A Travellerspoint blog

Key West Part 2: Wanna See Something REALLY Interesting?

One of the many things we love about Key West is that it is full of relaxed, laid-back watering holes, none more so than the Schooner Wharf Bar, which bills itself as "a last little piece of old Key West." And they're not kidding: There are literally thousands of discarded old pieces of Key West -- everything from alligator-shaped kayaks to statuettes to road signs to Mardi Gras beads -- hanging from every available surface in the place.






Along with malt vinegar and various hot sauces, there is hand sanitizer on the table here. Which is either a really good sign . . . or a really bad one.


Luckily the hand sanitizer makes perfect sense, when you consider that there are dogs. At the bar.




For lunch we had Painkillers.


Oh, and some vegetables, served American-style.


Of course, Schooner Wharf isn't the only bar in Key West that serves dogs. Ain't nobody gonna turn away Tuffy, what with that threatening spiked collar and all.


For dinner that night we biked over to Cafe Sole, a little Provence-style restaurant known for its hogfish.




A large, flat fish, hogfish is a Key West delicacy, as it feeds almost exclusively on shellfish, giving it a mild, almost lobster-like flavor. I once saw a feature on the hogfish on Keys TV, which explained that hogfish are caught exclusively by divers wielding long spears. Apparently the hogfish, being quite curious, will approach the divers and, being so flat, will turn to the side to get a better look at them. When they do, they create a huge fish-shaped target for the diver to easily spear the hogfish. Sadly, it appears that no friendly deed goes unpunished.



But the thing you've really got to try at Cafe Sole is their award-winning portobello soup, which is made with portobello mushrooms, onions, white wine, port wine, and "a touch" of cream, according to their web site. Right, and I am "a touch" broke from all this travel. Anyhoo, I have two words for Cafe Sole regarding the portobello soup: BIGGER BOWLS.

The next day we decided to grab lunch at Amigos, a new place on Greene Street that's becoming known for its fresh, authentic rural Mexican food, like this dish:


Ok, maybe not, but are you really going to turn down a basket of tater tots just for the sake of authenticity? I didn't think so.




Amigos does, however, serve real Mexican Coca-Cola made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup which, if the recent television ads are to be believed, will kill you faster than a Mexican drug lord who thinks you've stolen his stash.


The delicious tacos at Amigos are square-shaped, which means that you will end up with more filling in your mouth and less down the front of your shirt. A win-win!



But the main reason to get yourself to Amigos, STAT, is their caramelized onion salsa. This stuff is incredible. Amazing. Fantastic. Hell, it's better than Mexican coke -- the stuff in the bottle, that is.


Besides that incredible salsa, you should also go to Amigos for these:


And for the low tabs . . .


And the comment cards, which encourage you to describe your experience in pictures instead of words, just in case you've had too many of the aforementioned margaritas, or have completely lost your mind over that caramelized onion salsa.


Directly across the street from Amigos I spotted this little guy, whose name is Oscar de la Mayer.


His kind owner allowed me to snuggle him (the dog) and stroke his velvety ears (again, the dog -- minds and gutters, people!), and even trusted me to babysit while he made a quick trip to the restroom. He warned, "Now, don't go lettin' anyone beguile little Oscar while I'm gone!" Little did he know that I was already quite beguiled by Mr. de la Mayer myself, and was secretly trying to figure out if I could get a 19-inch-long wiener dog to fit into my 10-inch-long handbag by folding him in half.


After lunch we decided to stop by one of our favorite shops, Peppers of Key West. Every time we come in this place I immediately devolve into a 13-year-old boy, snorting and snickering at the double entendres and downright dirty labels on the hundreds of hot sauces and barbeque sauces for sale.








The hottest sauce that Peppers sells is called 357 Mad Dog, the recommended "dosage" for which, per gallon, is this miniature spoon, apparently too small to even be photographed properly without a macro lens.


At Peppers they dip the end of a toothpick into the sauce and instruct you to lick it, without getting the sauce on your lips, presumably because they will shrivel up and fall off if exposed to the searing 600,000 scoville units of heat that this sauce packs. (No, I don't know what a scoville unit is. Probably another made-up unit of measure, like that Metric system.)

Angel, for whom no spice or sauce can ever be hot enough, of course decided that he had to try it.


Sure, he's smiling now . . . but 20 minutes and a bottle of water later and his mouth was still on fire. Crybaby.

We also like Peppers' relaxed stance on business hours. Clearly I'm working in the wrong place.


Although we are not big fans of Duval Street, that does not mean we aren't big fans of bars. One of our favorites is the Green Parrot.


It's difficult to get a good shot of the Green Parrot without this "Do Not Enter" sign getting in the way, which actually serves as a pretty good warning: If you're not up for some weird, don't even bother.



The Green Parrot isn't trendy -- about the fanciest drink they serve is beer in a bottle instead of a can -- but they do have cheap drinks, a machine that cranks out free popcorn, and an assortment of patrons that could give the cantina scene in "Star Wars" a run for its money.



Back on Duval Street, there is one bar that we have a soft spot for, Willie T's. A few years ago, right after we closed on our condo, we decided to undertake a mini-renovation to get the place ready for tenants. Angel and my brother-in-law, Joe (whose formidable construction skills and work ethic make HGTV's Mike Holmes look like a real slacker), flew down and did the work themselves, purchasing tools and supplies and putting in grueling 18-hour days to get the job done. Back in NYC, I acted as the off-site foreman, which entailed calling every night to harangue them about getting more work done and staying out of the strip clubs.


Anyway, most nights, dirty and exhausted, Angel and Joe would head out in search of a quick, inexpensive meal, and the only place that was still serving food at such a late hour was Willie T's . . . or so they told me.

After a while, though, I started to suspect that Angel and Joe were hanging out at Willie T's a little more often than they were letting on, and not just for the food. That suspicion was confirmed when I saw this . . .


And this.


Yep, that's exactly what you think it is: Every single dollar that we'd budgeted for the condo renovation.

