Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Key West Trip Report - November 24 - December 1, 2014

I always want to return to Key West but it's so inconvenient for me living on the Pacific Wet Coast, and not to mention expensive!  I've had "Keys Disease" since my first visit when I was twenty-one.  It then took me till I was forty-five to return next though it wasn't for lack of trying.  Key West often crosses my mind and makes me long to return to the first place that captured my heart.  I have never forgotten the first sunset I saw there.  Sigh...

This trip brought me here for my 50th Birthday, well a cruise in Miami did...this was just part deux...There was no way I could go to Miami and not go to Key West.  It was pretty much a done deal as soon as we booked the cruise.

Unfortunately my son couldn't join me for this leg of the trip, and I so hoped he could have as he loved it here when I took him last visit.  My cruise buddy also couldn't come along so it ended up being just me.  I will admit, I was hesitant about it...I didn't want to go by myself, but like I said, I didn't really have a choice because I don't get to Florida often and I knew I would forever regret it if I didn't go...plus, I had three weeks off work so I sure didn't want to fly all the way to Miami and then return home after a week.  It usually takes me a week just to unwind...

Because my son wasn't going, I decided to try my first ever B&B.  I was unsure about that too...wasn't sure if I would like it.  The thought of being up close and personal with strangers in a cozy setting didn't appeal to me, really. But in this case, because I was alone, maybe it would be a good idea - maybe I would meet people I liked to talk to?  There was no way to find out without making a booking, so I did.  I was immediately smitten when I saw The Weatherstation Inn.  I also loved the location.  I wanted to stay closer to the Bight this time and this fit the requirements inside a gated community (Truman Annex).  It was in my price range too, though you really have to UP your budget for accommodation prices when visiting Key West.  My cap was $200 a night.  After tax, this came in at $220 CAD a night for me.  I booked the "Garden" room.

The Weatherstation Inn 

Monday, November 24th:

We stayed at a hotel near MIA airport after the cruise that had an airport shuttle. It had a laundry room so I was able to start fresh for the Keys.  My friend's flight left early this morning and I caught the first Keys Shuttle out at 11am.  It was $162 USD round trip which came out to $184 CAD on my credit card at the time of booking.  I pre-booked this before I left home about three weeks in advance.

I caught the hotel shuttle to the airport at 10am.  I wanted to be there in plenty of time.  It worked out well, driver was on time - about 10 in our shuttle and I slept until we hit our first stop at Florida City for restroom break or food stop.  I bought wine for my room.  I stayed awake for the rest of the drive.  I can't explain the feeling that comes over me - being in the Keys, I just love it, though.  Makes me HAPPY!

We got to Marathon somewhere between 2 and 3.  He stopped at Dion's so we could have a pee break and/or get chicken.  I got that chicken and it was delish!  3 pieces for $4.19.



Soon we arrived in Key West.  I was the last drop off and entered "The Weatherstation Inn" about 4-ish.  Nate was working and checked me in and was more than helpful.  I learned that this place was owned by the Westin.  I unpacked a little and made my way out and ended up at Sloppy Joe's and watched a talented set of brothers (9 brothers, 1 sister from Buffalo) called "The Doerfels".  I sat at the bar, chatted to a couple I met for a bit and then moved on.


I ended up finding "Grunts" so decided to go to "Garbos" for dinner.  I've seen/read/heard so much about it, it was a "must do" on my list.  I ordered 2 Fish Tacos for $12 something which came to $15 after tip.  The happy hour at Grunts was pretty lame with no wine at all only 2 beers and a sangria.  I ordered some average champagne ($7) from a rather indifferent bartender.  My pager went off and I went to pick up my tacos.

 The food cart at the back of Grunts, order/pay and they give you a pager


So, yes they were good, fresh and flavourful,  but do I think they were $15 worthy?  NO.  About this time, the couple I was talking with at Sloppy Joe's came in.  Talked some more and learned they were from Illinois.  Before they left, we made arrangements to meet at Blue Heaven for breakfast on Wednesday.

I started talking to a local restaurant server named Nathan.  He was very nice and bought me a drink.  He was funny and intelligent and I told him I'd stop by for a drink at his restaurant before I left town.  Then I went back to my room but didn't know what entrance gate I used.  I got a little twisted around inside Truman Annex but found it after I stopped and thought about the directions/explanation Nate had given me about navigating the annex.  It was soooo quiet in there!  Almost surreal.

