A Travellerspoint blog

April 2011

Return to Key West: A Cheesy Clucking Top 10 List (Part 1)

So, I know what you're thinking. You saw the title of this blog post and thought to yourself, Return to Key West? Wasn't Tracey just in Key West a few months ago? But more to the point, you're probably thinking: This better be good. No boring rehash of the last trip, lady.

Well, you're in luck: It just so happens that this trip marks our tenth visit to Key West, and I can't think of a better way to honor the occasion than with . . . a Top Ten list! See, I love making lists. In fact, I am somewhat obsessed with them. I am constantly making lists of very important things, like vacations I want to take, and things I want to eat, and stuff I want to buy, and chores I want Angel to do. And so it makes perfect sense to count down The Top Ten Things I Learned on Our Tenth Visit to Key West.

#10: Twenty Bucks Ain't Gonna Cut It

One of our first stops on this trip was a new spot on Upper Duval that's been getting rave reviews, Sweet Tea's.


Sweet Tea's menu reads like my list of all the things I'd order for my last meal if I were ever on death row: meatloaf, pot pies, grilled cheese sandwiches, stuffing, macaroni & cheese . . . . Recently, however, thanks to being sucked into one of those "Lockdown" marathons on the Nat Geo channel, I learned that most prisons limit your last meal to just $20. Twenty dollars! How the hell am I supposed to order all of the above, PLUS a large pepperoni pizza, on a measly twenty bucks?! Of all the reasons to avoid ending up on death row, this one might be the most compelling.


Sadly, none of the things I'd hoped to order at Sweet Tea's were on the lunch menu, so the breakfast I'd skipped in order to save room for the Great Meatloaf & PotpiePalooza was all for naught. I therefore consoled myself by ordering the cauliflower-Colby soup, a grilled ham and cheese sammie, and a side of macaroni and cheese.



Our waiter, clearly concerned that the restaurant might actually run out of cheese if I ordered anything else, warned me, "Honey, you eat that much cheese and you won't be regular for a week!" Little does he know that if you eat enough fried food, the cheese, it slides right down.


Later that evening we decided to head down to Mallory Square before dinner. Yeah, sure, they have that sunset celebration and a few tightrope-walking cats, but that's not why I went down there. Don't you know me at all by now?


Now, this man may look old and, well, he is.


But enough about Angel. This old codger, known as Mr. Mojito, whips up some of the best mojitos in Key West, which I suspect is because he lets the lime and mint hang out together ahead of time, allowing them to marinate in the sun until a drink is ordered. A great method for making mojitos, but you probably shouldn't try this with shrimp.


Whatever his secret, these mojitos strike the perfect balance of lime to mint, and are just sweet enough to cut the lime without overpowering it. Bravo, Mr. M! Well muddled.


#9: Choose Your Mate Carefully

In addition to list-making, Hot Fries, baby turtles, ketchup, flip-flops, miniature piglets, flying saucers, cheeseburgers, and my hair, one of the things that I am obsessed with are bath products. Bath gels, body lotions, body scrubs, perfume . . . if it smells good, I must stockpile it. In general Angel doesn't mind shopping, but he is easily overwhelmed by too many competing fragrances and sometimes tries to set limits on how many things I can force him to smell. "You get three smells!" he'll threaten as I shove yet another candle or shower gel under his nose. "You only have one smell left," he'll warn as I approach with a tub of salt scrub or body butter. "Is this one really worth it?"

No, I don't know why I married him.

Anyway, I naturally made a beeline for this adorable store, chock full of fancy lotions, potions, and other girly stuff. It's called Besame Mucho, which means "give me lots of kisses."


After shopping here, however, I think it might be better translated as "give me lots of money." Which I happily did, but not before surreptitiously snapping a few photos while Angel distracted the cashier with some questions about their men's products. Teamwork!




On our past few visits Angel has settled into a routine of biking over to Sandy's Cafe in the mornings for some cafe con leche and Cuban toast.


I'm not much of a coffee person, but I could eat Sandy's pillowy, buttery Cuban toast every day. And that is yet another reason why I love Key West: Because eating a loaf of buttered bread every morning for breakfast here in NYC, the World Capital of Eating Disorders, would be considered only slightly less shocking than eating a newborn baby. And so I was especially thrilled when Angel brought a loaf back for us to share, and didn't even bat an eye when I gobbled up the entire thing.

