Key West Trip Report

This post is linked to The Gluten-Free Lifestyle Carnival.

Well, I figured it was time to finally share my Key West trip report. The timing just didn’t work out to share it earlier, but Bean’s (Without Adornment) theme of tropical vacation meal for Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free last month reminded me that I hadn’t yet shared it. And, while there are signs of spring around the area, I’m still burning a fire (albeit a smaller one) in the wood stove at night and I’m still donning fuzzy, warm, socks as soon as I hit the door each evening after work. So, let’s venture on a little trip to Key West … which is probably as close as you’ll get right here in the continental U.S. to the tropical warmth, color, and funkiness of the Caribbean.

When you live on the east coast, it’s tempting to head to Florida on a road trip. While it’s particularly enticing to drive to Florida during the holidays because of the “extra” days you have off from work, it’s ill advised. We know. We’ve done it in the past. The most direct route to most of Florida for us involves I-95 South. In case you didn’t know, I-95 becomes a virtual parking lot at Christmas time. We’ve experienced this frustrating occurrence not once, but twice. Mr. GFE always mutters, “two many cars, not enough road” … and, I might add, a few other choice words. When you decide you can’t take the interstate crawl any longer and decide to get a room, you’ll be lucky to find one. You might end up going from hotel to hotel in the room pursuit. And, your significant other might even try to get you to stay at a less than desirable motel, just out of sheer fatigue, which can lead to a few testy moments. So the last two times, we’ve headed to the Florida Keys, we’ve flown in. Even with the hassle of traveling by air these days, flying is still preferable to driving when traveling to Key West over the holidays—in our opinion. There is no need to rent a car if you stay in Old Town Key West. Parking is largely a pain anyway; it’s hard to find a spot and the few parking lots are expensive. You can walk everywhere you really need to go, which helps to burn some of those calories from vacation meals and drinks. Plus, you see so much more walking and can just stop and look (or gawk in some cases) whenever you like. There are interesting “rides” for people and pets. (Pets, especially dogs, are everywhere in Key West.) I always want to see all the street performers, like the guy in purple (with silverized skin like the Tin Man) who works in robot fashion on his vintage motorized bike if you put money in his cup and the hardworking pets that are always part of “acts.”

 

We didn’t book our flights until October, but still managed to get a pretty decent price for holiday travel. We did have to return home on New Year’s Eve because it turned out the discount carrier we used only flies out of our favorite airport a few days a week now. While New Year’s Eve is THE big night in Key West, we didn’t mind heading home on that day. Son wanted to be with his friends that evening and also home for his birthday a few days later. We wanted to be home to re-acclimate before returning to work. We expected that the Key West airport would be much less congested on New Year’s Eve than it would be a day or two later. That was the case and our flights and airport dealings really couldn’t have gone smoother.

We were even later on booking our accommodations. I had been busy with many other personal commitments, so I didn’t even start looking until Thanksgiving. With three of us this time, I knew one room in a bed and breakfast that Mr. GFE and I had stayed at previously would not work.  We’ve also previously stayed in the Truman Annex, the Navy housing that was turned into condos many years back. Made up of individually owned accommodations that suit all sized parties and decorating preferences, the Truman Annex is a bit removed from downtown action in Key West, but you can still walk to everything. But by the time I started making calls, the Truman Annex was completely booked. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is very popular, second only to Fantasy Fest, their over-the-top October event. So I just started doing searches online and came across Casa 325, a guest house located at 325 Duval Street. It showed one suite left, but that address was a bit intimidating. Duval Street is where most of the action is in Key West. Even if one is big on fun, a quiet night’s sleep is still a requirement on vacation. However, a quick skim of the reviews of Casa 325 on Trip Advisor allayed my concerns. One comment that was consistent throughout the reviews was that despite the central location, Casa 325 was tucked back behind shops in a very quiet and lovely location.

So we booked the last suite and we ended up loving Casa 325 from the moment we checked in. The front desk staff (Mary and Marsha alternate) run the place. They help you in every way possible to have a fantastic stay in Key West. The guest house itself is just lovely. The historic home is subdivided into studios and one- and two-bedroom suites. Another building houses additional suites overlooking the heated pool. Each suite has a kitchenette. That amenity is great for those of us who are gluten free or really anyone who wants to have the convenience of eating some meals and snacks back at the room (a savings for anyone and an economical and safety factor for those of us who are gluten free). Casa 325 is immaculate and very comfortable with simple furnishings. Think white-washed floors, plain wooden tables, off white upholstered furniture (one love seat was also a sofa bed), and off white paint—sort of a shabby chic look, which we loved. We even had two rocking chairs with a small table on the wraparound porch right outside our room. Add to this that the rates were the best we’ve seen for such accommodations and Casa 325 is definitely a winner!