As always, our last night arrived too soon, and to console ourselves it was off to dinner at our favorite restaurant on the island, Seven Fish. A quick aside: No matter where or when I am taking a photo, Angel somehow manages to end up in it -- there he is in the background, or there's his hand, or part of his head, like a family pet who unwittingly manages to wander into every family photograph. And sure enough, the first shot I took of Seven Fish? There was Angel, reflected in the front door. You know what this means, right? That even when he's standing behind me, that sneaky #$% manages to end up in my pictures. I'm just sayin'.


Anyway, it may not look like much from the outside, but inside this tiny, spare building is some of the best, most imaginative cooking on the island, including an insane banana chicken with caramelized walnuts, which I promise to order and photograph next time. On this visit, however, we branched out a bit from our usual choices, with excellent results.

First up was the three-cheese Caesar with Parmigiano-Reggiano, asiago, and goat cheese, the last of these adding just the right amount of unexpected richness and tang.


In addition to their regular menu, Seven Fish offers three different fresh fish dishes each night. I decided on the red snapper with Thai curry sauce over sticky rice, which Angel said was the best dish that HE had on the entire trip, after scarfing down two-thirds of it. My, how the tables have turned.


Angel ordered the gnocchi with sauteed fish, which was drenched in a creamy, mellow bleu cheese sauce with capers and sauteed onions.


I liked it because it was clearly fat-free.

On the last afternoon before our flight was to depart, we headed over to Alonzo's Oyster Bar, home of the best half-price Happy Hour in town. These are their key lime mojitos, which were tasty but not very boozy, much to Angel's dismay -- mostly for obvious reasons, but also because there's much less kicking and screaming as I'm dragged to the airport if I'm half passed out asleep.


We proceeded to order an assortment of artery-clogging favorites, like fried calamari with diablo and key lime aioli dipping sauces, sweet corn mashed potatoes, and buffalo shrimp with a side of creamy bleu cheese.




Double-fisting, New Yorker style.


After we ate, Angel settled up the bill while I walked around the boardwalk to take a few pictures.




As I trolled for my next shot, a man approached me and asked, "How would you like to take a picture of something really interesting?" This being Key West, I immediately averted my eyes, lest he drop his pants right then and there, but instead he turned and walked down to the private dock running perpendicular to the boardwalk, and I followed. Again, this being Key West, it suddenly occurred to me that I was probably going to be held hostage on some boat in exchange for reefer and rum, but that fear subsided as soon as I spotted the "really interesting" thing he'd brought me down to the dock to see: A pelican. The man told me that the pelican had been sitting there for days and that many of the boat owners had gotten close enough to pet it. I took one look at that huge beak and immediately started weighing the pros (getting to pet a large but probably disease-ridden pelican) against the cons (being pecked to death by said pelican and not even having it make the top five weirdest events on the Key West evening news) and reluctantly decided against petting him. There's always next time.


As I continued taking photos, at one point I looked down into the water below and saw a huge, unidentifiable fish.


Now, if you've read the Anguilla posts on this blog, you already know what I was thinking: TARPON! Later I overheard someone at a neighboring table ask the waitress what that large fish he'd seen earlier was and, without missing a beat, or even seeing the fish, she confidently replied . . . "Oh, that? That's a tarpon."

Sure it was.


Can't get enough of the Conch Republic? Read more here and here.

Posted by TraceyG 09:32 Archived in USA Tagged key_west peppers amigos florida_keys schooner_wharf_bar cafe_sole seven_fish Comments (7)

Christmas in NYC: My Heart is Full of Unwashed Socks

So it was a pretty crappy fall around our house, though it started off innocently enough. In early October, we decided that it was time to get a new living room rug. But a new rug would highlight just how badly our apartment needs a fresh coat of paint, so we decided to go ahead and paint the living room. Which meant that we'd also have to paint the hallways. And just look at how lumpy that ceiling is, and how wavy those bulkheads are! Might as well do some skim-coating while we're at it. And install some crown molding in the kitchen . . . and then paint that room, too. And so it came to pass that poor Angel found himself knee-deep in paint, plaster, sandpaper, and dust. Because we needed a new living room rug.



Approximately one week into this brilliant idea, we decided to take a break and head over to a friend's house for a Halloween party. I decided to dress as a 60s flower child, seeing as how I already own a pair of bell-bottoms, clogs, big wooden beaded necklaces, a faux-fur leopard print coat, 70s-style suede handbag, and even a pair of big John-Lennon style sunglasses (prescription, no less). Something tells me there's a "surprise" nomination for What Not To Wear in my future.


Angel dressed as a cross between a 1970s-era pimp and those guys who stand outside the restaurants in Little Italy hawking $10 spaghetti dinners. After gently nestling his giant, gold man medallion snugly into the chest hair popping out of his unbuttoned-down-to-there shirt, we hailed a taxi and were off.


Unfortunately, we'd only gone about two blocks before a livery cab ran a red light and -- BOOM! The town car slammed into our taxi, then bounced off and totalled a parked car for good measure. At the moment of impact, Angel flew forward, slamming his knee into the divider, then slid left . . . slamming his (giant) shoulder into my (small) chest. But that's not the worst part. No, the worst part was standing on Park Avenue at the scene of a three-car accident, trying to tell the police exactly what happened, and explain to the EMT that yes, my breast hurts, and no, you don't need to touch it . . . all while dressed like Kate Hudson in Almost Famous and John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

The folks at Lenox Hill hospital took great care of us, poking, prodding, and pretending not to notice our ridiculous get-ups. Finally, after being discharged with a knee immobilizer, a nursing-home-issue silver cane, and instructions for treating a Boob Contusion (that's the fancy medical term), we did what anyone who'd just spent the last three hours in an emergency room would do . . . we showed up at the Halloween party. Free booze, ya'll!


