When you realize that you have airline credits that are going to expire in June, you are presented with a conundrum. Do you travel? Or do you let them expire? Actually, there is no question, you travel! Scot and I have made a bucket list of all the places we would like to visit by the time we’re 62. That gives us seven years and we lost two of those to that pandemic thing, so we’re a little behind schedule. One of the places on our bucket list, which we can now check off, is Key West.
When Scot and I were debating which bucket list location we would choose next, he mentioned that when we put Key West on our list, he was thinking of his Grandfather. When Scot was growing up, his Grandfather often reminisced about a road trip he took from Pennsylvania to the southernmost point in the United States, Key West. This was in the 70’s and it was a really big deal. Scot has talked about wanting to drive that highway just to see what his grandfather was talking about and step into his shoes. It turned out that Southwest flies direct to Miami, so we decided to take a long weekend and drive to Key West and spend a night in Coconut Grove. Sounds perfect, right?
We left on a Wednesday, flew into Key West, picked up our rental car, and proceeded to drive south of Miami until we hit Route One. It was a pretty easy drive on a mostly two lane highway. The water was gorgeous and as the sun was setting ahead of us, we chatted about how excited we were to have a few days away. We chose the Marquesa Hotel, which is a few blocks off the main drag – Duval Street. This hotel recommendation was from Clinton Kelly who is a huge fan of Key West and had spoken about it many times when he was on The Chew. He was more than happy to give me suggestions when I reached out to him via Instagram, you know we’re old pals and all.
Since we were going to be arriving late I made reservations at the restaurant that’s located on the first floor of the Marquesa, the Cafe Marquesa. What a welcome to Key West! So let’s talk about food. We started off with a dirty martini with blue cheese stuffed olives and Scot had a side car. Our bartender, Candi, was from Argentina and we enjoyed speaking to her throughout the night. The cocktails were on point and were perfect after a long day of travel. After we placed our order, Candi presented us with some bread with béarnaise butter. Now if you don’t know what béarnaise sauce is, the key ingredient is tarragon and this butter was awesome. The warm fresh homemade bread with some of this butter on it was a little slice of heaven. They also gave us an amuse bouche from the chef which is a little dish the chef prepares to welcome guests to the restaurant. It’s usually one bite or one sip of something like a soup, and this was a soup. It was a yellow tomato gazpacho with a few little beans as a garnish. We were starving after our day of travel so we decided to split two appetizers and also get entrees. We split the shrimp and grits with Tasso ham and the tuna appetizers that had tomatoes, cucumbers and a carrot ginger vinaigrette along with some avocado puree. Both were absolutely wonderful. I could not get enough of the shrimp and grits, they were not heavy and the kitchen was kind enough to divide it onto two plates, so I got my fair share. For entrees, Scot with went with the crispy pork osso buco with wild mushroom risotto, grilled asparagus, and a green tomato jam. Now, I know my husband loves me to death but he says that this was a great osso buco but he likes mine better. I had the butter poached Maine lobster with hackleback caviar and she crab risotto. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this is one of the best entrees I’ve ever experienced in my life. The lobster was cooked perfectly and the she crab risotto was not too heavy, had just a touch of crab flavor, and combined with the lobster was the perfect seafood explosion. Scot chose a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it’s one of our favorite regions in France and he couldn’t resist when he saw it on the wine list.
Antonia’s Restaurant is a lovely Italian restaurant right in the thick of things on Duval Street. We arrived early for our reservation and decided to sit at the bar and start a bottle of Barolo that the bartender recommended. It was light and perfect for the very hot and humid day. We started off with a dozen oysters from Prince Edward Island with a pink peppercorn mignonette that was lovely. As much as I wanted to try their handmade pasta I had to go for the tuna special of the day. It was a lovely piece of tuna encrusted with pistachios, served over black rice with bok choy, and topped with this incredible and creamy sauce. It did not disappoint. Scott had to go for the Fisherman’s Pasta which had scallops and shrimp, clams and mussels and calamari on freshly made linguine. All in all it was a wonderful experience, we even witnessed an engagement at the next table over and I was thrilled that I had my camera out taking a picture of dinner so I could record their engagement for them.
