor east_hampton cittanuova 1770_house bay_kitchen_bar the_palm huntting_inn montauket round_swamp_farm la_superica Comments (9)

March Madness, Part 1: Miami Vice(s)

It was supposed to be five days of rest, relaxation, and respite from that annual 30-day preview of hell, also known as March. We'd hop a quick, 2.5 hour flight to Miami, then spend our days lounging poolside with mojitos and chilled ceviche. Come evening, we'd enjoy a round of cocktails on a swanky rooftop overlooking the city, dine on Floribbean cuisine in trendy South Beach, then retire to our Art Deco-inspired bungalow for a night swim in our private pool. Sip, swim, rinse, repeat.

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It didn't quite turn out that way.

First, our friends Ellen and Brian got wind of our plans, and though we were thrilled and flattered that they were going to fly in from California to join us for a few days, we were not expecting them to do so on such short notice. ("Short notice" to people like me and Angel being anything less than a year.) And so plans were rearranged, reservations were revised, and nightclubs somehow found their way onto the agenda. Plans to sleep in were replaced with plans to sleep when we were dead.

Second, there was the city of Miami itself, which I hadn't properly visited since the turn of the Millennium. True to its nickname as the "Manhattan of the South," the city was a maddening mix of the gorgeous and the gaudy, the sophisticated and the seedy, the effortless and the exhausting. By the end of our trip I couldn't decide whether to put a down payment on a beachfront condo or punch the mayor in the gut.

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And I might have leaned toward the former, but for the third unexpected hitch in our plans: ULTRA.

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Have you heard of this thing? If, like me, you last set foot in a nightclub when Bill Clinton was still in office, you can be forgiven if the answer is no. The Ultra Music Festival, as it's formally known, is a three-day-long EDM bacchanal during which tens of thousands of twenty-somethings converge on the city to hear a bunch of DJs with names like Knife Party, Carnage, Jackal, and Destroid. (Thank god Laidback Luke and Marshmello were there to chill things out.)

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(By the way, did you have to look up what EDM stands for? If you thought it was some type of defibrillator that you might need when all those flashing lights cause you to have a seizure, then we are on the same page.)

Ultra is how I discovered that I am not the type of person who parties at a velvet-rope nightclub until 5am. I am that person's mother. But this is Miami, where the clubs don't get interesting until well past midnight and the pool parties go until 8 the next morning. And so we did our best to adapt to the half-naked hordes and people with tattoos. . . on their faces.

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But before we could immerse ourselves into the throbbing throngs of Ultra-goers, we had to pick up our rental car. Incredulous that we'd shown up even after learning that our visit would coincide with Ultra, the rental agent blurted out, "But this is the worst weekend . . . OF ALL TIME!!!" The "for old people like you" at the end of that sentence was implied, or at least I thought it was . . . until the agent "upgraded" us to that sexy Buick Lacrosse.

Anyway.

We jumped in our hot ride and made a beeline for Sunset Place, an outdoor mall in South Miami. That neighborhood is home to several local universities, and therefore where I knew I'd find the mecca for stoned college students everywhere: the Mellow Mushroom.

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It also happens to be the mecca for people who love pizza as much as I do, which is to say, enough to break down this door if I have to.

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Then again, I think we all know what my first love is. Even Mellow Mushroom knows it.

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Still, coming in second-place on my list of foods that I love more than Angel is not too shabby.

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Like all Mellow Mushroom locations, the one in South Miami is groovy and psychedelic.

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They even had green beer in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Either that, or the mushrooms on Angel's Holy Shiitake pie started to kick in.

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I went with a simple pepperoni pie, since just the thought of pizza makes me crazy enough already.

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After lunch we headed north to Miami Shores, a pretty, tree-lined enclave that we picked for its proximity to Wynwood, Brickell, and other neighborhoods we planned to explore.

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You know you're in a fancy zip code when instead of stray cats, stray peacocks roam the streets.

