Monday, February 20, 2017

Florida Keys, Part XI:
A look back on cuisine, grub and snacks

On our trip to the Florida Keys last month, Lee Ann and I devoted a good number of meals to ones we made ourselves. My favorite was the porterhouse steak we grilled on one of the three gas grills (photos left and right) that the Bluegreen Hammocks resort provided on the grounds, just behind the swimming pools and hot tub. Homemade meals included hamburgers on the grill, sandwiches and chips or Cheez-Its, shrimp and cocktail sauce and lots of veggies and dip.

Leading off the post are pictures of our main fare at the Treetops Grill and Bar, the restaurant on the third floor of the Hilton in Key Largo. The food there will be reviewed in detail later on in the post.

Sunset Grille and Raw Bar, Marathon

When we weren't dining in, we sampled seafood most of the time. And my favorite on the trip was the smoked prime rib at Sunset Grille and Raw Bar, which we enjoyed on our first of two visits there, Tuesday night, Jan. 24. We didn't know until we got there that Tuesday was the eatery's barbecue night. 

There were several traditional barbecue items on the barbecue specials menu, including ribs, pulled pork and chicken. By this time, into our second week in the Keys, I'd eaten a lot of fish, so I eagerly veered from the seafood menu and went with the prime rib because I've never had a smoked version of it before. And boy, it was out ... of ... this ... world ... delicious, perhaps the best prime rib I've ever had. Lee Ann had the grilled scallops (not among the barbecue specials), garlic smashed potatoes and vegetables, and enjoyed her meal as well. Our plates are pictured above. 

We visited the Sunset twice on our trip to the Keys. The first time was to dine and watch the sunset. After I finished my prime rib, Lee Ann left the table briefly, and while she was gone, I had an experience I won't soon forget. Gulls flew over our unprotected table (we didn't have an umbrella, as shown in the pictures below, all of which were taken in or of the eatery's outdoor seating area and pool). Apparently after doing appropriate surveillance, one gull finally had the nerve to swoop down and try to grab morsels from Lee Ann's plate (she hadn't finished her meal), knocking over her mixed drink in the process. 

I didn't see it actually make the dive, so when it did, I was very startled. I quickly looked around for a Sunset staffer to summon for help and couldn't find one right away. The gull swept down again, and this time I got up and grabbed a staffer and asked them to put an umbrella on our table. They did, and that proved to put an end to the gull's daring. All of this happened before Lee Ann returned; she missed all the drama. 

We were at the Sunset for two sunsets, but the first was partially obscured by clouds, and the second -- after a beautiful view of the early portion -- was totally obscured by clouds for the last 10 minutes and through the disappearance. You can see an example of the obscured sphere in one of the pictures below. 

Treetops Grille and Bar, Key Largo

Leading off the post are our meals from our only night of dinner at the Treetops Bar and Grille in the Hilton Hotel at Key Largo. I had the blackened mahi (left in the lead-ff photo), which I had several times in the Keys at different places. It came with asparagus and a rice chutney, and Lee Ann went with the grilled scallops with rice chutney and vegetables (right in the lead-off photo). We had an excellent server, who coaxed us into taking a slice of key lime pie (right) back to our room with us to enjoy later in the evening or even the next day. 

The next morning, we took in the Treetops' brunch buffet, and both of us had made-to-order omelets. Lee Ann's had spinach, bacon, cheddar cheese and green and red peppers (below, right); I limited mine to ham, tomatoes and cheddar cheese (below, left). The two large photos immediately below are our plates with other items from the buffet. My only regret is sampling the small, belgium-stylle waffle (in the first photo below). It was dry and unappetizing.

The Treetops' dining room (above). The first three shots below are interior shots elsewhere of the Hilton Key Largo, followed by shots of the outdoor pool and waterfall separating the adults-only pool (pictured) from the general-use pool.  

Tarpon Creek Bar and Grill, Marathon

The Tarpon Creek Bar and Grill on Marathon (above) was a pleasant surprise for us. Unfortunately for the eatery, it's hidden behind the Holiday Inn Express off U.S. 1 (the Overseas Highway), but we found it using our phone GPS applications. 

We stopped there twice, both during the second week in the Keys, and each time Lee Ann had a version of their blackened fish -- even though she is not a fan of blackened/spicy foods. But she found the blackened mahi sandwich on one trip and blackened grilled mahi with grilled onions on another to her liking. The latter meal is pictured above right. 

