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.

MIAMI - vii

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.

 

 

Advertisements

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

It was a year ago that I partnered with Dr. John Sconzo to work on creating culinary travel experiences around the globe.  Dr. Sconzo writes a well-followed blog called DocSconz, Musings on Food and Life (http://www.docsconz.com) which covers his food explorations and experiences at different locales, both domestically and internationally.  Our inaugural trip focused on Miami and Key West.  The purpose was to see Miami and Key West in the eyes of some of the best-known chefs working in the area.  We did this by spending time with each of them to get to know their favorite neighborhoods, foods, and visions for Southern Florida cuisine.  Six different chefs helped provide an incredible experience during our five nights in Miami and two nights in Key West.

Accommodations in Miami were at The Angler’s Hotel in South Beach.  The Angler’s Hotel is a Kimpton hotel in the art deco district close to the ocean.  It was a perfect spot to return to after busy days of touring and tasting Miami.  And it didn’t hurt that the beautiful ocean was just a couple of blocks away.

A stroll down South Beach

A stroll down South Beach

DAY 1, Saturday, April 16, 2016

Since the group arrived throughout the day on Friday, we started the tour on Saturday morning at 10am with a journey to Little Havana.  It is hard to think of a better place to start a tour of Miami than Little Havana.  The Cuban presence is so strong across Miami and influences the food and culture profoundly.

The guest chefs for the day were chef and author Norman Van Aken and chef Jeremiah. Chef Norman Van Aken is a world-renowned chef.  He is considered the “Father of New World Cuisine” and is one of the only chefs to have won the James Beard Award, the Robert Mondavi Award, and the Food Arts Silver Spoon for lifetime achievement.  Chef Jeremiah, also known as Jeremiah Bullfrog, is a celebrity chef and food truck owner based in Miami.  He spent time working at El Bulli in Spain, as well as Noma and others.  Since 2009 he launched gastroPod Miami, the first gourmet street truck in Southern Florida.  It was so great to be with both of these chefs in Little Havana since they knew the history and the best spots to taste.

Chefs Norman Van Aken and Jeremiah Bullfrog

Chefs Norman Van Aken and Jeremiah Bullfrog

Our first stop was La Camaronera, an iconic Cuban fish market and restaurant.  Started in 1966 by the Garcia brothers, La Camaronera is known for its Cuban fish-fry and fresh seafood.  The platters started coming out with appetizers including oysters, calamari, and conch.  We next tried a couple of different fish sandwiches with snapper and shrimp.  Entrees of stone crab and yellow tail finished off this first taste of Little Havana.  It was only 11am so we could not fill ourselves up too quickly!

La Camaronera

La Camaronera

The group meeting Chef Norman Van Aken and his wife Janet

The group meeting Chef Norman Van Aken and his wife Janet

Yellow Tail for Sale

Yellow Tail for Sale

Pan Con Minuta (Snapper Sandwich)

Pan Con Minuta (Snapper Sandwich)

The group

The group

The next stop was Calle Ocho, or the heart of Little Havana.  Here we started by watching the local domino players compete in Domino Park.  The place was packed with both men and women players.  No spitting allowed.  No bad language.  And no firearms…  Interesting rules.  Needing a pick-me-up, we headed down the street to get a cortadito, a classic Cuban coffee that includes some milk.  Served in small cups, it provided a much-needed jolt.  Needing more of a rush, our next stop was Azucar, a Cuban ice cream shop where we sampled a multitude of ice creams including the Abuela Maria, the Cafe Con Leche, the Mulatica (cinnamon oatmeal cookie), and many fruit flavors.  To balance out the coffee and the ice cream it was time for a cocktail!  This seemed to be the answer for balancing throughout the trip..  Next door to Azucar is the world-famous bar and lounge, Ball & Chain.  Since 1935, Ball & Chain has been providing food, drinks and live entertainment in the heart of Little Havana.  Here we listened to some live Cuban jazz and had some mojitos to cool down.

Domino Park

Domino Park

Cortadito

Cortadito

Ball & Chain

Ball & Chain

Ball & Chain

Ball & Chain

Group having mojitos at Ball & Chain

Group having mojitos at Ball & Chain

El Palacio De Los Jugos was our next and last stop on our Little Havana journey for today.  Founded in 1977, El Palacio is an open-air restaurant filled with Cuban food.  There are a variety of meats, seafood, fruits, juices and spices.  The Flagler location is the most famous with musicians playing in the background and entire families enjoying their meals under a large yellow and red awning.  Our group tried some lechon (pig), BBQ chicken, plantains and rice.  It was a great way to end our afternoon in Little Havana with our chef guides.

El Palacio De Los Jugos

El Palacio De Los Jugos

Fresh coconut water

Fresh coconut water

In the evening we had reservations at Alter, chef Brad Kilgore’s fine-dining establishment in the Wynwood neighborhood.  Prior to heading to Wynwood, we ventured to The Broken Shaker at The Freehand Miami for cocktails.  The Broken Shaker is run by Elad Zvi who is becoming the cocktail guru in Miami.  We had a round of cocktails and it was time to head over to Wynwood for dinner at Alter.  Unfortunately, chef Brad Kilgore was under the weather this evening and was not at the restaurant, but we still had a great experience with their 7-course tasting menu.  Highlights were the egg course and the morels.  It was a full day of great tastings throughout Miami and we ended up closing down Alter as the last customers around 12:30am.  What a start to our culinary adventure!

