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Phoning It In From Delray Beach

Over the years, I have come to make peace with the six-month-long season known as winter. November, I can do: There's a more-gigantic-than-usual meal to look forward to, and Angel usually ends up on TV.

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December, I love: Christmas in New York is like nothing else, sparkly and glittery and replete with cozy pop-up ski chalets and boozy rooftop igloos.

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And some other seasonal diversions, too.

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January, February, and even March, I can manage; it's time to hunker down and get hygge, particuarly around VD.

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It might also be time to load up on comfort food, which is why I'm glad I have a Valentine who's legally bound to stick around.

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And then . . . there's April. April is the segue into summer. April is the start of day drinking on sidewalk patios and al fresco dining in ivy-covered gardens. In April, we fling open the doors of our summer cottage, ready for a succession of sunny weekends in the Hamptons. But just when you think it's time to swap out your boots for flip-flops and pour yourself a crisp glass of rosé, winter sometimes comes roaring back with a vengeance, and the only way to save your sanity is to relocate it to points south.

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We'd timed it perfectly: As an April snowstorm approached, we jumped on a plane for a four-night getaway that didn't involve weeks of planning or tons of camera equipment or lots of shoes.

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Well, two out of three, anyway.

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As we've done on prior trips, we booked an oceanview suite at the Delray Beach Marriott, a comfortable hotel that we like for its large pool, loungers on the beach, and easy walks to Delray's beachfront promenade and bustling downtown.

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Oh, and a giant-sized cornhole game played with throw pillows that -- coincidentally for once -- perfectly matched Angel's trunks.

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Having arrived too early to check in, we ordered up two grilled fish sammies on luau bread at the better-than-it-needs-to-be poolside restaurant for lunch, then got down to the serious business of lounging around at the pool.

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Freed from the tyranny of lugging around my heavy Nikon, we took a leisurely stroll around town before dinner.

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As usual, the weather in Delray was spectacular -- warm, sunny, and just humid enough to remind you that you're in Florida without requiring your hair to get its own zip code.

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That evening we had reservations at one of my favorite spots in Delray, Vic & Angelo's.

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Do you see that crazed look in my eyes? That's because I'm about to demolish a veal parm the size of a saucer sled.

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Vic & Angelo's is known for its stylish digs and see-and-be-seen crowd, but I don't care who sees me scarfing down that veal.

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Not quite ready to call it a night, we popped in to Sandbar for mojitos and some old-school hip-hop.

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Of course, it's just not "Rapper's Delight" if it's not accompanied by a laser light show.

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The next morning we awoke to a perfect blue sky, so we laced up our sneaks and took a brisk walk along the oceanfront promenade.

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We'd worked up an appetite, so we set off for bustling Pineapple Grove to get lunch.

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We were in search of a new spot we'd heard good things about, Banyan.

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It wasn't hard to find: Just look for the namesake tree.

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A chic indoor-outdoor space, Banyan is accented with crystal chandeliers, tufted red leather, lucite dining chairs, and a funky mirrored ceiling.

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The weather was perfect, so we decided to dine on the outdoor patio.

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I decided on a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and Banyan's "white salad," with endive, button mushrooms, hearts of palm, marinated artichoke hearts, shaved pecorino, and lemon vinaigrette, all topped with a small filet of grilled salmon.

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Angel also had white wine -- Chardonnay for him -- along with a Maryland crab melt topped with sliced tomato and Old Bay remoulade.

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After lunch, we returned to our regularly scheduled program.

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That evening we had dinner reservations at Deck 84 on the Intracoastal.

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We settled in at a waterside table and perused the cocktail and specials lists.

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We decided to share the house-smoked fish dip, but not our drinks: Angel did a Texas Two-Step with Tito's and muddled blueberries, while I went with a tiki-inspired Deck Punch with pineapple rum, dark rum, and not much else.

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For our entrees, we had the Baja fish tacos with cilantro-lime slaw and the Pad Thai with fresh grilled shrimp and tamarind.

