Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Key West and The Great Pie Pilgrimage.

Craig Writes;
Saturday 17 January
Today was another travel day. Two planes later and we were landing at Miami International Airport. By the time we got through immigration, collected our luggage and hire car, drove to the Quality Inn at Homestead and adjusted for the time difference, it was 8pm.  We were tired and a little hungry so we threw our bags in the room and head out to Sonny's BBQ. You just can’t beat some good old American BBQ when your appetite is up.  Juicy tender sweet and tangy pulled pork, rich and creamy homemade coleslaw and crunchy salty fries all washed down with bottomless tumblers of fizzy sugar.  Hello America.

After dinner we got back in the car and headed to a local Walgreens to pick up a couple of essentials making sure to step around the fresh poo that someone had just laid at the end of aisle five.  I kid you not, someone had actually done that.

We were chuckling to ourselves about the plonky in aisle five when we walked out into the carpark and straight into the middle of a police manhunt that seemed to be concentrating around our parked car.  Apparently the Homestead P.D had pulled a large primemover over for a random check and it was obviously carrying something it shouldn't have.  The driver had bolted and was last seen heading in our direction. Our carpark was surrounded by patrol cars, cops and plain clothes detectives sweeping through the bushes and chattering on their two-ways.  They had set up a perimeter - I heard that on the detectives radio -  around the block and there were flashing red and blue lights on every corner. I offered to help - by sitting in my locked car and putting my high beam on - but I was politely turned down.  
We sat glued to our seats, I had that feeling, where the hair on the back of your neck starts to prickle, like you know that something was about to happen.  Were we about to witness a 'bust', a shootout or maybe even the guy making a run for it after they discover him hiding behind a dumpster.  But time ticked by and the boys were getting restless and watching a guy root around in the bushes can only be intriguing for so long.  We asked for permission to leave the area and drove back to our hotel.

Sunday 18 January
This is the drive that both Christina and I have been looking forward to.  The 160 miles to Key West at the most southern tip of continental U.S.A.  The fun started once we made it onto the Overseas Highway.  We had the Atlantic to our left, the Gulf of Mexico to our right and 127 miles of US Route No.1 in front of us.
The Overseas Hywy on US Route 1 is one of Americas classic road trips.
Our first stop was Robbie's, situated just over the Indian Key Channel bridge.  It was a good old fashioned seaside flea market selling everything from conch shells to hats made of old canvas.  You could buy a bucket of fish for three bucks and stand on the jetty feeding the pelicans and the giant Tarpon that float under the jetty.
The Pelicans must be thinking how they could get a hold of one of those big Tarpons.
As we left Robbies we realised that we had gone past Ma's Fish Camp, according to Christinas list it sold the second best Key Lime Pie in the Florida Keys, so we turned around and headed back the way we came.
We had set ourselves the task of trying to identify the best Key Lime pie in the Keys and as a guide we have a list of the supposedly top ten.  We may not have got to them all but we gave it a good shot. Ma’s Fish Camp was the start of our pie pilgrimage and a bloody good start it was.

Hogfish Bar and Grill was number three on our pie list and just happen to be on our way to our B&B. It was a little Key West gem hidden away amongst the trailer parks on a sleepy harborside back street.  It was good but not quite as tart as we would have liked, it currently sits at number two on our list. They did do a frozen Key Lime pie on a stick covered in chocolate but that was strictly a novelty piece.
We were now only ten minutes away from our next home, the gorgeously restored 1895 Victorian manor now known as Avalon Bed and Breakfast.
Avalon, a beautifully restored old gal.
Once the boys were settled Christina and I put our walking shoes on and headed off for a wander. We passed by Hemingway's house - we'll be back tomorrow for that one - then did a u-turn and walked down Duvall st.  We stopped to peruse the drinks menu of The Rum Bar and got into a conversation with a troupe of drunk marathon runners who were all extolling the virtues of the Dark and Stormy, off which they had obviously had a few. It’s a tall glass of ice topped up with ginger beer with a liberal jigger of dark rum floated on top.  Squeeze a half lime in and gently stir.  Very very nice.
With the kids safely locked up back at the room we thought, why not.  And so there we sat for the next hour in a couple of soft cushioned chairs overlooking the crowded sidewalk, a tall frosty clinking glass of Dark and Stormy in one hand and a smooth Dominican Republic stoggy in the other. It was another great memory to bank.
We felt soooo good after that we decided to flag the idea of restauranting it for dinner and settled for a bottle of red and some delivery pizza to our B and B.