On both of my visits, I tried a mahi sandwich -- the first time it was simple friend mahi, the second -- which was listed as a special for the day -- was a thicker, beer-battered mahi. Both were good, although I preferred the meatier one on the second visit. 

Each time we dined at Tarpon Creek, Lee Ann had a tropical mixed drink that used a melon liqueur as key ingredient (below right). 
We'd come across melon liqueur from a mixed cocktail I sampled at the tiki bar on the beach at the Hilton Key Largo. The drink had coconut rum, melon liqueur and pineapple juice and really hit the spot for us relaxing in the shaded semi-private cove along the beach there. Both times I ate at the Tarpon Creek eatery I tried a local craft beer, since the Tarpon had a nice selection of brews on tap. I really loved the IPA (pictured at left) that I had on my first visit, much more than the lager I drank on the second visit.

Below is a shot of the Tarpon's interior from our table along the water.   

Key Fisheries Market and Marina, Marathon

Our very first meal out during the trip to the Keys was at the Key Fisheries Market and Marina (above), which is situated on 35th Street north/east of the Hammocks resort where we stayed. It was among several places recommended by other guests staying at the Hammocks.

Lee Ann raved about her lobster reuben sandwich (right), whose recipe was true to a traditional Reuben except for substituting lobster for corned beef.

I was intrigued, too, by the novelty, but in the spirit of wanting to try something different, I had a fried mahi sandwich (left), which came with french fries (the Reuben did not). I drank a rum punch with my meal (pictured next to the sandwich), and we shared a slice of key lime pie for dessert (below).

Above and below: Views from our outdoor table at the Key Fisheries Market and Marina.  

Sloppy Joe's, Key West

The first place we dined at when we reached Key West, was Sloppy Joe's, the favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway During his nine years on the island. It was early afternoon Jan. 17, and the eatery no doubt was in the throes of its heavy lunch-hour traffic. We felt fortunate to get a table at all, much less where we did. We had a nice view of Brian Roberts, the live entertainment for the day (as illustrated in the photo above). 

Our server ended up being the guy working an auxiliary bar adjacent to our table. He was a busy man, so we got what we felt was minimum attention, but neither of us faulted him. We could see he had something to do at all times. We started with tropical mixed drinks (right), and I don't quite remember what they were. But that's them on the right. Mine was the one on the right, and I remember liking it more than the one Lee Ann ordered. 
For food, Lee Ann felt adventuresome and tried the namesake Sloppy Joe's sandwich (left). She liked it a lot. I went with a blackened mahi sandwich on sourdough bread (right). It was so good that I'm sure it's why I turned to it a lot during my visit to the Keys later on. Lee Ann and I shared a basket of french fries. During the meal, Brian Roberts, the entertainer, came over to our corner of the stage, and when he saw me lift my phone to take a picture, he kindly posed (first below). During a break later, he sat at the bar where our server was based, and a small puppy joined him on his lap (second below).

Above: A wall of various still images of "Papa" Hemingway on the wall behind and near our table.

 Above and below: More examples of decor in the restaurant. 

1A sign (above left) hanging from the ceiling of Sloppy Joe's, promoting the five mixed drink "Coolies," a 16-ounce beverage it sells to customers for $12 (or $9.25 for refills) who are looking for something to carry out with them. The price includes the container. I decided to take one with me when we left, and at the recommendation of our server, I chose the Pain in the Ass option. It was delightful!

Margaritaville Cafe, Key West

Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe and Store (above) are side by side along Duval Street. The decor was about what I was expecting -- heavily on the "chill/relax" theme using a large amount of wood to visually sedate the soul. I was still in my seafood mode when we stopped in for lunch the afternoon of Jan. 19, so I had a blackened mahi sandwich with fries (left), while Lee Ann went with a Cuban sandwich (right), a mix of ham and pulled pork on sourdough bun that we first discovered a few months ago when we visited the Mug in Greenfield, Ind. We both liked our sandwiches. 

We both also opted for large mixed drinks in plastic glasses that we could carry around with us when we left the restaurant (in Key West, our sever at Sloppy Joe's had told us two days earlier, it's legal to consume alcoholic beverages outdoors anywhere in public places as long as the beverage is in a plastic container -- and as long as the beverage drinker is clothed (I'm serious). I don't recall what Lee Ann got in her plastic container (she thinks it was some version of a pina colada), but I got a margarita in mine (right). It seemed appropriate that a person ought to try a margarita the first time he/she visits a place called Margaritaville, and the one I ordered was made with real lime juice. I finished mine before we left the cafe, so I ordered one to go. Lee Ann did not. 

