A Travellerspoint blog

Anguilla, Part 1: The Fountain of Youth

Before we get into this five-part fiesta of cheeseburgers, lobster, and rum, there's something I'd like to say: Thank you.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy work day or lazy weekend to read this blog, to comment on it, to commiserate with me, or just to offer a kind note or message. What started off seven years ago as a way to pressure myself into honing my photography skills by posting them for public ridicule has blossomed into a wonderful way to meet like-minded people who at least pretend to understand why I travel with my own nutmeg and my own ironing board.

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One of those like-minded folks, a gentleman named Hal, had gotten in touch with me earlier this year, and it was a very pleasant surprise when he suggested that Angel and I stay at one of his condos at the Fountain Residences on Shoal Bay for our next trip to Anguilla. Hal and his wife Donna would be on island during part of our stay, so we could finally meet and get to know each other “IRL,” as the kids say.

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Of course, I saw through that pretext immediately: What Hal really wanted was to see if I could eat more in one sitting than he and his wife combined. To which I might say, LOL, LMAO, and ROFL.

But no matter: I'm certainly not too proud to perform like a trained monkey when the circumstances call for it. And so we set off for Anguilla, bound for blue water and sunny skies.

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Our visit coincided with the 50th anniversary of Anguilla's revolution, during which 600 British paratroopers invaded Anguilla when the islanders rebelled against independence from Great Britain. It was hard not to see the parallels -- I, too, was invading Anguilla and the islanders were almost certain to rebel against me eating all their food -- so I decided I should drape myself in the Anguillian color scheme for the occasion.

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This visit also marked the 50th anniversary of Angel's birth, and I had some secret plans up my sleeve to make sure we celebrated in style. Or at least with enough rum punch for him not to notice the lack thereof.

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But first things first: We unpacked just the essentials -- deodorant and a toothbrush for Angel; 18 pairs of sandals for me -- and then bounded down the short little path from Fountain to the beach for a swim.

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Fountain shares a small stretch of Shoal Bay East with Zemi Beach House, just a stone's throw from Gwen's and Tropical Sunset.

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The dramatic rocks and varying shades of turquoise make it a perfect spot for photos.

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Even bad photos.

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Among the rocks, I found this little throne. Angel agrees that I am at least slightly more benevolent than King Joffrey.

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After our swim, we decided to check out the grounds at Fountain before heading back to the condo to clean up for dinner.

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The property at Fountain consists of twelve 2-bedroom units -- six poolside and six oceanside -- with full kitchens, spacious living areas, and roomy bathrooms with oversized showers.

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Each unit can be rented as a one-bedroom or studio if you don't need both bedrooms.

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Of course, we needed both bedrooms -- one to sleep in, and one to house my flip-flops.

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Fountain may not be as chi-chi (or as cha-ching) as Zemi Beach next door, but it's got charm in spades, with shady paths lined with conch shells, cushy loungers at the pool (equipped with built-in drink trays!), outdoor showers, and even a bin full of beach and pool toys for the kids.

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And, of course, Fountain enjoys the same gorgeous sunsets, made even better -- as most things are -- with wine.

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Arrival day also happened to be Angel Eve, and we had decided in advance to celebrate at our beloved Dolce Vita.

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After some red wine and deliberations, Angel decided to try something new: The grilled black Angus ribeye served on a hot stone and accompanied by an assortment of salts: peachy-pink Himalayan, fragrant rosemary salt, and a fiery salt studded with crushed Tellicherry peppercorns.

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There was no way I was eating any kind of meat in advance of FBI Monday (see Rule #1), so I stuck with the classic lobster pasta in pink sauce instead.

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We were much too full for dessert, but couldn't resist when Abbi surprised Angel with a slab of chocolatey tiramisu, topped with a towering birthday sparkler.

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The next day started off cloudy, but luckily it wasn’t cutting into my beach time: My plan for the morning was to drop Angel off at Elodia's, head over to Village BakeHouse to pick up the birthday cake I'd secretly ordered, then deliver it to Ferryboat Inn for Angel’s birthday dinner . . . all without calling Angel for directions or roadside assistance, lest that give away the surprise.

There were, of course, a couple of roadblocks. First, the literal ones:

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And second, although I've driven on island before -- who could forget all those pharmacy runs during CoffeeGate? -- this was the first time I was driving from one end to the other alone. I'm not great with directions as it is -- I'm generally looking out for new restaurants and baby goats, not memorizing turns -- and this trip involved multiple stops. And so, just to be on the safe side, I brought along the mobile phone that was provided for us at the condo.

An actual. mobile. phone.

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I told you I wasn't good with directions. Apparently that's how I drove myself right back to 1989.

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On top of that, because it was drizzling by the time I set off, I'd left my sunglasses back at the condo. My prescription sunglasses . . . which I need for driving.

But the worst part was the phone. That godforsaken, E.T.-phone-home contraption would not stay on the hook no matter how or where I positioned it or how securely (or violently) I stuffed it into the glove box. The incessant dial tone was mocking me, I was sure; I could almost hear its taunts about my bad driving and poor eyesight and non-existent sense of direction in that endless, high-pitched drone.

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Despite these obstacles, I managed to find the Village BakeHouse, though I did not find the nearby parking lot. Instead, heeding Angel's advice to stay on the left no matter what, I maneuvered the car into a nearby ditch and stumbled out like a blind mole . . . who’s also gone deaf from a maddening dial tone.

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Of course, I wasn't willing to settle for just any birthday cake for my little viejito. And so I'd arranged for Pascal to make an authentic bizcocho, or Dominican cake, which is just like regular birthday cake . . . except that about one-third of the cake is pure fat. The result is an extra-springy, extra-moist cake, which is then topped with suspiro, a soft, fluffy meringue icing. (There's also usually a layer of pineapple jam, guava jam, or dulce de leche in between the sinful layers, but I'd asked Pascal for coconut cream instead.)

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Miraculously, I managed to get the cake all the way down the stairs and into the car without dropping it. Which is not to say that I did not have some wobbly moments navigating myself and the cake into that ditch, then gunning the car like I was at a monster truck rally in an attempt to catapult it back onto the road.

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All of which goes to explains why, if you saw me behind the wheel that day, you saw a wild-eyed maniac -- with one hand on the wheel, one hand on a lopsided birthday cake, and one eye squeezed shut in an attempt to squint down to 20/40 vision -- doing battle with a Soviet-era telephone that absolutely refused stay on the $#@&% hook.

