Thursday, December 27, 2012

Holiday Travels: Key West

When the opportunity arose for me to steal a few days in Key West, FL around the holidays, I jumped on it. Nearly 20 years had passed since my last visit to the quirky island and I needed no more coaxing to return than an airplane ticket and the lure of sunshine. Hence I found myself recently in the Conch Republic.
For any of you who haven't been in recent years, it's more or less the same. Just more developed (like everywhere else in the world). The island now boasts more incoming and outgoing flights, a large shopping center, more hotels and inns, more eateries, more, more, more. But the general laid back vibe is still present, and the sun is still shining bright, and the sunsets are still just as amazing. And you can still find at the local watering hole a few kids who moved down to the island in hopes of stepping away from real life and never left.
Not waiting to be bombarded by the annoying hotel crowd, I opted for a quiet stay at a local B&B: the Atlantis House. What a pleasant surprise! A locally owned and family run small B&B located close to the beach and within easy walking/biking distance of the main drag, the Atlantis House was a fantastic stay.
The property had two beautiful suites, both with in-room jacuzzi tubs, free bike rentals, a stellar patio to sit and enjoy a mellow island moment, and I was fed some of the best baklava and key lime pie of my life. If you are heading to Key West, STAY HERE. You can send me a postcard later in thanks.
And being the foodie fanatic I am, I ate my way around the island. One of my first stops: Lupita's. Filling, simple, delicious, Lupita's was a wonderful tucked away spot for some traditional Mexican food and cokes. This was the perfect place to go for an inexpensive feast that was easy on the wallet. Their salsa was muy delicioso.
Another spot I sampled: Banana Cafe. This establishment is on the main tourist drag, had a lot of hype about it's awesome breakfast (especially eggs benedict), and was recommended through a few foodie sites. Honestly, I wasn't blown away. The food was good, but not great and not worth the hype in my book. They managed to get my order wrong, but promptly fixed it, and just didn't seem to have their act together as there was a lot of staff discussions going on (constantly). A few orders at nearby tables also appeared to be wrong and it took a long while to get our dirty plates cleared (pet peeve in my book) as well as our check. Would I go back? Eh, probably not. But you should try it for their crepes - they are also supposed to be amazing. And the view from the upstairs patio is wonderful for people watching.
The shining gem of all the food sampled: Santiago's Bodega. I had sworn I had taken a ton of pictures of the many (many!) tapas plates I sampled, alas I was too busy eating as I don't have a single one. I tried their beef carpaccio, prosciutto wrapped goat cheese stuffed figs, beef short ribs, pork skewers (heavenly), patatas bravas, and more. Everything was outstanding. What I also managed to find was a bottle of some of the best tasting wine of my life. Along with this, I met wonderful patrons at the tables next to me as I devoured some of the best tapas to pass my lips. Santiago's was outrageously good! And well worth every penny spent. I would return in a heartbeat and likely eat a meal there once a day on my next Key West journey.
And last but not least, I made a point to swing into Havana 1 for a little authentic Cuban food. After a delicious meal of roast pork which melted in my mouth and some of the best plantains ever, the owners treated me to some homemade flan (complete with a chocolate sauce rose). Needless to say I was blown away by the food!
And for anyone wondering, they still have flocks of wild chickens running about. Of course being the former chicken lady I am, I chased them about for a few good shots. Enjoy!

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