Saturday, January 26, 2008

Where's the Beach?

As a hotel owner in the Keys, it freaks me out when a visitor tells me they can't wait to get here so they can take a long walk down the beach. In their mind I'm sure they hear screeching sea-gulls and see crashing waves with endless miles of white sandy beach.

Sorry, we don't have that here. Many people just don't do the research before going on vacation and are disappointed when they arrive. And I learned a long time ago, as the owner of the resort... it is going to be my fault for not revealing this fact. So we do a lot of explaining on telephone calls about the beaches (or lack of) in the Florida Keys.

Our beaches are quite beautiful but different. Most Keys resorts have a nice beach area for sunning and swimming but they are not long enough for running or taking a walk. We bring the sand in by the truckload because we really don't have much naturally occurring sand due to the lack of wave action. 

Here's a couple of definitions you need to understand: A "Sunning Beach" means the resort has a nice sandy beach area with lounge chairs but you can't swim from the beach due to a sea wall. A "Swimming Beach" means they have a nice sandy area but you can get up from your lounge and walk directly into the water without negotiating a sea wall.

There are a few nice beaches in the Keys. Near Islamorada there is Anne's Beach located at mile marker 73 on the ocean side. The beach has a nice shallow sandy swimming area, covered picnic tables, boardwalk and bathroom facilities. It's close to the road but pretty nice.

The nicest beach in the Keys is Bahia Honda located at mile marker 37. Some of the most prestigious travel magazines rank Bahia Honda as one of the best beaches in Florida and others rank it as one of the best and beachs in the world.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Islamorada Restaurant Guide

Our guests really appreciate this restaurant guide we provide as they check-in at the resort. B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, ** means this is one of my favorite places, O/S = Oceanside, B/S = Bayside, B/A = Boating accessable.