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Meanwhile, back at Elodia's, the weather had not improved, so Angel contented himself with guzzling rum punch and checking his futuristic iPhone for Amber Alerts involving yours truly.

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I dropped off the cake without further incident and joined Angel for lunch, where we had "the usual" -- grilled fish for Angel and a turkey club for me.

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Plus a side of chicken nuggets, 'cause I like to party like it's my birthday . . . even when it's Angel's.

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Happily, by mid-afternoon, the day had brightened enough for us to take a swim.

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We returned to Fountain just in time for another fabulous sunset.

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Soon it was time to clean up for Angel's birthday dinner.

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He'd chosen Ferryboat Inn, which might not be the first place that comes to mind for a milestone birthday celebration on an island brimming with gourmet restaurants, but is the only logical place if you've ever had the good sense to call ahead and order Marjorie's life-changing lobster Thermidor. Plus, FBI was the very first restaurant we ever visited on our first trip to Anguilla 20 years ago -- nearly to the day -- and it seemed only fitting that we celebrate Angel's 50th, Anguilla's 50th, and our 20th all on the same night.

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To our delight, Marjorie surprised us both by decorating our usual table with balloons, a candle centerpiece, and elegantly folded cloth napkins.

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It was a lovely gesture, particularly at a spot so casual that we looking forward to seeing our favorite dogs in the dining room.

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And so you could have knocked us over with a feather when Christian busted out a celebratory bottle of Champagne, and a fancy glowing ice bucket.

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Because it was Angel's birthday, he got to eat his buffalo wings at the table, instead of over at the bar where I didn't have to smell them.

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While Angel devoured his wings, I was holding my breath -- both literally and figuratively -- in anticipation of the main event: Marjorie's justly-famous lobster Thermidor.

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Were you so busy drooling over that Thermidor that you didn't even notice that thing that looks suspiciously like a green vegetable next to the lobster? I can't say I blame you, but trust me: That cheesy, creamy, crunchy-edged spinach casserole was so mind-blowingly delicious that I would have happily traded my entire lobster -- or at least half of it -- for just one more bite of that casserole. I can only assume that it's not on the regular menu because creamed spinach casserole + FBI cheeseburger would be so much cheesy stupendousness that the universe might implode.

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After dinner, Marjorie brought out the bizcocho, and the entire bar serenaded Angel with a rum-fueled rendition of "Happy Birthday."

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As the night wound down, we settled into a loose circle of Adirondack chairs in the yard and sipped the last of the Champagne, with the sound of the waves providing the soundtrack to raucous retellings of McClean family lore, countless belly laughs, and hugs and happy tears before we finally called it a night.

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At least at Ferryboat, that is. Because not even spinach casserole beats a slice of extra-sinful birthday cake in bed.
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Wondering why this post is pre-Irma? Read the "prologue" here...or, CLICK HERE to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 06:04 Archived in Anguilla Tagged ferryboat_inn shoal_bay fountain_residences elodia's Comments (19)

Anguilla, Part 2: The Falcon Has Landed

The next morning we awoke to a glorious sunrise over Shoal Bay East.

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Like all the great mysteries of the world -- where do all the missing socks go? is there a big pile of eyelashes behind your eyeball? why do I always pick the bag of Doritos with a substandard amount of nacho cheese powder? -- I have no explanation for why I am up at the crack of dawn on vacation, but cannot get out of bed before 8am at home without hitting snooze for at least one solid hour, which begets yet another mystery (why on earth is Angel still married to me?).

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After the cloudy start the day before, we were thrilled to see that it was shaping up to be a beautiful day.

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We decided to spend it at Trattoria Tramonto on Shoal Bay West.

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There are many reasons to love Tramonto: The pasta, the watermelon-y rum punch, the pasta, the quiet beach, the pasta, the blue-bottle rosé that matches the restaurant just so, and, oh yeah . . . THE PASTA.

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And you thought I only matched my flip-flops to my bikini.

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After a morning of swimming in the warm sea and lounging under the shady palms, it was soon time for lunch. I was thinking maybe I'd have the pasta.

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We settled in at a table at the water's edge and split our attention between studying the menu and admiring the view.

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We started with the freshly-baked focaccia, followed by -- surprise! -- the penne pomodoro topped with a flurry of freshly-grated parmesan for me, and the grilled swordfish special for Angel.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon floating in the blue water, napping in our comfy loungers, and sipping those tasty rum punches.

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Oh, and hanging with my new buddy.

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Back at Fountain, we took a quick dip in the pool, then I poked around the property for a bit while Angel fixed us a round of rum punches.

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Later, we fixed ourselves up and set off for a spicy supper at Picante in the West End.

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We love Picante for the casual atmosphere, friendly service, and twinkling lanterns.

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But who am I kidding? I'd eat Picante's cheesy seafood enchiladas off a dirty tray in a prison mess hall if I had to.

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Generously stuffed with crab, prawns, and lobster swimming in a seafood bisque sauce, those enchiladas are the main reason to visit Picante, but they are certainly not the only reason.

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The next day was another beauty, so we decided to head over to Rendezvous Bay. Our plan was to make Anguilla Great House our home base for the day, with a stop at neighboring CuisinArt for lunch.

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Eventually we ambled down the beach for some lunch at CuisinArt. On our way, we happened upon the lovely Jeanene, ambassador for the Sunshine Shack and poster girl for infectious smiles who was, as usual, parked outside of SSS with a rum punch in her hand and one of those aforementioned smiles on her face.

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I was getting a complex being surrounded by that many dimples at once, but luckily it wasn't anything that a frozen mojito couldn't cure.

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Thanks to its stellar hydroponically-grown produce, CuisinArt is the only place on the island where you'll catch me eating raw vegetables. Scratch that -- it's the only place anywhere you'll catch me eating raw vegetables.

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We listened with amusement as the woman seated next to us ordered tuna salad and chicken salad for lunch -- neither of which (nor even the ingredients for which) are found anywhere on the menu. It made me feel a whole lot better about asking for the white bean dip instead of baba ghanoush with our mezzo platter.

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The platter also came with olives, roasted red peppers, naan bread, and a tug-of-war over those blocks of creamy feta drizzled with fresh basil pesto.