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Among all this ostentatious opulence, we'd rented a cozy bungalow with a carport and a private pool, both of which were life-savers on a weekend where $50 cash-only valets, $500-a-lounger pool parties, and reservation-only rooftops were the norm.

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That evening we decided to go retro for Happy Hour at the 1950s-era Vagabond Motel in Miami's hip MiMo district, an acronym for Miami Modern -- or, in the case of the Vagabond, Midcentury Modern.

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The bartenders take their mojitos seriously here, and I take my hot bartenders seriously, so it was a win-win.

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Plus there were cushy day beds for post-mojito napping.

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And little red wagons to haul around your beach towels or sunscreen or vodka.

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And thrones! With their own ottoman. Yessss.

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As the sun began to set, we sunk deeper into our daybeds and found ourselves zoning out to the house music provided by the DJ. Yes, actual music, as opposed to the Morse Code we'd been hearing elsewhere.

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Indeed, we were having such a good time at the Vagabond that we repeatedly pushed back our dinner reservations at nearby Sugarcane Raw Bar & Grill by 15-minute increments, ultimately arriving about 10 minutes late for our "current" reservation, and over an hour past our original one.

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But we found everyone in Miami to be so friendly and accommodating that, when we finally showed up and had to wait approximately three minutes to be seated, the hostess apologized to us for the wait. (In New York they would just stab you in the neck with a rusty fork before informing you that the next available table is at 4:30pm three Tuesdays from now.)

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As it turns out, though, Sugarcane would have been worth any wait. From the creative cocktails (the Tobacco Rum Old Fashioned with homemade cigar bitters was a standout, as was the Louisiana Purchase, made with Four Roses bourbon, vanilla syrup, Scrappy’s chocolate bitters, and a local brown ale) to the scallop crudo with black truffle, lime, and jalapeno, to the American Wagyu sliders topped with a Japanese-inspired tonkatsu sauce and fried quail eggs, everything we ordered was absolutely fantastic, and served quickly and with a smile, even though the place was packed.

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As a fitting end to our first full day in Miami, we arrived back at the bungalow full of burgers and bourbon and ready for a night swim . . . in our flamingo-pink pool.

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The next day we had lunch reservations at one of the city's Art Deco landmarks, The Raleigh in South Beach.

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No, we didn't bike there, but we should have. It really is the worst weekend of all time when you have to beg some guy in an empty, overgrown lot to let you park your car for 1.5 hours for anything less than a Benjamin.

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We'd planned to spend the day sipping cocktails at the Raleigh's chic pool, but thanks to Ultra, the loungers that usually rent for $25 a day were suddenly $250, and accompanied by an all-day lineup of DJs playing a bunch of songs that sounded like R2D2 when he's trying to tell C3PO something really important.

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Still, the food at the Raleigh, like everywhere else we went in Miami, was excellent, and the gorgeous garden was right up my alley.

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Plus, more thrones. I'm really liking this whole Tropical Westeros thing Miami's got going on.

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Lunch started off with a couple of cocktails: A hashtagged affair called the #belegendary, with Grey Goose Le Melon, St. Germaine, Champagne, and fresh cantaloupe, and the Rosey Ginger, made with vodka, rosemary sugar, ginger beer, fresh grapefruit, and lime.

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We then moved on to the panzanella salad for me, the blackened mahi sandwich with guacamole for Angel, and the absolute best truffle fries I've ever had, which were supposed to be for both of us, but you already know how that story goes.

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After lunch we set off for the Savoy Hotel, which has a lovely beachfront pool, a small bar that serves tasty frozen drinks, and music set at a level for anyone over 40 who doesn't yet need a hearing aid. Best of all, we could park easily nearby without auctioning off one of our kidneys.

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That evening we headed down to Brickell, with plans to have cocktails at the rooftop pool bar at the Viceroy.

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Serving as the financial district of Miami, we felt right at home in Brickell amid the skyscrapers and taxicabs.