*Lazy Days: (L,D) mm 79.9 O/S; 664-5256; 2nd floor oceanfront dining, a beautiful view. Get a reservation for the balcony and eat outside. In the summer, ask for a table on the balcony but in the shade. B/A
Hungry Tarpon: (B,L,) mm 77.5 B/S; 664-0535; This is fun little Keys diner. It’s a “dive” but the food is really good. It’s a popular local favorite. Try their unusual breakfast specials. Good burgers. Eat, then go have some fun feeding the Tarpon out back at Robbie’s… those fish are BIG, imagine catching one on a fly rod! B/A.
*Midway Café & Coffee Bar: (B,L) mm 80.4 O/S; 664-2622; They have good homemade food and the best coffee (which they roast). This is Islamorada’s version of Starbucks but with high quality food. Breakfast & lunch served 6:00am – 3:00pm Thurs.-Sat., 7:00am-2:00pm Sunday, closed Wednesday. Smoothies are super too. A bit more expensive than your average breakfast place but, homemade is homemade.
**Uncle’s: (D) mm 80.9 O/S; 664-4402; One of my favorite dinner places! They don’t have a view, but the food and the service is excellent. Known for Tuna, try the “Tuna Teriyaki” (it’s a bit hot); excellent local fish preparations; usually a wild game dish on the menu too. Bring an appetite; they give you tons-o-food! Arrive early and enjoy the antics of Tony the bartender… you’ll know what I mean after you meet him.
**Spanish Gardens Café: mm 81 O/S, (L,D); UPDATE! One of my new favorites for lunch, the sandwiches are unbelievably good. This is a small deli and restaurant with fine cheeses and meats with fresh bread. There are also smaller tapas items available, coffee and fresh squeezed juices. They also sell neat gourmet items. I just updated this (1/15/09) to a ** rating because they recently updated their dinner menu and everything is fabulous. Order a glass of the Rioja with dinner... yum.
*Green Turtle Inn: (B,L,D) mm 81 O/S; 664-2006; My new favorite place for breakfast and they have great coffee too (Starbucks). Lunch and dinner is very good too. It’s real nice inside, let us know what you think!
Islamorada Fish Company: (L,D) mm 81.5 B/S; 664-9271; Fun must-do lunch while you are here… eat outside on their dock... fish in a basket style… beautiful Bay view AND it’s a working seafood market. Shop at the Worldwide Sportsman next door before or after dining. If it’s Stone Crab season, don’t leave without trying some… they’re fully cooked, get the honey mustard sauce and a wooden mallet to break open the shells, take home and eat: yum… sweet meat! The boats come and go daily with their fresh catch in season. B/A
Zane Grey: (L,D) mm 81.5 B/S, located inside the World Wide Sportsman, 664-4244. Excellent view of the bay from the upstairs balcony, light lunch – dinner, cigar bar, entertainment (sometimes). B/A
**Morada Bay: (L,D) mm 81.5 B/S; 664-0604; Go here for nightly sunset celebration. One of our favorite hangouts for a cocktail and/or dinner. Wear your sandals so you can walk barefoot on the beach. Watch the sunset sitting in an Adirondack chair while you wait for your table. “Full Moon Party,” monthly starting @ 7pm on the full moon. Tip: eat at the bar if it’s crowded instead of waiting for a table. It’s a fun place, wonderful sunsets. Take your camera. Kids welcome.
**Pierre’s: (D) mm 81.5 B/S; 664-3225; The elegant sister restaurant to Morada Bay, gourmet dining. Start with a cocktail downstairs, so you can see their beautiful bay front bar and porch... a work of art. Request a table on the balcony, for best dining experience. Reservations recommended. Time your dining with the sunset. The place to go for a very special dining experience. Expensive.
Islamorada Restaurant & Bakery (Bob’s Bunz): (B,L) mm 81 B/S; 664-8363; Excellent basic All-American eggs and bacon breakfast. Try their famous cinnamon buns with cream cheese frosting (get it… Bob’s Bunz!) … a side of bacon… coffee… yes! (go early, they sell-out fast!). Carryout bakery items. Good basic lunch too. Open 6am – 2pm.
Tower of Pizza Restaurant: (L,D) mm 81.5 B/S; 664-8216; Basic good to great pizza – they are generous with the cheese! Eat in or take out. Excellent Italian entrees too, free delivery after 4pm. Good food.
*Chanticleer South: (D) mm 81.5 O/S; 664-0640 This is located where Manny & Isa’s used to be. Their ad reads “Fine French Cuisine” and the food quality is excellent and expensive. Let me know if you like it!
Kaiyo: (L,D) mm 81.7 O/S; 664-5556; If you like sushi, this is the place. Beautiful interior design. Try the Islamorada roll. It’s fun to eat at the bar rather than wait for a table. Something for everybody, not just sushi.
The Lor-e-lei: (B,L,D) mm 81.9 B/S; 664-4656: The Lorelei was destroyed by hurricane Wilma but the cabana is open with a new chef and updated menu. A nice place to go for lunch and a traditional place for the nightly sunset celebration. New owners, not as fun or as good as it used to be. Mostly bar food but pretty good. B/A
Mangrove Mike’s Café: (B,L) mm 82 B/S; 664-8022. Another breakfast and lunch spot, like a diner, serving 6am – 2pm; daily lunch specials start at 11am. Locals hangout. Excellent breakfast and lunch.
Taki Outi: (L,D) mm 82 O/S; 664-0600; Your basic Chinese carryout with free delivery. Sesame chicken is good.
Athens Café & Grill: (L,D) mm 82 O/S; 664-0848; Greek food in the Keys? Yes, and it’s real good. Mostly carry out but a few tables inside. They deliver. Gyros are authentic and excellent! (Not open on Sundays.)
Whistle Stop: (L,D) mm 82.5, 664-4246: Best place for late night eats, serving food until 3 am Monday through Sunday. This is also our local liquor store next door. Lots of cigarette smoke!
Islamorada Village Gourmet: (B,L,D) mm 82.7 O/S; 664-4030. Opens at 5:30 am for breakfast. This is a little gourmet food shop, diner, and carryout. You can eat outside in the little courtyard next to the restaurant. Good place for dinner if you don’t want to wait in line at the other restaurants.
Bentley’s: (L,D) mm 82.8 O/S; 664-9094. One of the older establishments; feels like a TGI Fridays. Some people really like this place. To me the food and service seems just ok.
**Ziggie and Mad Dog’s: (D) mm 83 B/S; 664-3391. The “Ziggie” name has lots of Islamorada history. It recently reopened as a steakhouse with new owners. Looks way better on the inside than on the outside. The food and service is excellent! Try the filet, it’s huge (excellent fish too). White linens, nice atmosphere, excellent wine list. John will usually greet you and has everything perfect.
Whale Harbor Seafood Buffet & Raw Bar: (D) mm 83.5 O/S; 664-4959; B/A. They feature their famous all-you-can-eat seafood dinner. Most of their seafood on the buffet is not local but it is still popular. If you’re interested in watching the fleet come in, try a seat at Wahoos Pub & Grill upstairs at Whale Harbor. The food is pretty good.
Braza Leña: (D) mm 83.5 O/S; 664-4940; B/A. A Brazilian Steak-House. A grand selection of all you can eat meats and a large salad bar all for one price.
Hog Heaven Sports Bar & Grill: (L,D) mm 85 O/S; 664-9669. Full menu available until 4am, great burgers! Also pool tables & shuffleboard.
*Island Grill:(L,D) mm 85.5 O/S; 664-8400; B/A. One of my favorite dinner places. Neat little Keys-style oceanside eatery… just this side of the drawbridge. Live Entertainment. Indoor or outdoor seating. Everything we tried on the menu is excellent. Inside tip - eat at the bar if it’s crowded instead of waiting for a table. Go by boat too. A fun place to eat.
Chillie-Willies: (L,D) mm 86.7 O/S; 852-8786. Large sports bar & grill plus huge game room. They have 14 televisions so if you are looking for a certain sports game, chances are they can tune it in. The menu and food is excellent for this type of place. Try the hot wings or BBQ ribs.