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After dinner we decided to check out the happenings on Delray's main drag, Atlantic Avenue, before heading back to the hotel.

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I'd just had a cocktail made from 8oz. of rum and .0003oz. of juice, so when I saw this gigantic Buddha outside of Buddha Sky Bar, I knew I had to go in.

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The restaurant was full but the bar wasn't, so we took our time poring over the creative drink menu before deciding on a liquid dessert called the Samurai Shortcake with vanilla vodka, strawberry vodka, coconut milk, strawberries, and whipped cream for me, and the Dark Buddha Old Fashioned with chocolate bitters -- and a square of Hershey's chocolate! -- for Angel.

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The cocktails were so good that we each decided to try another, this time the Shaolin Purple Haze with grape vodka, chambord, blueberries, and blackberries for me, and the Key Lime in the Sky, a key lime martini with two kinds of vodka and some Coco Lopez, for the mister.

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We were on our way back to the hotel when a large crowd outside of Johnnie Brown's caught our eye.

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They'd come by car, boat, and bike to see a band called 56 Ace and, with the bar and restaurant completely packed, had spilled out onto the sidewalk.

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It didn't take us long to join the crowd.

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That's because 56 Ace was fantastic, playing a mix of classic rock, 90s rock, country rock, 90s rap, and oldies . . . often at the same time.

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Their method of mashups -- achieved not by stringing two or more songs together, but by singing two songs at the exact same time -- turned out to be wildly creative and alot of fun, because you don't realize how much, say, Green Day and Led Zeppelin or Nirvana and Aerosmith have in common until the singer on the right belts out the former, while the guy on the left cuts in with the latter at the same time, all to the same guitar riff.

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The next morning it was time to undo all the damage from the night before . . . with some pepperoni pizza.

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We love the Mellow Mushroom for its psychedlic vibe, friendly service, and fabulous pizza.

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After lunch it was time for some shopping at Delray's funky little boutiques.

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We also popped into the Seagate Hotel to check out their cool jellyfish aquarium.

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It was all fun and games until the skies clouded over and it began to thunder . . . and then the top of that palm tree by the gray car was struck by lightning and caught on fire.

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No, I didn't stick around to photograph it. Everyone knows that flaming palm trees are one of the ten plagues mentioned in the Bible, along with stink bugs and psoriasis.

Instead, rained out from shopping and the pool, we headed to the bar at the hotel for a Blackbird (bourbon, creme de cassis, and blackberries) and a key lime colada.

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The weather cleared up quickly, but once we'd snuggled in at the hotel, there was no getting me back out, so we stayed in and ordered room service.

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The next day was our last full day, so we headed back to Deck 84 for a waterside lunch.

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After a lazy poolside afternoon, it was time to clean up for our last dinner.

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We chose Rocco's Tacos for its convivial vibe, indoor-outdoor seating, and gorgeous Moravian star-lit decor.

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The Black Diamond margarita with Maestro Dobel Diamante and black cherry purée didn't hurt, either.

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Or the plentiful chips and salsa served on a baking sheet.

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We stayed up too late, and had one too many margaritas, for our early-morning flight the next day, but the view from my window seat made it all worth it.

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Shot with my iPhone, of course.
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Where to next? Roughing it in the bush in South Africa (sans ironing board!); pub-crawling around Dublin (with my Dad!); celebrating a birthday in Brooklyn (with my sissy!); and getting by (with some help from my friends!) in Anguilla. Subscribe here and you'll be notified when a new post goes up!

Posted by TraceyG 04:37 Archived in USA Tagged florida sandbar banyan mellow_mushroom delray_beach deck_84 buddha_sky_bar roccos_tacos johnnie_browns Comments (9)

The Hudson Valley: Fall's Well That Ends Well (Pt. 1)

I don't cook all that often, but I do have one favorite recipe: Take one of the world's most foremost culinary institutes, add a bunch of elite Manhattan chefs fleeing the city's astronomical rents, toss in acres of prime farmland, and finish with a slew of expert mixologists who favor locally-distilled whiskey and other spirits. Stir well to combine, and the result is the food and drink paradise known as the Hudson Valley, one of our favorite weekend getaways.