I guess that's why I married him.

#8: There's No Such Thing As Too Much Cheese

For lunch on Monday we decided to try Harbourview Cafe at the Pier House resort. Angel started with the conch chowder, which was so rich that he couldn't finish it. At which point I squawked with glee and swooped in like a seagull to scarf down the leftovers.


And yet I look so inocente.


Of course, we had some other stuff, too.




Angel had ordered that chowder because he wanted to try the lobster sliders for lunch and was worried that the portion of tiny sandwiches might not be filling enough.

I don't think he had anything to worry about.



Answer: Pretty much nothing. Question: What is better than a whole bunch of ketchup bottles?


I, of course, had the cheeseburger, which was ordered medium-well and arrived somewhere around beef jerky. Still, it had a tasty, charcoal-broiled crust on it and a melty slice of American cheese, and THAT is how you look on the bright side.


But what impressed me most about this meal is that even the potato salad came topped with cheese. It's like they knew I was coming.


After lunch we spent a few minutes at Pier House's small beach, where the water was so clear that I was immediately reminded that it's been exactly 8 months, 1 week, and 6 days since I was last in the Caribbean. Not that anyone's counting.



#7: I Told You I Can't Quit These Damn Chickens

Key West is known for its come-as-you-are, live-and-let-live mentality . . . except when it comes to chickens. Half the island wants to save the little cluckers, and the other half wants to throttle 'em. Where I stand on the issue depends on whether there's one within earshot of my bed on a given morning.




I also have a certain fondness for the, er, artistic side of Key West.





In addition, Key West rivals New York City when it comes to being able to buy one-of-a-kind items. Or even two of a kind. Heh-heh.



You're definitely spending too much time in Key West if the first thing you notice about this picture is that her tag is sticking out.


Step up and be a man, man.


Also, maybe it was the unseasonably warm weather, but this trip really brought out the animals.






But my favorite was this guy, who, despite the presence of wings, decided to walk up the stairs.


Quite gracefully, too, which is more than I can usually say for myself.


But the wildest animal of all had to be this guy. Warning: Objects on your monitor appear larger than they actually are.


#6: I Really Am a Human Garbage Disposal

One of our favorite lunch spots on the island is Kelly's Caribbean Bar & Grill. I know I'm veering dangerously close to Boring Rehash territory here, but Kelly's remains on our must-do list because we like their killer mojitos and lovely garden, in that order.



The food at Kelly's is really beside the point, but that's never stopped me from eating like I don't know where my next meal is coming from. I decided on the pulled pork sandwich, which is slathered in a mango BBQ sauce and piled so high that you end up looking like a baby who's just eaten his first bowl of spaghetti by the time you've finished this thing.


Here I am grinning like a loon because I am wearing my palm tree dress and the sun is shining and the waitress is bringing me a daiquiri. In other words, this is as happy as I get without some serious meds.



Angel ordered the lobster club, which was about 30% lobster to 70% mayo. Depending on how many junked cars are sitting in your front yard, that's either a really bad ratio of lobster to mayo, or a really good one.



Boring Rehash Alert! Later that night we headed over to Abbondanza, a cute little Italian place on Simonton Street.


One of the many things I like about Abbondanza is the little salad that comes with your meal. First of all, coming from New York, the idea of so much as a sprig of parsley being included in the price of your meal is pretty exciting. Second, Abbondanza's salad is loaded with tomatoes and cucumbers that have been thoughtfully diced into little cubes, which I appreciate because (1) I am lazy, and (2) tinier is tastier.


Over the years I have devised a number of different strategies to be able to finish Abbondanza's gargantuan bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. These include the "eat all the meatballs first" strategy, which failed miserably (apparently it is physically impossible to ignore an entire bowl of spaghetti); the "one bite of meatball for every bite of spaghetti" method, which also failed (ratio of spaghetti to meatballs determined to be too high); the "bite of meatball - sip of wine - bite of spaghetti method" (led to both failure and a hangover); and the "TWO bites of meatball for every bite of spaghetti," which started out promising but once again ended in a score of Meatballs, 1; Tracey, 0.


Still, I made a pretty impressive showing, which might lead you to wonder: Who could eat ANY meatballs, let alone a whole bowl of them, just hours after they've devoured an entire pulled-pork sandwich??

The Human Garbage Disposal, that's who.

