A Culinary Insiders Tour to Miami and Key West (Part III)

This is a continuation blog post, Part III, from a series of posts describing the itinerary and experiences on a recent Travel with Doc Culinary Insiders Tour to Miami and Key West.

Part I can be found here: A Culinary Insiders Tour to Miami and Key West (Part I)

Part II can be found here: A Culinary Insiders Tour to Miami and Key West (Part II)

A quick recap of Part I and Part II: Our group has finished four full days of gastro-tourism in Miami.  With food explorations in Little Havana, Wynwood, South Beach, downtown and other parts of Miami, our group was now ready to head south to Key West.  Highlights from the first four days included dining at Alter, gastroPod, Eating House, Bachour Bakery & Bistro (including a pastry workshop), La Mar and a cocktail workshop at The Broken Shaker.  All of the chefs were so kind with their time and explanations of their foods and preparation.

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DAY 5, Wednesday, April 20, 2016

After four fun, food-filled days in Miami, it was now time to head south to Key West for two nights.  Our first stop south of Miami was Robert Is Here, a famous fruit market located in Homestead, FL.  This fruit stand was started in 1959 when Robert was just 6 years old selling cucumbers from his family farm.  Since then the fruit stand has grown and now specializes in tropical fruits, fresh fruit milkshakes and homemade key lime pies.  We ended up purchasing a variety of different tropical fruits and sat at a picnic table to cut into them for a taste.  It was a great morning snack for the road and a great selection of interesting fruits and tastes.

Jackfruit

Jackfruit

Fruit

Watch guard chicken

Watch guard chicken

papaya

Mango

Mango

Fruit tasting

Fruit tasting

For lunch we made a stop in Key Largo at the Key Largo Fisheries, a local fish market and boat dock that serves up the local catch of the day overlooking the various fishing boats.   We tried some shrimp, snapper and stone crab chowder.  It was a relaxing spot on a beautiful day of driving down the Keys.

Key Largo Fisheries Marina

Key Largo Fisheries Marina

Key Largo

Pink shrimp

Pink shrimp

Heading down to Key West

Heading down to Key West

Drive South II

Doc Sconz taking it all in

Doc Sconz taking it all in

Arriving in Key West in the middle of the afternoon, we checked into our hotel, The Curry Mansion, and had a relaxing drink on the patio.  The Curry Mansion was built in 1899 and according to local lore, the cook created the famous Key Lime Pie.  The hotel was nice and we recommend staying in the The James House which is located across Caroline Street.  It is a nice quiet spot.

Our dinner plan was the Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island.  Chef Norman Van Aken in Miami highly recommended this restaurant and it was a lively place situated in a marina surrounded by shrimp boats with a true local feel.  Owned by Bobby Mongelli, the Hogfish Bar and Grill is a must stop on a visit to Key West.  It is not situated downtown, but it definitely has some of the freshest catch around.  There is a true Jimmy Buffet feel to this place as well, as most people are just relaxing, having cocktails and enjoying the views and food.  Bobby sent some special appetizers for our group including some incredible fresh shrimp.  We ordered a variety of different fish specials and enjoyed our first taste of Key West.

hogfish bar

Shrimp

Shrimp

Hogfish fingers

Hogfish fingers

Shrimp Boats

Shrimp Boats

Sunset on the marina

Sunset on the marina

After dinner and back in town, we ended up at The Other Side, a great hidden cocktail bar serving up some delicious takes on famous recipes.  It was a great way to end up our day of traveling down to Key West from Miami.

DAY 6, Thursday, April 21, 2016

Our last full day of the Culinary Insiders Tour to Miami and Key West involved some sport, some torrential rain and ended with a great last meal and pig roast.  Up early in the morning for our fishing charter, we headed back to Stock Island and grabbed a quick Cuban breakfast and some Cuban sandwiches for the boat.

Cuban breakfast spot

Cuban breakfast spot

The fishing experience included approximately 6 hours on the boat going to different spots around Key West with the intention of catching snapper and whatever else would grab our lines.  It was a day that started with a lot of excitement as we both hooked sharks early on and some snapper.  Doc Sconz was even able to get the nurse shark he caught up to the boat before letting it go.  As we traveled from key to key, the fishing started to get more difficult as the weather started to turn and by midday we were running out of luck.  But it was a beautiful way to see Key West from the water and the southern most part of the United States.  Once back on land, we brought the fish we caught to our chef for the evening, chef Martin Liz, who would be providing us with a ceviche workshop that evening.