Lazy Days South, Marathon

When we got to Lazy Days South after our sunset catamaran cruise on Jan. 18, the sun had set and total darkness was about 15 minutes away. That helps explain why the lights are on around the exterior (above). Lazy Days South is adjacent to where our catamaran captain docks his boat, so it seemed a logical choice to check out the place when the cruise was over; it had been among the recommendations locals and fellow guests at the Hammocks gave us when we solicited ideas for dining out when we first arrive.

We were not hungry enough for a full dinner, so we munched on a few appetizers -- a mixed plate of shrimp (left) and scallops (below) and four potato skins and washed them down with drinks.

Leigh Ann's Coffee House, Marathon

Another of the pleasant surprises we came upon during our trip to the Keys was Leigh Ann's Coffee House, which Lee Ann felt we were compelled to check out ... if only because of the name of the cafe!

You can imagine her delight when we found the coffees there very good, and our breakfasts of eggs benedict (left) excellent. On the first of two visits, we also ordered a raspberry croissant (right). It, too, was tasty. That particular day, we also were entitled to a free mimosa (left) with out order.

Leigh Ann's also serves beer and wine, although the latter -- from a quick look of the shop's inventory -- clearly makes it apparent that wine is something they take more seriously than beer. Leigh Ann's holds wine tastings on certain nights, although we did not make it over there for any of those. You can get an idea of the store's decor from the six photos of the store's interior below.

Barnacle Barney's Tiki Bar and Grill, Marathon

Barnacle Barney's Tiki Bar and Grill is the shoreline eatery on the grounds of the Hammocks resort where we stayed. Barney's is a cozy place (it has a bar and very modest seating area) with a decent food menu, although we never had a full meal there. Its one huge drawback -- and to me, it's a significant one -- is that the operators do not hold a three-way liquor license; their alcoholic beverage license is for beer and wine only.

I don't know for sure why that is, but guests told me that they made a formal inquiry and were told the operators -- the same people who run the boat rental and charter business next door -- felt the full liquor license was too expensive. Lee Ann and I patronized Barney's a few times while we were there, but I think we would have spent more time and money there if there had been mixed tropical drinks to imbibe. I include two pictures of the french fries Lee Ann and I tried one afternoon when we spent the day relaxing after a long previous day in Key West. The french fries were strongly recommended by other guests, it was a good recommendation. This came after our night at Barney's two days previous, when we munched on some fried calamari (we did not care for it; it was too rubbery/chewy, which has been a common fault of calamari orders at many eateries we've experienced). But we did enjoy the live entertainment that evening by local performer Dan Sullivan (below). Barney's has live entertainment five nights a week.

Each time I visited Barney's, I ordered a draft of Islamadora IPA, the product of a local craft brewery. It was very good. On her first visit, during a happy hour, Lee Ann tried a Sangria spritzer and liked it. When she ordered Sangria the second time we went there -- and though she'd get the spritzer again -- they brought her a glass of Sangria (no spritzer). When she mentioned this to the server, the server graciously replaced her drink with a spritzer. Lee Ann stuck to ice tea for our few other visits.

Above and two below: Views of the gulf from Barnacle Barney's Tiki Bar.

Above: The Hammocks actually DOES have hammocks on the grounds. They are in the thin strip of land/shoreline between the tiki bar and the gulf. I made a point to slip into one (above) on our last night there. That's my Canon 6D on my lap.

Photo geek stuff: Most of the photos in this post were taken using my iPhone 6s Plus. A few were taken with my Canon 6D equipped with a 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di PZD VC lens using a 67mm B+W polarizing filter. 

As usual, to see a larger, sharper version of an image, just click on the picture. This is particularly important for those accessing the blog post using a mobile device. 

Previous posts in this series:

Part I: Not bad for 'almost paradise'

Part II: Sombrero Beach strikingly beautiful

Part III: Key West packed with sights and attractions

Part IV: Ernest Hemingway house is worth the tour

Part V: Getting a panoramic view of Key West

Part VI: Sunsets and sailboats at Mallory Square

Part VII: Enjoying a sunset cruise on a catamaran

Part VIII: Beaches, beauty at Bahia Honda State Park

Part IX: Key Largo splendor, despite key setback

Part X: Marathon was home base for our trip to the Keys

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