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The day was hot, and we knew we needed to save room for a couple of Great House's pina coladas, so we both ordered a hydroponic salad to keep things light.

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I ordered the little gem salad so I could get my hands on some more of that salty feta, while Angel decided to try the chopped salad with kale, currants, chickpeas, and basil balsamic vinaigrette, all topped with a mountain of fresh, tangy goat cheese.

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Afterwards, it was time to hang up my hat and take a nap.

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Back at the Great House, bartenders Jodi and Shanna hooked us up with a nice, strong rum punch for Angel, an overflowing Pina colada for me, and two beautiful smiles for anyone lucky enough to catch them posing.

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Later that afternoon, we had plans to meet up with Christian from Ferryboat Inn. We'd never actually seen him anywhere but behind the bar at FBI, so it was mostly just to see if he actually had legs.

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As you might guess, Christian started off a little apprehensive, so I agreed to shoot him roughly from the waist up so everyone would recognize him.

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He got a little more comfortable as I continued shooting . . .

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And by the time the rum and Cokes kicked in, we were treated to a full-on grin.

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That night, we had plans to take Hal and Donna out to dinner before they headed home. We left the choice of restaurant up to them, and they chose Falcon Nest in nearby Island Harbour. We agreed to meet by the pool at Fountain and ride together in one car.

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We'd never been to Falcon Nest before, but when Hal mentioned that he'd called ahead to order three lobsters -- one for me, one for Angel, and one for he and Donna to split -- I knew we'd like this place just fine. (I also liked that Hal knew it would start World War III if Angel and I had to split anything, least of all fresh grilled lobster).

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And once I discovered the $5(!!) rum punches and Falcon Dip, I knew we were going to love this place.

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I mean, they had all my favorite stuff: Cheap rum punches, ginormous grilled lobsters served with a mound of curry-spiced pasta salad, rice 'n peas, a big ol' pile of French fries, and an addictive "secret sauce" for dipping them in (or pouring on your lobster, or on your rice, or just directly down your gullet).

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Best of all, we got to spend time with Hal and Donna, a couple of adorable lovebirds who met in high school, then went their separate ways. They then proceeded to meet up every 5 or 10 years at their class reunion (each of which Hal attended for the sole purpose of finding out whether Donna was still married), and finally got together when Donna became available to marry her one true love, Hal -- who'd pined away for her for decades.

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Thank you, Hal and Donna, for introducing us to our new favorite restaurant, and for providing such sweet, entertaining company.

And for not making us split that lobster.
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CLICK HERE TO READ PART 3!

Posted by TraceyG 05:51 Archived in Anguilla Comments (14)

Anguilla, Part 3: The Ultimate Backstage Pass

The next morning, we stopped by the Village BakeHouse so I could thank Pascal in person for Angel's birthday cake. It seemed like as good an excuse as any for stuffing ourselves full of jelly donuts and apple tarts.

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Housed in the 1700s-era former Koal Keel restaurant, the building was originally constructed by slave labor for a Dutch family from St. Maarten, who used it as a sugar and cotton plantation.

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When things dried up -- the slaves were freed and years of drought took its toll -- the plantation owners abandoned the building. Eventually, however, descendants of the very slaves who had worked the plantation bought the building, and if that is not a fitting end to this story, I don't know what is.

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Today, Pascal and his wife Suzan use the charming space to whip up decadent French pastries, tasty sandwiches, and gorgeous cakes like the one Pascal made for Angel.

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I did my best to remove the thick layer of powdered sugar from my face, then rounded up the camera-shy Pascal for a quick photo.

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Looking to kill some time before our next meal, we decided to take a ride over to the former site of Oliver's on Long Bay, where we could reminisce about prior meals.

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We spent a few minutes poking around the abandoned restaurant, each of us lost in our own fond memories of Tracey's Seafood Compote.

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Soon it was time to eat again, and only one thing can cure a bad case of Compote Fever.

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And as far as I'm concerned, there's only one place to get one.

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Drinks in hand, Angel chatted with Christian and I snuggled up with Basil while we waited for our burgers. Or maybe Angel chatted with Basil and I snuggled up with Christian. Who can say when FBI's killer rum punch is involved?

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I came prepared with snacks, which made for one very smiley girl.

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And Christian surprised me with this fabulous "backstage pass," hand-crafted by the talented Daryl Thompson at Alloyd Enterprises, which made for another very smiley girl.

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You're probably noticing that most of these photos are a bit blurry. I'd like to chalk it up to the fact that it was about 1,000 degrees in that kitchen and I was on the verge of passing out, but I think we all know it could have been a comfortable 68 degrees in there and I'd still have been on the verge of passing out.

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You might think that seeing where the magic happens would satisfy me for a while, but the effect was just the opposite: Being in such deliciously close proximity to those burgers sizzling away on the grill only made me that much more anxious to dig into my own.

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Even Basil was anxious, knowing she might score some leftover scraps.

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Finally the mother of all burgers arrived and, as usual, it was spectacular.

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As my eyes rolled back in my head, Christian simply stood by with a justifiably arrogant look on his face that said, "That's right, b!tches! My burger smokes all you fools."

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Well-earned, Mr. McClean. Well-earned.

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As is our habit, we typically steal away to a less-populated section of beach after FBI Monday, in hopes of sparing innocent beachgoers the sight of two adults who look suspiciously like hippopotamuses -- large, somewhat grey, 3/4 submerged, with nothing but two tiny ears sticking out in case someone yells, "Last call!"

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There we bumped into Paul, whom you might know from the Facebook forum as the guy who spent his last trip to Anguilla on a quest to rank all of the island's fish sandwiches. (I don't have a photo of him because he bravely approached the two hippopotomii while they were submerged.) I really wanted to like this guy, especially given his hobby of ranking foods, but he was swimming in Rendezous Bay -- not idly bobbing, but actually exerting energy and moving his limbs and everything. Other than that, though, he seemed like a really nice guy.

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Toward the end of the afternoon, the sun dipped behind a cloud, creating vibrant turquoise stripes across the water.

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Later that evening, we decided to stop by the new Four Seasons (formerly Viceroy) for a round of cocktails before dinner.

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I usually refer to the Four Seasons as "FS," but after seeing these obscene drink prices, I've decided to change that to "FFS."