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This is particularly true in the fall, that magical time of year when the bounty of the area's harvest graces restaurant menus and seasonal cocktail lists from Kingston to Kinderhook and every town in between.

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It's a little over two-and-a-half hours from New York City to our favorite town in the Hudson Valley, aptly named Hudson, which is obviously about one-and-a-half hours longer than we can typically go in between meals. And so we usually stop for lunch on the way, this time at Tuthill House in Gardiner.

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Of course, we didn't make a detour into Gardiner just for lunch: Tuthill House is part of Tuthilltown Spirits . . . which makes Hudson Baby Bourbon . . . which I like for its gorgeous bottles and cool labels and seasonal offerings like Maple Cask Rye and Fresh Pressed Apple Vodka . . . which made it the perfect place for lunch, a whiskey tasting, and a little shopping.

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We snagged a table by the windows overlooking the falls, then got to work choosing a couple of seasonal cocktails: The Apple-y Ever After with apple-and- vanilla-infused gin, cinnamon, walnut, and egg white foam for me, and the Autumn Smash with Old Grandad, sage-poached local apples, sage liqueur, and cinnamon for Angel.

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Lunch was inadvertently loaded with greens: A "whole head of lettuce" salad dressed with Castelvetrano olive vinaigrette and shaved manchego; Murray's chicken breast with pesto and Hudson Baby Bourbon chicken jus; and a tartine with frisee, walnuts and goat cheese.

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This much healthy in one meal would not do, of course, so we ordered up an Orchard Gin lemon-thyme custard tart with stewed plums and meringue for dessert, to restore balance in the universe.

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And then we did a whiskey tasting.

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Or, rather, I shopped while Angel sipped.

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Loaded down with tote bags full of booze, we noticed on our way back to the car that we weren't the only ones who might have overindulged at Tuthilltown.

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Our next stop was at Golden Harvest Farm in Valatie to stock up on apples, pumpkins, and pies made from both.

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Finally it was time to head over to Warren Street in Hudson, the bustling main drag where we'd rented an apartment for the weekend.

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That evening Angel had planned a birthday dinner for me at Deer Mountain Inn in Tannersville. We kicked things off beforehand with a round of celebratory cocktails at my favorite spot in Hudson, the William Farmer Barroom.

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We lucked out to find two seats at the busy bar, then consulted the "Field Notes" for our cocktail choices.

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Soon it was time to head over to Deer Mountain. And while we were expecting a fantastic fireside meal, we were not expecting a swirling snowstorm . . . in October.

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The bad weather actually made the dinner all the more romantic, snuggled up as we were with craft cocktails, comforting bowls of soup, decadent entrees of beef tenderloin and butter-poached lobster with pillowy dumplings, and a view of the storm outside from our toasty table.

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After dinner we retired to the cozy bar to finish our cocktails.

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And although the drive back down the mountain featured sleet, snow, and even tennis-ball-sized hail, I'd like to think this guy watched over us.

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------------------------------------------
CLICK HERE TO READ PART 2!

Posted by TraceyG 07:15 Archived in USA Tagged hudson_valley oak hudson deer_mountain_inn tuthilltown william_farmer gaskins Comments (2)

The Hudson Valley: Fall's Well That Ends Well (Pt. 2)

The next day dawned bright and sunny in Hudson, so we decided to take a leisurely walk down Warren Street on our way to lunch.

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We poked in and out of the eclectic shops, admiring the antiques and picking up gifts of books, jewelry, candles, and olive oil for ourselves and friends and family.

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We'd worked up an appetite after all that walking, so we decided on pizza at a new spot, Oak Pizzeria Napoletana, for lunch.