I relaxed, had a glass of wine and talked to my son at home who I hadn't talked to for a week now since I left.  That was nice.  Sleep took me over on my comfortable bed...and the A/C worked great in this place.  It was more humid than I hoped for.



Tuesday, November 25th:

I awoke about 8am and went and got a yogurt and banana from the kitchen.  Self serve continental breakfast with fresh OJ and coffee.  Not too exciting but it did suffice.  My favourite thing was the B&B supplied unlimited bottled water.  This was very convenient for me since I drink a lot of it.  I made my way out about 10.  Stopped and got some wonderful Xmas ornaments and a Key West tile in a lobster trap frame at "End of the Road" shop on Fleming Street.  Then I walked down Whitehead St. as I had an 11am massage booked at Prana Spa.


My therapist met me at 11 and gave me my twenty minute foot rejuvenation massage first. Then I got my sixty minute Swedish massage that turned out more like Deep Tissue. However, even with all the pain, at the end I felt like jello and it felt good but I did feel really woozy.  I was definitely relaxed though.  I wandered around and then found Blackfin Bistro so I decided to go in for lunch.

 They had a special of 2 for 1 mimosas so I went for that as well as the gazpacho and the oven baked chipotle glazed wings.  The soup was great, the wings were very average and non memorable.  I ate about half.  Service was good and it is a nice restaurant.



I wandered a little, then made my way back to the B&B for a little A/C, chatted with Barbara who works there and her boyfriend Darryl.  Then off to Kinos for sandals. I got a pair for my friend and myself.







Then it was Happy Hour time.  I went to the Boat House under the Commodore restaurant on Front St.  The food was really good!  My pictures turned out really bad here but I'll show you the lobster one anyway.  I loved the baby lamb chops the most I think - so yummy!  The conch chowder was full of flavour and what's not to love about a lobster tail done tempura style?


I made my way over to Hogs Breath Saloon for a drink and then onto the Ghosts & Gravestones tour.  I wanted to do this one to go see Robert the Doll.  My son and I did a walking ghost tour the last visit and stopped by his previous house.  This time I wanted to see that doll.  I enjoyed the tour for what it was though it was really hokey but would be good for families.  I was happy I went.



This is Creepy Robert (Sorry and thank you Robert!  lol)

I found my way to The Porch after and sat at the bar for some good glasses of wine.  I was then craving a salad so I went to "The Cafe" on Southard street but it was closed.  It closed at 10 and it was now 10:30. So, as I walked back to Eaton St. I had to settle for a Wendy's salad "to go" and then made my way back to Truman Annex.  Again, so ominous and quiet.  I discovered that the Caroline entrance into the Annex is more well lit but the Eaton one was closer to my B&B and I often walked that way.  I slept like a log...


Beautiful Banyan Tree

And another Banyan tree

Wednesday, November 26th:

I awoke at 8am again and got ready to head to Blue Heaven for breakfast.  The weather said rain for today so I carried my umbrella as it certainly looked dark & grey outside.  It was cool, raining and windy when I left, but no humidity at all.  I was happy.  I had my new Kino sandals on and went to walk to Blue Heaven.


By the time I made it there, I already had ouchie blisters from the straps.  My Illinois friends showed up and she had one band-aid.  The hostess gave me another.  We enjoyed a fabulous breakfast.  It's hard not to enjoy it here with the atmosphere, friendly service, good drinks and good food.  My eggs benny was heaven.  We were all more than satisfied and had a pretty happy "glow" on too.


Lobster, Bacon, Asparagus Eggs Benny with Key Lime Hollandaise ($25)

The "infamous" Key Lime Pie (I had one bite only and it was tart & sweet)

Walking down Petronia St.

We decided to carry on to the Green Parrot.  This is a little dive bar but we enjoyed it and stayed for a couple.  Next we moved onto "The Porch" and then to "Kelly's" which brought us to Happy Hour time.  I had a Sunset Tour scheduled today on Danger Charters but I called to switch it to Friday because there was no sun today and it was quite cool/windy.  They agreed no problem.





