So, I've got a bone to pick with the folks who run the Key West Food and Wine Festival. The tag line for this winey weekend, which I have written about here and here, is "78 Degrees. 30 Events. 1 Tiny Island." Really? That's like describing Mardi Gras as "Some Beads and Maybe a Parade," or Super Bowl weekend as "There Might Be Hookers, But Don't Count On It." In other words, it doesn't even begin to describe the beachy bacchanal of food, wine, more food, and even more wine -- with a few detours into tequila, whiskey, and Champagne thrown in to keep things interesting -- that is the days-long eating-and-drinking binge known as the Key West Food & Wine Festival or, as I like to call it, "The Ultimate Liver Smackdown."
Day 1: I'll See You On the Other Side
We arrived on a gorgeous January morning after a quick and easy flight.
Our friend Mark, who runs the festival, had arranged for us to be greeted by a rep for Tesla, one of the event's sponsors. The idea is that they give you a ride into town in the new Tesla Model X, a futuristic pod with falcon-wing doors, a medical-grade HEPA filter comparable to those used in hospital rooms, and more gadgets than the Starship Enterprise, including a self-driving mode -- and during those 15 minutes you agree to drop a year's salary on a new car because it reminds you of the one in "Back to the Future."
The Model X was gorgeous, no doubt, but there was one tiny flaw . . .
I told Angel not to bring so much stuff.
Eventually we managed to squeeze everything in, and the car drove itself on over to Old Town, where we'd rented the top floor of an eyebrow house on Olivia Street.
We'd actually stayed here before, about 15 years ago, and were delighted to find that the amenities we'd enjoyed most -- the private deck, hot tub, and outdoor shower -- were just as we remembered them.
We didn't have much time for hot-tubbing, though, since we had very important errands to run.
That evening was the Welcome Party for the Food & Wine Festival on the beach at the Casa Marina.
Our friends Claudia and Alden had driven down from Key Largo for the night to attend the kickoff party with us.
We were thrilled and flattered, but they weren't the only ones trying to cozy up to us. Well, one of us, anyway.
A spectacular sunset rounded out the evening.
After the party wound down, we headed off to Santiago's Bodega with Claudia and Alden to get some dinner. You know, because we hadn't already eaten enough.
It is possible that you may have overdone it on the wine when you manage to have a 2+ hour dinner and have nothing more to show for it than a single blurry photo of some flaming cheese.
You would think that would've been a hint to call it a night, but you would be wrong. And so we set off for The Saint, a chic new hotel that Claudia had been raving about.
It would have been rude to check out the space without also having a cocktail, so we had two.
And then we started swinging.
We had been on something like a 7-hour bender by this point, and it was clearly time to wrap things up. Which is why we thought it would be a fantastic idea to go to The Other Side for a nightcap.
There, I discovered my new favorite cocktail: The banana nut bread Old Fashioned, made with Jameson Irish whiskey, Brazilian banana liqueur, spiced pear liqueur, and black walnut bitters.
Even Fredrick approved.
Day 2: Sweet Caroline
The next day we were off to a slow start, though I cannot imagine why. We decided to take it easy by spending the day at the pool.
We had the place to ourselves, and spent the morning dozing in the cushy loungers and taking dips in the warm water.
Eventually our stomachs started growling, and we decided to answer the call. We headed over to Caroline's for a healthy lunch of salad.
Well, salad with fried chicken. And fried shrimp. And cheese.
Later that afternoon, we took a spin on our bikes before heading back to the eyebrow house for a soak in the hot tub and a much-needed nap.
That evening we had plans to meet up with friends Stephanie and Ari at Michael's. We'd never been before, but I knew I was going to love it because MEATLOAF.
And not just any meatloaf, but meatloaf made of a Wagyu and prime tenderloin blend with house-made spicy ketchup.
We had drinks, appetizers, and other entrées, too, of course, like a yummy Ruby Sipper with ruby red vodka, cranberry, and fresh basil; meaty crab cakes; snapper meunière with lemon brown butter; a warm chocolate cake; and a bunch of other stuff I could not be bothered to photograph because MEATLOAF.
Day 3: The Garden of Good and Drunk
The next day we were scheduled to attend several food and wine events back-to-back, so we decided to line our stomachs with a big lunch at (dearly departed) Kelly's to give ourselves a fighting chance.
Were you wondering why we also had key lime margaritas right before five hours of wine tastings? Scurvy prevention.
Soon it was time for the Tropical Garden Tour and Tasting, which would take us to five different gardens around the island.
The event was sold out, with folks lined up for a chance to enjoy a glass of Hahn wine and some nibbles paired to go with at each stop.
Now this lady knows how to dress for a wine tour.
We boarded the trolley and set off for the first garden, the Memorial Sculpture Garden in Mallory Square.
There, we enjoyed a glass of Hahn chardonnay and a black pepper popover with warm mushroom salad and goat cheese.
We moved on to the Oldest House, where we feasted on lobster and avocado gazpacho and delicious little antipasto pinwheels with sundried tomato tapenade.
Next up, we visited the gorgeous Audubon House.
Unfortunately, however, there weren't alot of good spots for snacking here.
By this time, we'd had three glasses of wine and had stuffed ourselves full of popovers and pinwheels, so it was time for a little divine intervention to keep us going.
Finally, we set off for Martello Tower on Atlantic Boulevard, which houses the Key West Garden Club.
Completed in 1864, West Martello Tower was used during the Spanish American War for quartering troops, storing supplies, and serving as a lookout.
Today, it's used to house crowds of revelers scarfing down black bottom key lime pies, chocolate custard tarts, coconut tres leches bites, and some red wine.
We still had two and a half more days to go, and it is not giving anything away here by admitting that, well . . . I didn't make it.
The liver is the only organ in your body that can regenerate itself. Take advantage and get your KWFWF tickets here!