Monday 19 January
Charlies not feeling great today so we left him in the room and headed for Hemingway's House and Museum.  What a treat.  First his tiny room in Havanas old quarter now the beautiful Spanish Colonial home he shared with his second wife Pauline and his first two sons. They bought the house for $8000 in 1931 and he lived there from 1931 to 1939, periodically retreating to his hotel room in Havana.  It was here he finished To Have and Have Not, The Green Hills of Africa, The Snows Of Kilimanjaro, To Whom the Bells Toll and many short stories.  It’s inspiring seeing the space where these great writers sat and created.  Mark Twain's house in Hartford, Connecticut was another big treat for me.
Hemingway's studio above the carriage house was as he left it.  Large stuffed animal heads adorning the walls, fishing reel on the desk, book shelves stuffed with his favourite reads and of course a writing desk and chair.
Hemingway's writing retreat.
The grounds are beautiful.  The centre piece was the large sixty five foot swimming pool that Pauline had put in while he was away reporting on the Spanish Civil War in 1937. She had spent $20,000 -the equivalent in today's money of $300,000- and removed his much beloved boxing ring to make room for it.  Ernest was not impressed.
The first pool to be sunk in The Keys at a cool $300,000 in today's money.
She didn't swim and he didn't care too much for it either, certainly not at the expense of his boxing ring, but it was never about the need for a pool.  She was pissed that he had left to go overseas and had taken his mistress - and soon to be third wife Martha Gellhorn - with him and felt spending an enormous wad of his cash was the best way to express that.  The point was made and they were divorced not to long after that.   

With the cultural appetite quenched it was now time to continue our quest for the greatest Key Lime pie in the world.  Kermits sits atop of Christinas suggested list of locations for the best Pie, and as luck would have it it was only a short walk from Hemingways house.
We found it down on Duvall st and after purchasing and consuming we all agreed, unequivocably, that Kermits is currently well and truly number one on our pie pilgrimage list.  But, to be fair there are at least two more contenders that need to be sampled so the title is well and truly still up for grabs.

This guy was hilarious.
We were told that you can’t come to the Keys without going to Mallory Square to see the sunset. Well we’ve seen some pretty stunning sunsets so we thought we’d have a look.
A stunning sunset shot by Christina.
The sunset was beautiful and worth the effort.  Most of the action happens on the quay that backs onto Mallorys Square and it was fairly pumping.  There were fire jugglers, magicians, a bustling flea market, pop up bars and eateries and to top it off three big cruise liners had docked and spilt hundreds of passengers onto the quay.  It was a bit crowded for us so we took the sunset photos and headed back down Duvall st to find some place quieter to eat.  
I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking how funny it would be if he fell in.
Tomorrow we leave the relaxed and cool vibe of Key West and drive to Miami.  It has been fantastic.  A couple more days here would have been very easy to do.

Tuesday 20 January
Our search for the perfect Key Lime Pie continued as we left the Keys and headed into Miami.  There were two more stops before the judges would hand in their final results. First stop was the Midway Cafe at Islamorada on the Overseas Hywy. This one was a little on the non traditional side.  It had mile high meringue with a pastry base and was served just a little to much on the cold side. However, given a few minutes to warm up it started to show what it was really made off.  Nice texture, lovely bitey limey flavour that the sweet meringue complemented beautifully. This is a top contender.

Fifth and last on our list was Mrs Macs, still on the Overseas Hywy but further down in Key Largo. We stopped for lunch and should have stopped at that.  While the texture was silky and smooth the biscuit crust was a little thin and it should have been called a Key Cheesecake.  There was no lime to be seen, smelt or tasted.  It was just a very nice cheesecake.  Sorry Mrs Macs I'm given it back and you unfortunately are our back runner.

So, the final results are in and the judges have made their decision.  The winners are;
  1. Kermits, Duvall st Key West
  2. Midway Cafe, Islamorada
  3. Ma's Fish Camp, Islamorada
  4. Hogfish Bar and Grill, Key West
  5. Mrs Macs, Key Largo
The winner of our hunt for the best Key Lime Pie, Kermits.
With the rigors of the Great Pie Pilgrimage behind us we continued on our way to Miami where tomorrow we will be departing to our second last stop, L.A.

The CVW's arrive in Miami.
After checking in to our hotel we headed straight down to Ocean Drive for a look at the Art Deco hotels and restaurants that line the strip.

The Miami Beach Art Deco District has the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world and if you like that sort of thing - which I do - it's a treat to see.  
We couldn't get this close without heading down to world reknown Miami Beach. It's a very pretty stretch of sand, a couple of kilometres long, easily a good hundred metres wide and has a variety of small stalls dotted along it's gritty albino shoreline.
Walking off into the sunset.
The sea breeze was in and a thin line of kelp had blown on shore but you could see it would be a stunning beach to spend a day at.
Miami Beach.

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