My friends left me at Kelly's and I returned back to my B&B so I could figure out some errands I needed to do and chatted with my son.  I walked to CVS on Truman and then went back to The Cafe on Southard.  I was determined to get that Kale Caesar salad.  I got it with Blackened Mahi Mahi and it was even more delicious than I imagined!  Mmm mmm good, and I highly recommend it.



I went back to the room walking through the eerily quiet annex and was asleep very early that evening.

Thursday, November 27th:

I was scheduled for a Sebago Snorkel Reef tour today but it was cancelled at 9am due to wind and the temperature (personally, I thought today was perfect at 70 degrees and beautifully sunny).  I elected for a refund rather than re-booking.

I texted my friends so we could meet up for N.F.L. football later.  I went to Caroline's for lunch and it was nice, especially the people watching.  I did some shopping and realized I have to STOP!  I don't know how I'm going to get my luggage home at 50 lbs.  :(


My Shrimp BLT with Fried Plantains (first time I've had them fried and they were great!)

All of the pictures below are the view from my table as I sat eating lunch.  This captures a lot of ways people get around in Key West:






Loved that truck!

My friends said they were heading to Jack Flat's so off I went down Duval to meet them.  We watched the Bears/Lions game into the 4th quarter and that was enough pain for him.  We headed down to Willie T's which had a guy named Zack playing there who is a favourite of theirs.  He was amusing.  This place is another dive bar.  Zack was grilling a turkey beside his stage, basting it inbetween songs while his son sang, lol.

A picture of Duval Street

Yes, it is the smallest bar I've ever seen


Watching the game at Jack Flat's from a booth

Watching Zack and son at Willie T's

Zack basting the Thanksgiving Bird

After a set, I took them to Square One as I knew they had vegetarian options and wanted to take them there since they pretty much have had to eat "fries" everywhere they go.  This place had true vegan options for most items on the menu.  Their Happy Hour (called Social hour) was not on today, but they did let us in anyway.  They were sold out for Thanksgiving dinner and were busily preparing to get ready.


They let us order HH food and served us drinks at the bar.  The food was terrific.  I mean, really, really good.  I was very happy.  I wasn't too happy when my bill came and it was $55 pre tip for three appies (the first three below) and a split of champagne though!  Turns out the split was actually a half bottle and was $40.  I wish I had known that, I would have ordered something from the HH menu instead but my bad for not asking in the first place, I guess.  Anyway, I'll let it go since the food was so good.

Pork dumplings - These were killer good!

Devils on Horseback 

Pickled & Deviled Beet Eggs 

My friend's veggie sliders which were completely vegan including the goat cheese

Ahi Tuna ($16)

My friends were going back to the Sheraton now so I said goodbye and carried on walking to Truman Annex to relax and get ready for my dinner.  Below is the Key West Lighthouse.


Dinner was at Hot Tin Roof at 8pm.  The menu was not the same as it was online.  In fact there were courses on my menu that were not even listed online and others missing completely.  There were a couple of choices per course and not near as many as the Thanksgiving menu online promised.  However, that being said, the food was good and service lovely.  I sat outside and the wind thumped the protective tarp sheets covering the deck.  I enjoyed the wind but I doubt any locals were sitting out there....it was blustery and howling at times.  Below is my view of where I sat looking down the balcony.


Amuse Bouche was a date wrapped in Prosciutto stuffed with cheese

Pork Belly with an Apple/Cinnamon crisp

This was my favourite course of the night, it was a Butternut Squash Salad.  I can't tell you how tasty, interesting and creative it was - I could have never imagined such a dish!

This was my least favourite course.  Turkey Roulade stuffed with Chorizo.  The carrots were great though.  I took to this to go and ate it for breakfast.

This was some kind of berry Key Lime mousse, I don't eat desserts so just had a bite and it was very good.

After dinner, I returned to the B&B.  I was exhausted again.  I finished watching football and drifted off into a deep sleep.

Friday, November 28th:

I wanted to sleep in today and I was going to!  So, I slept until 8:30 (ha ha) - an extra half hour.  I had hoped I'd make it until at least 9!  Illinois were going to pick me and take me to Stock Island to have lunch at Hogfish Bar & Grill.  This was their last day in Key West too.  I was sad they were going as I felt lucky to have met such nice people to spend my time with.  We had a lot of fun.  I agreed to meet them at Green Parrot where they would pick me up.