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As if the prices weren't off-putting enough, we were not permitted to sit in the lounge seats of our choice -- a table surrounded by 4 low-slung chairs close to the water -- because FFS wanted to keep those open for a theoretical party of four. Even though the place wasn't full . . . and the sun had already set.

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We watched as another couple -- guests of the hotel who, as it turns out, had just arrived after a long flight and were visiting Anguilla for the first time -- were told the same thing. As they stood there bewildered, we discreetly approached and asked if they'd like to join forces. They readily agreed, so we claimed the four seats and enjoyed a lovely conversation over a round of (overpriced and tiny) drinks.

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At least Larry was smart enough to just order a beer.

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Too soon, it was time for our dinner reservation at Jacala, so we exchanged contact information with our new friends before heading off. (If you're reading this, Anne, I know that 50-page annotated Excel spreadsheet of restaurants I gave you was probably a bit overwhelming, as was my detailed PowerPoint presentation of menus, recommended dishes, and reviews. Still, if you made it through the first two dozen or so restaurants on the list during your weeklong visit, I will consider my job here to be done.)

Over at Jacala, we cozied up at a candle-lit table and prepared for what we knew would be one of the best meals of our visit.

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We started with a couple of old favorites, the creamy cucumber gazpacho with tomato sorbet for me and the tuna tartare with wakame, olive oil, and ginger, also for me (and, fine, Angel too).

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For mains, we both decided to branch out a bit, foregoing our usual pile of grilled crayfish in favor of two new-to-us dishes. Angel decided to try the evening's special of grilled swordfish with ratatouille and roasted red pepper sauce, while I took a chance that the breaded chicken with lobster and shellfish sauce would not turn out to be a strange experiment gone awry.

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I needn't have worried. The chicken was incredible -- tender, juicy, and perfectly complemented (surprise!) by the shellfish sauce, with a creamy carrot purée to round things out.

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All in all, it was a perfect meal, as usual.

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And nary a beet in sight.
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Need more Anguilla right now? Click here to read Part 4, or check out our quickie stay at Cap Juluca, which we tacked on to the end of this trip, here.

Posted by TraceyG 07:56 Archived in Anguilla Tagged anguilla jacala ferryboat_inn cheeseburgers village_bakehouse Comments (7)

Anguilla, Part 4: Fancy Meeting You Here

The next morning, we awoke at Fountain to another cloudless sky.

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We decided to spend the day at one of my favorite spots, Ocean Echo on Mead's Bay.

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It was hard not to feel welcome here when Del somehow managed to remember both of our names, even though it had been nearly a year since we'd last seen him.

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Soon a round of Rumzies beckoned, so we headed up to the restaurant for drinks and some lunch.

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After lunch, we decided to walk down to the other end of Mead's to check out the beach in front of Malliouhana.

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As lovely as this part of Mead's is, I have to admit: At Malli prices, I would not expect to have to sand-luge my way down this cliff every day.

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Later that afternoon, on our way back to Shoal Bay East, we stopped at SeaSpray Boutique to say hello to our friend Pam.

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We might also have stopped by to pick up some of her killer rum punch mix, which comes with freshly-ground nutmeg.

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Pam's boutique is chock-full of beachy jewelry, scented soaps, original artwork, and postcards.

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Oh, and the cutest selection of tropical Christmas ornaments you're likely to find anywhere, plus delicious jams and sauces from Anguilla's Jammin', which are made from locally grown ingredients.

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Back at Fountain, we enjoyed a round of rum punches, with a sunset colored to match.

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Having loved our dinner at Falcon Nest the night before, we decided to take another one of Hal and Donna's recommendations tonight. And so we set off for Ben's Pit Stop in Island Harbour.

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Formerly of Big Spring and Cafe de Paris, Ben knows his way around a baguette . . . and, apparently, a killer pizza crust.

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Much of the pizza on island is what I'd call "good for Anguilla," but it's certainly nothing to write home about -- especially if your home is in New York. But at Pit Stop, the pizza is so good that I found myself fantasizing about a "Pit Stop NYC" spinoff, which would be located across the street from my apartment and stay open 24 hours a day.

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Besides their fantastic pizza, Pit Stop offers a small menu of French classics, including what Angel described as the best escargot he's ever had . . . including all the ones he's sucked down in Paris.

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On this night, Ben's was a riot of local sights and sounds -- dogs barking, kids crying, parents yelling, engines revving, and two sloshed guys at the bar loudly debating American politics -- but that was just another reason to love it.

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The next morning was July 4.

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And what better way to celebrate 'Murica than by waking up with a food hangover, then spending the morning lazing around like a slug?

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After our swim, we decided on a return visit to Trattoria Tramonto for lunch. So far on this trip I'd had the lobster pasta at Dolce Vita, the penne arrabbiata at Tramonto, and a pepperoni pizza the night before, so I decided to do my patriotic duty and get to work on my carbs quota.

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We settled in at a table for two and ordered up a bottle of Clos Beylesse.

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But that chilled bottle of rosé was no match for the day's heat, so I left Angel at the table and headed down to the water for a quick dip while we waited for our food to arrive. As I walked by the dining pavilion, I heard someone call my name. To my complete surprise and delight, it was Nicolee and Pierre -- owners of one of our favorite villas on the island, Sweet Return.

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Nicolee and Pierre graciously invited us to join them, so we grabbed our wine and headed over to their table.

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Where they even more graciously stood by as I photographed not only my food, but theirs, too.

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We enjoyed a fabulous lunch, catching up with Nicolee since our last meet-up in New York and getting to know a bit more about Pierre. In fact, we'd probably have spent the whole afternoon chatting away, if we hadn't been suddenly and unceremoniously rained out. We said our good-byes as we dashed for our cars, and while Pierre and Nicolee headed back to the villa, Angel and I decided to check out one of Anguilla's newest resorts, The Reef by CuisinArt.

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The two-story lobby are of The Reef resembles a luxury yacht, with sleek lines, multiple "decks," and lots of polished wood.

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The hideous black box that towers over the sleek lobby, however, looks exactly like the kind of soulless office complex that you go on vacation to get away from. Just one glance at it made us both suddenly crave an alcoholic beverage, so we headed down to The Reef's beach bar, Breezes.

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There, we enjoyed a Painkiller topped with rum and nutmeg and a frothy B.B.C.