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When we pulled up at the Viceroy, however, a valet once again tried to extort $50 from us to park our car for an hour. But this time when we balked, he admitted, "Yeah, I wouldn't do it, either!" and directed us around the corner to the cheap-by-comparison metered parking.

Parking woes aside, the view from the 15th floor pool deck was lovely, and there were lots of comfy seating options around, and even in, the pool.

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We settled on a rail-side table and ordered up a couple of cocktails.

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As day drew to a close, the city lit up, making a good view even better.

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Back inside, we took in the Alice-in-Wonderland décor that the Viceroy hotels are known for.

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After a quick nap on this nice bed/throne (more thrones!), it was on to dinner at the Rusty Pelican on Key Biscayne.

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It was a clear, gorgeous night, with a perfect view of the Miami skyline from our waterside table.

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The inside of the restaurant was just as inviting, with floor-to-ceiling windows and an enormous wine "cellar."

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Dinner at the Rusty Pelican starts with a generous loaf of insanely addictive cornbread, served with parmesan-chili butter topped with paprika and onion salt. I admit that sounds a bit weird, but the overall effect is spicy, buttery, cheesy, and sweet, which I think encompasses at least three of the four food groups.

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I started off with the salmon tartare with crispy jicama and an Asian pear and avocado salad in a soy-yuzu dressing, while Angel went with the coconut and shrimp bisque with roasted corn and grilled peppers.

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For mains, I decided on the lobster risotto, which -- lucky me! -- was actually a huge lobster tail with risotto.

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Angel went with the Patagonian toothfish, which is what folks used to call it before marketers decided that "Chilean sea bass" (which isn't even bass, but cod) sounded much more appetizing. The toothfish was served with a smoked sweet plantain mash, grilled Anaheim peppers, and an exotic mango-papaya salsa, and was so delicious that you can call it Blobfish for all I care.

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After dinner, we finished the last of our bottle of Albariño around one of the Pelican's many waterside fire pits.

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On the way out, we were reminded once again that we were in Miami . . . and this time, it wasn't just because they charged us for valet.

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Ellen and Brian arrived the next morning on a redeye from LA, so we'd planned nothing more strenuous than renting a couple of private cabanas at the Palms Hotel in South Beach.

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Equipped with WiFi, DirecTV, an iPod docking station, two loungers inside the cabana (for shade), and two more right outside (for sun), we parked ourselves on the loungers, where Brian promptly fell asleep, Ellen worked on her tan, Angel checked baseball scores on his phone, and I spent the afternoon dipping French fries into Ranch dressing (don't knock it till you've tried it).

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A private "butler" attended each cabana, delivering pink lemonades spiked with citrus-infused vodka, hummus platters, and the aforementioned fries, along with anything else we might want to eat, drink, or lick off of postage stamps (I'm kidding about that last one! Then again, it was Ultra weekend).

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It was a lovely afternoon, made even better by the little gifts Ellen brought me: kitty socks, pineapple socks, and body lotion . . . in an owl jar.

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That evening, Angel and I decided to check out the new 1Hotel, which was the Gansevoort before a $500 million renovation to "green" the place up. Those efforts include lobby ceilings made of wood reclaimed from water towers in Alaska, furniture crafted from fallen trees from South American rainforests, and hallways accented with wood from trees felled by mountain pine beetles. The overall effect is, well, woodsy.

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The use of natural materials continued upstairs on the main pool deck, with the addition of bamboo, muslin, and lots of sand.

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We ordered up a couple of drinks and some tostones at the Sand Box while waiting for Ellen and Brian to arrive.

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Ellen and Brian soon joined us, and we decided to head up to the roof deck, which boasts the largest oceanfront rooftop pool in Miami. Assured when we'd called earlier that the rooftop would not be hosting any private Ultra events that evening, we headed to the elevator that would take us to the rooftop, and that's where things got tricky.

