Florida Keys – Post #3

Quick shot from our balcony before spending the day at Key West. While I didn’t exactly see the sunrise, I enjoyed some time watching the water and wildlife while others were getting ready.

Breakfast was pre-determined, by me at least. I had read about Blue Heaven and their reviews and was looking forward to some awesome pancakes. Spoiler alert – they were totally awesome. 🙂

The restaurant has been in existence since 1992 with the building being at least 100 years old and the first incarnation had them selling alcohol and spirts to Key Westers. The property has hosted cock-fighting, gambling and boxing.

The second floor has been a dance hall, bordello, art gallery and a playhouse. Although not used for the breakfast crowd I wandered around and got a few shots of the upstairs.

We had a 30 minute wait for our table and the ‘waiting area’ is across the street in an off-shoot of their business ‘Andy’s Cabana’. Adrienne and Eric started with a bloody mary. They both said their drink was a healthy pour of spirits. Another one of those and they would have had a different view of Key West. I ordered the coffee in the center.

Pretty much to the minute, we were called. Looked like one of their blue angels had a bloody mary……….

Their restaurant business began with (1) no money down, (2) some gardening tools and (3) mom’s church cookbook. The husband and wife team planned and executed a lunch soup counter. They eventually expanded into breakfast and lured one of their brothers to initiate a dinner menu. The rest they say is history.

We had awesome weather the morning we visited. The experience would have been very different if seated inside.

And YES, I ordered the pancakes along with a scrambled egg and their locally made sausage.

Eric was a copycat and ordered the pancakes with blueberries. He pretended to eat healthy by getting granola w/fruit and yogurt.

We had several visitors running around the area. Eric doesn’t look too thrilled with their company.

Which now kind of gives a reason for finding this grill outside of the restaurant.

I couldn’t resist this shot. Just part of the decor……….

We did a L.O.T of walking during our day in Key West. Ultimately we tracked 10 miles walking this day. One advantage versus driving is you really get the flavor of the area seeing the houses and neighborhoods.

Mid-afternoon we needed a break and snacks.

This building is one of Key West’s most impressive and historic – the birthplace of Pan American World Airways. The first tickets were sold out of this building in 1927.

Pan Am was the principal and largest international air carrier in US from 1927 – 1991, when they collapsed. Originally their business plan involved air mail and passengers serving between Key West and Havana, Cuba. The airline was credited with shaping international airlines with their widespread use of jet aircraft, jumbo jets and a computerized reservation systems.

It was a pretty cool place and they get decent marks for their menu. Like most places in Key West, majority of seating was outside.

We had some brews and snacks.

A bavarian pretzel, deviled eggs and fried jalapenos kept us going.

Adrienne had a few requests. She wanted to see the end of US 1, mile marker 0.

Which is also the beginning of US 1, mile marker 0.

Another stop to whet our whistle. This brewery opened in 2015 and was the largest brewery in the Florida keys.

One more request from Adrienne was to see the ‘Southernmost point of the continental USA, 90 miles to Cuba’. It was established as a bonefide tourist attraction in 1983 by the city. It is 18′ above sea level. Google says it is one of the most visited and photographed attractions in the US. Possibly that’s true – we had to wait in a line just to get a photo. Man – have these people be at Disney? The line was organized and self-owned – and it worked.

It was soooooo hot as we were waiting in line (really? really!) we needed something to cool off. Luckily there was this place: Southernmost Bar.

To close out our day in Key West dinner was at Conch Republic Seafood Company.

Another fish dip started our meal. By the end of the week, I can see us possibly getting tired of ordering fish dip – but not just yet.

Another bowl of conch chowder (Eric) – to quote him ‘It was the best he had during the trip’.

Eric’s meal was yellowtail snapper with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed veggies.

And what did I get…………………..yep, grilled chicken caesar salad. I’d had enough seafood for awhile. I needed something a bit lighter and greener. It was a wise choice. While the grilled chicken was a bit dry…………bottles of hot sauce on the table remedied that situation.

There’s only one dessert to order when you’re in Key West – key lime pie. I really didn’t need more food, but who can resist this pie? At least we shared it amongst the three of us which took away some of the guilt – but not the over-stuffed feeling.

The phrase ‘Conch Republic’ was seen throughout Key West. Conch Republic – what is that? In 1982 Key Westers protested the US Border Patrol roadblock and inspection point on US 1, prior to driving into the keys. Vehicles were being stopped and searched for narcotics and illegal immigrants. When their complaints went unanswered they declared their Independence day on April 23, 1982 when they seceded and created the micro-nation for the city of Key West. Its turned into a tourism booster and one more quirky Key West thing.