We are thankfully going to be fine, but Angel's knee injury meant that he had to sit out this year's Macy's Thankgiving Day Parade, in which he has served as a balloon pilot for the past 8 years. (The pilot is the guy who walks way out in front of the balloon, directing it down the street, and then complains for days afterwards about the walking! Three miles! Backwards!). A melancholy mood settled over our dirty, dusty, power-tool-strewn apartment. And so it was with more excitement than usual that I have been looking forward to the holiday season. The city that never sleeps -- hence its perpetually cranky mood -- finally throws off its winter gloom and transforms itself into a twinkling, over-the-top winter wonderland. Skaters bundle into wooly scarves and mittens for a spin around Wollman Rink. Shoppers clutch cups of hot chocolate and mill around the festive open-air markets at Union Square and Bryant Park. Tourists flock to the tree at Rockefeller Center, aglow with thousands of lights, and Santas of every size, shape, color, and gender roam the sidewalks. The scent of roasting chestnuts and the tinkle of Salvation Army bells fill the air. And occasionally, a Christmas miracle occurs, and a New Yorker actually smiles.

Of course, photographic proof of this miracle is harder to obtain than a non-blurry shot of Bigfoot, so how about a nice electric snowflake to symbolize it instead?


My first stop was to my favorite holiday decoration in all of New York City, which I like to call the Tree Clump. The Tree Clump consists of 105 live Christmas trees (not that I counted them) on one side of a skyscraper, and 105 more on the other side, all lit up in Christmasy splendor and pine-scented fabulousness.



One night Angel was walking home from work when he happened to spot a couple of the guys charged with installing and lighting all 210 of these trees -- no easy feat when you consider that Angel utters more obscenities in one afternoon of putting up our single tree than he does in an entire year. So he stopped and told them how beautiful it was, and what a great job they were doing, and how much his wife appreciates it. And . . . nothing. The first guy apparently didn't speak a word of English, and the second one just glared at Angel and shrugged his shoulders. See? Holiday spirit, alive and well in New York!


Next I headed over to the New York Palace hotel and its on-site restaurant, Gilt. Which is presumably what you will feel if you spend $16 for an order of French fries . . . said the girl who once paid $79 for two glasses of Champagne.




The prices aren't the only things oversized in New York City, though. We also have super-sized egos, tempers, mouths . . . and some other stuff, too.





In case something a little more subdued is more your taste, let us now glide by the vaunted Wadorf-Astoria. Lest you be intimidated by this bastion of taste and class, however, just remember: They once let Paris Hilton live here.



Am I the only one who's not surprised that the trees outside Rupert Murdoch's office look like devil horns??


Of course, no posting about Christmas in New York would be complete without a visit to Rockefeller Center.


After downing a handful of Xanax and Valium, plus a shot of whiskey for courage, I was finally ready to be swept into the massive rushing river of human beings that is Rock Center at Christmas. However, it only took about 5 minutes before I found myself wishing I'd brought my flask . . . and a cattle prod.



As I inched my way through the crowd, I caught hundreds of snippets of conversations, most including the words "beautiful," "tall," and "amazing" in reference to the tree. But the most common word I overheard, as visitors marveled over the world's most famous Christmas tree? BIEBER. Apparently Bieber Fever is more contagious than we thought.




Of course, some folks were more impressed by the tree than others.


As I struggled to leave Rock Center, the crowd holding me back like a spitball in a slingshot, I finally broke free and catapulted out onto Fifth Avenue, just in time to see the aftermath of a minor fender-bender. As the police and the driver of the first car departed, the driver of the second car stomped back to his vehicle, red-faced and fuming. As I drew nearer, I heard him mutter to himself: "What's so #$%^& special about this #$%^& tree, anyway?!?" The man might have a point.

Elsewhere in the city, the crowds are thankfully thinner; the decorations much less glitzy and over-the-top.




But no matter where you go in New York City, you never know who you might see.



These folks must be lined up to see some celebrity, right? Or maybe to get into the hottest new nightclub?


Actually, no. They are lined up to get into . . . an Abercrombie & Fitch. So they can be assaulted by music at decible levels akin to those at a shuttle launch and forced to don a headlamp in order to see the overpriced merchandise. God, I'm old.

Aside from the decorations, New York City is also the ideal place to find the perfect gift for that man or woman on your list who has everything. Who couldn't use a new pair of blue suede shoes?


Or a stunning dress made from the feathers of the sadly-extinct Dodo bird? I hope that's not his bald little carcass in her hand.


Or you could surprise someone with this lovely zebras-being-shot-with-arrows-print umbrella . . .


To match their zebras-being-shot-with-arrows wallpaper, of course.


And to think we spent all that time and effort repainting our living room. Next time, we'll just get the zebra wallpaper and call it a day.


Merry Christmas and Happy Hannuka Chanukah Hanukkah Holidays!


Posted by TraceyG 05:21 Archived in USA Tagged christmas new_york_city rockefeller_center Comments (0)

Delray Beach: Mushrooms, Monkeys, and Chickens, Oh My!

32 °F

Delray Beach, which bills itself as the "Village by the Sea," is a small town on the southeastern coast of Florida. Though not as well-known as its fancy neighbors -- Palm Beach to the north and Boca Raton to the south -- Delray boasts pristine beaches, a funky shopping and arts district, and a vibrant restaurant scene, which is what first drew us there. Because there is nowhere to eat in New York.









Delray is also on the cutting edge of modern table design, as you can see.



Most importantly, Delray has a Mellow Mushroom -- and I'm pretty sure you won't find one of those in Palm Beach.


We like to stay at the Marriott at the beach for three reasons: Adults. Only. Pool.



Our first stop was dinner at 32 East, whose menu changes daily. Best described as New American, it's my favorite kind of food: interesting ingredients pulled from a variety of other cuisines, then put together in ways I wouldn't have thought of. I started with the pan-seared risotto cakes with artichoke-parmesan puree, pickled treviso and fava beans, and mushroom vinaigrette. It was crispy, creamy, tangy . . . and way too small! See?


That was followed by house-made ricotta ravioli in a sauce of short ribs, red wine, English peas, and oak-roasted tomatoes, which was like eating a fabulous boeuf bourgignon that just happened to have some big pillowy ravioli in it. Somebody's been reading my mind.


Angel had some fish dish, but really, who can remember the details when there is a giant bowl of boeuf-bourgignon-ricotta-ravioli to be had?


Dessert was simple: Four warm, housemade chocolate-chip cookies the size of frisbees. I'm not a huge chocolate fan, but let's just say that if Angel hadn't agreed to share these, he was headed for a beat-down.