The only negative on Casa 325 in our opinion was that was one of the very handsome resident roosters started crowing at 4:30 am, each and every morning. His call was rather hoarse (and seemed to get hoarser the more he crowed). Usually we just chuckled and went back to sleep. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church a few blocks down would play Christmas carols every morning at 9:00 am. We found them very charming, but Son thought they were the most annoying thing ever. (Let’s just say his bedtime was much later than ours. Surprisingly, the rooster never awakened him.) If you are interested, you can read the Trip Advisor reviews of Casa 325 here

Where did we go? What did we do? Here’s a summary of some of our stops on this trip. Admittedly, we did not participate in as many activities as we have in the past. A large part of that had to do with trying to align our schedule with Son’s schedule or should I say just trying to intersect in the middle? Any time you travel with someone else, you tend to spend time waiting to connect and not just doing your own thing at will. We did do a lot of walking and enjoying looking at the sights and scenes. But, some attractions that we’ve visited in the past (many more than once) and will certainly visit again are Mel Fisher’s Museum (you can hold a gold bar and view unbelievably beautiful emeralds), Audubon House (great audio tour and many Audubon prints in beautiful 1800s home that Audubon visited, as well as inviting porches and gardens), the turtle museum on the docks, the Key West Museum of Art and History, and, of course, Hemingway’s home.

Kelly’s Caribbean Bar and Grill

As I shared before, this is our favorite spot for happy hour. Kelly’s is so named because it’s partly owned by actress Kelly McGillis and her now former husband, Fred Tillman, and his current wife, Sheila. It’s also the original location of Pan American Airlines and has the décor to prove it. (More on that in a moment.) From 4 – 7 pm, they serve their microbrewery beer (NOT gluten free), super margaritas (called Top Gun margaritas per my receipt), and appetizers—they are best known for their hot wings … again, not gluten free. We headed to Kelly’s for a late lunch right after we checked into our room. It was a very quick walk. We sat at the bar because it’s by far the best spot in Kelly’s. After all, the bar is called the Pan Am bar and the surface is an airplane wing (you can see it in the photo below).

Son ordered the ahi tuna and I ordered blackened mahi mahi. Instead of fries (which were cooked in the same fryer as everything else), we were given side salads. As you can see, Son’s tuna was a huge portion. There was no way he could eat it all in one sitting, so that was the first thing that went into our refrigerator back at Casa 325. Both my mahi and salad were delicious and I was genuinely ravenous (a common occurrence after airport travel with limited safe choices), so I ate every morsel of my meal. While we visited Kelly’s more times for happy hour, we only ate one other meal there, but it was one of my favorites during our stay. It was mango-espresso pulled pork and it was in a word, fabulous. Again, I enjoyed it with a side salad. 

To be clear, Kelly’s does not get high marks from locals for anything other than happy hour. Admittedly, the service outside the bar area can be lacking. The best of everything really is right at the bar. Mr. GFE calls Kelly’s “the magic bar.” The fact is we’ve met folks there who have become lifelong friends. One couple we met there 7 years ago turned out to live in the next county over from us and we even had mutual friends. The more we travel, the more we are convinced that it really is a small world.

Faustos Food Palace

Faustos is one of the grocery stores in downtown Key West. It’s a very nice grocery store. It’s fairly compact as grocery stores go (which I love!), but it has just what you need—both basics and indulgences. We headed there after our first lunch to stock up on staples like orange juice, milk, cereal (for Mr. GFE), and bananas, Blue Diamond crackers, red pepper hummus, chips, and pistachios. Son also added a few Amy’s gluten-free meals to our cart. (They came in handy for afternoon breakfasts and between meal snacks.)

Braza Lena

Within 5 hours of our arrival, Son had made numerous friends and had a date for the next evening when the young lady finished her shift at one of the many touristy-type shops. So, it really didn’t surprise us when he said, “this place is paradise” and thanked us for bringing him on the trip. A short while later, he called his soon-to-be date and asked her for restaurant recommendations. She recommended the fairly new Brazilian steakhouse. Braza Lena was even closer to Casa 325 than Kelly’s, so off we went.

The manager greeted us and assured me that gluten-free dining would not be a problem. He advised us to steer clear of the bread and rice, but assured us that none of the meat was marinated and everything else would be gluten free. Our waiter asked it we had ever been to a Brazilian steak house before; we admitted we hadn’t. He showed us the disks he had placed on the table beside each of us—green with “Yes” on one side and red with “No” on the other. He explained that any time we were ready for meat with our meal we needed to turn over our disks to the green “Yes” side. 

First, we enjoyed the salad bar offerings. Salad bar is such a misnomer for the wide array of food that Braza Lena serves on its salad bar—think marinated artichoke heats, heart of palm, steamed shrimp, steamed clams, and so much more. Salad bars are not always safe for those with food allergies and sensitivities due to cross contamination, but this salad bar was so pristine with every item in well-spaced, individual serving dishes with no shared utensils (or resting spots for utensils). Son and I felt perfectly comfortable eating from it.