Apparently the elevator attendant had been instructed to manage the rooftop crowd, but had not been instructed as to how to do that. And so our attempts to access the rooftop elevator (in varying combinations of the four of us) were met with increasingly fantastical reasons as to why we couldn't do so, including (Attempt 1) "There are too many people up there and it's a fire emergency," (Attempt 2) "The cover charge is $250 per person," (Attempt 3) "It's a special event; drinks are $250 each," and (Attempt 4) "You can't go up there because there are wild elephants." Fine, I made that last one up, but I am sure that was coming next if we hadn't finally executed the Jedi Mind Trick and said, "Yes, a $250 cocktail sounds perfect," at which point the poor guy just gave up and let us on the elevator.

The irony? The rooftop was dead. And they were serving only one drink at the bar -- yes, one -- which was reasonable enough at $15, though not for what amounted to a gussied-up pina colada.

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Still, the views were incredible, the gussied-up coladas weren't half bad, and I didn't hear anyone mutter, "Who let Grandma in here, and why isn't she at home watching 'Matlock'?" so we stayed for a bit before heading off to dinner at Dolce.

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Dolce, which won Bravo TV's "Best New Restaurant" competition last year, is a popular spot at the Gale Hotel on bustling on Collins Avenue in South Beach.

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There, we feasted on meatballs over polenta, spaghetti alla chitarra, straccetti alla Bolognese, and lobster mezzelune.

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It had been a long day, and by the time we finished eating ourselves into a carb coma, Ellen and Brian were understandably exhausted. And so they headed back to their hotel, while Angel and I made our way back to the 1Hotel, where we'd left the car for the evening.

While Angel waited for the valet, I popped into the lobby to take some photos, and unexpectedly encountered what has to be the chillest scene in Miami: A duo (with bongos!) was playing Latin-inspired covers of laid-back pop songs, while well-dressed couples lounged on the sprawling lobby's various beds and couches, barefoot, sipping Champagne.

I'd finally found my people.

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I spun on my high heel and dashed through the lobby, hoping to catch Angel before the valet brought the car around. (As I sprinted, a man called out, "Miss, be careful! You almost stepped on a frog!" Which either means that the 1Hotel is so green that there are actual frogs here, or that was the worst pick-up line ever. Either way, only in Miami.)

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We ordered up a couple of cocktails, kicked off our shoes, and enjoyed the band until their last set.

It had been a long night, and we still had fritas to gobble, free Champagne to guzzle, art to ogle, and a party to crash. Click here for Part 2!
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Posted by TraceyG 04:58 Archived in USA Tagged miami raleigh vagabond dolce south_beach sugarcane mellow_mushroom brickell morenos_cuba Comments (0)

March Madness, Part 2: I Heart Wynwood

The next day, our friends Ellen and Brian decided to take it easy and grab lunch at their hotel, leaving me and Angel to swing by Moreno's Cuba in South Beach for some fritas.

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With its imported Cuban floor tiles, reclaimed wood, and selection of Cuban-style cigars, Moreno's is modeled after the Havana speakeasy the owner's uncle operated during the Cuban revolution, while the menu recalls the legendary restaurant at Cuba's famed Hotel Nacional, which the owner's grandfather ran. (All to be confirmed when we visit Havana in November 2017!)

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For the uninitiated, a frita is a thin beef and pork patty spiced up with cumin, paprika, and pepper, then topped with cheese and a mound of shoestring fries.

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Moreno's fritas were non-traditional -- the patty was thick, and served with regular fries on the side -- but when the burger looks like this, who am I to complain?

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After lunch we headed back to the bungalow, where I ordered my cabana boy to clean the pool . . . but not before bringing me a glass of wine.

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That evening we met up with Ellen and Brian for dinner at Bazi, a sexy, modern Asian spot at the historic Marlin Hotel.

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As we waited for our food, we realized that we didn't have any pictures of the four of us, so we made up for lost time.

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Though for some of these, we should have just lost the camera.