Our fishing leader Sam

Our fishing leader Sam

Bait!

Bait!

Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark

Shark

Doc the fisherman

Doc the fisherman

Fishing IV

Fishing III

Beautiful water

Beautiful water

Snapper for ceviche

Snapper for ceviche

Once back in Key West and washed up, the tropical rains began.  Fortunately for us, they came at a good time and ended before our last meal of the trip at The Lost Kitchen, a new venture in Stock Island that is run by chef Martin Liz.  Chef Liz started this new private dining spot not far from the Hogfish Bar & Grill on the same marina.  It is to be used for private cooking events like ours and for other cooking classes and functions.  Chef Martin Liz is classically French-trained and focuses on Key West’s local harvest, seafood and Cuban specialties.  For us, he went above and beyond by doing a traditional Cuban pig roast in a Caja China that was custom-built.  We started our meal with a ceviche workshop using the fish that we caught earlier in the day.  It tasted so fresh and his style of ceviche was very good.  This was also followed by a shrimp appetizer before the full meal of the pig roast and sides.  Joining us for the evening was Bobby from the Hogfish Grill and his wife Michelle, as well as another couple that own a restaurant in town.  It was a great group and fun to be with the local restaurant experts.

Ceviche workshop

Ceviche workshop

Lost Kitchen II

Ceviche

Chilau

Chilau

Doc with chef Martin Liz

Doc with chef Martin Liz

Chef Martin Liz

Chef Martin Liz

Pig roast Cuban style

Pig roast Cuban style

Bobby with some special Cuban Rum

Bobby with some special Cuban Rum

What a great way to end our Culinary Insiders Tour of Miami and Key West.  It was a memorable meal of true Key West spirit and food.  In looking back at all of the memorable meals and experiences on this tour, it is hard to pick standouts since they were all so different.  From Cuban to fine pastries to seafood and BBQ.  A great time was had by all.  Our trip ended the following morning with some guests flying back to Miami.

Key West

If you are interested in any future Travel with Doc Culinary Tours, please sign up for our mailing list at Travel Directions, Inc.

 

 

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A Grand Time

Many years ago I traveled from San Francisco with my grandmother on a National Parks Tour of Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.  It was an Audubon Society bird-watching trip with a group of retired seniors.  I was close to 10 years old and it seemed that everyone on the trip had about 55 to 60 more years of experience at watching birds than I did, but it was a great bonding trip with my grandma.  At the Grand Canyon, it wasn’t a bird that everyone was searching for.  It was a squirrel!  The Kaibab Squirrel.  We spent one whole day looking for this elusive squirrel.  It had a white bushy tail and we only saw one.  But it was a success!

Kaibab Squirrel

Kaibab Squirrel

35 years later, I found myself back at the Grand Canyon on a hiking trip with my wife’s mother and brother.  And what did I first see driving into the park from the eastern entrance??  A Kaibab squirrel that had met its fate trying to cross the road.  Maybe it was a sign, maybe not, but it was the only Kaibab squirrel I saw during my entire 4-day stay in the park.

The Grand Canyon in late April is a magical place.  The weather is not too hot or too cold, the tourist crowds are manageable, many flowers are blooming and the light in the sky is a deep blue.  We stayed in a cabin on the South Rim at the Bright Angel Lodge, an old institution that has not changed much over the years.  But it is a perfect place to make a base to explore the different parts of the canyon.  My reason for being there was my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday.  Her plan to celebrate this momentous birthday was to hike down to the Colorado River and back, which she had done numerous times before this trip.

Our first full day included a challenging hike from Hermit’s Rest, the furthest shuttle spot going west, down to Dripping Spring.  What a hike!  It combined everything you want in a hike: beautiful jaw-dropping views, isolation and silence, canyon edges, a beautiful terminus, and a definite challenge.  Below are some photos from this first day.

Down from the rim, beautiful area

Down from the rim, beautiful area

The trail winds along the edge

The trail winds along the edge

The canyon formed from the Dripping Spring

The canyon formed from the Dripping Spring

The Dripping Spring

The Dripping Spring

Back up to the top!

Back up to the top!