 

 

 

We soon flipped our disks to the Green side to let the roving gauchos know that we were ready to sample the meat that they brandished on very large skewers. Lamb, filet mignon, beef tenderloin, pork, sausage, were some of the options … but, as it turns out, not the chicken. As the server was about to serve Son a chicken drumstick, the manager appeared—as if out of thin air—and intercepted the chicken before it hit Son’s plate. It was pretty amazing actually. However, because the steakhouse offers mostly the same options each day, a gluten-free menu would have been handy in this case. While we were very grateful for the manager’s attentiveness, clearly, it would have been a very bad thing if Son had eaten the chicken drumstick. It wasn’t outwardly “glutenous,” but apparently had some flour in the coating.

 

All of the food was beyond excellent at Braza Lena and we totally enjoyed our experience, but just a heads up, this meal was very expensive. It’s a fixed price of $44 per person or $28 per person if you just get the salad bar (I told you it’s not your basic salad bar … many seafood options, lots of fresh real food, and clean, clean, clean with the least chance of cross contamination I’ve ever seen at a salad bar.) You can add lobster to your meal for an additional market price cost. When the bill came I found out my Brazilian Cosmopolitan was $11—yikes! Son and I split passion fruit mousse for dessert. That was the best bargain on the menu at $8 and absolutely divine. In summary, Braza Lena was an excellent place to dine, but the prices might make it a venue for only very special events for many (that would include us!). Last, a gluten-free menu and proper training of all staff would really make this restaurant an especially fine dining option. 

Caroline’s Café

One day for lunch, we were just looking to eat a quick bite nearby. Marsha of Casa 325 suggested Caroline’s, which was located diagonally across the street. Son ordered the grilled mahi sandwich, sans the sandwich part. He had a garden salad on the side. I ordered the Caesar salad (sans croutons) topped with blackened mahi. We both requested mango margaritas. The fish seemed very fresh and our overall meal and the service were both top notch. Because the café was quite busy, we were seated in the rear of the restaurant, which had more of a garden view versus that of Duval Street. If you get a table looking out on Duval, Caroline’s is a terrific spot to people watch. We stopped by another time to do just that while enjoying a drink at the counter facing out from the bar.

 

Dante’s

Dante’s overlooks its showy, popular pool and the waterfront. It’s a casual, laid-back spot where seating is either at the bar or at picnic tables. It was another spot recommended by the Casa 325 personnel. Because we visited on a chilly evening, the pool was already closed and clear vinyl plastic walls were in place around the dining area. Steamed stone crab claws were available at daily raw bar prices. They were still not cheap at $3 a piece, but they were certainly delicious. If I lived in an area that served stone crab claws, I would probably go broke eating them. They are just that good! (Plus, I love the fact that they are a sustainable seafood. Only one claw is harvested at a time, with the crab getting  to live to grow another, and another, and so on.) Son ordered prime rib and I enjoyed Caribbean chicken. Jerk seasoning and pineapple juice made for wonderful flavoring in the chicken. Mango margaritas complemented our meals well. Finally, our server was very friendly and attentive—which is always a big plus in our book.

Mangia Mangia

Mangia-Mangia, is a popular Italian dining spot. Loosely translated, mangia-mangia means “eat, eat.” One would think that an Italian place that is acclaimed for making its own pasta would not be the best place for a gluten free individual to dine. I was even questioning my own judgment midway through my meal, but I had a wonderful, safe meal there. I ordered fresh sea scallops, sautéed in butter and garlic in a fresh pesto and cream sauce garnished with chopped walnuts—just without the spinach fettuccine that normally is included in this dish. I did experience a moment of doubt when I was suddenly chewing something with substance, but it was either the walnuts in the pesto or in the garnish. Located in a corner storefront Mangia Mangia offers lovely in-house (lively) and courtyard (quieter) dining, very fresh and delicious food, attentive service (despite the full house), and pretty reasonable prices. It’s no surprise that this restaurant comes highly recommended by Fodor’s, Frommer’s, and Zagat’s.

Camille’s

Camille’s was the restaurant where we shared our last vacation dinner together. It was quite a walk from Casa 325, so Mary at the front desk called a Pedi-cab at our request. It was our first ride in one and it was somewhat interesting, but it was pricey. I’m a walker by nature, so personally I would have preferred a brisk walk to the restaurant on the cool evening. However, Mr. GFE and Son overruled me. But, if you enjoy a leisurely ride, a Pedi-cab ride might be the way to go.

The moment you walk in the door at Camille’s, you can tell that it’s a family-owned restaurant where everyone pitches in and all bend over backwards to please you—the customer. The owner of Camille’s greeted us warmly, seated us, and immediately became very attentive to our gluten-free needs. Our waitress was just as accommodating and in the end we all agreed that we had our best meal of the trip at Camille’s. I fell to my old standby, grilled salmon and Son went for the blackened mahi. Because it was our last night, Son ordered a Spanish champagne for us all to enjoy. I’m not typically a champagne lover (it’s the after effects, not the taste, that get to me), but toasting and sipping champagne was a delicious and fun way to end our trip.