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We ordered an assortment of appetizers and fish dishes, including one with a mysterious pink sauce that looked scary but tasted delicious. Which brings to mind the first person who ever spied a lobster and thought, This thing's got five pairs of legs, enormous claws, a couple of hideously long antennae, and looks like a gigantic red cockroach. LET'S EAT IT!

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After dinner, we decided to have a nightcap at the Broken Shaker, a James Beard Award-winner that is widely regarded as Miami's best cocktail bar.

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And it is, if you appreciate concoctions like a Morning Routine with cachaca, blueberry yogurt, and granola (which I kind of did!), or the Voncey Cobbler, made with Appleton rum, ruby port, spiced pear, strawberry, lemon, and bitters.

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As we sipped our fancy cocktails, a bachelorette party dropped off some extra shots that they couldn't finish. That kind of behavior would have gotten you dragged out of Ellen's bachelorette party by your ear, but I digress.

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While Angel and Ellen secured our seats at the bar, Brian and I decided to have a look around.

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The building behind the pool was hosting a private party, so Brian and I hung around near the velvet rope at the base of the stairs to see if we could figure out what was going on. And because we are both so incredibly good-looking, the bouncer noticed us and asked, "Are you here for the Galore magazine party?" Why, yes. Yes, we are. And so we slipped on a couple of wristbands, donned a bevy of glow necklaces, and headed on up.

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The party was in full swing, with free punch (which was good), deafening hip-hop (which was not) and even a sighting of former Giants tight-end Jeremy Shockey (which was fine, but would have been way better if it had been Cam Newton CALL ME).

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Ellen and Brian departed the next morning, so Angel and I headed off to lunch at Lulu in the Grove, a trendy Coconut Grove tapas spot with an expansive outdoor patio.

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Though we'd had perfect weather since we'd arrived in Miami, that particular day was on the chilly side (74°!), so we opted to sit in the funky, industrial-inspired dining room instead.

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Once seated, we ordered up an assortment of tapas, including mac & cheese with manchego and fontina, ahi tuna tartare, truffle fries, pork tacos slow-braised in banana leaves & spices, and fish tacos with scallion vinaigrette.

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Oh, and cheesecake in a jar.

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In fact, we ordered so much food that the restaurant brought us a free round of Champagne to make up for the "wait."

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I think they just wanted to see if we'd down that, too.

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After lunch we decided to head over to Miami's up-and-coming Wynwood neighborhood. If South Beach is ground zero for club kids, then Wynwood is where their cooler, edgier counterparts go to get their art on.

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Admittedly, however, Wynwood didn't make much of a first impression.

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And so we did our best to blend in.

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But as we walked from the seedy outskirts to the heart of the neighborhood, it stole my heart completely: The talent on display was breathtaking.

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And knowing from Angel the skill involved in working with spray paint and markers, the sheer size and scale of many of the works was truly awe-inspiring.

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Other murals were fun and funky and colorful.

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And no paintable surface was exempt.

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Best of all, we got to watch some of the artists at work.

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It was hard to choose a favorite piece, but I think this gorgeous jellyfish by San Francisco-based fine artist and muralist Amandalynn might be it.

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Even the shops along the main drag weren't content to be run-of-the-mill.

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We'd spent hours wandering among the various murals, and soon it was time for refreshments. We ended up at The Butcher Shop, an outdoor beer garden and grill with an actual butcher shop out back.

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We loved the design of the Concrete Beach Brewery pint glasses, and even though the brewery wasn't open yet, they were kind enough to let us in early to pick up a set.

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That evening we met up with our friends Steph and Ari at Cecconi's at the Soho Beach House, a members-only club whose hotel rooms and restaurant are open to the public.

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The romantic garden at Cecconi's is lit with hundreds of twinkling lights strung among the trees.

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Cecconi's plays along with the Soho House's exclusivity theme, offering a "Friends of Cecconi's" key chain to loyal diners, which entitles them to special offers on meals, exclusive cooking classes, and wine tastings.

Of course Stephanie had a key.

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I don't know what Steph's key got us that night, but I do know that there should have been some kind of discount for ordering virtually everything on the menu.

