This article is dedicated to my beloved travel writer StepMom Carol Jertson. We'll see you down the road Sunshine!
A Pirate’s Life For Me: a Two Day Father/Daughter Getaway to Key Largo, FL
By Kat Thomas, Edible Skinny
Last Year, Edible Skinny was lucky enough to do a father-daughter getaway to the Florida Keys. For those not in the know, Tony Thomas is the designated pirate of the Thomas Family. Tony aka Skippy adores all things water, boat, and/or boat drink related. So it was TOTALLY fitting when we slipped away to visit one of the jewels of the Florida Keys: Key Largo!
For the uninitiated, the Florida Keys are an archipelago (aka a group of islands) of 1700 islands in total. However, most are very small and very few of those are populated. 43 of these islands are connected via 42 separate bridges thus composing this 125 mile chain of Florida fun in the sun. And the central tourist spot in this geological daisy chain: Key Largo.
The island of Key Largo, at a length of 33 miles, is the largest section of the Keys. Located at approximately mile marker 100 (the Florida Keys’ mile markers reference their relative location to the number of miles north of Key West). So if you’re traveling by auto from the North, it’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Miami.
The island gained fame as the setting for the 1948 Humphrey Bogart movie Key Largo, but apart from background filming used for establishing shots, the film was shot in Hollywood, CA. BTWs, that didn’t stop a budding entrepreneur from buying the boat used in the African Queen, a film made 1951 that also stars Humphrey Bogart, and moving it to Key Largo for evening canal cruises.
Key Largo’s natural claim to fame is that it is the “Diving Capital of the World,” attracting thousands of scuba divers, snorkelers, and sport-fishing enthusiasts every year. The coral reefs of Key Largo are home to the world's second largest artificial reef, the 510 foot USS Spiegel Grove, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and the famous Christ of the Abyss underwater statue.
So here’s to life being delicious, all your moments being postcard worthy, and tropical trips with your family’s designated pirate! ;-)
The Bayside Inn Key Largo
We started our adventures by checking into the newly renovated Bayside Inn Key Largo! Located on a beautiful stretch of the Florida Bay, this 56 room property offers some of the Keys most stunning sunsets from their private beach. The rooms are decorated “Postmodern Keys Kitsch” and contains in-room refrigerators, microwaves, and coffee makers for families on a budget. And with a pool, car parking directly onsite, a small 24-hour gym with up-to-date equipment, and free WiFi, this resort offers all the amenities of home. Also BONUS: hotel provides their guests complimentary use of kayaks and paddle boards allowing them to explore the Florida Bay on the life aquatic level.
Snooks Bayside Restaurant & Grand Tiki
After checking into our room, Tony and I moseyed over to Snooks Bayside Restaurant & Grand Tiki. The newly redesigned Snooks offers lunch and dinner. And the BEST part about Snooks, EVERY seat in the house has an unobstructed waterfront view! The entire property is set within tropical lush plantings accented by tiki torches. The new Grand Tiki is illuminated by chandeliers and the 5,000 sq. ft paver patio is surrounded by a Bar ledge that allows you to sit right on the waters edge under their new state of the art misting system.
Tony and I checked out their Happy Hour, which runs from 4pm-6pm everyday. With offerings of Domestic Bottle Beers for $2.75, Well Drinks and House Wines for $4.50, and Specialty Drinks for $6, these waterside drinks won’t break the blowfish’s bank. Both Tony and I opted for the Jimmy Buffet classic of a Margarita comprised of Gold Tequila, Lime Juice, Triple Sec, and Sour. Like a pair of red and green buoys, the tropical libation perfectly compliment the sinking sun.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Iguanas?
At the far edge of Snooks Bayside Restaurant is situated the “Iguana Beach,” what the property has named a small grotto ornamented with Adirondack Chairs. Which gives us a perfect excuse to tell you about the iguana plague of South Florida.
Originally the small iguana population in the Florida Keys were stowaways on ships carrying fruit from South America. But over the years, more and more iguanas were introduced into the wild, mostly originating through the pet trade. Some lizards escaped, but more were intentionally released by their owners. These large lizards (or mini dinosaurs because more than once I spotted one sunning on the highway and thought I had accidentally ended up in Jurassic Park) can grow to be over five feet in length.