Inside the Annex, walking out...

I walked by Mile Marker "0" daily

They were on time and we headed out to Stock Island.  It's hard to find the place but we eventually did.  Sat at the bar which was very entertaining to say the least.  Lots of locals and tourists and interesting conversations and people watching.



The food was really good.  Especially the soups.  I had the White Conch Chowder and could have easily had another bowl it was that good.

Order it if they have it!  $4.50 a bowl.

$9.00 Grouper Cheeks

The Grouper cheeks were ok.  I wished I would have gotten the Hogfish Fingers as I tried those and they were light and delicious.  I had a Bloody Mary to start and it was the best one on the trip so far.  The bartender told me that one of the band guys that plays there makes the pickled green beans as a side job.  They were great.  My friends brought their dachshund doggy with them and the bartender gave her a "bacontini" which was 2 pieces of bacon and water in a cup.

We drove back to their hotel, the Sheraton so they could drop the dog off and we got the shuttle back into town which dropped us at the Conch Republic at the bight.  I stayed for drink (a very STRONG drink!) and had to run off to my Danger Charters "Sunset" tour.  I stopped and had a very good "Cafe Con Leche" on the way.  I vowed that I needed to do that again!

Their pool at the Sheraton

Bar at the Conch Republic



The boat I sailed on

I enjoyed the sail, though it was a bit chilly and I would have done better with a sweater.  The sunset was worth the price of admission.  There were some beautiful colours.  The wines were good, the appies were just average but the staff were all pleasant and took time to engage everyone in conversation.  Half the boat was from Ohio and the other half Kentucky!  Then there was lil ole me, the solo Canadian.

One of our hosts explaining about all the different wines on offer

Host Victor putting the sails up



Victor serving up crackers, cheese cubes & garlic sausage





After the amazing sky colours and sail finished, I met up with the Mr. half of Illinois at the Smokin' Tuna.  The Mrs. had gone home and he came back to spend his last night out.  We stayed and watched Caffeine Carl who was featuring Zack (who we saw at Willie T's).  Caffeine Carl is really talented and really made the show awesome.


We ended the evening by having a cigar and a drink Greene Street Cigar Company by the Conch Republic.  He went to get on the shuttle and I went back to the room.  As drunk as I was, the walk back to the annex was still as quiet and creepy as ever.  I watched "Sons of Anarchy" that I missed last week while on the cruise and then passed out!

Saturday, November 29th:

This was my first hangover of the trip!  My friends left today and I lied in bed trying to feel better...UGH!  All I could think about was where would be the best place to eat to try and rid this BLAH-ness out of me...


Another couple of views of leaving the annex










After walking around, I decided on Roof Top Cafe.  The place was pretty much totally empty at one in the afternoon, however the hostess tells me I have to wait and order a drink at the bar and there are many others waiting ahead of me as well.  There were about six.  Only one other couple ordered drinks. The rest of the people just stood at the bar waiting for the hostess to seat them.  I can see this tactic at dinner but at lunch - maybe not, especially when it was empty!  I ordered a drink and had to pay there.  As soon as I did, she seated me. (and I had to carry my own drink to the table).  I ordered what was called a "Key West Sampler" which sounded like comfort food to me.



Unfortunately this was really average, OK, let's be honest, it was below average.  The Black Bean soup was cold and had a huge spoonful of sour cream plopped in it, the cheese didn't even melt.  The sandwich was a sad excuse for a Cuban Mix and the Conch fritters were just dough balls.  Meh.  Based on this experience, I wouldn't return.

I stopped for wine, brought it back to the room and then headed out for Paseo on Eaton Street.  I wanted their corn!  I've dreamed about it ever since seeing pictures of it.  It did not disappoint.  $4 for one ear but I really enjoyed it.  Then I walked to Eaton Fish market with the idea of Stone Crab in mind.  Unfortunately they didn't have any in.

So many beautiful houses adorn this island, I could fill this blog with all the pictures I took of different houses!

Paseo

Best Fire Roasted Corn ever!


So, I walked up Margaret street and stopped in at Harpoon Harry's for a Cafe Con Leche.  After that I made my way over to Happy Hour at the Half Shell Raw Bar.  I bellied up to the bar and ordered a glass of champagne and a dozen oysters.  The oysters were awesome, minus the fact that I picked up the wrong Tabasco sauce by accident and used the "habanero" one.  I was on fire and I had doused all my oysters with it!  Anyway, what a steal.  Those oysters and two champagnes came to $13.44 pre tip. That was a nice treat.