The next day we made a beeline for the Mellow Mushroom. This pizzeria chain, based mostly in the south, was started by three college students in Georgia back in the early 70s, which means that it is both inexpensive and totally psychedelic, man.


The Shroom's pizza dough is made with spring water, which makes it a bit chewy, but also thin and floppy, which is how I like it. (Then again, I also like crispy pizza, coal-oven pizza, hand-tossed pizza, pan pizza, Sicilian pizza, grandma pizza, frozen pizza, English-muffin pizza, Chef Boyardee pizza, Domino's pizza, Pizza Hut pizza, Papa John's pizza . . . I am the Bubba Blue of pizza.)


The best part, though, is that Mellow Mushroom offers 50 different beers, most of which are microbrews, and all of which are half-off on Monday nights. Two Sam Adams' Oktoberfest pints ($1.50 each) + one Funky Q pizza ($8.50) = Can I get some of that beer to go??


Given that I am something of a human trash compactor when it comes to food, it will come as no surprise that the entire pizza I had for lunch was followed by dinner that night at Cut 432 . . . for a steak. We were undecided among three wines, so the bartender kindly brought us a small pour of each for a blind taste test to determine which was our favorite (winner: the 2006 Duckhorn cab). He also recommended the New York strip, which we both ordered (with house-made steak sauce for Angel and toasted peppercorn for me).




I will totally cut you.


After dinner we walked a few blocks down to Johnnie Brown's, a bar and restaurant named for famed Florida architect Addison Mizner's pet spider monkey, who once ran for mayor of Palm Beach (the monkey, not the architect). Mizner reportedly had two other monkeys, Ethel and Deuteronomy, but neither of them ever had a restaurant named for it OR ever ran for public office. Slackers.


As we skirted the outside for a table on the sidewalk, we ran into this lady.


This is Robin Fox, who had a trance hit a few years back called "I See Stars," which made it to #13 on the Billboard dance music charts. However, it is hard for me to care about that when you are doing something so fabulous as walking a chicken! On a leash!


Robin apparently had some socializing to do, so I ended up minding the chicken, Jeb-Jeb, for a while. Go out for a nice steak dinner . . . end up babysitting a pet chicken named Jeb-Jeb. Is Delray a great town or what?!


A band called Johnny B and the Road Dogs was playing classic rock covers, so the bikers had come out in force that night. While I made friends with this guy by buying him a beer, sharing my pack of candy cigarettes, and belting out the lyrics to some Skynyrd songs with him, Angel took a few photos of the band.


Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man . . . you're being stalked by a zombie! RUN!!!!


This move looked suspiciously like Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance, which I then proceeded to do, to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama," after half a bottle of wine and two bottles of beer. Which was right about the time Angel decided to go hide in the bathroom.


Oddly enough, though, I just couldn't persuade anyone else to join in. This guy, he probably prefers the Macarena.


Also, among others, Johnnie Brown's flies the ANGUILLIAN flag! We took it as a sign . . . that we are spending way too much money on vacations lately.


The next day we decided on brunch at the Old Calypso before taking a boat cruise down to Boca Raton along the Intracoastal on the Lady Atlantic.



Had my stomach not still been punishing me for the New York strip, au gratin potatoes, creamed corn, 1/2 bottle of wine, 3 Corona lights, and 1/2 pack of candy cigarettes I'd sent down the night before, I definitely would have ordered Angel's dish, the blackened mahi topped with crawfish etouffe.


Instead, I went a little lighter.


The boat cruise we took was custom-made for me, since the captain spends the entire ride down to Boca telling you about all the fancy houses we pass along the way. See that infinity pool? It cost $450,000! This house? It has 5 stoves! That house? The bathroom is bigger than your entire NYC apartment! It's like an expensive, floating version of House Hunters.


I hate these people.




Dinner that night was at Vic & Angelo's, which is proudly committed to ensuring that you leave their restaurant unable to button your pants. This place is boisterous and buzzing, decorated in fire-engine red. Light fixtures consist of clusters of glass bottles filled with what appears to be cherry-red Campari, and the bartenders wear red bustiers with black bras peeking out the top. Bordello-chic, you might say.





And they run old episodes of Miami Vice on a continuous loop! Just look at that lovely feathered mane.


But the best part about Vic & Angelo's is that not only is the food fantastic, but there's plenty of it. This is their veal parmigiana, which they call "Veal Telephono." I suspect this is because you will need to telephono your cardiologist shortly after finishing this thing.


Even the garlic is super-sized.


And this?


THIS is what happens at Vic & Angelo's if you ask for some ice for your water.

Yeah, I love this place.


Posted by TraceyG 19:45 Archived in USA Tagged florida mellow_mushroom 32_east cut_432 delray_beach johnnie_brown's vic_&_angelo's Comments (1)

Anguilla Part 6: The Best 8,000 Calories I Ever Ate

32 °F

Today was the Happiest Day of the Year: The day we go to Ferryboat Inn for cheeseburgers.



It was about 700 degrees in the shade, and I was planning to carry my burger out to the car to eat in air-conditioned peace if necessary, but at the last minute, the Ground Beef Gods smiled on me, delivering a slight breeze.


I've spent alot of time thinking about how to adequately describe the incredibly delicious feat of awesomeness that is the Ferryboat Inn burger. There really are no words, but luckily I have pictures.


Ferryboat's burger is incredibly juicy, sloppy even, and yet somehow all of the juice stays inside the burger, not dripping all over your plate. It is huge and charred on the outside and marinated in something so delicious that it must be illegal. The soft, pillowy bun is slathered with some orange stuff - Thousand Island dressing? A ketchup and mayo mix? – that I fear would disgust me if I knew its true identity, so I never ask (and please don’t tell me if you know).


It puts all the other players in the “best burger” wars - In-N-Out, Shake Shack, Corner Bistro, Five Guys, you name it – to utter shame. It costs $10, but it could cost $100 and still be worth every penny. It needs absolutely nothing. Ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes - all are just distractions from its marvelous meaty goodness. It is, quite simply, perfection on a plate.


I once asked Marjorie, Ferryboat's charming English owner, what her secret was to making the burgers so delicious. Was she adding special spices to the ground meat mix, or marinating the burgers in something unusual? Oh no, dear, she assured me. We just use top-quality beef, that’s all.