Willie T’s

This place, another spot that is right on Duval Street, is always packed and loud. We ended up there one afternoon for drinks. It’s one of those spots that are mostly open air with little structure. For what structure is in place, the décor consists of whatever gets stapled on the walls, posts, etc. In this case, dollar bills are the main wallpaper. Willie T’s is known for its mojitos, which are a regular feature on their daily happy hour. I drank one and it was okay, but I’m not really a mojito girl. Theirs might not be the best Mojitos out there though because the one I had seemed more like a mint julep mixed with Sprite. By the way, we’ve eaten at Willie T’s in the past and I did fine eating some of my usual favorites—like grilled or blackened fish with a salad.

Café Marquesa

We discovered this delightful upscale restaurant on our last trip to Key West. It was located down the street from the B&B we stayed at that time. It’s an intimate and simple, but elegant restaurant that is part of the highly-rated Marquesa Hotel.  Marquesa Hotel was on Conde Nast Traveler Magazine’s 2009 Gold List of World’s Best Places to Stay. Its restaurant has been named in the Top 100 of hotel restaurants in the world by Zagat. Dining there is a lovely indulgence for sure. We had our first meal there on our previous trip. It was a late meal after our plane touched down and we hurriedly checked into the B&B. It was especially nice because the restaurant was almost empty and we had the undivided attention of the staff. I enjoyed a seafood dish in a cream sauce served over buckwheat noodles—all gluten free and heavenly. After that first night, we learned that our favorite—and most affordable—way of enjoying the Café Marquesa is with an after dinner drink and dessert. Mr. GFE always has one of their beers (not gluten free) and I enjoy one of their desserts. The chefs at Café Marquesa are culinary wizards when it comes to crème brulee. We only stopped by two evenings on this trip; each time I ordered the ginger crème brulee. Imagine a marriage of crème brulee and gingerbread and you’ll know how sensational this naturally gluten-free dessert was. Previously, I’ve enjoyed homemade ice cream flavors like chocolate hazelnut and lemon basil. Again, everything at Café Marquesa is there to indulge you … particularly the staff. The hostess, servers, and bartenders were the same folks that we remembered from our visit three years ago and were every bit and lovely and gracious as we remembered.

Jungle Cafe

As we were finishing some shopping, we were called in by one of the owners. He was out on the sidewalk promoting “the best food on the island.” We don’t usually go for that kind of hawking, but some couples were exiting the restaurant and enthusiastically praised their meal. So, in we went. Truth be told … the food was excellent. Mr. GFE ordered a grilled grouper sandwich, which would be a fine gluten-free meal without the bun. I opted for an old standby, half a pound of peel-and-eat shrimp. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and made a great lunch meal. This place is so tucked in (behind “the smallest bar in Key West” no less), that the owner really does have to pull in people from the street. The “hidden” location made for a nice quiet meal though. We were entertained by the house cat with the biggest, most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen on a cat, and a somewhat subdued parrot on the porch of a neighboring home.

Red Fish, Blue Fish

Yes, shades of Dr. Seuss there. To be honest, we had no intentions of going to this restaurant because it was in the touristy, cruise ship area near Mallory Square, but we had walked to another restaurant only to find it closed. We asked a local business man who was closing up his shop, for his recommendation. He immediately responded “Red Fish, Blue Fish.” He told us that it was a bit pricier, but worth it. The truth is, our meal ended up being less expensive there than at several other dining spots. And, it was an excellent meal. I enjoyed grilled grouper and mashed potatoes. Mr. GFE enjoyed steamed shrimp (naturally gluten free).

Six-Toed Cat

This restaurant was located near the Hemingway House. It had a cute name given Hemingway’s famous cats lived across the street. All of the tables were even painted with six-toed cat prints. The décor was colorful and attractive. However, that’s pretty much where its appeal ended. The restaurant was busy, but not packed when we headed there after the line at the Hemingway House was way too long. (We had slept in just a little too late and the cruise ship folks were in full force.) Our orders were simple ones, but we waited a very long time. Once our orders did arrive, Son pointed out that the single egg that he and I had both ordered didn’t even look like enough for a full egg. Finally, our waitress seemed less than pleased to be serving anyone.

Flamingo’s Café 

We headed to Flamingo’s Café after being in the first group to tour the Hemingway House on the following morning. Although this restaurant was panned by our front desk crew, we had a good experience there. My seafood omelet was great. It included spinach, red roasted peppers, red onions, Swiss cheese, and real Maryland blue crab, not the artificial stuff that contains gluten. (That nicety was no doubt due to the fact that the owner was originally from Maryland.) Son also praised his meal of eggs and bacon. The small restaurant stayed packed, but folks were headed off to other pursuits so none dallied. The staff was very efficient as well, so we enjoyed a nice breakfast in a timely manner.