The Top Five is next! To continue reading, cluck click here: http://TraceyG.travellerspoint.com/30/


Posted by TraceyG 18:35 Archived in USA Tagged key_west florida_keys paradise_inn besame_mucho Comments (5)

Return to Key West: A Cheesy Clucking Top 10 List (Part 2)

And now, the Top Five Things We Learned on Our Tenth Trip to Key West . . .

#5: Beware of Internet Scammers

On Friday evening we met up for rum punches at Louie's with some new friends on the island, Donna and Greg, with whom we became acquainted online.


Donna and Greg are generous, funny, charming, and, most importantly, they always use proper punctuation in their online posts. Indeed, their only fault is that they were easily roped into spending an evening with the likes of me and Angel. Suckers!


As we got to talking, we discovered that Greg grew up in Vermilion, OH, and graduated from Vermilion High School. When I was growing up, my family vacationed every year at a cottage on the beach. No, not in Wildwood, or Hilton Head, or Myrtle Beach, but in . . . Vermilion, OH. Really, now, what are the chances of two people meeting up in Key West who have both spent time in the vacation capital of the Corn Belt? Probably about the same as the chances that I grew up in a normal household.

After the sunset we made our way over to Roof Top Cafe for some dinner, where we ordered an assortment of lovely seafood dishes, of which I do not have a single decent photo thanks to the rum punches at Louie's.




Then it was on to Orchid Key for cocktails, where Donna's friend Andrew and his Famous Hands tend bar. See, a few months ago the New York Times ran one of their frequent articles about Key West, and they filmed Andrew mixing a drink for a video that was to accompany the article. What ended up in the Times, however, was a video not of Andrew but, rather, of Andrew's disembodied hands. Fame, it can be so fleeting.



I don't know if it was the proximity to such celebrity or the fact that I'd been drinking since 6:30 pm, but I proceeded to flirt shamelessly with poor Andrew, despite the fact that #1, he's gay, and #2, Angel was standing right there. It is a true testament to the power of rum punch that only #1 seemed to pose any impediment whatsoever to my tawdry plans.


#4: No, Seriously: Choose Your Mate Carefully

Since I started writing this blog I've received hundreds of wonderful comments from folks all over the world (thank you!), some of whom say how much they enjoy my writing and "Angel's" photographs. Angel of course thinks this is hilarious, since I actually take all the photos (except for the ones of myself), while he takes the misplaced credit. When I complained to him about this, he just shrugged his shoulders. "What do you want me to do?" he asked. "I'm just the eye candy."

No, really: Why did I marry him again??

On Saturday night we decided to return to Hot Tin Roof, a lovely spot on the water at Ocean Key that we hadn't visited in a few years.


We settled in with some cool drinks and a sunset view and perused the menu, which had changed since our last visit.



I started with the tomato and mozzarella appetizer, which was loaded with both fresh and oven-dried red and yellow tomatoes, the latter of which were concentrated into incredible juicy sweetness.


I guess you could say I liked it.


Angel had the ceviche with local snapper, lime, onion, cilantro, and . . . corn nuts, which I suppose is akin to eating a lobster tail with some pork rinds. But what really made the dish was the glowing blue ice in which the corn nut ceviche was nestled. It's from the future.


As a main course, I chose the caramelized mahi-mahi with coconut, corn, carrots, and poblano peppers, plus a whole bunch of red and yellow peppers that the sneaky menu writer forgot to mention. I'm not the biggest fan of peppers, but this dish was a real knockout: the mahi was sweet and caramely and perfectly cooked, while the sauce was both sweet from the coconut and spicy from the peppers. AND it was served in a cast-iron skillet. Everyone knows that food served in a cast-iron skillet tastes better than food served on a plate.

Angel decided to go with the paella. As soon as he ordered it, I secretly predicted that he would foolishly fill up on the seafood and chorizo and I'd get to finish the giant skilletful of rice, which, in my book, could be bested only by a skilletful of cheeseburgers.

And then he tasted it. And he gave me a taste. And lo, it was bland. The seafood tasted like it had simply been boiled and placed on top of the rice, which itself had been boiled and placed in the skillet. (That's right, not even a cast-iron skillet could save this dish.) No butter, no oil, no salt, no . . . anything. And the seafood was joined by some chorizo that even a white chick like me could tell was not a good specimen.