I opened the post with a sun-rising photo and let me close with the sun setting while sitting on our balcony.


Headed towards the Florida keys!

KEY WEST OR BUST!!!! We figured it had been at least 20+ years since we’ve been in the keys and the time was right to head back to the southern toe of the state.

It’s definitely a haul to get down to the very last key.

It all starts with the Florida turnpike. Since we were on the turnpike for such a long time, I got interested in its history. Man! You could do an entire blog post just on the turnpike!

Sooooooo, here we go.

The years following WWII Florida experienced unprecedented growth in population and tourism along with a revitalized citrus industry after a hard devastating freeze. These things combined for a reason to build a better road to connect parts of Florida, top to bottom. There was an individual considered the ‘father of the turnpike’ (Thomas B. Manuel) and was chairman of the turnpike from 1955 – 1961. His belief and dedication to this mission won over many of the current-day detractors and the idea of a turnpike was hotly debated in the legislature. Ultimately he was able to convince all but 4 to pass legislation for the road.

It was opened in stages from 1957 to 1964 going through eleven Florida counties. Total length was 309 miles stretching from Miami Gardens to Wildwood. Construction began July 4, 1955 and they use the slogan ‘The Less Stressway’. It was built on a northwest-southeast axis.

You might notice in the photo above another nickname for the toll road – Ronald Reagan Turnpike. In 1998 the legisture decided “he was one of America’s most beloved presidents and a true world leader”.

We couldn’t believe we saw this paper ticket. We got off for a brief time and had to grab this before getting back on the turnpike. We’re accustomed to transponders or coins. In the 1990s congestion was so bad in Miami and the Orlando metropolitan area they both went to coin. Now we’re (central Florida) strictly electronic either by transponder or license plate photo.

Research says the turnpike averages 6.7 cents per mile. Service stations (8) are about 45 miles apart and we were stuck in the middle when we needed to jump off thus picking up the paper ticket. Okay – I’m done.

Lunch was on our agenda and we googled top resturants in/near Homestead, FL prior to leaving home. Havana Spice was highly rated.

The cuban bread looks so simple yet is so tasty. We didn’t really need the plantain chips, but, we did. There was nothing left on the plate OR in the basket either.

What else could I order but a cubano sandwich. Easily the best cuban sandwich I’ve had. What made it special??? The roasted pork sandwiched in with the ham, cuban bread and cheese – and then pressed. There was a garlicky aoli that was part of the sandwich – yum.

Eric also had pork, but in a different way. He had more of an entre’ with black beans, rice and fried plantains. Both of us had waaaaaaay too much food. If we had been home, there definitely would have been leftovers for another meal.

Don’t think I mentioned the decor – very kitschy. We were lucky enough to sit outside under cover from any of the short-lived passing rain showers.

The car pictured above is part of their charm. There were a number of older cars parked around to give you the ‘Havana’ feel.

This guy watched us eat our delicious lunch.

Dessert?!? This was something we had already planned while still at home. We headed to Robert is Here. It was a short 5 minute drive from Havana Spice.

It is a family institution that has (seriously) grown and expanded since the last time we were in this area – 20+ years ago. Have I mentioned that already? Truly, it was a corner fruit stand where all the locals picked up their fresh groceries and the fruit stand made shakes out of the excess fruit. They still have plenty of fruit and veggies. Here’s a small sampling.

Interesting story about the name ‘Robert is Here’. Google it. And yes, Robert is still working, he’s the one in the dark green shirt.

So you’ve seen a few shots of the fruits, now take a short look at their products. They have row after row after shelf after shelf with their own bottled product. The shot below is a small snippet of their items.

Along the front of the market, they had buckets and buckets of sunflowers. Loved them!

Let’s get to the REAL reason we came – the shakes…….actually we all ended up with smoothies! Ha! The smoothies were sweet enough. I can’t image how sweet the shake would have been. It was a process as you can see on the sign.

Walking to the front of the market, there was a l.o.n.g. line, just to order your desired drinks. I wandered off and heard someone say ‘that’s didn’t take long’. I’m sure that Eric was ready to turn around and keep driving but he had come to the same conclusion just watching the line. We ultimately ended up with three different flavors. Mine was the bright orange cup in the center (mamey sapote). Eric’s was the creamy cup on the left (guanabana) with Adrienne getting a mango smoothie.

Back on the road, we continued south. We expected traffic and we got it. 😦 Luckily we had stretches where 4 lanes existed and we could pick up the pace. Eventually we got to the source of this back-up ……….gawkers checking out a group of boaters on the water. Really people?

Regardless, we made it to our hotel with plenty of time to drop off bags and still head all the way to the bottom before sunset – next post!