Which I think is British for, Piss off, you bloody wanker, if you think I’m telling you how I make the world’s best hamburger. Cheerio!


Obviously I couldn't be seen in a bikini for a few hours after this, so it was time for some shopping.






Too quickly, our last night on the island arrived. Our last meal was at Oliver’s, where we decided to branch out and order something other than the Seafood Compote, a dish known to make grown men (okay, Angel) cry.


We also decided that perhaps we should try to get a photograph of us together, before those "Michael and Janet are the same person" type rumors get started.


For dinner I started with a simple green salad, while Angel decided to try the stingray. Given that I’d swum less than 3 feet away from not one but two different stringrays over the past 10 days, I decided not to disturb our tacit agreement, which is that I won’t eat them if they don’t eat me.

Angel then had the grouper in a lime and balsamic sauce, which was savory and sweet and tart all at the same time - not that I ate half of it or anything.


I had two grilled Anguillian lobster tails, and I know what you’re thinking: Only two?


Finally, sadly, it was time to leave -- but not before one last swim at Shoal Bay. Being on time for your flight is so overrated.



As our plane took off and the island became smaller and smaller in the distance, I began thinking about how much this little rock in the middle of the ocean has meant to me over the years, how it has changed my perceptions of beauty, tranquillity, and happiness. (You didn't think I could do sappy, eh? Read on.)

Anguilla, when we first met twelve years ago, I fell instantly in love with you. You were drop-dead gorgeous, yet unassuming and charming. You were simple yet luxurious; friendly but private. You were sleepy and slow-moving, but with an energy all your own, and you smelled like nowhere else in the world. You were, in a word, perfection, and I desperately hoped that you would never change.


When I am in your presence, a transformation takes place. Gone is the grown-up with a job, a mortgage, and countless responsibilities. Gone, too, is the woman who wears boots eight months out of the year and owns more winter coats than she has space for in her tiny New York City apartment; the woman who dreads the endless weeks of grey skies and rain. In her place is a happy young girl who fearlessly jumps off boats into crystal-clear water, whose hair is a salty tangle about her suntanned shoulders, who kicks the flip-flops off her browned feet and buries them in soft, sugar-white sand. I am changed because of you.


Over the past 12 years you have provided me with more happy memories than anyone probably deserves in a lifetime: Bumping along a rocky, unpaved road, nothing but our headlights and a handful of stars in the ink-black sky to guide the way . . . only to stumble upon tiny, candlelit Straw Hat restaurant, balanced on stilts above crystal-clear water, serving 5-star cuisine by the sweetest folks on the island. Making our way down a shady path at La Sirena, passing a tiny, sparkling, secret pool as we go. Pushing aside giant sea grape leaves at the path’s end to reveal a wide expanse of sugar-white sand, vivid blue water, a few wooden umbrellas . . . and not another living soul. Drawing in my breath and shaking my head in amazement at the overwhelming beauty of Shoal Bay, each and every time I see it. Having tiny, gorgeous Little Bay all to ourselves for an afternoon; our boat driver, Calvin, the only person in the world who knows where to find us. Seeing Rendezvous Bay for the first time: Barely registering the rocky yard and spare, squat buildings of Rendezvous Bay Hotel; seeing only brilliant blue water and blinding white sand. Picking up hitchhikers: maids in their white aprons, shy schoolchildren in their pressed uniforms. Breathing in your inimitable scent.


Indeed, you are so beautiful that I suppose it was inevitable that others, too, would eventually fall under your spell. You’ve been discovered, and over the years you have been changed by all the attention, by the press and praise. Road signs dot your landscape, eliminating the singular pleasure of getting lost on one of your formerly bumpy roads. New hotels and villas squeeze onto your beaches, even as many of us fear that you are becoming too crowded. Diamond stores and duty-free shops – will they edge out our local favorites? Everyone wants a piece of you now, and it’s hard to blame them.


And yet . . .

And yet, glimmers of the island I first fell in love with still remain. Sand so powdery that I find it clinging to my calves even after I’ve taken a shower. A huge smile and a warm “Welcome back!” at your shops and restaurants – more than two years after our last visit. Wading into one of your pristine bays and looking down to see a handful of curious little fish circling my feet. Water so clear that a snorkeling mask is merely optional.

The obvious pride on the faces of your gracious citizens when we respond that, No, it’s not our first time on the island.


And it won’t be our last.



Need more Anguilla? Click here for our Thanksgiving trip report!

Posted by TraceyG 05:37 Archived in Anguilla Comments (7)

Anguilla Part 5: Oops, I Did It Again

32 °F

This trip to Anguilla marked ten years since Angel and I said our wedding vows on the dunes overlooking the ocean in Westhampton Beach. It was a small, elegant affair on a picture-perfect summer evening. Tuxedoed waiters passed h’ors doeuvres on shiny silver trays during cocktail hour on the deck at sunset, and served fresh lobsters for dinner under twinkling lanterns. Friends and family wished us well. All in all, a pretty good start.

And then we took our honeymoon.



We’d been married less than a week when we set off for Anguilla. On our first full day, we headed over to Shoal Bay and decided to take a swim before lunch.


Terrified of losing one of our brand-new wedding rings, we'd brought along a small velvet ring box and deposited them there for safekeeping while we were in the water. After our swim, we took one of the tables closest to the water on the deck at (sadly departed) Le Beach. As we settled in for lunch, I asked Angel to give me my ring so I could show it off put it back on. He demurred, saying that he didn’t want to dig through his backpack to find the ring box.

I insisted.

He said to wait.

I pouted.

He finally relented.

(Newlyweds, take note: THIS is the secret to a successful marriage.)

Defeated, Angel fished around in his bag and finally came up with the ring box. He popped open the spring-loaded lid. At that moment, everything melted into slow-motion: When the lid popped open, the ring inside flew straight up into the air . . .

. . . and landed smack between the floorboards of Le Beach’s deck.

My ring – my not-even-one-week-old wedding ring – was now underneath the deck at Le Beach, buried in the sand below.