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Then again, if that was the case, we'd never pay full price for another meal again.

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Ever wonder what we eat when we're not on vacation (and secretly hoping it's celery sticks and kale)? Follow me on Instagram @thewayfaringfoodie to find out!

Posted by TraceyG 05:52 Archived in USA Tagged graffiti miami lulu south_beach wynwood morenos_cuba bazi coconut_grove cecconi's Comments (3)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 1: My Cheatin' Heart

Do you remember when golfer Tiger Woods was married to the gorgeous Nordic goddess Elin Nordegren? She was stunning in her perfection, all tawny skin and baby-blonde hair and centerfold-worthy beach body. She bore him two equally stunning children, and even feigned interest in a sport so boring the players hire caddies to walk around with them and keep them awake. And then Woods cheated on her with a troupe of tramps sporting too little clothing and too much silicone, and everyone was left scratching their heads. What on earth was he thinking???

That's the best analogy I can come up with to explain why, after first discovering the island paradise of Anguilla back in 1997, we didn't just quit while we were ahead. We didn't accept perfection when it landed in our laps and, instead, like a fool who trades in a Rolls-Royce for a Ford Pinto, we flitted off to other islands, sure that something even better must be just another flight or ferry ride away.

It wasn't.

What we found instead were islands with so-so food, spotty electricity, and plastic wine glasses. What they lacked in modern conveniences, they made up for in spiders.

Some of them didn't even have ironing boards, for God's sake.

Anguilla, I'm sorry I cheated on you. You are Armani couture in a sea of saggy sweatpants; Dame Helen Mirren in a crowd of Kardashians. You are a Ferryboat cheeseburger in a passel of pink slimes. You are my everything.

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Our long-awaited reunion began during the 10-minute flight from St. Maarten. We cleared the island's lush green hills, then spent a few jumpy minutes over open water before Anguilla came into view. Flat, scrubby, and brown in spots . . . it was as breathtakingly beautiful as we remembered.

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Anguilla is known for its luxury hotels, and on past visits we've stayed everywhere from the oceanfront suites at Cap Juluca and Frangipani to the villas at Arawak and Rendezvous Bay Hotel, with stops at Ferryboat and Carimar in between. On this visit, though, we decided to forego the hotel altogether and rent a villa.

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Our first indication that we were going to love Sweet Return was the road leading up to it: An old-school dirt path so rocky and rut-filled that it prompted Ronnie Bryan to ask if perhaps there was another way up to the house, since the car we'd rented from him had just been painted.

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There was, but that path was even worse. And so the car rattled, our heads bobbled as if on springs, and our luggage took a beating . . . but there was no wiping the silly grins off our faces as we bounced along through the underbrush.

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Perched high on Isaac's Hill, Sweet Return was bright and open, with a gentle breeze flowing through the numerous windows positioned to catch the cooling trade winds. The stylish main house consisted of a combined living and dining area overlooking the pool, bookended by two spacious master suites with enormous stone baths. (I am not even going to mention the fact that those bathrooms were bigger than our kitchen in NYC. Then again, I use my oven for shoe storage, so who am I to complain?)

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You noticed that ultra-luxurious household appliance on the right, yes? That's how we knew we were back where we belonged.

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In fact, that kind of attention to detail turned out to be our favorite thing about Sweet Return. Umbrellas conveniently lined up right next to the front door. Baskets filled with towels handily placed right next to the pool. Bins full of sunscreen, bug spray, and first aid items all neatly organized and labeled. (With typed labels. Swoon.) They even labeled the light switches. Light switches! Forget the pool and the view: You had me at the dimmer switch.

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How to top all of these thoughtful touches? With a kitchen map, that's how. Sure, it was nice not having to haul my own iron and ironing board to Anguilla, but knowing that someone took the time to make a map of the kitchen so I didn't have to open five different cabinets to find a drinking glass? That is the stuff OCDreams are made of.