Hemingway House

 

Mr. GFE and I visited the Hemingway House twice before, but as it was Son’s first Key West trip and he wanted to check it out. A little bit of history … the three of us plus our nephew went on a family vacation to a guest ranch in Montana a number of years ago. It was purely coincidental, but Michael Palin and a BBC crew arrived at the guest ranch at the same time as we did. That’s the Michael Palin of Monty Python and A Fish Called Wanda fame, and subsequent popularity as a host of BBC travel shows. He and the crew were there filming a documentary on Hemingway. We spent a day and a half with them all, conducting a week’s worth of activities into that time just for the benefit of the camera. (After the crew left, we did the same activities but on the usual schedule.) Every person on Palin’s staff was totally charming and engaging even though they were very focused on their filmmaking efforts. The four of us are all shown for a brief moment in the film. My less than 15 seconds of fame was me getting on my horse. The most prominent view was of my derriere. No, I’m not kidding. However, Mr. GFE, Son, and Nephew all looked like fine riding their horses. Mr. GFE is even mentioned in the book on the subject.  But, back to Key West and Hemingway’s home there … The house itself is impressive as are the furnishings, grounds, and memorabilia. The stories of Hemingway’s time there are incredibly interesting and amusing. (You’ll enjoy the history of the swimming pool for sure.) All of the tour guides both educate and entertain. The 40 cats, descendants of Hemingway’s original cats (many, but not all, with the unique six toes) still have free reign of the lush grounds, with food and water placed in every nook and cranny for them. In fact, half of the money taken in for admission goes to their care. A veterinarian even visits weekly to check on them all. That’s not a bad life at all.

 Actually, that’s a rather fitting end to this trip report. Thinking back on our time together in Key West, it’s not a bad life at all.

Shirley
Not just gf, but gfe!

Shirley
Not just gf, but gfe!

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Comments

28 Responses to “Key West Trip Report”

  1. glutenfreeforgood on March 17th, 2010 7:39 pm

    Wow, I’m impressed. In your spare time (I can just hear you sighing, WHAT spare time), why don’t you start a travel blog? You’d be just as good at that as you are GFE stuff. I hate to admit that the rooster probably wouldn’t haven’t awakened me. Love the dog, but wondered if he was embarrassed or simply bored with it all. Got a kick out of the flamingo salt and pepper shakers (I’m assuming since I couldn’t see the tops). Love the blue water, lush greenery and fancy restaurants.

    Brazilian cosmopolitan?

    Okay, thanks for the journey. It was a good one! Especially since it’s supposed to snow here on Friday.

    Melissa
    xo

    • Shirley on March 18th, 2010 7:16 am

      Hey Melissa–You are great for my ego! Thank you so much, my dear. :-) I do love writing about our travels and sharing info. I have more to share … just haven’t had time to post them yet. For now, I think I’ll stick to sharing them on my Out and About page of my gfe blog, but again I truly appreciate your vote of confidence!

      The rooster might not have awakened you because you probably would have already been up! LOL You’re such an early riser. There were so many other photos I could have included, despite the fact that I destroyed my camera with the loose bottle of water in my bag. The last two photos at the Hemingway House are actually from the compromised camera. If you look closely, you’ll see a slight haze on them.

      I do like the pets who are involved in acts. Most just look cute, but some are actually the main performers. One guy in the past has his yellow lab jump up and take dollar bills out of people’s mouth’s (yes, I know) and hands held high. That dog stayed very busy while he entertained on his guitar. It’s always fun to see what the new gigs are. All of them are licensed to perform by Key West. One lady was just an angel who stood unmoving for hours. Standing like a statue until someone gives money or suddenly moving with a theatrical flourish is often the gimmick. ;-)

      Yep, those were salt and pepper shakers. Being called Flamingo’s, that spot had lots of flamingo decor. That cosmo was good, but not good enough to merit an $11 price.

      Snow? The closest we’ll get to snow now is my snow drop flowers that are blooming so daintily. The last of the piled up snow has finally melted here, but enjoy your snowy day. Maybe there’ll be a new soup or cold weather comfort food recipe over at Gluten Free For Good soon?

      Shirley

  2. Kay on March 17th, 2010 9:44 pm

    Oh Shirley, now I’m homesick for Key West! I’ve eaten at Camille’s and Kelly’s and Mangia Mangia. I still dream about dinners at Blue Heaven in Bahama Village. It’s my favorite restaurant in the WORLD! For casual fare we enjoyed the Cuban Pork at El Siboney.

    My brother and I first ventured to Key West to see Mel Fisher’s treasurers. He used to be a farmer in Indiana, you know. He always been one of our heroes. We were so happy when he finally found the Atocha! Then Florida claimed it. Then Spain claimed it. Court case. The judge declared, “finders keepers.” Go Mel!

    We ate at Two Friends, where Mel was having lunch when the radio call came in from the boat. It was before cell phones, so the crew recruited the Key West radio station to find Mel.

    My favorite part of the story is that Mel had the manifest and thought he knew what artifacts he would find. Surprise! EVERYONE on the ship was smuggling bonus booty! Go Mel!