I screamed. Angel muttered something like, “I told you I didn’t want to get those rings.” Before I could strangle him, though, he ran around to the other side of deck and, kneeling in the scorching sand with the sun beating on his back, began to dig furiously with his hands to get to my ring. A few other folks on the beach noticed the crazed, sweaty man digging up the sand underneath Le Beach’s deck and came to watch. Word spread, and soon there were 5 or 6 men digging in the sand for my ring. Finally, they spotted it . . . but it was too far under the deck to be reached, and the deck was too low for anyone to crawl under it. There didn't seem to be any way to reach it.

Get a good look at it while you can, buddy . . .

Angel wiped the sweat from his brow.

I threatened his life.

Finally, someone had an ingenious idea: a clothes hanger! The proprietor of the shop at Le Beach donated one of her metal hangers, which was then untwisted so it could be used a hook. My ring, and Angel’s life, were saved!


And here we are, ten years later. Ten years. Imagine hundreds of more incidents like the Great Ring Debacle and you can see what an amazing accomplishment this is. We knew we had to celebrate, and what better way to do so than by agreeing to annoy each other for another ten years, with a vow renewal ceremony?

Only Angel didn’t exactly agree . . . which is why I had to spring it on him. SURPRISE!!!

He's starting to get suspicious . . .


Don't worry, he only looks like he's going to throw up.






  • Special thanks go to Anguilla photographer Susan Croft (www.anguillaescape.com), whose lovely photos of our vow renewal ceremony appear above, and who was probably more exicted than I was that we managed to surprise Angel! Susan's energy, enthusiasm, and generosity made our ceremony absolutely perfect.

Later in the week it occurred to Angel that he'd been lured out to the beach that night with the promise of sunset drinks at Malliouhana, but instead of a drink he got another 10-year sentence. So tonight it was off to Malli for two glasses of Champagne, which Angel said would be his treat.



Sadly, though, the poor guy got the short end of the stick again: This is what $79 worth of Champagne looks like . . . before the tip:


You didn't really think there'd only be one picture of those $79 glasses of Champagne, did you?



Freed from the burden of a full wallet, we went on to enjoy a gorgeous sunset.




Happy Anniversary, Baby.


Posted by TraceyG 19:38 Archived in Anguilla Comments (4)

Anguilla Part 4: Make Beer, Not Bombs

32 °F

During our visit we got to chatting with a new friend on the island, photographer Susan Croft, who mentioned that her friend Karen owns a villa called La Petite Maison D’Amour, and that it might be a nice place for us to stay next time we are on island. The housekeeper, Pam, should be there, and she will let us in.


So Susan emails us directions, and they are excellent . . . except that we are directionally challenged and still can’t find the house. As we bump along, we spy a man outside doing some gardening, dripping sweat in the mid-morning heat. He is wearing a soaked-through Chocolat t-shirt, and I recognize that he is the beloved Captain Rollins.


I wait in the passenger seat while Angel gets out of the car to see if Rollins might be able to help us with directions. Mangling the pronunciation of the villa name beyond nearly all recognition, we ask Rollins if he knows where La Petite Maison d’Amour is. Never heard of it, he says.

We try pronouncing it again, this time with a little more, er, je ne sais quoi. Still nothing. We recite the directions we’ve been given and Rollins ponders for a moment.

Peering down the road, Rollins points and asks, “See that road down there, to the left?” Yes, we respond excitedly, thinking we're finally about to be directed to the house. “Ain’t a goddamn thing down there!” he laughs heartily. “You got a map?” Again we respond yes, and Angel hands it over for Rollins’ inspection. Rollins unfolds it and starts chuckling. “A friend of mine made this map,” he says. That’s great, we respond. “Not really,” he laughs. “It’s all bullshit!” He threatens to have a few beers one day and tell the map-maker how he really feels.

“What’s the name of the house again?” he asks, studying the apparently useless map. La Petite Maison d’Amour, we respond in an accent that sounds more like Pepe LePew every time we attempt it. “Ain’t never heard of that,” he says. “Maybe it’s down near Karen’s house?” Karen! That’s it! That’s the owner of the house, I explain.

Rollins peers into the car at me for a long moment. “Hmph. She got all the information, but she keepin’ silent. Be careful, my man!" he chuckles to Angel. He begins to direct us to Karen’s house, then stops midsentence and disappears. A few seconds later, he’s back – in a truck. “Follow me,” he hollers out the window. “We're going to KAREN’S house!”


With Rollins leading the way, we finally find the house, and it’s adorable.


A car is parked in the lot; it must be Pam the housekeeper’s. So we knock on a few doors and call her name. Nothing. We call her name some more, but still nothing. We see some laundry hanging outside to dry, and hear someone inside, so we knock on the door once more.


Finally, the front door opens.

It’s not Pam.

Instead, a dead ringer for the actor Ron Livingston steps outside, rubbing his eyes. He is barefoot and unshaven and wearing a slept-in t-shirt that reads, “Make Beer, Not Bombs.” Clearly this is one bomb he was not expecting.



“You’re not Pam,” I observe shrewdly. Um, no, he responds. “Pam’s your housekeeper,” I offer helpfully, as though that might explain what the hell we are doing there. He nods. We stare stupidly at each other for a moment, Angel and I tripping over ourselves to explain why we are pounding on the door of his villa at 10:30 in the morning, and him desperately trying to understand how his vacation has suddenly taken such a wrong turn. Amid a flurry of apologies, Angel and I slink away, and our Ron Livingston-look-alike presumably goes home and tells everyone about the crazy couple who tried to break into his villa one morning.


Obviously this day needed to end with some tequila, so for dinner we headed over to a restaurant called Picante, A Caribbean Taquiera, which is also a Caribbean Overachiever. This restaurant could probably get by with serving just passable food, given that it is bright, cheerful, friendly, and not terribly expensive -- and the only Mexican place on the island. But Picante is more than just passable. It is fantastic.


These are their seafood enchiladas. They are rich, creamy, delicious, and extremely filling. Anyone who can eat both enchiladas and the rice & beans is a better, and probably rounder, woman than I.