Cocktail at The Broken Shaker

Cocktail at The Broken Shaker

Egg course at Alter

Egg course at Alter

DAY 2, Sunday, April 17, 2016

Our Sunday morning started with a trip back to Little Havana to go to El Brazo Fuerte, a Cuban “pastelito” shop and bakery.  “Pastelitos” are baked puff-pastries filled with sweet or savory fillings.   We ordered an assortment for the group including fillings of guava, guava and cream cheese and coconut.  Also ordered were some croquetas of meat and potato filling.  Nothing washes Cuban pastries down better than a cortadito!

"Pastelitos"

“Pastelitos”

Along the Miami River are some great fish markets and seafood restaurants.  We stopped in both the Casablanca Fish Market and Garcia’s Seafood Market.  Everything was freshly caught and we decided to have lunch at Garcia’s, which happens to be the same Garcia family that owned La Camaronera from Saturday’s Little Havana lunch.  We were treated to an incredible meal at Garcia’s Seafood Grille.  They were so nice to us and sent us a selection of appetizers including a whole octopus, clams and roe.  The smiles on our faces were ear to ear and the taste of the seafood was phenomenal.  We also ordered some colossal stone crab claws and a grilled yellow tail snapper.  I love seafood and I was on Cloud 9!  I do have to say that this was some of the best seafood I have had in my entire life.

Colossal Stone Crab

Colossal Stone Crab

Octopus, clams and roe

Octopus, clams and roe

We just needed two!

We just needed two!

The day could have easily ended there, but not on this culinary insiders tour.  It was time to head to the Vagabond Hotel, a boutique Biscayne Boulevard hotel located in the Upper East Side of Miami.  The Vagabond is actually set in a legendary former motel that dates to 1953.  Here we attended one of their weekend BBQ series that includes well-known chefs from Miami.  The chefs for this Sunday’s event were chef Phuket Thongsodchaveondee of Cake Thai and chef Alex Chang of the Vagabond Hotel.  They created a thai-inspired BBQ lunch that included fish, chicken and other nicely-spiced treats.  It was a great “party” atmosphere at Vagabond pool where guests sat out on lounges and a DJ was spinning the tunes.  That was lunch #2.

The Vagabond Motel

The Vagabond Motel

DJ spinning at the pool

DJ spinning at the pool

The BBQ party was just starting at the bar

The BBQ party was just starting at the bar

Chefs Alex Chang and Cake

Chefs Alex Chang and Cake

Exercise is important on a trip like this so we went to Wynwood to check out the street art and walk around.  Wynwood is home to over 70 galleries, museums and collections.  It is also filled with incredible street art from artists around the globe.  It is one of the largest and most prominent creative communities in the US.  We spent about two hours walking around the district and the Wynwood Walls.  We also stopped for a coffee at Panther coffee in Wynwood that specializes in small-batch roasting.  It was packed on this Sunday afternoon.  Lots of iced coffees…

Artist Tati Suarez

Artist Tati Suarez

So fun to explore all of the street art

So fun to explore all of the street art

DAY 2 - XIII

DAY 2 - XVI

DAY 2 - XVII

Inside the Wynwood Walls

Inside the Wynwood Walls

DAY 2 - XIV

Panther Coffee

Panther Coffee

Dinner happened to be in Wynwood as well, so we ended up staying in the district.  This allowed some time to relax and digest for our next meal at gastroPod.  Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog went out of his way to prepare a special private dinner at his gourmet food truck location and property in the heart of Wynwood.  We were joined by some other friends of chef Jeremiah and food experts.  The dinner was a nice mix of cocktails and appetizers that we had while standing watching the kitchen perform inside the truck and this was followed by more entrees served to us at tables outside on the property.  Chef Jeremiah was such a wonderful host and it was great to spend both Saturday and Sunday with him.  The food was delicious and the setting perfect.  It was a great way to end another day of culinary tastings.

gastroPod

gastroPod

DAY 2 - VII

Cocktails before dining

Cocktails and chatting before dining

Our dinner party

Our dinner party

The DJ taking a break

The DJ taking a break to eat

Doc Miami

Doc Miami

This is the end of Part I.  Part II coming soon.

If you are interested in learning about future Culinary Insiders Tours to cities around the globe, please sign up for our mailing list  http://www.mytraveldirections.com

Travel Review – 2015

It’s amazing to think how quickly time passes.  This year was no different.  At the end of last year, I had an idea of what 2015 would bring in terms of family, work and travel, but this year proved to be filled to the brim.  It was the first year in many where I was able to have some time to travel and unwind between the daily routine of work and the responsibilities of raising a family.  It was nice to be with my family as well on three of five trips in 2015.

My work in the travel industry has provided me opportunities to lead groups to various parts of the world.  In 2015, I co-led the 9 Maple Whisky-Tasting Tour to Scotland which turned out to be an incredible adventure (Scotland Whisky Adventure).  2016 is shaping up to be filled with new tours and travels.  There is a new travel venture with Doc Sconz (Travels with Doc) and another 9 Maple Tour, this time to Ireland (9 Maple Tour of Ireland).

Below are five photos each representing a memory of one of the trips that I went on in 2015:

Akumal, Mexico

Akumal, Mexico – January 2015

Grand Canyon, AZ - May 2015

Grand Canyon, AZ – May 2015

Chatham, Cape Cod, MA - July 2015

Chatham, Cape Cod, MA – July 2015

Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda - August 2015

Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda – August 2015

Urquhart Castle, Scotland - September 2015

Urquhart Castle, Scotland – September 2015

Next December I am sure that I will be looking back on 2016 in amazement.  It is exciting to know that each year can bring so many new memories.  Travel inspires you.  It is addictive.  And I look forward to each new journey.