The morning in Marathon Key was both chilly and windy. Our plan had been to spend the day in two beach chairs separated by a large cooler. We realized our plan wasn’t going to materialize when we woke up and witnessed white caps on the water in front of our cottage. We poured a second cup of coffee and took advantage of one of the things retirement offers you…a variety of options. Should we explore the many attractions and food choices that are available on Marathon Key? We’re not shoppers, but we do browse occasionally, so maybe we could find some fun items and souvenirs for the grandkids. Or, maybe we could do the same thing a little further to the south and visit Key West where the predicted weather was a little more favorable. The vote was a unanimous 2 – 0 and we were off.
Key West is about 45 miles to the south of Marathon along US 1. We packed the car for a day trip and set out across the seven mile bridge just south of our cottage at the US Coast Guard Facility in Marathon, FL in search of food, fun and more favorable weather. US 1 is primarily a two lane road and traffic can be a bit slow at times, but it is a beautiful drive and we made good time.
Because we spent some time deciding on the day’s schedule, it was almost noon when we arrived in Key West. Helen doesn’t eat meals on a regular schedule, but noon means lunchtime to me so we parked the car and made our way to Garbo’s Grill.The temperature was in the low 60’s which was a considerable improvement over what we left in Marathon, and the wind had subsided noticeably. The sky was mostly cloudy, but we were permitted an occasional peek at the sun. It was the perfect day for walking.
Garbo’s was listed as number one on Trip Advisor as a “must” for lunch, and the menu was right in my wheelhouse with offerings of seafood tacos and burritos, Korean barbeque, hamburgers and hot dogs all prepared with a Caribbean influence . We entered the address in our IPhone and followed the directions, but soon realized that we were not getting any closer. It was time to do what every man hates to do…ask somebody for directions. A very friendly policeman set us on the right path, and told us that Garbo’s was actually a food cart that shared the parking lot behind Grunt’s Key West Bar as its home. We had passed it twice.
The silver food cart is surprisingly small, measuring 6’ x 8’. There were two people inside – one gentleman doing the cooking on a gas fired griddle, and a young lady taking orders. When we arrived the lunch rush was just getting underway. We were fourth in line. One minute later, the line was considerably longer, and the lady taking orders was telling all of the customers that their orders would be ready in about ten minutes. This didn’t seem to discourage anyone, and I guessed that most were regulars. Helen ordered Yum Yum Shrimp tacos and I opted for the Mango Dog. We were handed a buzzer that would signal when our order was ready to pick up. The buzzer went off in about nine minutes. We could have eaten outside, where it was a bit chilly still, but we were allowed to sit at the bar tables inside Grunt’s. Helen ordered beer and I had a Diet Coke since there would be no time for a nap.
The tacos consisted of shrimp lightly cooked on the griddle and placed inside a soft taco shell with red cabbage, mango, fresh jalapeno, cilantro and onion. These ingredients were smothered in the house Caribbean sauce. The tacos were scrumptious. If there was anything to criticize, the fresh jalapenos were on the spicy side of spicy, and Helen removed a few of them on the second taco, but this was only a minor issue.
The Mango Dog was a ¼ lb all beef hot dog, griddled with a little char on them (just the way I like it), and placed in a bun with applewood bacon, mango, sautéed onion, jalapeno, and the house Caribbean sauce. Heavenly! The mango added just enough tangy sweetness to render the ketchup I normally use on hot dogs obsolete. It was a meal made for dog lovers!
A quick note inserted here. A couple of days later, we were channel surfing on the TV in our room and landed on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. They were featuring a segment on Garbo’s Grill in Key West with same menu, same two folks in the cart, and the same reaction to the food that we had. Can we pick ‘em or what?
After Garbo’s it was time to walk off our lunch and the AAA TourBook led us to the Little White House a few blocks away. While walking, we were entertained by the many free range roosters and chickens that roam the streets of the city.
The Little White house was where President Harry Truman went when he needed to get away from the demands of the Big White House. Truman, a former shoe salesman and school teacher was not a man of means and had no vacation home or palatial estate like as the one owned by his predecessor, FDR. (See Easin’ Along post from our visit to Hyde Park in September). Therefore, President Truman selected this setting as his place to rest and recoup. The logs and journals from Truman’s term show that the president visited the Little White House eleven times, primarily to vacation, but other entries show that members of his staff visited there also, presumably to work.
The Little White House was originally constructed in 1911 as housing for Naval Officers during the Spanish American War, and has served various purposes since. It is used today to house the Truman Key West Museum as well as other artifacts and documents relating to the history of the area in general and Naval History in particular.
Tickets may be purchased in the museum store for Little White House tours as well as tours for other museums in Key West. Since our time was limited, and we are both bird and flower lovers, we opted to purchase tickets for the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens. We did spend some time looking through the free exhibits on the main floor of the Little White House, and Helen had her picture made with President Truman as shown on this page. More information on the Little White House is found at this link.