Alonzo’s Oyster Bar on the waterfront is a great seafood restaurant. We splurged one afternoon and split a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and shared a dozen oysters while watching the boats go in and out of the harbor. It’s actually one of my favorite things to do, to just have an appetizer for a late lunch. We didn’t have anything else at Alonzo’s but the service was great and the ambience was, well, sort of peckish. There were loose chickens everywhere. I usually expect seagulls or pigeons right next to the water, but only in Key West would you see chickens walking around the dock.
My favorite overall experience in Key West was at this beautiful quaint little restaurant called Café Solé. It’s on a side street a little ways from Duval and because of the heat and humidity we broke down and took an Uber but it was literally a 15 minute walk from our hotel. The outside has benches with pillows and white linen tablecloths and there’s a wide variety of seafood and French style entrees. The details on the table included an adorable little wooden bowl with salt and pepper. Scot ordered a bottle of Bordeaux and we started off with some oysters because how much is too much, am I right? I can honestly say one of the few things that we miss about New England is the availability of fresh seafood. I love Texas barbecue but sometimes you just need some cold water oysters. Our server recommended their legendary Portobello mushroom soup, which of course I had to have, and we also order conch crudo because Scot and I had never had conch before. The conch crudo was thinly sliced with capers and red onion. As we finished our appetizers, I looked up and saw a party of four being seated behind Scot and the person facing me was Robin Roberts of Good Morning America. Of course, I was respectful of her and Amber and did not go over and say, “Could you autograph this??” or “can I have a picture??’ I didn’t want to be that annoying person but I did catch her eye once and smiled and she smiled back.
For entrees, I was told by my friend Clinton Kelly that I had to get the Hogfish Snapper Soleil with a red pepper hollandaise sauce. It honestly was the best fish I probably have ever had and I’ve never had Hogfish before, it’s just a white flaky fish not too thick, and was cooked perfectly. It was a wonderful suggestion, thanks Clinton! I’m sure you can guess that Scot picked a seafood dish, he picked the Fruit of the Sea. It was a pasta dish with scallops, shrimp, and calamari with romesco pesto and sun dried tomatoes. He had a dish very similar the night before so I asked which one he preferred and he said Café Solé, hands down.
Now on to breakfast/brunch. I am happy to announce that the town of Key West believes in breakfast! A lot of places that you go to don’t have a lot of options for breakfast and Scot and I prefer to have a larger breakfast/brunch, skip lunch and then we’re ready to be hungry again for dinner. The first day we walked the half mile from the Marquesa over to Blue Heaven which I heard about from a few people. I was looking forward to trying it and we were lucky that we didn’t have a very long wait. We put our names down and went across the street to the bar and, of course, got a Bloody Mary. I had their homemade banana bread and homemade sausage patties and potatoes and Scot had a ham and cheese omelet with a side of bacon. We both thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast but sat inside where there was no air conditioning and we’re both very uncomfortable. Outside would not have been much cooler as it’s far from the water and there didn’t seem to be much of a breeze.
Sarabeth’s is located kitty corner across the side street from our hotel and we decided to check it out. I had been to Sarabeth’s in New York City many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it so I was looking forward to checking out their Key West location. Their special was a thick cut bacon slow roasted that was sweet and spicy but not too much of either. Scot and I had to grab that along with Bloody Marys and I ordered the fat and fluffy French toast and Scot had a western omelet. We both really enjoyed our experience here, the service was fantastic and it was so much closer to our hotel and honestly, even though we enjoyed our time at Blue Heaven, this was a much better experience. They serve brunch every day from 8am to 2pm.
We had a great experience at Bagatelle located inside an old house, we sat on the front porch. I had a Bloody Mary and Scot opted for a glass of Pinot Noir to go along with his brunch. I had a cornflake crusted French toast with some crispy bacon and Scot had the homemade corned beef hash (hence the Pinot noir, it goes well with beef) with two sunny side up eggs. There was a rooster that continued to come up the stairs and walk around us and I could not stop laughing. He would come up to Scot and Scot would put his hand down and he’d jerked his head back like he understood what this guy was saying, “No don’t go under the table”. We named him “Wallace” because he reminded us of the rooster from Hangover 3.