The birthday hike happened on our last day.  It was the classic 18-mile marathon hike.  We went down the South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado River and came back up Bright Angel Trail.  With a 5:30am start I thought we would have the trail to ourselves, but that was wrong.  There were approximately 75 or so hikers and runners (yes, runners!) that started at about that time.  We let most of them go ahead so we could enjoy the trail at our own pace.  It felt like a marathon when it was over.  Coming back up the last few miles on Bright Angel Trail tested all of us, but we did cross the finish line by 4pm with big smiles on our faces.

The morning sunrise into the canyon

The morning sunrise into the canyon

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On top of the world!

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Overlooking battleship point

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About half way down

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On the edge

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Looking back up

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A picture-perfect trail

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The mighty Colorado

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The slow hot grind back up

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A 70th birthday success

Overall, it was a great trip and a nice time to “un-plug”.  To reconnect with nature is an important aspect of my life and it is one that keeps me in check with all of the other moving parts and responsibilities that we take on over time.  Happy birthday Helena!

 

Your favorite place?

In Tennessee last week I met a young global traveler who reminded me of myself in my early 20s when life was an adventure and responsibilities were few.  It was amazing to hear of all of the journeys that he had taken already in only 24 years.  He definitely had me beat at his age.  We had a lot of things in common: he just lost a parent to cancer (I lost my father to cancer when I was 22), he was searching for a direction in life, love and travel, and he was also rediscovering home again after many years of exploring the world.

The conversation lasted for a good couple of hours and the stories resulted in mixed feelings for me of sadness, excitement, and empathy.  At one point I asked the question, “What is your favorite place that you have seen in the world?”  As I began to think what my favorite place might be, it made me think of a different question.  If you could take and show anyone a certain place in the world, where would this be?  This is a very different question but one that has more meaning to me.  Sure, I have been to places that I would consider to be my “favorite places,” but this is very personal.

When I asked him the “favorite place” question, the response I received was not what I expected.  He had done a lot of his traveling on the water, via barges and other ships.  And he ended up in port for a week outside of Bilbao in northern Spain.  But it wasn’t necessarily the city that he described as his favorite place (even though it sounds like a great spot to be and high on my list of destinations), it was a bar called The Hole in the Wall in the port of Castro Urdiales.  He went there every night and the feeling he had there was unlike anything he had ever experienced: a sense of the world wrapped up in one spot.  From people being friendly and interested, to the setting and timing in his life, The Hole in the Wall was more than, well, a hole in the wall.

The port with The Hole in the Wall

The port with The Hole in the Wall

I found a YouTube video advertisement for the place which seemed rather “sports bar” in a Spanish way:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDPjE5osQxM

This brings me back to my quandary of what constitutes a “favorite place.”  The history?  The people?  Its setting, be it urban or in nature?  Or the beer?  When I think of some of my “favorite places,” most of them consisted of the location and timing mixed together.  For example, I was in Tikal in Guatemala in 1990 when you could climb to the top of Temple IV and sit there and watch the sun go down over the canopy of the rainforest.  Today you can’t do that; it is forbidden to go all the way up (because it is too dangerous!).  But it is one of my favorite places.  If I were to go back, would the experience be less?

Tikal's Temple IV

Tikal’s Temple IV

Now that I am planning more itineraries for the travel business, I keep thinking of the other question: “Where would you most want to take people to visit?” And that is a great way to start a conversation–please share your comments and your favorite places or experiences!

A Journey of Kilts and Drams

After my travels last year to Brazil for the World Cup, it became apparent that I need to continue to fulfill certain bucket list travel ideas that I have accumulated over my life.  One of these bucket list trips is a journey to Scotland to explore its history and drink of choice, single-malt scotch.    I have learned quite a bit over the years about single-malt scotch, mostly through trying out different bottles and attending tastings at various establishments.  One local classic drinking spot here in Saratoga Springs, NY, called 9 Maple Avenue, has monthly whiskey-tasting sessions called the Angel’s Share Sampling Society.  Not only do we try single-malt scotches, but also Irish whiskies and American bourbons.  The Angel’s Share refers to the whisky that is lost to evaporation during the aging process.  Since the angels watch after us, this is part of their “payment.”9 Maple

Recently I met with the owner at 9 Maple about developing a group trip to Scotland to taste and visit distilleries.  Well, before I knew it, we were launching the idea and it has been a lot of fun putting it all together.  This trip will take our group through the heart of whisky making in Scotland, the Speyside region.  Here we will be able to visit eight different distilleries and have some special tastings provided to us as well by some of the local US distributors.  It is really going to be a great first introduction to Scotland!

