- To the Keys
- Highway 1
- Big Pine Key
- Key West 1
- Key West 2
- Coral Castle
- Lake Okeechobee
- Vero Beach
Florida: Key West 1 - Duval Street, Food, Chickens, Wine
Today I'll get to the part many of you are probably waiting for -- the wonderfulness and weirdness of Key West. As a vacation destination, Key West is known as a gay-friendly community, totally laid back, and totally permissive. It probably is. We saw quite a few gay couples, but nothing out of the ordinary; and no major naughty behavior at all. Well, one time when we were walking down Duval St., a young woman dressed as a pirate tried to entice us into a restaurant that was just opening. "There will be a free magic show at 7:00," she said, "and a free drink," and she handed us a brochure. We murmured, "Maybe we'll come back at 7:00," and strolled on down the street reading the brochure. Well, this place was called "The World Famous Naked Lunch. The Only Clothing Optional Bar and Restaurant in the World!" And the 7 o'clock show was billed as "THE MOST SHOCKING COMEDY, ROCK N ROLL SHOW IN TOWN (No Cover Charge)." I can't imagine why she thought we were her market; maybe she was new at the job. Anyway we didn't go.
Another amusing moment came when we checked into our bed and breakfast about 4:00 in the afternoon and Sheila said to the young man at the desk, "Oh, you're not Cynthia (the person who had taken our reservation and said she would be there to greet us)." And he replied, with a sly smile, "It's a little early yet, maybe later." The place, The Duval Inn , was charming, if expensive, and, as advertised, was only 75 feet from the middle of Duval Street where the action is. The grounds and pool were lovely, the resident cat, Jazzie, properly soft and aloof, the rooms clean. The continental breakfast was fresh, but a little meager by my standards -- bagels and cream cheese, orange wedges, orange juice, coffee, tea, cold cereal -- but we had worse later.
Since we spent little time at the Inn, it didn't really matter. Of course, the first thing we did was stroll down Duval Street. So my first impression of what's popular in Key West includes tapas, Panama hats, Cuban cigars, bicycles, electric cars, lace body suits (in a lot of store windows, not actually on people walking down the street), bars, bars, bars, and, of course, key lime pie. Duval Street is an odd mix of tourist junk and overpriced clothes, jewelry and art, some of it very elegant. The farther south you go from the end of Duval Street, away from the docks at Mallory Square, the more upscale the shops.
So, in no particular order, here are some of our experiences and impressions. Since we were only there for 2 days, I'm sure we missed a lot, so if anyone wants to chime in, feel free.
Food and Drink. We had a nice meal in a delightful candlelit outdoor garden at the Key West Seafood and Beer Garden restaurant. The duck pot stickers were very good; the black bean and mozzarella taquitos with mango salsa were great; the conch fritters were like deep-fried fish-flavored doughnut holes. If you got a piece of conch, it was like a fish-flavored eraser. Sheila said that's pretty much what they're like and added they were the best conch fritters she'd ever had. I'm never eating them again. We had key lime pie at the place that advertised it had been awarded a prize for the best key lime pie. It was pretty good, but you know, key lime pie is made with sweetened condensed milk, and no amount of juice from cute little baby limes can disguise that. We had a $7 margarita on a balcony overlooking Mallory Square and couldn't figure out where the Sunset Celebration was (we did later). We had a wonderful lunch at a Cuban place that was somewhat off the beaten path, El Siboney, the best black beans you can imagine. We had fish and chips one night at Billie's, where I forgot to take my sunglasses off and wondered the entire time why it was so dark. All in all, the food was pretty good, nothing memorable except the Cuban place and some of the prices.
Chickens. This is not more about food. This is about live chickens, who run all over the place. There are approximately 2,000 wild chickens in Key West, clucking and scratching and begging for hand-outs and generally doing what chickens do (among these activities is eating scorpions, which seems like a good thing). Two thousand appears to be too many, so the city has hired a chicken wrangler (actually a barber named Armando Parra) to catch some of the chickens and transport them elsewhere. The whole thing has caused a huge uproar, some people defending the chickens' right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; some people ready to shoot, poison and otherwise make them unwelcome. An ice cream store about half way up Duval St. advertises "Chickens Welcome Here." We didn't go in.
Wine. Remember I said all the wine lists we encountered were 90% Californian and 10% Australian? We kept asking, aren't there any Florida wineries? And in Key West we were told emphatically YES. Along we went to the Key West Winery, fairly late one afternoon, so the wine tasting would act as part of the cocktail hour. Well. There were 12 or 14 different wines available; the wines are made somewhere in Florida, we couldn't tell where. (Later I learned it's St. Petersburg.)
Sheila, who photographed a wild alligator close up, was not brave enough to sample any of them unless I had tasted it first and sometimes not even then. Here's why. They were all semi-sweet fruit wines with two exceptions. More about that in a moment. The three most popular appeared to be orange-chocolate, orange-coffee and key lime. We didn't try any of these, but a woman bought two bottles of each while we were there. I tried the grapefruit. Like a liqueur but wimpy. The dryer wines were tangerine and tomato-jalapeno. The tangerine was okay. The tomato-jalapeno was like beer and tomato juice made weakly and with Snappy Tom. I would have bought one, but $20 just seemed like too much for a joke. Then, by a grand coincidence, one of the e-mail newsletters I subscribe to had an article just a day later on Alexander Dumas' take on the aphrodisiacal qualities of chocolate. The article also quoted Brillat-Savarin in "Le Tresor Gastronomique de France" as follows, "Creme de cacao, a chocolate liqueur, drunk with a dash of orange bitters and vodka, is a pleasant way to take this mild aphrodisiac." So maybe the orange-chocolate wine is a better idea than we thought. At any rate, the owners of the Key West Winery are very serious about the whole thing, and I wish them well.
Oh, there is one thing forbidden in this permissive town, here's the sign permanently in the cement pier. I've reached the end of the word count I try to limit each message to, so you'll have to wait for another day to learn about the Hemingway House and the Sunset Celebration. Oh, the weather has been grand, highs 70s, low 80s, east wind making a nice breeze. There were storms the few days before we arrived and I understand this east wind has caused some problems along the beaches, but for tourists, it's great.