The Marquesa Hotel was the perfect spot for us. It’s a small boutique hotel with two swimming pools in the center. We had plenty of room, the beds were comfortable, and the hot water was plentiful. Both Scot and I came down with colds right before we left on our trip, so having a nice hot shower every morning to wake us up was essential. Our room had a nice sitting area with a leather couch, a desk and television that led into the bedroom with two huge closets and a suite window seat. We spent a couple of afternoons at the pool. They provided ice cold water which was essential in the Key West heat. One pool is cooler and one pool is warmer and I would say the cool pool is about 80 degrees. The warm pool was exactly that, warm.
There are a lot of little lizards running around Key West along with the chickens and the six toed cats. But there was a lizard by the pool that was humongous and bright green. I don’t know how I didn’t see him but he startled me many times and one time I caught him swimming in the pool. Just so you know, he chose the cold one.
We didn’t stay at these hotels, but the other two hotels that we looked at were the Southernmost Beach Resort and Ocean Key Resort that are on opposite ends of the island. The Southernmost Beach Resort is located near the butterfly and nature conservatory and near the southernmost buoy that is famous for seeing Cuba 90 miles away. Ocean Key is on the complete opposite end and is closer to the Truman Little White House and the pier where we had oysters.
Even though it was a short visit at the The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, it was one of my favorite things that we saw. There were two flamingos there, Rhett and Scarlett, who were born on my daughter’s birthday, Valentine’s Day. They were pretty funny to watch and the butterflies were beautiful and plenty. I even have one land in my hair and it took all I had not to just swat it off as an instinct. There was one woman, who I don’t know if she put anything on her hat, but had six butterflies sit on her hat. She just sat there and let them all congregate on her head. There was also a pretty good sized gift shop and there was a lovely lady standing at the exit giving you butterflies on your shoulder, thanking you for visiting. We walked down the street from there to the southernmost point buoy for a picture. The line was halfway down the block, so I took a picture from across the street. Guess what, were 90 miles from Cuba in case you didn’t know.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the Hemingway House, I happen to be a huge fan of Ernest Hemingway’s work and heard that he was a pretty eccentric dude. He built the first pool on Key West and even put a penny in the ground saying that it took his last penny to build it. It was a very cool building surrounded by beautiful grounds with lots of palm trees and other tropical vegetation. The house tour is $17 for adults and it was a must see. There are cats everywhere as a heads up and yes I counted six toes on every one that would stop and let me count.
Did you know that President Truman used to retreat to Key West? There is the Truman Little White House and there’s a whole area called the Truman Annex which has beautiful pastel homes and is the entrance to a state park on the water. We didn’t get to go to the Truman Little White House because the parking was too far away and my foot was killing me so we decided to skip it this time, but we’ll need something to do next time, right? You have to walk up and down Duval Street even if it’s just to people watch. There are tons of shopping options ranging from Banana Republic to porn shops. If you want some weed, you can find that there too. There are lots of restaurants and bars, something for everyone. There also was an aquarium on Key West that we did not get to and is not far from the Truman Little White House, it looked like a fun adventure.
We left Key West and drove north to Miami and stayed one night in Coconut Grove and had a lovely dinner at Navé. I had a really cool squid ink pasta with king crab, Calabrian chili and preserved lemon. Scott picked the iberico secreto, which was a different cut of pork chop than he’d ever had before. It resembled a skirt steak but with pork. Trust me, I’m going to be on the lookout for this because I would love to try to recreate this for him. It was served with a fennel, orange, and Fresno chili salad and he enjoyed every bite, except the one that I stole off his plate. On our way to the airport we stopped in downtown Coconut Grove, which was really cool, and explored the bookstore and made a pop into Blue Mercury to look at some skin care and make up products. We had a wonderful time in Key West and we’ll make sure that we fly directly to Key West next time to avoid the three and a half hour drive from the Miami airport.