    I miss fishing on Capt. John’s Greyhound and spending lazy days at the Fort beach. I would fish one day, then go to the beach the next. It took me ten years to see all the attractions you saw in one vacation.

    Key West Books (right across the streeet from Fausto’s) is where I discovered my favorite author, Carl Hiaasen. A few years later, I got to meet him there in person at a book signing for “Stormy Weather,” still my favorite of his books. Now he has to rent a hall for his book signings, Cheeca Lodge farther up the Keys last I heard.

    Just stumbled across a photo of a cute bartender from Margaritaville that I dated MANY years ago. Wonder what he’s doing now.

    Thanks for the great travelogue! I’ve had a mini-vacation in my mind, thanks to you!

    • Shirley on March 18th, 2010 6:52 pm

      Hey Kay–I so love your long comment! Sounds like you got more enjoyment out of my “travelogue” than sadness, so I’m glad for that. ;-) I know you recommended Blue Heaven before (favorite restaurant in the WORLD is quite a recommendation!) and it’s a favorite of many. We’ll make it there next time for sure. I think El Siboney was recommended by the Casa 325 staff, too. We’ll try that next time, too. I never mind having a “to dine” list for a return trip. And, there will be a return trip! ;-)

      Yes, I remember you telling me about Mel. My husband is an avid diver (but doesn’t like diving in Key West in winter due to visibility, or lack thereof) and history/archaelogy buff, so he’s been following Mel (and other treasure stories) for a very long time. All those issues of whose treasure it is are maddening. I’m so glad that Mel won! And, what a story about being there when Mel got the word!! I didn’t remember the part about smuggled booty. I’ll have to see if hubby knew that fact. (He probably does … he’s like that.) The museum is a favorite place of ours for sure. I know Son would have loved it, but at 22 he was trying to squeeze a lot into that week! Next time for sure.

      We like Fort Zachary beach, too. I never get tired of checking out forts … they fascinate me. Have visited them all over in our travels.

      Hubby and son talked about going out with Capt. John per your recommendation (yes, I had your recommendations written down!), but again, not enough time. LOL on taking 10 years. Some of the attractions I mentioned like Mel’s, Audubon House, etc. were ones from previous visits, but I didn’t want to leave them out. We never get tired of visiting and supporting those spots.

      Now I have not been to Key West books, but I just discovered Carl Hiassen a few months back. I listened to Nature Girl on audio and absolutely loved it! If all his books are like that (and they must be, if he’s your favorite), I must read or listen to more. Way cool on meeting him at the book signing and his success. Cheeca Lodge is pretty upscale, right?

      LOL on that bartender … well, the answer to what he’s doing is obvious … he’s still pining for you. ;-) He’ll probably appreciate you making a trip to check on him! :-)

      Of course, I could have written much more and shared many more photos, but I didn’t want to wear my readers out. I really need to start doing daily posts while on vacation to break it up and get more in, but that would interfere with those happy hours. ;-)

      Thanks again, Kay!

      Shirley

  3. Diane-The W.H.O.L.E. Gang on March 18th, 2010 10:40 am

    Beautiful photos and it looks like you ate like a queen! Now I want to go. I’ve always been freaked out by the long bridge drive or the tiny plane ride. I guess I’ll just have to get over that to get there. Next time just stuff me into your luggage.

    • Shirley on March 18th, 2010 7:00 pm

      Hey Diane–Thanks so much! Yep, always eat like a queen, especially on vacation. ;-) All real food for the most part, and naturally gluten free–how’s that for an “it can be done gfe” endorsement?

      That bridge is very long, it’s true. You probably watched that scene in True Lies with all the car drama and were traumatized by it. ;-) But, here’s really good news … you don’t have to fly in on a tiny plane!! We flew in via Air Tran and all their planes are 717′s. That’s not a small plane at all. Here’s a layout of the plane so you can see for yourself. The landing is a bit abrupt. The second the pilot lands, he shifts into reverse because of the short runway, but really it was a fine landing still. (I’ve had far worse.) So start making your plans, woman! You need some time with drinks rimmed with salt or colorful umbrellas. ;-)

      Shirley

  4. Pam on March 18th, 2010 2:28 pm

    What a fun trip…wish I had been there….the location, the food, the WATER…awesome!

    So glad you shared your trip….thank you girlie!

    xoxo

    • Shirley on March 18th, 2010 7:02 pm

      Hey Pam–Thanks! Now that would have been fun having you there! :-) It’s one of our favorite destinations … just so much to enjoy as you said. ;-)

      xo–>you, too,
      Shirley

  5. Alta on March 18th, 2010 3:06 pm

    Sounds like it was a great trip. Wow, what fun! I saw the title of this post and it made me think to ask – do you have any tips for travelling gluten-free? I see you and son had some success eating out, obviously. It seems that I’ve been bitten by the gluten monster several times lately at restaurants – even those with gluten-free menus. (PF Changs!) It would seem that I’m sensitive to cross-contamination, perhaps more than some others. We’re travelling here in a few weeks, and we’re staying in a cottage with a full kitchen, so I intend to cook some of our meals, but I’d also like to eat out. Maybe some additional tips for eating at strange restaurants? Any tips for dealing with the after effects of gluten, if you do get some? (maybe this is two separate posts, I don’t know!) I love to eat out and be adventurous, but I would also like to not get sick! LOL Thanks Shirley. You’re great!