We finished off the meal with something called "frozen lemon-lime pudding," which was served with a little shaker of cayenne pepper. It was cold, creamy, sweet, and tart, like a cross between sherbet and creme brulee. Hello, lover.




Posted by TraceyG 09:40 Archived in Anguilla Comments (3)

Anguilla Part 3: Prickly Heat and Anacondas

32 °F

On Wednesday we decided to take Shoal Bay Scuba's snorkeling trip to Prickly Pear island and Little Bay. We arrived at Shoal Bay East a bit early for some, uh, provisions at Gwen's.






Because we were having lunch later at Prickly Pear, we did our best to ignore this guy, but eventually the smell proved too much and Angel distracted him while I stuffed my pockets full of ribs.


Then it was on to Shoal Bay, a pretty nice little strip of sand.




Taking our rum punches to go, we headed over to Shoal Bay Scuba, which is where things started to go downhill for me, heat-wise. I generally love hot, humid weather, but I knew from an earlier check of Accuweather that, between the actual temperature and the humidity, it is about 185 degrees outside, and the air is dead calm. So I’m quickly reaching Situation Critical, and gratefully step into the shade of Shoal Bay Scuba’s little hut. THEIR EVIL LITTLE HELL HUT. That @#$% hut has managed to trap all of the heat and all of the humidity and intensify it about a million times over.

As you can see, I am not being dramatic at all.


I am dying to jump in the water to cool off, but we have to fill out the paperwork for the trip, so I scrawl my name on the form and leave a sweaty handprint on it for good measure. Angel urges me to drink something, so I chug the remaining rum punch and focus on not passing out, since I don't want to not be allowed on the boat, and I really don't want to be cut off from any future rum punches.

Luckily, I hear that splotchy cheeks brought on by heat exhaustion are all the rage this season.


Thankfully I was able to make a speedy recovery, and the boat set off. Ta-ta, Hell Hut.



The highlight of the day was the snorkeling, which was like something out of an undersea documentary. At Little Bay we saw enormous schools of tiny blue and silver fish, as well as several big guys like this one:


Oh, you had a hard time seeing him there? Exactly. It's all part of his people-eating plan.

When we asked what these large fish might be, our boat captain replied that they were probably tarpon. Later in the week we saw another large fish (off the GB Express boat to St. Maarten), asked what it was, and received the same reply: "Probably tarpon." I am starting to suspect that this is a catch-all term for any large, unidentifiable fish. The big fish that tried to eat Richard Dreyfus in that Steven Spielberg movie? Tarpon. What's really in a fish stick? Also tarpon.

After a full day of snorkeling, it was time to refuel with some carbs. I can’t go more than a few days without pasta before developing an unsightly twitch, and we hadn’t been to Luna Rosa in a few years, so when I started to get a little twitchy, we decided to give them a try. A number of memorable firsts occurred at this meal.


It was, for instance, the first time anyone ever served me more Parmigiano-Reggiano than I could actually eat. Well played, Luna Rosa. Well played.


It was also the first time I ever had gnocchi as both an appetizer (with gorgonzola cream sauce) and as an entrée (with bolognese sauce) at the same meal. If these were ordinary gnocchi, I might agree that a belly full of sinkers is not such a great idea. But these gnocchi were floaty little pillows of light and air and happiness. And perhaps just a smidge of ricotta.


It was also the first time that I ever thought I might not be able to finish a meal because I was just too damn hot. Me, not finish a meal? Never fear. This thing saved my life. Thank you, high-powered AC.



The next day we headed over to La Sirena for lunch. Or rather, Sirena Resort, as it is now called. Or Anacaona, as it will soon be called in print but not on the lips of anyone with pronunciation issues. Renaming a resort on a tropical island with a moniker that looks suspiciously like “anaconda” is one gutsy move.



This little guy joined us for lunch.


And no, I did not step on his tail to get him to make that face.

We like L'Anaconda for lunch because it's peaceful, the food is good, and that cat will eat whatever you can't finish.






Plus, he is perfectly accessorized to match my hat and bag.


The next day we had lunch at Blue, at the stunning Cap Juluca.






As this photo might indicate, I couldn’t believe they took the Greek salad off the menu. It's been replaced with a tomato and mozzarella salad, which I ordered instead. It was good -- as is everything at Cap -- but be prepared for a whole lotta mozzarella sweat when it's this hot outside.



Luckily the rest of the food was made with either rum or frying oil, which means that we liked it very much.




Earlier our bartender had mentioned that the resort was packed. She wasn't kidding: Again with the crowds!


On our way out, we saw this guy making himself rather, er, comfortable. I got the hell out of there before he could prop his foot up on the table and start clipping his toenails.


Speaking of random strangers, later in the week we saw this guy having breakfast at Kuyah. Don’t worry, I kept a close eye on him to make sure he didn’t try to use his pen as a laser gun or turn his cell phone into a getaway car.

Do not underestimate him, Mr. Bond.

Posted by TraceyG 18:12 Archived in Anguilla Comments (0)

Anguilla Part 2: Lucy's Sleep-It-Off Special

32 °F

The day started off cloudy with some rain showers, so we decided to spend the morning stocking up on snacks. The hunt for three particular items took us to three different grocery stores, which might lead you to believe that the grocery stores in Anguilla are not very well-stocked. But stocked they are, with all sorts of interesting things.


I know what you're thinking: Just how popular are soy chunks to warrant their own aisle? Why have I never tried a tropical soy chunk smoothie, or the island grilled soy chunks? I must be eating at all the wrong places.

One of the right places to eat is at Lucy's, where, despite the lack of soy chunks on the menu, the food is quite delicious.


At Lucy’s we shared a crab fritter appetizer, followed by two orders of the snapper from the dinner menu, which is a salty, garlicky, fried fillet so good that apparently I couldn't even pause to take a photo before digging in.


Right as the appetizer came, Ronnie Bryan showed up -- we’d called earlier to let him know that the trunk on our rental car wasn’t closing properly. (You know it's a small island when someone can track you down at lunch in the space of about two hours.) While Angel chatted with Ronnie in the parking lot, I of course ate the entire crab fritter appetizer. Later, when Lucy brought out our entrees and noticed that Angel was still out talking to Ronnie, she swiftly took his plate back into the kitchen “so you don’t eat it all!” As if I would do that . . . twice.