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The weather hadn't improved by that evening, so we didn't feel much like going out. Instead, we picked up a couple of rotis from the Roti Hut . . .

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Along with another one of those fabulous pizzas from Pit Stop.

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Just trying to make my quota, you know.
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Click here to read Part 5 . . . and then check back for another pre-Irma post from last May. I'm obviously way behind, so my New Year's resolution is to put down that cheeseburger and type with both hands.

Posted by TraceyG 08:28 Archived in Anguilla Tagged anguilla sweet_return trattoria_tramonto shoal_bay_east bens_pit_stop Comments (8)

Anguilla, Part 5: Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

The next morning we decided to have lunch at Straw Hat. We were hoping for a redo, as our last meal there had unceremoniously been cut short after I poisoned Angel.

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The day was hot, and we needed cold drinks, stat.

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After perusing the menu, we decided to share a couple of appetizers -- the tuna tartare and the plaintain chips with fresh salsa -- followed by the mahi sandwich with spicy jerk aioli for Angel and a fantastic Greek salad for me. (I know, I know: Another salad. But I'm a sucker for a favorable feta-to-greens ratio and really good dressing, and Straw Hat nails it on both counts.)

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We whiled away the rest of the afternoon floating in the blue water and sipping a succession of Ti punches.

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Later that afternoon we headed over to Island Harbour to see a friend's new home, and got caught in a quick pop-up shower on the way. We decided to pop up ourselves . . . at Tropical Sunset for a couple of guavaberry coladas.

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We fell in love with guavaberry coladas on our first trip to Anguilla 20 years ago, and over the years they've become harder and harder to find. Kudos to Tropical Sunset for going old-school, especially given that guavaberries do taste vaguely of Pepto-Bismol.

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That evening was our last night, and we'd saved one of the best for last: E's Oven.

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And we'd saved one of E's best dishes for last: The famous oven-roasted chicken.

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There are worse ways to spend your last night on Anguilla than with the coconut-crusted grouper and a plate full of chicken skin pilfered from your husband.

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As usual, we tried to squeeze in as much beach time as possible before departing. And so, on our last day, we decided that we had time for one last swim before heading out. And to make it worth it, we made a beeline for Ocean Echo on Meads Bay.

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There, Del hooked us up with our last Rumzies of the trip.

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But not our last drinks of the trip.

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We even managed to work in a quick lunch.

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And the very best bon voyage treat I could have asked for.

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(Yes, that's Kraft macaroni and cheese. Yes, I saw a little kid eating it and asked our waitress if I could get some too. Yes, I am a ravenous five-year-old girl trapped in the body of a ten-year-old boy.)

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We had time for one last soak before heading back to Fountain to pack up.

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Later, as the plane took off and the island grew smaller in the distance, I thought about what a perfect celebration of milestones it had been: Angel's 50th birthday, Anguilla's 50th birthday, and our 20th anniversary of visiting the island.

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That's a heck of a lot of cheeseburgers.
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You know what else I have a heck of a lot of? Blog posts! Coming soon: A mojito-borne illness in Havana; the wrath of grapes at the Key West Food & Wine Festival; yours truly roughing it in the bush in South Africa (sans ironing board!); homemade hooch in the Hudson Valley, a birthday blowout with my sissy in Brooklyn; and another pre-Irma trip to Anguilla (remember when Seaborne lost Angel's luggage? I sure do). Check back soon, or click here to subscribe and Travellerspoint will do the checking for you!

Posted by TraceyG 06:44 Archived in Anguilla Tagged anguilla straw_hat ocean_echo es_oven Comments (11)

Key West: A Major Award at the Conch Fritter-Eating Contest

You know it's not going to be a normal trip to Key West when you text a friend who lives in Old Town in order to make plans and he casually mentions, "By the way, you're busy on Sunday . . . because I entered you in a conch fritter-eating contest."

Then again, when is any trip to Key West a normal one???

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We arrived on a gorgeous October morning and were quickly whisked away to the Paradise Inn on Simonton Street, a secluded oasis of calm amid the cacophony on Duval Street of noisy bars, drunken boors, and the kind of people who participate in competitive eating contests.

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But peaceful as Paradise Inn may be, this is still Key West.

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Our "usual" suite on the second floor overlooking the pool was unavailable, so we took the one next door instead.

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After a quick change of clothes, we headed over to Lagerheads, a cheery Caribbean-style spot on the water near the Key West Bight.

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We snagged two seats at the bar, then ordered up crab cakes, fish tacos, some smoked fish dip, and a couple of frozen drinks to get ourselves into island mode.

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Afterwards we biked around for a bit, then headed back to Paradise Inn to laze around the pool.

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Later, we stopped by Louie's to usher in the sunset.

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We checked out some of the island's Halloween decorations on our way back to the hotel.

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Back at the hotel, we devoured the pizza we'd picked up along the way, then called it a night.

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The next day we met up with friends Stephanie and Ari at Hot Tin Roof for brunch.

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It's always nice when they're expecting you.

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Hot Tin Roof has a great brunch deal: For a set price, you can order anything on the menu -- in any order, and as much as you want -- and they'll serve it up with unlimited bottles of Prosecco and OJ, or unlimited Bloody Marys if that's your thing. And so what is billed as "brunch" is really an all-you-drink vodka-and-Prosecco party with everything from chicken and waffles with cayenne maple butter to compressed watermelon salad with tequila and feta to sesame tuna with crispy pork belly. Oh, and pancakes.

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That afternoon, our friend Mark invited us to stop by for a slice (or three) of the homemade key lime pie he'd made for me.

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Which was one of the nicest things anyone's ever done for me, especially after I've shamelessly accosted them on social media every time they post a photo of anything even resembling a pie.

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He even saved the limes as proof that he really made the pie from scratch, since he knows I am suspicious of anyone who claims to use their oven for anything other than shoe storage.

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That evening it was time to start preparing for the conch fritter-eating contest, so I did what any competitive athlete would do: I headed over to Abbondanza for some carbo-loading.

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I love pasta, but I was even more excited about the meatballs.

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That cheesy chicken parm was no slouch, either.

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The next morning we made a beeline for Agave 308 for some last-minute preparations for the conch-fritter eating contest: Tequila for courage and tacos for...ever.