    • Shirley on March 18th, 2010 7:26 pm

      Oh, Alta, thank you! That’s so sweet of you to say … I think we have a mutual admiration club going on because I feel the same way about you. :-) I’ve been a little reluctant to share my own travel tips in a post because they don’t follow the normal guidance and might put me at odds with many others … although admittedly that’s never stopped me before. ;-) Let me give you my quick opinion here. And, FYI, I’m a super sensitive person myself. First off, I think places with gluten-free menus can give a false sense of security. I’ve been to PF Chang’s twice and did fine, but I think it largely depends upon the location and how well-trained the entire staff is. The last time I went with a very large gf group (for the Health Initiative I belong to) and we had a dedicated waiter. He was superb and we still drilled him a lot. And, I mean drill in the nicest possible way. ;-) That particular location is known for doing gf very well. (They often come and serve the very large GIG group I belong to.)

      I actually have better luck typically going to just a fine restaurant than a chain with a gluten-free menu. I try to choose restaurants that will serve dishes that are naturally gluten free. I always look at the menu before being seated. We have no problem walking out if there’s nothing that looks feasible for me. I quiz, I look, I get a gut feeling (no pun intended), etc. as to whether the folks know their food, whether there’s likelihood of cross contamination, etc. Sometimes I speak with mgmt and chefs … just depends on situation. I also try to order foods that can’t be easily messed up or contaminated. For example, steamed shrimp are a good option (unless steamed in beer–rare occurrence). I love seafood, so I order grilled fish a lot. Is it cooked in an area where only grilled fish is cooked? As long as they don’t use a contaminated spatula, I’m safe then. I have asked for my food to be cooked in a separate skillet before, but not often. I try to be really clear to the server, but also really nice, and I reward them well for good service and taking care of me re: gf with praise and good tips. As far as getting glutened, most people say let gluten effects run their course to get out of our system–not exactly something you want to do on vacation. There’s actually a homeopathic remedy that works amazingly well. I’ll email you about it. Other options recommended by Tom Malterre (Whole Life Nutrition) to our support group were activated charcoal and bentonite (clay). They don’t sound too appealing, huh? Folks say they work, but I don’t know more on them. Last, I do carry the old standby Immodium with me, which, of course, solves only one kind of issue from being glutened. I’m sending you that email right now before I get distracted. Hope this response helps!

      Shirley

  6. Kay Guest on March 19th, 2010 2:08 pm

    Hey Shirley! Love all the info here on Key West. I was a travel agent for 18 years so I was very interested in what advice you gave here… it is excellent. Casa 325 sounds wonderful and I would LOVE to have heard the hymns from the church (but I am Episopalian and love all the songs!) Not sure if I would have liked the rooster though! Shirley, you MET Michael Palin and actually HUNG OUT with the BBC crew?! You are all in the film too? WHHHHAAATTTT???? I would have that little fact right up at the top of my blog!!! My English husband would be in HEAVEN if we were to meet up with any of those guys from Monty Python!!! You are one lucky dawg! Cheers! Kay :-)

    • Shirley on March 19th, 2010 9:59 pm

      Thanks, Kay! Gosh, why didn’t I know you when you were a travel agent? You could have hooked me up! LOL … just kidding … sort of. ;-) We love to travel and have used some great agents over the years. My nephew’s MIL is an agent and actually booked Mr. GFE’s trip to the Maldives a few years back. Casa 325 was wonderful … we’ll definitely go back! We’ve booked quite a few trips based on details from TripAdvisor reviews. It doesn’t have to be a five-star review for us (although most of theirs were) … it just has to praise the things we’re interested in. The church played hymns and carols. It’s a beautiful church and it was Episcopalian! Might send you the photo if you are interested, or maybe I should go back and add it. What do you think?

      Michael Palin is wonderful and the whole BBC crew was terrific. Would have loved to hang out with them longer. We did get to enjoy a leisurely dinner with them the first evening and have pictures of all of us with them. And, thankfully, all those are nice photos. ;-) Sending good karma your way so you and your husband will cross paths with Michael Palin and other members of Monty Python!