My view from the bar where I sat


I made my way back to the room.  I was so tired, I really just wanted to sleep!  I didn't.  I had a glass of wine and relaxed and debated where to have dinner.

Walked by Pepe's on the way back...

...and by Bo's Fish Wagon

In the end I decided on 2 Cents Restaurant & Bar on Appelrouth lane.  This is a cute, funky house - place.  Service was pleasant and the food was good.  I like menus that stray off the usual suspects and this was more creative.  I took both of my first courses to go after a taste as they were really filling and I knew I would never eat my salad if I didn't.  The salad was probably my least fave because the Green Goddess dressing wasn't that great (flavourless), but there was lots of lump crab.  I ate it with no complaints.


French Press 77 - enlightened grain earl grey & sage vodka, st.germaine, prosecco, lemon - $13 and yummy!

Special of Smoked Fish chowder - $10

These had a real kick to them!  Spiced Pork Meatballs w/Thai peanut sauce - $8

Jumbo Lump Crab Salad - Hearts of palm, cherry tomatoes and green goddess dressing. $18.50

I walked home in the usual annex solitude and was soon asleep.  I woke up about two in the morning and finished the soup and meatballs.  Mmmm.

Sunday, November 30th,  (a.k.a Last Day in Paradise):

I awoke at my usual 8am.  I phoned to confirm my return trip on Keys Shuttle and it's good I did as they had me down returning on Thursday, not tomorrow!  God knows I would have liked to stay until Thursday though.  I got ready slowly and made my way to Bistro 245 for Sunday Brunch reserved for noon.  It was $47 and included champagne.  It was incredibly warm and beautiful today and I had a perfect view overlooking the boardwalk & ocean.  The best part was that there was zero humidity.  This was a perfect day!





I lingered for over two hours grazing until they were closing.  On the third plate I was done and could not eat another bite.  It was a very nice way to spend the afternoon, especially on my last day.

My first plate.  Mostly seafood here, bottom left was cucumber with salmon and fish dip on toast; scallop ceviche in the middle;  Ahi tuna bottom right;  Tomato, Mozza, basil on top right.  On a separate dish top left was beef crostini

Top left was some Thai soup (not good).  Shrimp, crab claws, bacon, yummy green beans and some Truffled lobster mac & cheese and a frittata (also not so good)

Final plate from top left clockwise:  Shortrib on polenta, Prime Rib with onion jam & horseradish, potato crisp with ketchup, sausage and St. Louis BBQ rib.  I was stuffed and couldn't finish this plate though I tried...

I waddled out and then went on my way to Fausto's on Fleming to buy some Cuban Bread.  The lady in the bakery was nice enough to wrap it in saran for me so I could take it home with me.  Fausto's has a LOT of wine in there. You could certainly find what you wanted.


From there I went to "the Porch" for a glass of wine.  I met a nice couple from Cudjoe Key which they explained to me was at Mile Marker 23. Key West is Mile Marker 0.   We sat and talked for a couple of hours.  He gave me his card and told me he'd take me out fishing next time I returned.  After that I returned to my room to start packing.

I decided to go to Shameless Lounge for dinner.  It is really nice in there, classy with a good vibe.  The food was good too.  I really enjoyed the Brussels sprouts.

Diver Scallops $18.00

Brussels Sprouts $8.00

And that's all she wrote.  I had a nice strong cocktail there and went to a bar next door called Tattoos & Scars to watch the Broncos football game.  Then it was back to the room to finish packing and get a good night's sleep.  I had to get up at 7am as the shuttle would arrive at 9am.  I also would have a full day of travel,  arriving home at 4:30am EST.  Oh, and as for meeting people at the B&B, the only time I met anyone was the one day I got a banana & yogurt for breakfast!  I never saw another soul the entire time.

I had a great trip!!!  Key West is not a cheap place, it's really expensive.  However, there is no where else like it.  I needn't have worried about going solo as it was easy to meet people and I loved listening to the stories of those I met about how they got to Key West and how they were living their dreams.  Until next time, I have these memories to treasure...