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Owned by locals Juliana Santos and Joseph Alvarez, Oak turns out authentic Neapolitan pizzas made from naturally leavened dough (sans commercial yeast) and fired in Oak's wood-burning oven.

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After perusing the extensive menu of antipasti, we decided on a salad of little gem lettuce with pickled mushrooms, followed by a couple of paper-thin pizzas.

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After lunch, it was time for a stroll down the other side of Warren Street to walk things off.

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By late afternoon we were in need of a little pick-me-up, so we stopped into local motorcycle shop for a coffee . . . as one does.

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The afternoon had warmed up considerably, so we decided to make the short drive over to the Greenport Nature Conservancy to finish out the day enjoying the sunny weather and fall foliage.

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We chose the more mountainous green trail, which offered expansive views of open meadows, forest, dense cedar groves, the Hudson River, and the Catskills.

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That evening we drove down to Germantown for dinner at Gaskins, a modern country tavern that serves as the community's meeting spot at dinnertime.

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If you eat before 9pm, that is.

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After tucking ourselves into a cozy booth with a couple of glasses of red wine, we feasted on comfort food expertly made from local ingredients: Creamy burrata with kale pesto; a crunchy Brussels sprout salad with kale, clothbound cheddar, and hazelnuts that has become my new go-to recipe for fall dinners; crispy buttermilk fried chicken with honey-butter hot sauce; and a juicy grass-fed burger with a house-made bun(!) and cheddar cheese.

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Cheeseburgers, pizza, lobster, and fried chicken: Angel really does give the best birthday presents.

------------------------------
Check back soon or subscribe here for yours truly roughing it in the bush in South Africa; pub-crawling around Dublin (with my Dad!); getting by with some help from my friends in Anguilla; and slothing (and sloshing) it up in Delray Beach. See you there!

Posted by TraceyG 05:29 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Key West Food & Wine Festival, Pt.1: The Wrath of Grapes

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.

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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."

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The Model X was gorgeous, no doubt, but there was one tiny flaw . . .

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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.

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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.

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We didn't have much time for hot-tubbing, though, since we had very important errands to run.

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That evening was the Welcome Party for the Food & Wine Festival on the beach at the Casa Marina.

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Our friends Claudia and Alden had driven down from Key Largo for the night to attend the kickoff party with us.

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We were thrilled and flattered, but they weren't the only ones trying to cozy up to us. Well, one of us, anyway.

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A spectacular sunset rounded out the evening.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It would have been rude to check out the space without also having a cocktail, so we had two.

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And then we started swinging.

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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.

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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.

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Even Fredrick approved.

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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.

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We had the place to ourselves, and spent the morning dozing in the cushy loungers and taking dips in the warm water.

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Eventually our stomachs started growling, and we decided to answer the call. We headed over to Caroline's for a healthy lunch of salad.

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Well, salad with fried chicken. And fried shrimp. And cheese.

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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.

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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.

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And not just any meatloaf, but meatloaf made of a Wagyu and prime tenderloin blend with house-made spicy ketchup.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Now this lady knows how to dress for a wine tour.

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We boarded the trolley and set off for the first garden, the Memorial Sculpture Garden in Mallory Square.

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There, we enjoyed a glass of Hahn chardonnay and a black pepper popover with warm mushroom salad and goat cheese.

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We moved on to the Oldest House, where we feasted on lobster and avocado gazpacho and delicious little antipasto pinwheels with sundried tomato tapenade.

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Next up, we visited the gorgeous Audubon House.

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Unfortunately, however, there weren't alot of good spots for snacking here.

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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.

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Finally, we set off for Martello Tower on Atlantic Boulevard, which houses the Key West Garden Club.

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Completed in 1864, West Martello Tower was used during the Spanish American War for quartering troops, storing supplies, and serving as a lookout.

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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.

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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.

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The liver is the only organ in your body that can regenerate itself. Take advantage and get your KWFWF tickets here!