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The house even had a small, detached studio apartment, which would provide the perfect escape if you happen to be traveling with the kind of people who do not appreciate a good kitchen map.

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Best of all, the property manager at Sweet Return, a lovely woman named Catherine, confessed to being a longtime reader of this blog, and as a welcome gift she went out of her way to track down a favorite wine that I'd previously written about.

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Oh, and a cheese platter so generously Tracey-sized that we knew the wine couldn't have been just a lucky guess.

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It had been a long morning of travel, and the beach was just a stone's throw away. The sparkling pool beckoned. We'd traveled in our swimsuits to avoid missing a single minute of sunshine. But that cheese plate wasn't going to eat itself, so we slid into chairs at the dining table and gobbled up half a pound of goat cheese instead.

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Soon we were thirsty, and it was no accident that the villa was just across the street from CuisinArt. Nothing beats makeup sex when you patch things up with a lost love, but makeup mojitos run a close second.

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The afternoon slipped into that golden hour when the beach has emptied but the sun still lingers, and we embraced it like a friend we hadn't seen in a long while.

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Okay, fine, we almost squeezed it to death. Like I said, it had been waayyy too long.

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We were scheduled to spend nine nights on the island, but had approximately 42 restaurants on our list. If we were to make any headway, we were obviously going to have to double up. And so that evening, we set off for SandBar . . . and Dolce Vita. You know, in the interest of economy.

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We arrived at SandBar just in time for sunset, settled in at a waterside table, and kicked things off with a round of SandBar's eponymous mango and rum concoctions.

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We knew we'd be indulging in the divine pastas at Dolce Vita, so we stuck to the protein offerings at SandBar, sharing an order of the chicken satay with peanut sauce, along with the spicy pork tenderloin with chili-tamarind sauce.

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Once the sun had set, we walked the short distance down the beach to Dolce Vita.

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Dolce Vita, however, is not the kind of place where you can just show up. Preparations must be made. First, menus must be studied, past meals analyzed, and stomach capacity evaluated. Proper attire must be carefully chosen; billowy dresses for women and elastic-waist pants for men are preferred (potato sacks may be substituted in cooler weather). On the big day, breakfast is skipped and lunch entrees are kept on the light side to avoid spoiling dinner. (Hence, only half a pound of that goat cheese back at the villa.) You may whet the appetite with, say, some chicken skewers or spicy pork tenderloin, but anything more and you run the risk of having to leave behind an errant gnocchi or bite of lasagna.

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And you know Abbi checks.

We settled in to our "usual" corner table near the sand and ordered up two glasses of wine and Dolce Vita's heavenly tuna tartare.

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Then it was on to the melty, light-as-air homemade lasagna for me, and the evening's pasta special -- Anguillian lobster and shimp in a fragrant, garlicky white wine, butter, and lemon sauce -- for Angel.

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Abbi was his usual charming self, and after a few glasses of wine it seemed like a good idea to pose for a silly photo, sticking our bellies out in homage to the incredible meal we'd just enjoyed.

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Well, at least Abbi stuck his out. Ours just look like that.

After dinner, we bumped along the road back to Sweet Return, a star-scattered sky lighting our way.

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The hour was late, and it had been a long day of travel, but we somehow found the energy for a quick dip in the secluded pool before bed.

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We'd been back on island less than 12 hours, and already we'd enjoyed frosty drinks, delicious tapas, and a log of goat cheese. We'd been welcomed like old friends at Sweet Return and Dolce Vita, and stuffed ourselves silly with lasagna and lobster. Now, as we sunk our travel-weary bodies into the water, we plotted the next day's adventures: Lunch at Ferryboat Inn, an afternoon swim at Rendezous Bay, and tacos and tequila at Picante.

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And then, at long last, we fell into bed, as visions of cheeseburgers danced in our heads.

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Click here to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 10:49 Archived in Anguilla Tagged sandbar anguilla cuisinart dolce_vita sweet_return_villa Comments (17)

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