But we were in a lovely setting, and we hate to complain, so Angel pressed on, by which I mean he dumped an entire salt shaker on it and ate all of the seafood (which was portioned quite generously). Our waiter, however, noticed that my skillet had practically been licked clean, whereas Angel's paella was only about half-eaten, and so he graciously removed that entree from our bill (without us asking) and brought Angel a replacement dish, the same excellent mahi that I'd enjoyed.

And so it came to pass that Angel, he of the willpower and self-restraint, crossed over to the dark side and ate not one but two entrees in a single night.

I could not have been prouder.


#3: There's Only One Thing Better Than Lobster . . .

On Monday it was time for my favorite activity on Key West, biking around and drooling over Conch houses and hoping that one of their owners will take pity on me and write me into their will.









Could it be any more obvious that I should be living here??


Later we stopped in at the shops on Lazy Way Lane, a name which makes it doubly obvious that I should be living here.





We also popped into the Key West Pretzel Co. for a refreshing frozen key limeade with mint, which was quite delicious considering that there wasn't any alcohol in it.



Then it was off to Kermit's for all things key limey and free sampley.









If you've ever biked around Key West, you've probably noticed the smell of lobster and drawn butter in the air. Often the smell is so strong that I'm convinced restaurants are pumping it into the air just so you'll get a good whiff and then drop a few hundred bucks on a lobster dinner. Like I would be stupid enough to do that just because I smelled some lobby.




It was a gorgeous evening, so we splurged on a nice bottle of Chardonnay. Thankfully the fancy monogrammed butter was free.



I started with the lobster bisque, while Angel had the stone crab claws.



After that I had the Florida lobster tail.


You know the only thing better than a lobster tail? A lobster tail topped with a crab cake, which is what Angel ordered. Ever since that two-entrees-in-one-night episode, he's like a new man, I tell you.


Plus it came with this adorable little pattypan squash, which was too cute to eat. Even for Angel.


#2: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Drag 'Em

Besides booze with breakfast, the New York Times, and sinking into a deep depression about having to go to work the next day, Sundays can only mean one thing: Drag Queen Bingo!



I had really been looking forward to this because it's hard to beat being surrounded by a bunch of good-looking men who think I'm fabulous, and they did think I was fabulous . . . but only because I had the sense to bring Angel. That little Hershey's Kiss scored not one but two free rounds of shots from the bartender, a kiss on the cheek from our neighbor on one side, and a goosing on the rear end from our neighbor on the other, who happened to be our waiter from Sweet Tea's who'd been so concerened about my digestive health (I of course let him know that things were moving along quite nicely).


Angel the Man Magnet certainly didn't mind the attention; I am going to chalk that up to revenge for my shameless flirting with Andrew's Famous Hands at Orchid Key anddon'tyoucontradictme. Still, there was another guy at DQ Bingo who was nothing short of a walking, talking poke in the eye. This guy kept yelling over and over about how he NEVER EVER EVER EVER WINS, after which he proceeded to win the very next round . . .


. . . and to win the raffle at the end of the night. It's like he was channeling Charlie Sheen. Winning!


This being our first time to DQ Bingo, I briefly wondered if I was going to stick out like a sore thumb there. So imagine my horror when this guy approached me and announced, "Well, you're not from around here!"


When I asked how he knew that, he responded, "Oh, honey, that's easy. You have a great hairstyle!"

Have I already mentioned that I should be living here??? If my hair is what passes for a "style" around these parts, call the moving van, stat!

But the highlight of the evening was our bingo caller, who told me that he fashioned his lovely placenta hat and neck wrap? brooch? scarf? out of a dollar-store platter . . . by setting it on fire.



Still, it is hard to compete in the style department with someone who matches her shirt, her hat, and her beer cozy to the walls.


Also, there was PIZZA! For free! And it was good pizza to boot. So good that I didn't dare put it down and take a picture of it, lest someone snatch it out from under me. You know how people get around free pizza.

#1: We Survived the Great Shortages of 2011

As you probably remember from my last trip report about Key West, we love the Paradise Inn.







The suites are large and sunny; the property is landscaped beautifully; and the pool is cool and inviting.





So WHY OH WHY are they rationing the towels like it's World War II and they're made out of metal?? Granted, it was very hot and humid during our stay, and we were showering approximately fifteen times a day, but still . . . not once did we have enough towels in our room, or enough towels at the pool. Towel-less. Eventually we resorted to staking out the laundry bins and pilfering clean ones when the cleaning staff wasn't looking.