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The conch fritter-eating contest was the brainchild of the aforementioned Mark, he of the fabulous key lime pie and even more fabulous Key West Food and Wine Festival, an annual bacchanal of food and booze at which I have engaged in various questionable behaviors that I have heard rumors about but do not actually remember. The fritter-eating contest was just another of Mark's evil plots to make sure everyone who visits Key West leaves with an XXL pair of elastic-waist pants and plans for a juice fast.

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A big crowd turned out to watch us all make fools of ourselves.

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I checked in with our friend Deb (who was clearly skeptical that a skinny chick like me stood a chance at this thing -- especially one who doesn't particularly like conch fritters), then signed a waiver that said something about how I wouldn't sue if I ended up in a ditch with a belly full of fried dough.

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We'd arranged to meet up with friends Jessica and Jeff, who came to cheer me on (and, in Jeff's case, be goaded into participating himself).

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Of course, I dressed appropriately for the big event.

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Or at least I thought I did.

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I'd told Mark beforehand that I would be wearing a conch dress in honor of the occasion, and at the contest he sweetly presented me with an award for "Best Dressed."

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However, when I tried to duck out of the contest since I'd already "won," he snatched my Major Award back, forcing me to actually participate before he'd turn it over.

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The competitors were grouped into four heats, mine being the last. Of course, because this is Key West, it wouldn't be enough to just have a conch fritter-eating contest; there had to be a twist.

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We couldn't use our hands.

And adding insult to injury, the day was windy. Really windy. I'd worn my hair down and didn't have anything to pull it back with. And so I suddenly realized that while I had no chance of winning a conch fritter-eating contest that day, I stood a very good chance of winning a hairball-eating contest.

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Of course, that didn't stop Mark from drawing a tapeworm on my name card, or stop me from bragging that I'd already won (at least the fashion portion of the competition).

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The first three heats were a tough act to follow, putting up some impressive numbers.

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Jared and Kevin were tied for first with 14 fritters each, but then Big Don ascended the dais . . . and quickly ascended to the top of the pack.

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But not without some not-so-gentle "encouragement" from his girlfriend, who pounded on the table so violently that we figured Big Don was Dead Don if he didn't top 14.

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Luckily, having downed an impressive 16 fritters in three minutes flat, Big Don seemed like a shoo-in to win . . . until my heat. I'm not saying this thing was rigged, but it can't be a coincidence that The Tapeworm was seated between two guys who ended up placing in the top three.

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Sadly, however, I failed miserably when it came to living up to my reputation, at least for eating food. I'd downed roughly 2.5 fritters and an entire head's worth of human hair before giving up and chugging some wine.

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Which did not go unnoticed by at least one disgusted competitor.

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Meantime, Big Don's record of 16 fritters was about to be shattered by the unassuming Pac-Man on my left, Loren, who was gobbling up fritters as fast as they could bring them.

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In the end, Loren bested everyone, including Big Don, to take home the prize, having somehow managed to scarf down a whopping 19 conch fritters in just three minutes.

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It's always the skinny ones you gotta watch out for.
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Wanna stick it to Hurricane Irma and your own liver? Get your tickets for January 2018 Key West Food and Wine Festival here: https://www.keywestfoodandwinefestival.com/

Posted by TraceyG 09:01 Archived in USA Tagged key_west abbondanza conch_republic lagerheads agave_308 Comments (4)

Cap Juluca: The Best Day of the Week is Maunday

How do you wrap up a sublime stay on an idyllic island known for its breathtaking beaches, fantastic food, and stunning scenery?

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With a stay at Belmond Cap Juluca, that's how.

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But to call it a stay is really to sell it short. Cap Juluca isn't just a stay, it's an experience.

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That experience begins when you arrive and are led through a series of Moorish arches into the stunning open-air lobby.

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The soaring white dome dotted with touches of pale blue mimics the powder-white sand and turquoise sea just beyond.

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Then again, the pedestrian "turquoise" doesn't even begin to sum it up. Is the water azure? cerulean? teal? sapphire?

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Yes, it is.

A complimentary rum punch arrives during check-in, and soon you find yourself wondering: Is the rum is getting to you, or does every single staff member you've encountered thusfar really know your name already?

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Yes, they do.

In fact, no matter the question, the answer at Cap Juluca always seems to be "yes."

Fresh fruit and cheese awaiting us in our room? Yes.

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An icy bottle of Côtes-du-Rhône to accompany it? Yes.

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A beachfront villa with a view of a sea so blue that it doesn't look real? Yes.

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And a private solarium where one can sunbathe au naturel should the mood strike? Oh, yesssss.

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Indeed, the only down side to all this pampering is how easy it is to get used to. And so, when you return to the real world and your boss inexplicably fails to address you as "Mrs." and doesn't pull out your desk chair for you and neglects to bring you a rum punch while you draft that memo, you can start to feel rather slighted.

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We'd already been on island for nine days when I surprised Angel with a short stay at Cap Juluca to wrap up his birthday celebration. I wasn't sure he'd appreciate having to pack, unpack, and then re-pack in order to move hotels, but it turned out I had nothing to worry about: When we first arrived on the island, an immigration officer noticed the repeat visits on our passports and asked Angel what his favorite beach was. Expecting him to mull it over before answering, I was stunned when Angel responded, without even a split second's hesitation, "Maundays Bay."

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The man has good taste. Named the number-one best beach resort in the world by Andrew Harper’s luxury travel magazine The Hideaway Report in 2013 and again in 2016, and one of the ten best beach hotels in the world by Coastal Living magazine in 2015, Cap's claim to fame is a pristine, secluded stretch of white sand and crystal-clear water, punctuated only by loungers, umbrellas, and serenity.

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I mean, New Yorkers rarely smile as it is, let alone like this.

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We didn't have much time to spare, so after settling in at the room, we sunk our feet into that floury sand and took a swim before lunch.

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Eventually we tore ourselves away, but only because food was waiting.

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We snagged a front-row table at the beachfront Blue, where Angel perused the menu while I continued to nurse my rum punch from check-in. This, of course, did not go unnoticed by our server, who immediately inquired, "Would you like some more ice for your drink, Mrs. Gonzalez?"

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Why, yes. Yes I would.

And maybe a Junior Special with Bailey's, coconut, banana, and nutmeg to wash it down.