Posted by TraceyG 04:38 Archived in USA Tagged key_west key_west_food_and_wine the_saint the_other_side andrews_inn carolines Comments (3)

The Key West Food & Wine Festival, Pt.2: The Wrath of Grapes

That evening was the Grand Tasting at the Southernmost Beach Resort.

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We immediately began stuffing our faces with everything on offer.

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We might have had some wine, too.

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Day 4: Uncorked and Uncouth

The next day we decided that the only cure for that much wine was some good, old-fashioned grease. Lupita's -- with its cheery decor and cheesy enchiladas -- was the perfect antidote.

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Once tucked in at a cozy booth, we feasted on chips and salsa, lobster enchiladas, Dos Equis for Angel, and a Mexican soda for me, since I don't like to drink and drive.

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I do, however, like to match my dress and my flip-flops to my ride.

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We'd no sooner dried out from the night before when it was time to pour even. more. wine. down our throats.

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A bar crawl like no other, Duval Uncorked features over two dozen shops and restaurants along Key West's main drag, each of which offers a glass of wine and nibble or two paired to match.

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One of the first stops was at Wine-O, a stylish new wine bar at the La Concha on Duval.

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Stylish and comfortable.

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From there, we moved on to the frosé with elderflower at the Little Room Jazz Club.

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From there, it was a haze of pour, sip, giggle, repeat.

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Of course, it wouldn't be a bar crawl in Key West without drag queens, sitar-strumming superheroes, and dogs on bar stools.

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I wasn't feeling much pain by the end of the crawl, which is why it seemed like a great idea -- if by "great" you mean "incredibly ill-advised" -- to stop at the Speakasy on the way home.

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It was all downhill from there.

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We'd planned dinner with our friend Steve that night, but I urged Angel to go on without me. You know it's bad when I was worried I might embarrass them . . . in Key West.

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And because he is the leading contender for Husband of the Year, well, every year, Angel surprised me by bringing home a pepperoni pizza since I'd missed dinner . . . and remembering to photograph it.

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But not without a little pit stop for himself first.

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Day 5: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

It was our last day in Key West, and a chilly one at that, so we decided to spend it indoors sobering up so we wouldn't get kicked off our flight that afternoon.

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Oh, you're wondering why we'd go out for pizza, after I just devoured an entire pizza the night before? Hi, I'm Tracey. You must be new here. Welcome!

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Onlywood is tucked away in a little alley off of Duval Street, adding to the cozy feel on a rainy day.

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With Angel busy checking on our flights, I used that opportunity to scarf down all the meatballs we'd ordered.

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Soon our wood-fired pizzas arrived, and between last night's pizza and today's, the dough sponges did their job and we were permitted to board the plane.

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I'm just glad they don't have breathalyzers on those things.
-----------------------------------------------------------
There's lots in the hopper! There's "The Missing Bling Ting" in Anguilla; 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; another pre-Irma trip to Anguilla (remember when Seaborne lost Angel's luggage? I sure do); and a lazy long weekend in Delray Beach. Check back soon, or click here to subscribe and Travellerspoint will do the checking for you!

Heading to the Key West Food & Wine Festival? What doesn't kill you makes for great stories! Get your tickets here.

Posted by TraceyG 04:58 Archived in USA Tagged key_west kwfwf key_west_food_and_wine_festival lupitas duval_uncorked Comments (2)

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)

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)

Labor Day in Key West. Literally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We lasted about 20 minutes before calling in for reinforcements.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And a cute little flan for Angel.

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

Just kidding! We had cheesesteak spring rolls.

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

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Along with that "juice" I mentioned earlier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Or, you know, to post a quick Snapchat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Weekend in East Hampton: Fancy That

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

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

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Well, anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But not just any dog.

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Or even just any dog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And maybe some other stuff, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And as predicted, the sunset was spectacular.

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

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

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

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I don't think so, either.

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

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

March Madness, Part 1: Miami Vice(s)

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

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It didn't quite turn out that way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And thrones! With their own ottoman. Yessss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'd finally found my people.

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

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

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

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