We walked about a block to the Audubon House, presented our tickets and were immediately sent into the foyer of the home to meet our tour guide, a pleasant gentleman with a deep voice who gave us a 15 minute presentation about the history of the home and its contents.
The first words out of our guide’s mouth dispelled the myth that the ornithologist, John James Audubon lived in the home. He did not. The home was built by a ship captain, John Huling Geiger, in the 1840’s, about 10 years after Audubon visited Key West in 1832. Nevertheless, many of Audubon’s original works are housed here and it is suspected that Audubon’s name became attached to the home as a way of attracting visitors to the museum and providing a means of support for its restoration and maintenance. Whatever the reason, the three story home is charming and the gardens are beautiful.
The main floor contained at least one piece of furniture from the original home as well as some artwork and maps dating back to its construction. The upper floors of the home featured many pieces from the period in which the home was built and showcased the lifestyle of Captain Geiger and his large family. There are 28 first edition works by Audubon of the birds he sighted during his visit to the Keys that were included in his Birds of America folio. The prints are large and impressive and, to say that he possessed artistic genius would be a gross understatement. An example is shown shown here.
The gardens are an orchid extravaganza. Big, bold, and beautiful, the flowers climbed the trees in the gardens and hung from their stems waiting to be photographed. I snapped away. Needless to say, our time spent in the Audubon House was an exceedingly pleasant experience and I came away delighted that we made the visit.
Shopping (!?!) was next on the agenda, and Clinton Square was a block away. Before we got there, however, I decided I was in need of a hooded sweatshirt to ward off the cold and wear throughout the rest of our trip without worrying about what happened to it. The choices were limitless, so I poked around a few of the open air shops along the street and found one that was said to retail normally for $45 but today only, could be had for a mere $14.95. I drove a hard bargain and walked away with it for a price of $11.50 – size XXL, and guaranteed to shrink upon first washing.
Clinton Square Mall, 291 Front Street, is an indoor mall, catering to the tourist trade and is the home to small, open shops, adorned with T shirts, trinkets, and cigars. We were in search of a present for our oldest son’s birthday and soon found the perfect gift, a Caribbean style shirt in bright blue and patterned with white flowers. We put our bargaining skills to the test once again, and became the proud owners of this treasure at less than half the asking price. We’re getting good at this. After picking up a couple of thimbles for my souvenir collection, we decided it was cocktail time, and we were off to Alonzo’s Oyster Bar, a suggestion of some friends.
Alonzo’s was a little further down Front Street from Clinton Square and located on the water, adjacent to A & B Marina. We had been told by our friends to arrive a little before Happy Hour when appetizers and drinks would be half price. That turned out to be good advice. When we walked in there were very few customers, but within 20 minutes, the place was completely packed…not a seat available.
Our waiter was a large gentleman with a heavy European accent. He later told us he was from the Czech Republic, and he loved life in the Keys. If he told us his name, I don’t remember it so, for now, I’ll just call him Igor. Igor was very helpful with our Oyster selection and suggested the Louisiana variety. We sent him to fetch us a dozen and a cold pitcher of Yuengling – neither of which hung around very long. Since the raw oysters were tasty, we decided to get an appetizer plate of baked ones and give them a try. The baked oysters were served in the shell and covered with a mixture of breading and baked spinach, then sprinkled with both grated and shredded Parmesan cheese. They didn’t hang around long either.
After the oyster course, we took a break and let a perky pigeon entertain us at our table. This handsome fellow seemed to be asking for a glass of beer and, when denied, he brought a few of his buddies over for support. Igor soon sent all of them packing.
We finished off our time at Alonzo’s with a bowl of white chili and a plate of fried onions. Both came out hot and good and plenty of food for both of us.
We could have stayed longer, but we still had an hour or so drive back to Marathon, and we wanted to catch the sunset at Malloy Square before we left Key West. I asked Igor for our check then took a picture of some sleeping Pelicans in the harbor while I waited.
Mallory Square was a short walk back up Front Street and we couldn’t help but notice that the closer we came to the Square, the activity level increased significantly. Mallory Square is the home to cruise ships while they are moored at Key West and, as a result, the area in front of the ships is a gathering place for performers and entertainers displaying their talents for the many visitors entering or leaving the ships. We saw magicians, musicians, jugglers, and animal acts doing their best for the crowd.
Mallory Square also is the place for sunset watching. The curtain of clouds from earlier in the day was rolling back now revealing the stage for the closing act of the evening, a glorious setting sun. There were several hundred folks at the edge of the dock when we arrived, and most were carrying cameras. The closing act did not disappoint, and we joined in the applause as the sun fell below the horizon and a curtain of dusk began to bring our day trip to a gradual close.
Having nothing much left to do (except pick up a Key Lime Pie to go) we strolled back to our car. It had been a great day for Easin’ Along.