I know, you think I'm exaggerating. And I might have agreed with you, until one afternoon I saw Angel toweling himself off after a swim. With a bath mat.


For brunch on Sunday we decided to try Azur, which is a favorite of many locals and visitors but had never made it onto our list, primarily because they tease you with just a little "sampling" of their menu online. How am I supposed to ponder all my options and plan out what I'm going to order and start dreaming about it before I even arrive on the island, if you won't show me the whole menu? I guess they figure, We could tell you about the roast chicken, but then we'd have to kill you.


Determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, we settled in at a comfortable table near a little pond on the patio, where we were nicely shaded from the sun and serenaded by the sound of rushing water from the pond's waterfall. I immediately scanned the menu for the homemade gnocchi that everyone raves about and . . . nothing! No gnocchi! See? This is why you should show people the whole menu. Nothing casts a pall over a Sunday morning faster than a gnocchi bait-and-switch.


Smile though your heart is breaking . . .


Instead, I ordered the crab cake BLT, which is served on a ciabatta roll that's been grilled and slathered with enough butter to make Paula Deen blush. It's topped with a perfectly vine-ripened tomato and some deliciously greasy strips of bacon and a tangy salsa verde mayo, and served with an orzo salad studded with tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and ribbons of basil.


Angel had the frittata with prosciutto, fontina, and caramelized onions, which looked like a delicious, cheese-covered Frisbee.


The food was excellent, and we enjoyed every bite. I mean, really enjoyed it. Because there I am, my hands covered in so much butter from that ciabatta roll that I could have birthed a baby calf, and there's Angel, in grease up to his eyeballs from devouring a veritable cornucopia of cholesterol, and each of us has only one napkin, which is of course in our laps. So we flag the waiter down and ask if we could please have more napkins. He obliges and returns with exactly . . . ONE. Yes, just one paper napkin, which (after our giggles subsided) we tore into two ragged halves and shared. Alas, this half-napkin was no match for the greasefest taking place at our table (which is by no means an insult), so a few minutes later I got the attention of a different waiter and asked if I could please have some more napkins. He, too, obliged, and returned with exactly . . . ONE. This time, however, we almost tore each other in half over that one lousy napkin. Perhaps one of the intrepid reporters at The Citizen should investigate why napkins are suddenly so hard to come by. Have the Real Housewives bought up the world's supply of napkins to pad their bras? Is there a spitball war brewing in the Middle East? Are rich people using them to dry off after their showers due to the apparent shortage of towels? Inquiring minds want to know.


And so, in the end, Azur earned a split decision from the judges. Food: 10, Napkins: 2 (per person). They just couldn't spare a square.

The next day we decided to grab lunch at Southermost Beach Cafe and then spend some time at the beach.





Things started off well enough, with a mango daiquiri for me and some Planter's punch for Angel.



Angel decided on the blackened mahi sandwich, while I had the Caesar salad.




Sadly, however, I was forced to order that salad right after The Universe decided to spit in my eye. It started as soon as were were seated, when I giddily said to Angel, "I don't even need to open the menu - I know exactly what I'm getting!" and he replied, "Of course, your usual," which is the chef's salad with SBC's incredibly delicious and addictive Caribbean vinaigrette dressing. But just to show that I'm not completely anal a creature of habit, I opened the menu anyway, and saw THIS:


That's right . . . the chef's salad is GONE! MISSING! TAKEN OFF THE MENU! Nobody ever cried harder, or downed a drink faster, after hearing such devastating news.


Except, perhaps, someone whose hair looks like it could hide a nest full of baby birds.


But that isn't even the worst part (the salad, not the hair). No, the worst part was when I asked our waitress why they took the chef's salad off the menu, and she answered, "Um, I think it's because they can't get turkey and ham anymore. Yeah . . . there isn't any turkey or ham." This of course caused my head to explode. What is she talking about?? Does this mean there just isn't any turkey or ham here, right now . . . or does this mean that there isn't any turkey or ham anywhere, ever again?

We may never know, but we do know one thing: That's two more items to add to the growing list of worldwide shortages. Start stockpiling your vodka now.


Posted by TraceyG 18:33 Archived in USA Tagged key_west florida_keys azur louie's_backyard hot_tin_roof paradise_inn drag_queen_bingo Comments (7)

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