      Shirley

      • Kay Guest on March 22nd, 2010 10:36 am

        Hey! Would have loved to have booked your trips! I looked up St Paul’s and the photos of the church look lovely…if you would like to put some on here for others to see, that would be great! Oh and thanks so much for sending good karma our way…the last time we were in London, we went into a huge music shop (I think it was the Virgin Mega Store) and they were playing music that we liked and we asked for the name of the artist. The store clerk had a very funny look on her face as she told us the name of the group, and THEN she said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but they were HERE in the store YESTERDAY.” AHHHHHH! We had to laugh, we just missed them by one day! (Now, to show you how my brain works… this was a few years ago…we have the CD…and there is NO WAY that I could tell you the name of the group!) We spend most of our time in Eastbourne when we visit England and they film LOTS of movies there, yet we have always missed when they film. (Have you seen the movie ATONEMENT? The opening and closing scenes show a cottage on the beach with chalky white cliffs behind it…that is Eastbourne!)

        • Shirley on March 23rd, 2010 11:21 pm

          Hey Kay–I added the photo of the church. Had to get it off my other computer. ;-) Episcopal churches are always so beautiful. In our state, they exhibit some of the best architecture. We have many historic and beautiful ones in our area alone. Thanks for sharing the info on the band (I haven’t heard of them, but will look them up) and Eastbourne. I haven’t seen Atonement either. I got word on the plot and was afriad it would be too painful to watch. When I do, I’ll know about Eastbourne. I love hearing about your visits to England. :-)

          We’re planning a trip right now, but not to England ;-) … trying to work out details.

          Shirley

          • Kay Guest on March 24th, 2010 8:13 am

            Oh Shirley! I love that you put that photo of the church on this post. What a beautiful sight! Thank you! You know how you said I could get a job in gluten free advertising? You could write a travel column for sure! :-) I want to go to Key West right now! :-) Cheers! Kay

          • Shirley on March 24th, 2010 8:33 pm

            Oh, gosh, Kay, thanks! I’m just always afraid I’ll go on too long or add too many photos, but I think it does add to the post. :-) We just booked another trip today for our anniversary in June to Little Cayman. And, I still have some travel posts to catch up on, too. I might have you going all over the place. ;-)

            Shirley

  7. Kay Guest on March 22nd, 2010 11:24 am

    Oh! The name of the group is THE FEELING. It just popped into my head. AND we were there in 2006… My brain sometimes needs to warm up! :_)

    Kay

  8. Julie on March 31st, 2010 5:51 pm

    Can you give me any other suggestions for eating GF in Key West. We are traveling there for the first time in June. I have contacted a few restaurants already but I really want to be prepared. Thanks for any information you can provide!

    • Shirley on April 1st, 2010 6:52 am

      Hi Julie–There are really very many options. I’ve included some links below. Most are from Trip Advisor, which is a great way to find out if restaurants accommodate gluten free (and if they’re well thought of in general). most of these threads are older, but you can register/log in and ask about gf restaurants in KW. Another way to get info on any travel destination from folks with first-hand gluten-free experience is to post the question on the celiac listserv; e.g., “I’ll be traveling to Key West in June. Can anyone recommend some good restaurants for gluten free?” All the readers there are gf, so they can offer a lot. You can subscribe to the listserv here. (I’d recommend the digest version) After you post your question, the responses will come into your individually. The listserv asks that you summarize/list them in one email so that all their subscribers will see the info. Sounds complicated, but it’s not.

      From the links below, I’m reminded of several other spots where I’ve eaten successfully. Mangoe’s on Duval, Fogarty’s on Duval, Conch Republic, Schooner Wharf, and Pepe’s. Restaurants I have not personally tried, but that are recommended for gluten free, are Help Yourself (a restaurant with vegetarian/vegan offerings that even has gf wraps; I think it’s all carry out), The Cafe (Southard and Duval), and Santiago’s Bodega.

      http://www.tripadvisor.com/Search?returnTo=__2F__Restaurants&q=key+west+gluten+free&sub-search=Search&geo=34345

      http://www.celiac.com/articles/21918/1/Gluten-free-in-Key-West-Florida/Page1.html

      http://www.celiac.com/gluten-free/topic/54768-key-west-gluten-free/

      Key Lime Pie with gf crust and accommodating.

      http://www.yelp.com/biz/hot-tin-roof-key-west

      Hope that helps! We love Key West … have a fabulous trip! :-)

      Shirley

    • Shirley on April 1st, 2010 6:59 am

      Oh, Julie, I forgot to say welcome to gfe! It looks like you are new here. I hope you will visit often and find lots of helpful info and recipes! :-)

      Shirley

  9. Kay Guest on April 19th, 2010 1:47 pm

    8-0

    • Shirley on April 19th, 2010 10:04 pm

      Kay–Maybe I’ve had a long day, but I’m not getting this comment. ?

      Shirley

  10. Deanna on December 17th, 2012 2:23 pm

    Too funny. The kiddo and I are going to Key West next week and I did a search for key west gluten free and what popped right up? This post. Thanks for the virtual tour!

    • Shirley on December 17th, 2012 2:44 pm

      Deanna–We will be in Key West next week, too!!!! And, coincidentally, so will Johanna of In Johnna’s Kitchen (formerly Johnna’s 52). Let’s have a gf bloggers’ get together, shall we?? :-)

      Shirley

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