With 3 nights in Edinburgh, 1 night in Oban and 4 nights in the Speyside region, there will be plenty of time to visit many historical and natural sites.  I figure it would be best to see a castle or two in between tastings!Whiskey Tasting Pic

I will continue to share any new items about this trip and my travels as I prepare to be a trip leader with Travel Directions and 9 Maple on this great adventure to Scotland.  It has been an exciting time working on this trip and planning future tours as well.

http://www.9mapleave.com/tour-of-scotland/

www.mytraveldirections.com

 

Vacation from my vacation

How many times do you return from a vacation and say, “I need a vacation from my vacation?”  Well, if you were on the beach relaxing the whole time, you probably do not need one.  But when you are on an intense cultural trip to a place that you have not been before, it can be exhausting.  All travelers are different.  Some want to just sit by the pool and soak up the sun.  Others want to explore their destination and walk till they drop.  I like a combination of the two, but this last trip to Brazil for the World Cup was mostly exploration and cultural immersion.  It definitely felt like I needed a vacation from the vacation.

In 2007 I remember an exploration trip to China a year before the Olympics were being held there.  It was 17 days of trains, planes and automobiles.  And a lot of walking.  It was a great trip seeing China and many of its wonders, but I came home completely toast.  In fact, I even caught walking pneumonia and had to take antibiotics for a while and rest up.  I blame a lot of this on the pollution in many of the big cities that were visited, but I also blame myself for my constant need to be active on this trip and take in as much as possible.

Great Wall of China 1

Brazil was a different type of intensity.  It was the global excitement of a sporting event added to a beautiful destination.  There was a lot of walking and there was a lot of cheering.  It has only been a little over a week since I have returned but it is all so fresh in my mind.  It sure has helped that futebol is still be played and I see images of Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte on the television every day.  Even though today was a “rest” day for the World Cup before the great matches of Brazil against Chile and Colombia against Uruguay tomorrow, I am still searching for games and news.  And there is plenty of it.  I am grateful for this.  In a way, the intensity is still there.

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After this trip, however, there will be a true “vacation from my vacation” as I head to Cape Cod tomorrow with my family to get some beach time, some kid time and some seafood.  All of that with the inclusion of some great soccer will make this a unique experience, one that is the perfect recipe for my return from Brazil.

Off to the Cape with Fuleco

Off to the Cape with Fuleco

Brazil – A Reflection

Two weeks ago I left on a 7pm flight for Rio de Janeiro for the World Cup.  It was hard to know what Brazil would be like based on all of the media coverage, mostly negative, that was leading up to such a big event in a country that is struggling on so many levels.  Was it safe?  There were a few people who questioned why I would actually go on a trip like this.  This did not stop me from wanting to go.

Brazil is an absolutely amazing country because of its people.  Even though life in Brazil is difficult for so many, there is a warmth that is felt when traveling to various places.  Did I see a pumped-up security force in Brazil due to the large-scale protests during the Confederations Cup a year ago?  Possibly.  But I also ventured to places that were not full of tourists like Belo Horizonte and it was evident here that life in Brazil was similar to what it is day to day.

There were many highlights on this trip and these have fed the desire to return to this beautiful country again some day soon.  I hope Brazil survives and thrives after both the World Cup and Olympic games.  It is hard to tell today what the effects will be from these events, but I would like to hope that the people who visited Brazil during these times have a better understanding of the country and speak kindly of it.

Here below are some of my best memories of this two-week trip.  Every day had special moments but these are some of the ones that I enjoyed the most.

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Ipanema and the Lagoa

Ipanema and the Lagoa

The food

The food

I do have a suggestion for Brazilians when it comes to food.  Please put more vegetable options on the menu!  One can only eat meat, rice and potatoes so many days in a row.  I know there is an abundance of vegetables grown but they just seem to be so scarce in restaurants.

Sugar Loaf

Sugar Loaf

All of the fans from all over the world

All of the fans from all over the world

Jose, such a kind soul

Jose, such a kind soul

Game day

Game day

Both games were so unique and fun

This game was all about Colombia

Inhotim, a very magical place

Inhotim, a very magical place

Our second game with our apartment hostess

The second game with our apartment hostess

Rio's Fan Fest

Rio’s Fan Fest

Now with the trip over, I can continue to watch the World Cup from Upstate New York and wish that I was there.  But I will always know that I had such a great time in Brazil and it fulfilled everything I was hoping this bucket list trip would be.