Archive | February, 2011

Meet Fats Waller

Six Towed Cat Image

If it looks like this kitten is wearing mittens, its because he has extra toes. About half of the fifty cats that occupy the Ernest Hemingway house in Key West are similarly “polydactyl” and are likely descendants of the six-toed cat, Snowball, who lived here 75 years ago as the great author’s pet.

This was our second visit to the Ernest Hemingway House (you can read Shannon’s original account on her Novel Destinations blog) and even as a rerun, it was still one of the most enjoyable author houses we’ve visited. It’s not just the house and grounds that are interesting, or the hordes of cats that seem to run the place, but the tour guides are a cut above what you normally find in other historic places. Professional and highly entertaining, without employing over-the-top theatrics, our guides at the Hemingway House were among the best we’ve seen anywhere. And Fats Waller–the cat, not the jazz musician–lent a paw by accompanying us the entire time, providing his unique perspective on what it’s like to live the high life in the tropical estate where Hemingway wrote To Have and Have Not. Although he could have easily fit in Shannon’s way oversize pocketbook, I wouldn’t let her smuggle him out.

Ernest Hemingway House, Key West Florida

BYOB Bar

Peppers of Key West Image

Key West is known for its bars, but Peppers is the only one I’m aware of that encourages patrons to bring their own beer and chicken wings. Serving up over 100 different sauces, marinades, dry rubs, dips and salsas in their tasting bar, Peppers is a truly unique retail experience. Our “bartender” lined up shot after shot of sauces, twenty in all, to be sampled with complementary tortilla chips. We started with sweet and smoky barbeque sauces and gradually increased the heat.

By the end I had progressed all the way to Melinda’s Original Naga Jolokia Pepper Sauce. The Naga Jolokia pepper, also known as the Ghost Chile, is the hottest pepper in the world. With a whopping 1 million Scoville Units it contains the heat of 200 Jalapeños. That is one mean pepper, and Melinda’s is one mean sauce. I love spicy food, but I had to throw in the towel after a small taste of that one, which isn’t even the hottest sauce in the bar. Maybe with a little training, I can come back and take on the whole line up. But for now, No Mas!

Worth the Wait

Cuban Coffee Queen, Key West Florida

Cuban Coffee Queen is a small shack of a restaurant in downtown Key West that reminded us of the much hyped Red’s Eats of Maine. The one big difference between the two is that Cuban Coffee Queen lives up to its reputation. Here, the food is actually worth the wait. For exactly half the price of a Red’s lobster roll, we had a deliciously slow roasted Mojo pork and provolone sandwich with horseradish mayonnaise and a café con leche (the Cuban version of a café latte).

We waited about 45 minutes for our sandwiches, which seemed like a really long time considering there were only a couple of other people milling around the stand. I know we’re on island time, but that’s a little ridiculous. We soon discovered that locals were to blame. Cuban Coffee Queen, Key West, FloridaPeople who knew better called in their orders in advance. So while only a few of us stooges waited patiently outside for our food, the order tickets above the cook’s grill ran the length of the shack.

So one of the things to pack for your next Key West trip is this number: 305-294-7787. Call ahead for some great sandwiches down by the docks. Or better yet, have them delivered.

The Dry Turtles

Dry Tortugas, Florida

Ponce de Leon found so many sea turtles around the island chain that he named the atoll Las Tortugas, or The Turtles. Years later, the name changed to The Dry Tortugas in mock reference to the lack of fresh drinking water on the islands, a real problem for those constructing and manning a defensive fort that occupies most of Garden Key. Our concern, though, wasn’t a lack of water, but too much. A nasty looking storm clouded the horizon and our spirits during the 68 mile boat excursion to the island from Key West. For much of the trip, we feared a complete washout. But shortly before we arrived, the skies cleared, the winds calmed, and the turquoise water beckoned.

The Dry Tortugas National Park covers 101 square miles, most of which is underwater. Its borders contain Fort Jefferson, seven small islands, miles of coral reef, dozens of diveable shipwrecks, hundreds of exotic birds, and thousands of colorful fish. We went for the snorkeling, which is amazing. But getting to one of the most remote National Parks in the system is no small feat. Dry Trotugas Sea Plane ImageIt’s a two and one-half hour trip by boat, or a 45 minute jaunt by seaplane. We found traveling five hours round trip for a few hours of snorkeling to be a bit much, although a couple of rum runners helped speed the return voyage. Next time we’re flying in on one of these bad boys, like guests at Fantasy Island.

Mallory Square Monday

Mallory Square, Key West Florida

Sunset at Mallory Square is one of the big celebration events on Key West. Every night tourists and performance artists gather at the square to watch Selene chase Helios from the sky. Every night, that is, except Monday. On Mondays, Mallory square becomes a parking lot for cruise ships so large they blot out the sun, and the celebration.

Key West Travel Tip: Skip Mallory Square on Mondays and head straight to Sloppy Joes instead.

Sloppy Joe's, Key West

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