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I know that pita bread and bikinis make for bloaty bedfellows, but the lobster salad with lemon vinaigrette was calling my name, and who was I to ignore it?

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Angel ordered more sensibly, deciding on the "deconstructed" Caesar salad topped with a spicy Serrano chili frico.

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And we both kicked things off with the cool, refreshing honeydew cucumber gazpacho with shrimp salsa.

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The service at lunch had been impeccable -- warm and friendly, but also professional -- but that came as no surprise, since Belmond operates some of the world's poshest hotels (the five-star La Samanna in St. Martin), restaurants (the famous "21" Club in New York City), and even trains (the Orient-Express!), with Cap Juluca being the most recent addition to its collection.

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After lunch we ignored the advice of mothers everywhere and catapulted ourselves straight into the water for a swim.

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By late afternoon we were ready for another cocktail, but this is Cap Juluca: They certainly won't be stopping by your lounger every so often to see if you'd like anything (wouldn't want to disturb you), and you certainly won't be getting up to get it yourself (wouldn't want you to even have to stand up, let alone walk 10 paces to the beach bar).

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And so you simply reach up and send out a distress signal, and a server appears with a menu and a smile.

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We stopped by the pool on our way back from the beach.

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Though we both agreed that the pool is lovely, it is also about as useful as a screen door on a submarine when the world's largest swimming pool is just outside.

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That evening we had reservations at Pimms.

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My reputation apparently precedes me, as we were thrilled to learn that the resort had graciously arranged for us to enjoy a complimentary tasting menu.

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Widely regarded as one of the most romantic restaurants in the Caribbean, Pimms is set directly over the water at the west end of Maundays Bay, affording a front-row seat to the waves below as well as a panoramic view of the bay.

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The resort's new chef, Gabriel Kolofon, was born in Argentina and most recently cooked in Riviera Maya, Mexico, bringing a beachy vibe to Pimms and a little Latin flair to the lounge at Spice.

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We were over the moon when Chef Gabriel came out to consult with us on the tasting menu, offering recommendations and suggesting that we go off-menu for a course or two so that he could introduce us to a few of his favorite dishes from Spice as well. He even arranged for us to receive our own dish for each course so we could share our thoughts, but not our food. (Like I said . . . my reputation precedes me.)

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We settled in with a favorite bottle of wine -- the excellent Clos Beylesse "blue bottle" rosé -- and spent a few giddy minutes speculating as to what surprises might be on their way from the kitchen.

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The first was a conch fritter with spicy aioli, followed by cool, refreshing watermelon and feta salad with pickled onions, slivered almonds, arugula, and an anise-watermelon vinaigrette.

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Next, a creamy butternut squash risotto with calamari and aged parmesan appeared. If you're thinking that calamari and butternut squash make for an odd couple, let me assure you that they are actually having a hot, steamy affair.

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The next course took us off-menu: A fantastic, crispy-skinned pan-seared snapper atop a sweet potato-couscous mash, accompanied by a rich, creamy sweet potato puree that could have been an entrée all by itself.

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We'd devoured three courses plus an amuse-bouche thus far (leaving absolutely nothing, save for the carrot tops from the snapper dish) and apparently Chef Gabriel knows a couple of gourmands when he sees them. (As with most words, "glutton" sounds so much nicer in French, n'est pas?) And so, out came an Angus beef tenderloin with smoked truffle potato mash and tiny ceviche'd mushrooms . . . followed by a lemon-lime sorbet in Proscecco . . . followed by a plate of chocolatey baked goods . . . followed by dessert.

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The tenderloin was bathed in the most decadent sauce I think I've ever had -- a creamy truffle foie gras sauce so sinfully delicious that we could probably call off the war on drugs if they'd just bottle this stuff up and give it away.

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The desserts were magically tailor-made for our individual tastes: A velvety vanilla creme brûlée with blackberry and raspberry sauce, gelled raspberries, and a crunchy vanilla cookie crumble (for me) . . .

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. . . and a chocolate soufflé with vanilla bean ice cream, plus ginger biscotti and a tart sauce of strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries to balance the sweetness of the soufflé's warm, gooey center (for Angel).

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It had been the meal of a lifetime: Four courses of sheer perfection -- plus conch fritters, plus the sorbet and Prosecco, plus the tiny cakes, plus an icy bottle of our favorite rosé -- all tailored to our specific tastes by one of the most thoughtful and talented chefs we've ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Even if all of our chatting and photographing did mean that we lost a little bit of that vanilla-bean ice cream along the way.

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We made our way back to the villa, guided by a full moon illuminating the night sky.

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Back in our room, the small hurricane we'd left behind in our scramble to make our dinner reservation on time had miraculously disappeared: Our clothes were folded into neat little piles, our shoes were paired off and stowed away, the lights had been dimmed, yards of mosquito netting were draped over the perfectly-turned-down bed, and a citronella candle glowed softly in a corner.

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And as if the entire setup couldn't get any more romantic, we had just snuggled under the sheets when a light rain began to fall, pattering softly against the wooden hurricane shutters and lulling us into a deep, blissful slumber.

The next morning we bounded out of bed with one thing on our minds. No, not bacon . . . or, rather, not just bacon. We needed another swim in Maundays Bay.

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Breakfast is complimentary at Blue for guests of the resort, so we secured a beachfront table, then took at a peek at the offerings.

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In addition to baked goods, smoked salmon, and assorted yogurts and cereals, there's hot food (eggs, sausage, and the aforementioned bacon), along with an omelet station.

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Although I'd declined an iced tea from our server earlier, I changed my mind and went up to the buffet to grab one. I found the tea, along with glasses and straws, but didn't see any ice. I must have been wearing a confused expression because, literally within seconds, I heard someone stage-whisper, "So-and-so! HELP Mrs. Gonzalez, please!"

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As with the other pampering Cap offers its guests, this kind of treatment, too, has set unrealistic expectations at home, where I now expect to have every single thing I want at the exact second I want it . . . and Angel now expects that sooner or later, he is going to have to shoot me.

After breakfast, we made a beeline back to the beach for one last swim in that glorious water.

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That's when we noticed that a ground sea had rolled in while we were at breakfast, bringing with it a few tiny pieces of seaweed.

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I was tempted to ask the staff if someone could come out and pluck it out of the water by hand, but figured I'd better not.