Lucy has been working on a new special drink, which is approximately 1 oz. of lime juice, 1 oz. of mango puree, 1 oz. of amaretto, and 48 oz. of rum. Either that or our eyes are this squinty all the time.



After passing out napping for the entire afternoon, we were still too exhausted from the Lucy’s Foodapalooza to do much for dinner, so we drove over to Corner Bar for some pizza. As you know, the laws of physics dictate that no matter how stuffed you are, you can always eat a slice of pizza.


The next day was bright and sunny, which could only mean one thing: Rendezvous Bay.






Later that evening was Blanchard's for dinner, which is where the rich and famous hang out when they visit Anguilla, and the poor and infamous get to wait 20 minutes for a table . . . even with a reservation. Not that I am bitter or anything.




Blanchard's is known for its "Cracked Coconut" dessert, which is a chocolate shell dusted with toasted coconut and filled with coconut ice cream. It was very tasty, but not even a giant ball of coconut-shaped chocolate can make up for the good-but-not-great food and $200 tab. Boo.


The next day we drove across the island to Shoal Bay East, with a quick stop in Island Harbour.





Remember when you were a kid and you thought a watermelon would grow in your stomach if you swallowed a watermelon seed? Caribbean kids must be terrified of coconuts.



Shoal Bay is gorgeous, but do not be fooled.




First of all, there are tiny, curious tropical fish here, which will swim around your calves when you enter the water. I personally find this sweet and charming, and could watch them dart around my feet all day. But Angel, who is a powerful magnet for sand fleas, gnats, mosquitos, rabid dogs, and virtually every other loathsome creature in existence, does not agree. “Those legless bastards are trying to get me,” he explained, exiting the water. I laughed and asked why a fish the size of an anchovy might want to get him. “Because I am tender and tasty,” he answered. Of course.


The second reason to be on your guard at Shoal Bay is that a large stingray lives here. That in itself is not so terrifying, until you realize that he is cleverly disguised to look exactly like a part of the reef. God help us all.


Posted by TraceyG 05:59 Archived in Anguilla Comments (1)

Anguilla Part 1: Bored to Tears (of Joy)

It Is Good To Do Nothing, and Then To Rest

32 °F

So . . . Anguilla. Trying to explain to someone why we love this scrubby little chunk of limestone is sort of like trying to convince someone that it might be really fun to sit around and watch paint dry. On paper, it doesn't exactly sound like a barrel of laughs:

No nightclubs.

No casinos.

No jet-skis.

No quaint villages to explore or lush mountains to gaze at.

No duty-free shopping.

No fun.

Well, but Anguilla does have this:


And this:



And this:



This was our sixth trip to Anguilla in the last 12 years, and this time more than ever, we were struck by the number of changes on the island. More hotels. More villas. Road signs, for God's sake. Call me a purist, but I remember the old signs working out just fine:


Also, the crowds were overwhelming. I mean, just look at them all:


Frankly, I don't know how we stood it, but I'm pretty sure these helped.


Our first order of business was to attend "Sunshine Saturday" at Smokey's at the Cove. Sunshine Saturday consists of enjoying a delicious lunch of fresh-caught seafood, sipping tropical drinks, listening to some live reggae, and swimming in the incredible blue-green waters of Cove Bay. I know: Bor-ing!



On each visit to the island we've stayed somewhere new, and this time it was Carimar, a small resort on Mead's Bay where you can read a book, soak up some sun, take a swim, or just do nothing at all. Yawn.









Dinner on our first night was at SandBar, a lovely new addition to Sandy Ground.


We had the panko-crusted shrimp with sweet chili and Anguillian tamarind; the lemongrass chicken satay with coconut-peanut sauce; and the tuna tartare with cucumber. Doesn’t that all sound delicious? Wouldn’t you like to see photos?

Well, so would I . . . but miniature bites of food disappear faster than a shutter click around me and Angel, so how about some nice photos of Sandy Ground instead?






The next day we had lunch at CuisinArt, a lovely resort named after a handy kitchen appliance.


I hate to be ungrateful, but if you're going to offer me a smoothie shot before my meal, let's be civil and add some vodka, shall we?


Although they have a full lunch menu, we always stick with the salad offerings, given that all of their vegetables are grown on the premises in their automatic, systematic, hyyyyydromatic, hydroponic garden.




More importantly, we always have the frozen mojitos, which are very tiny, but very, very delicious. So imagine our surprise and delight when this adult-sized version showed up instead.


Sadly, these mojitos were different from the usual blend. Angel thought they’d added too much mint, but I suspected they were adding a different herb (no, not that herb) . . . basil, maybe? Look, I appreciate culinary experimentation as much as the next guy, but please: Don't mess with the mojitos, man.

Dinner that night was E’s Oven, one of our favorites despite the double entendre that the name had for many years before they installed the air conditioner. This time I branched out from my usual fish dish and ordered a steak, which came with a gigantic serving of creamy, cheesy au gratin potatoes.

All Hail the Great Potato Brick!


Angel had the coconut-crusted grouper with banana sauce and curried potatoes. It, too, was delicious, and large enough for two normal people, or one Angel.


Angel also ordered the pea soup, which was a cross between a traditional split pea soup and some sort of bisque. It was so good that I immediately made plans to order it for dessert, though those plans were unfortunately foiled by my own gluttony. Damn Potato Brick.

The following day we drove over to Crocus Bay to check out Da’Vida, whose motto is “Celebrate Life.”









A couple of Type-A New Yorkers, smiling and relaxed? Maybe Da'Vida needs to change its motto to Celebrate Miracles.



On top of the cool decor and incredible views, Da'Vida's food is a knockout, too, served by a sweet staff whose pride in the place really shines through. And whose restraint in not gobbling up every delicious thing they serve before it can make it to the table is commendable.






That night we decided on a low-key dinner at Ferryboat Inn. I will have more to say about their much-talked-about burger in an upcoming section of this report, but for now this maniacal grin will have to suffice to explain how good it was.


Posted by TraceyG 05:40 Archived in Anguilla Comments (5)

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