Iguanas thrive in Florida because of the state’s subtropical climate, its ever-growing human population (which allows the lizards plenty of food and shelter), and a lack of natural predators. Unfortunately these mini dinosaurs can do a lot of damage; they dig tunnels that can erode and collapse sidewalks, seawall, and the foundations of homes. The only thing that stops them from spreading north is the colder weather.
The problem is so prevalent that the State Wildlife Commission ruled that homeowners do not need a permit to kill iguana on their own property. In fact, the Wildlife Commission encourages homeowners to kill green green iguanas on their own property whenever possible. Iguanas can also be killed year-round and without a permit on 22 public lands in Florida.
The Fish House Restaurant & Seafood Market
A chance encounter with Michelle, manager of The Fish House Restaurant & Seafood Market, during our first cocktail at Snooks brought us to this Key Largo classic. But it was the simplicity of fresh cooked fish that brought us back for dinner again the second night.
Located at Mile Marker 102.4, this restaurant is CLASSIC Florida Keys; fish so fresh you can taste the Atlantic Ocean. So we got laid back like the locals do, and dug into their scrumptious conch style cooking. Decorated with fishing nets and bright colored boat drink lights, you wonder if Jack Sparrow was going to walk through the door at any moment and order a cocktail.
We started off both our meals with a Caribbean classic: Rum Punch. This boozy “boat drink” (a cocktail made of bottles of alcohol with boats on them) was concocted with Dark and Light Rum and then mixed with orange, pineapple, and cranberry juices. It was the perfect way to relax into the crustacean vibes of the restaurant.
The first night we got the most popular dishes on the menu! Michelle was a doll, and comped us a classic Caribbean appetizer of Fried Conch. Tenderized Conch meat, cut into stripes, breaded and fried, and served with cocktail sauce. Can we say Yummm (with 3Ms). For Tony, The Mantecumbe with Yellowtail (a House Specialty). Topped with fresh tomatoes, shallots, fresh basil, capers, olive oil, and lemon juice then baked. I partook in the Hemingway, lightly coated with Italian breadcrumbs and baked, and then topped off with white wine, garlic, and basic cream sauce. Can we say Yummm (with 3 Ms)! But don’t take our word for it, The Fish House favorite has been featured on the Food Network with Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri’s Dinners, Drive-In’s, and Dives.
The second night Tone got a whole Fried Yellowtail. He got to pick out his fish from the seafood case before the brightly colored fish was fried up to perfection. It was like a carnival midway for your mouth. I went for the Fish Encore, offering my choice of fish breaded in Japanese breadcrumbs, sautéed, and then finished off in the oven. The steaming hot platter was then topped with chopped tomatoes, scallions, shredded Parmesan cheese, and key lime butter sauce. I chose the grouper over the yellowtail snapper. And once again, I cannot stress enough the freshness of these scaly animals. You could taste the salty life force in every bite!
Sundiver Snorkel Tours
And after eating fishes the first night, we decided we needed to see them up close a personal on Day Two! We opted for a Sundiver Snorkel Tour in Key Largo which provides daily snorkeling tours to shallow Coral Reefs. We enjoyed a salty 2.5 hour tour to shallow coral reefs in Key Largo's National Marine Sanctuary.
Their staff was knowledgeable in everything sea worthy! There was an informative lecture about suntan lotion (the spray type is not good for the coral reefs so you can’t use it when snorkeling) and safety. After which Tone and I pelican plunged into the water discovering parrot fish, barracudas, and moray eels. It was a great way to rediscover the undiscovered country of the Atlantic Ocean. Other Sundiver snorkeling options (but sold out for that day) include John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park which bring swimmers face-to-face with the famed Christ of the Abyss statue, an 8.5-foot-tall replica of the bronze cast of Jesus Christ in the Mediterranean sea, submerged in about 25 feet of water.
Kat Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Edible Skinny, a site dedicated to making your life postcard worthy. She is also the CEO of the creative media company This Way Adventures. You can find more about both brands at http://www.thiswayadventures.com