I knew the answer would be "yes."
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Posted by TraceyG 07:34 Archived in Anguilla Tagged beaches maundays_bay cap_juluca pimms belmond british_west_indies Comments (11)

Best of Philadelphia: The City of Gluttony Love

Much like its favorite son, Rocky, the city of Philadelphia often seems to be underestimated. Primarily known for cheese steaks and the Liberty Bell, Philly probably isn't the first place that comes to mind when you think of creative cocktails, gorgeous architecture, flower-filled parks, or edgy public art installations . . . or, you know, funky light fixtures and romantic outdoor weddings. But my sister Trina and I found all that and more during our springtime visit to the City of Gluttony Love.

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1. Double-Secret Prohibition

Philly's got a great speakeasy culture, and there's no better place to do a little cloak-and-dagger drinking than at Hop Sing Laundromat.

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Named one of the 30 greatest bars in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, Hop Sing is housed behind a nondescript door on a seedy block lined Chinese takeout joints.

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Run by an international man of mystery known simply as Lê, Hop Sing has no phone, no internet . . . and absolutely no photos, as they are strictly prohibited.

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After handing your ID over to Lê -- dressed quite nattily, as you are also expected to be -- you must then wait patiently in the holding pen while he disappears with it. Is he making a copy to sell to underage college students? Checking for speeding tickets? Adding you to his list of what he refers to as "imperialist Americans"? No one knows, but the list of banned patrons reportedly contains 1,700 names, so it's not just for show.

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Make that 1,702.

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2. Scratch That Itch

Lots of cities have beautiful gardens, and Philadelphia is no exception.

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But I bet very few of them have an STD garden.

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I don't know much about plants, but it's looking like poison ivy is the least of my worries.

3. Can You Hear Me Now?

Philadelphia has some awesome public art, both small . . .

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. . . and large . . .

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and sized just right.

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But you didn't hear that from me.

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4. With a Cherry on Top

Washington, D.C. puts on an extravaganza of pink petals every spring, but Philly isn't far behind.

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But instead of ringing a reservoir as they do in D.C., Philly's cherry blossoms form blush-colored canopies over charming, colonial-era alleyways.

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And don't even get me started on those creamy white apple blossoms.

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5. Oui ou Yo

It's a little-known fact that Paris and Philadelphia are sister cities. Both revere cheese; both have storied pasts; and citizens of both cities speak English with a foreign accent. Oh, and both have some of the most beautiful doors I've ever seen.

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6. Let's Get Lit

I've long speculated that Philly's funky outdoor art is proof that the pot is better here than elsewhere. But throw in their crazy-town blingy bulbs, and I think we can put all speculation to rest.

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I mean, Oscar de la Hoya on a neon motorcycle? Come on.

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7. Here Comes the Bride

As we strolled around the city, we saw not one but three different beautiful brides. Maybe there was a Groupon?

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8. Say Cheese

Philly is known for its cheese steaks, but don't think you have to confine yourself to a bun to get in on the action.

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But it certainly doesn't hurt.

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9. I'll Take Mine With a Twizzle Stick

New York City has snooty mixologists who demand to be treated like serious chefs; Philly has Stephen Starr, the man who thought cocktails would be more fun if they came garnished with Lucky Charms and Twizzlers. He thought right.

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Of course, if you're feeling a little fancier, there's always the blackberry bramble at Del Frisco's; the All the Way Mae at Rouge (think gin, strawberries, and basil); or the fruity frozen margaritas as El Vez.

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Or, if you're saving room for a third cheese steak, consider combining cocktail hour with dessert and have the Bananas Foster milkshake with Gosling's rum at the Marathon Grill.

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I'm considering having my tonsils removed just so I can live on these for a week without having to explain myself.

10. The Holy Grail of Gastronomic Gluttony

Of course, no visit to Philly (or to the East Coast, really) would be complete without a stop at the Reading Terminal Market. Not only is it the best market in the city, it would be the best market in virtually any city. Where else can you find everything from Philly classics like pork rolls and tomato pie to gargantuan cupcakes and massive pork shanks?

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Honorable Mention: Most Obscene Use of Butter Since "Last Tango in Paris"

Making a sticky bun is like working a tanker truck's worth of butter into a blob of dough the size of a Ping-Pong ball, and Beiler's Donuts at Reading Terminal Market affords a front-row seat to all the, um, heart-stopping action.

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By the time the kneader is done, every square inch of the place is dripping in butter, and the kneader looks like he's just finished a butter-wrestling match. (Which should totally be an Olympic sport.)

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At least that explains why they have that glass between the kneader and the spectators.

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11. Lunch for the Swing Set

Whimsical Stephen Starr strikes again, this time with these swingy cocoon chairs at The Continental Midtown.

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Just maybe don't attempt these after a night of Twizzler cocktails.

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12. The Writing is on the Wall

Or the hubcaps and broken bottles, as the case may be.

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13. Sign O' the Times

Philly's got some fun and funky signs . . . but especially if you've been doing some serious day drinking.

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14. The Official Sport of Philadelphia

Now that Rocky's retired, I guess it's bread-stacking instead of boxing?

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And the decision goes to: Anyone but this guy.

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15. Little Nonna, Big Meatballs

Have you been to Little Nonna's yet? If not, finish up that cheese steak, then beat feet over to this charming Center City hangout, where the staff is sweet, the garden is delightful, and the melt-in-your-mouth meatballs are a way better way to get your protein than a glass full of raw eggs.

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16. Take Me To Church

Or Sunday school, anyway, where Tria Café in Washington Square West will indoctrinate you in a divine wine and celestial cheese for a heavenly price on Sunday mornings. It's church for food-worshippers.

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Until next time, Philly. Save me some cheese.

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What's up next? Angel gets nekkid in Anguilla; Tracey wins a conch fritter-eating contest in Key West (sort of...); we discover a hoppin' hula hut in the Hamptons; and my bad hombre and I take a mostly-legal trip to Cuba! Check back soon; subscribe here so you don't have to; or pop on over to Instragram @escape.from.new.york to see how I'm faring in the eating contest that is my life.

Posted by TraceyG 06:04 Archived in USA Tagged philadelphia pennsylvania philly tria el_vez del_friscos hop_sing_laundromat little_nonnas Comments (14)

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, surrounded 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 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 updated its drink menu to better accompany its down-home BBQ, 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: 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 (14)

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