My handsome bf and I were fortunate to receive complimentary VIP passes to this fine event. We had so much fun and from what we saw, things ran very smoothly. If we didn’t know better, we’d swear those in charge had been doing this for many, many years. The events listed are ones we attended.
January 26. “VIP Welcome Party, Poolside at Southernmost Hotel”. The newly refurbished pool and patio/bar area were a fantastic backdrop to house this event. We saw local members of the press as well as a writer for a FL travel magazine. Complimentary champagne and wine flowed as we chatted with fellow attendees and volunteers about all things “food and wine”. The fountains flowing colored water and the changing underwater lights made dusk and dark that much lovelier.
January 27. “90 Miles From Havana Barefoot Beach Party, Southernmost Beach Café”. Great fun on the beach with a fantastic band, some flamenco dancers (one was a co-worker of mine), torches, lighted palm trees, and tables of food and wine. We didn’t want to over-stuff as we knew there was yet another event .
(Later that same night)..."Wine Around ‘Neighborhood Strolls’. There were three possible strolls we could have done 1) The Bight, 2) Petronia, and 3) Mallory Square. We chose the bight and boarded the trolley at the above kick-off party. I swear the coolest tourists came to town for this event and the ride from Southernmost Beach to Conch Republic was hysterical. There were five food and wine stops:
1) Conch Republic Seafood Company did a Dynamic Shrimp Duo. Butter Poached Key West White Shrimp stuffed with Royal Red Shrimp served with Herb Salad, Avocado Tempura, Chermoula Glazed Blood Oranges, Pomegranate Molasses, and Plaintain Cookies. This was paired with a William Hill Chardonnay. As for the food, it was our least favorite. My boyfriend loved the Chardonnay.
2) The Commodore Waterfront Restaurant prepared a Lobster Cake. Lobster with Blue Crab Meat, Fresh Herbs and Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette was paired with a Chateau St. Michelle Riesling. Yummy, thumbs up from both of us.
3) A & B Lobster House prepared a Butter Poached Lobster on Saffron & Lobster Risotto, Day Diver Scallops with a Basil Brie Sauce over Fennel & Onions. They paired it with an organic Prosecco whose name escapes me. This was our favorite pairing of the night.
4) White Tarpon Wine Bar did Mini Reubens, Ribs, and Pasta Salad. This was paired with a Michael Sullberg Cabernet Sauvignon. I did not think I liked reubens, but when I took a small bite of my boyfriend’s, I was surprised that I did. Yum!
5) Blue Mojito Bar at the Hyatt Resort & Spa on the Beach. First of all, what a lovely resort! There was a campfire on the beach and we had a blast with members of our stroll. Our last course, dessert, was a Chocolate Caramel Tart with Marshmallow Topping paired with either a Canvas Pinot Grigio, Veneto, or Merlot.
January 28. “Bess & Harry’s Grand Tasting, Truman Little White House”. A tented area on the grounds was filled with wine distributors and vineyard representatives offering tastings. There were huge tables of different cheeses, breads, fruit and olives. In addition, passed hors d’oeuvres ranged from soy-marinated tuna in puff pastry, endive with blue cheese spread and roasted pecan, and seafood salad pinwheels to refreshing mini key lime tarts. A piece-de-resistance was a shot of a pecan liqueur…TOTAL BLISS!
January 29. “The Finer Things in Life-Caviar to Truffles Seminar, A & B Lobster House”. The morning seminar was given by none other than Chef Alice Weingarten who used to own “Alice’s” and has cooked for several restaurants in the Keys and Miami. She currently runs “Great Events! Catering”. She was so interesting that we could have listened to her all day. She discussed how she got interested in food as a child, her food travels, and what she considers “the finer things in life”. We thought this was going to be “lecture only” and we’d be lucky to get water. Not true! We toasted with prosecco (bubbles) as Alice discussed truffles and prepared crostini with goat cheese, truffle oil, sea salt, and mushrooms. O M G, SO good! Then they came around with a second pouring of prosecco, mmmmm. The next discussion was oysters and caviar. I can eat oysters if their strong flavor is masked by some good spices, a sauce, in soup, etc…but to eat them straight isn’t my thing. I’ve tried caviar, maybe it’s a texture thing, but I really do not like it. Maybe it was because it was Alice cooking, I don’t know…but I felt as if I owed it to myself to try her oysters with caviar. I watched my boyfriend slurp it, saw the look of pleasure on his face, and I decided I’d try it. I discovered I still don’t like unseasoned oysters OR caviar and it didn’t seem I could chew it quite enough before it would go down. That being said, it was an experience and I’m glad I did it. Kinda. The woman across from us had no desire to try it and gave it to my boyfriend, which he happily devoured.
(Later that same day). “Duval ‘Uncorked’” (Duval Street Benefit for “Star of the Sea Outreach Mission” and “MCC’s Cooking with Love”). There were eighty business offering food and wine tastings up and down Duval Street. With three hours, we were physically unable to try them all. Were there a couple we wished we passed? Yes. Were there ones we were sorry we missed? Absolutely! However, this event was an absolute hoot! The camaraderie among folks, locals and tourists alike, who had one common denominator (good food and wine) was palpable. Everybody was having a great time! Strangers came up to us to ask where we got the cake and others told us who was serving seafood chowder. Among new friends we made were a travel writer, a liquor representative, a physician and his husband from Orlando, and a “new-in-town” Coast Guard couple. We stepped into places we’d never been (not so shocking for me, but my boyfriend has lived here over 20 years)…Tropical House (OMG, BEAUTIFUL room, FANTASTIC pool/garden area) and Swankey Events (upstairs 623 Duval—just wow and WHAT a view!). My only wish is that this would be extended another hour.
January 30. “Seafood Shakedown” at The Restaurant Store. Anybody wanting to compete in this event was given 15 lbs of shrimp and three hours to prepare the recipe of their choice. Participants were responsible for any other seafood, spices, sauces, etc. Six groups participated and among our favorites were: a seafood salad, a seafood chowder (for sale at Eaton Street Fish Market), and boiled shrimp with chili spices and a chili aioli sprinkled with cilantro (our favorite favorite, lol). A delicious, fun event. At the same location was the “Outdoor Wine Market” where we picked up six of our favorite bottles that we sampled throughout the week.
With the exception of the Coconut Bowling at Blue Heaven, we did every single thing on the VIP pass. There were many, many other things happening…some at the same times as others, some during our working hours. People have asked us if we would attend this event if we did not get comp’d tickets. Knowing what we know now, the answer is a resounding YES! We would cut back a few things in our entertainment budget, but this event is SO worth it if you enjoy food and wine. I encourage locals and tourists alike to attend this wonderful event.