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Category: Florida State

Florida Trip 2018

This late January my partner and I took a trip down to visit his family residing in Florida. Majority of our time was spent indoors, catching up, although we did get a chance to explore surrounding cities, and take in some sights. The collection below is a recap of that.

Note, we mostly ate in, as my aunt-in-law is a great home cook with her beef lasagna, mustard pork, and breakfast platters; to name a few of the scratch-made dishes she prepared lovingly. I was disappointed to not be able to take in more of the city through its food, but will miss her meals. Not only did I leave the table satisfied, but I think I lost a few pounds from her efforts.

Our first meal “out” was at the Toronto airport, during our layover. We had breakfast to acclimate ourselves to the new time zone. I had this “premium bacon and egg flatbread” with olive oil drizzle and coarse sea salt. The focaccia bread was tasty, it made the whole thing. A nice snack to start the day off with.

My partner was disappointed by his breakfast hot dog with scrambled egg, a wiener, and chunks of ham in a hot dog bun. It tasted exactly as it sounds.

Then off we flew, another 4 hours to Miami airport, where my partner’s aunt and uncle picked us up and drove us back to their “winter home”.

My in-laws own a little condo in Hallendale Beach, a quick drive from the Miami Airport got us there in 20 minutes. What I found most striking about their property was the court yard that centred this doughnut-shaped complex. A canal of soil and rocks was home to some tall and slender palm tress, they immediately gave you that tropical vibe. We weren’t in evergreen-pine-Canada any more.

On the same day, our first day we hopped in the car and toured the city, drive by style. I enjoyed the pastel hotels that lined the beaches. My partner was most excited about the “Porsche Design” tower.

But I was most amazed by the foliage. All the palm trees lining the roads. Ones with yellow coconut fruit, some stout and low to the ground, others with criss crossing bark.

When there was a brief pause from the rain, we were able to explore our first beach. Thankfully the stormy clouds brewing overhead didn’t dampen the warmer weather.

At Hallendale Beach we were able to dip our feet in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time ever. I also spent some time collecting colourful shells, rocks worn by the waves, porous coral and other ocean debris.

On the way back, we stopped at South Beach. For another barefoot stroll through powered sand.

For dinner we ate at one of the restaurants that lined the beach across the street. “The Carlyle Cafe” caught our eye with its strobing neon lights and boombastic music. For the full review of what we had and our experience visit the link below.

The Carlyle Cafe, Ocean Drive

 

On our second day we visited Florida’s Hollywood and it’s beach. The latter was noticeable by its decorative stone walls that punctuated the sands, separating it from the boardwalk.

We then strolled the boardwalk, where we stopped at the “Taco Spot”, being drawn in by their fresh fruit cocktails. For the full review of what we had and our experience visit the link below.

The Taco Spot, Hollywood Beach

 

Day three had my partner and I driving 3 hours to Daytona, specifically to the Speedway for the Rolex 24 hour race. This has been a long time dream for him, and a fun new experience for me. For the highlight reel of the race, how you keep busy for 24 hours, and how cold it was, check out my vlog of the event.

 

We got to walk along the race track and even tag it with our names on the yellow line.

And got the special passes to explore the garage and pits where the teams repaired their cars, in between the gruelling race.

And more importantly we got an up close look at many heritage cars and many more modern race cars.

And even some race celebrities, like Fernando Alonso and the Michelin Man!

Having spent all that time there, we ended up having several fast food meals on site. Like a cheese hamburger, chicken tenders with fries, a pepperoni pretzel, and pulled chicken and pork tacos.

But the most memorable part of the day was the fireworks display. It is one thing to see bursts of lights in the sky, another when it’s paired with LED lights from speeding cars.

Day four we were back in Hallendale Beach, where we visited the Gulfstream Park enterainment complex with horse track, casino, karaoke bar, shopping centre, and restaurants.

We caught a few of the horse exhibitions and a couple of the races, all the more awe inspiring given our setting.

There, we stopped for a sweet snack of macarons and chocolate from “Le Macaron”. Salted caramel and Madagascar vanilla macarons, with a golden “French kiss” caramel filled lips, a chilli chocolate “Draculips”, and the “Bleu pomme” apple ganache heart.

On day five we took a four hour road trip from Hallendale to Key West. A long drive that had us transversing bridges from island to island, and buzzing past turquoise waters.

Key West is better know as the Southernmost tip of the USA, with a marker to prove it. At only 90 miles to Cuba you get the warm weather with your visit, even in late January. This makes it a great destination for those looking to escape the winter blues. This is especially the case for West coast Canadians, like our hosts, who spend half of the year in the states to avoid the cold and snow of Quebec. So common is this, that there is a term for it and them: “snow birds”.

They take the 21 hour drive, but others choose to travel via cruise ship. There were large ones docked during our day trip. There, large crowds gathered at the dock to take in and take photos of the orange sunset.

We took some time to walk the shore and explore the neighbourhoods, taking note of the southern style houses and heritage homes and wild tropical vegetation and cacti.

I was most enamoured by the wild chicken and roosters that roamed the streets freely.

Within downtown Key West the bars were bumping and all the shops well lit. Many tourists were roaming the streets with drinks in hand. Here, we stopped for a drink at a tiki bar. I had a key lime colada, after all “key lime” originated in key west. I liked how just adding sprinkles and a twisty straw gave it that party drink vibe.

We then stopped for some tacos at a neighbourhood Mexican restaurant. For the full review of what we had and our experience visit the link below.

Amigos Tortilla Bar, Key West

 

Then it was the long ride home. Once the sun sets you lose any view points, and are basically driving in the dark.

Day six was packing and waiting for our flights. Unfortunately due to the snow storm in Toronto the night before, our connecting flights were delayed. We got updates of flight times in our email, hour by hour we were told our wait was extended.

Before we flew to Toronto we made sure to grab a bite at the Miami airport’s food court, it isn’t the best, but a lot better than anything you could get warmed up on the plane. I had a pepperoni and cheese turn over and some garlic and butter cheese knots from the pizza by the slice place. It came with a container of marinara sauce that made a great dip.

My partner had a chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. The chicken was dry and the vegetable bland, the only thing he finished was the buttery mashed potatoes. This all happened so fast that I didn’t take a photo. Then off we were in our plane to Toronto.

We got to Toronto four hours after our expected time and spend more time there waiting for our delayed flight back to Vancouver. At YYZ we grabbed a late dinner at “Mill St. Brewery”.

I enjoyed their beer inspired cocktail: the “cobblestone walk”. Whiskey, grand mariner, chilled local Balzac’s coffee, smoky honey, and their own Cobblestone nitro stout foam. The best way to have coffee is with beer, they almost neutralized one another and what was left was a tasty glass. Although I didn’t really feel any effects of alcohol.

To eat, I had the “Breakfast poutine” made with home fries, maple bacon, scrambled eggs, mixed cheese, hollandaise, and green onions. It was good, but way too much of everything for one. The potatoes were crispy and the sauce plentiful, the eggs fluffy and the sweet bacon crumbs tasty. No real complaints, other then the flavours got boring. It would have been better a side or to share the serving that cost the same price as my partner’s entree.

The “Chuck Beef burger” was disappointing. Your standard beef patty with tomato and lettuce on a dry bun. It was as blasé as the fries. Sadly, ordering an extra dish of gravy didn’t help, as this wasn’t all that tasty either. And before we knew it, it was time for our 5 hour commute home.

There is nothing like traveling to have you missing the comforts of your own home and your own space. And I find I need some time between trips, to have me forgetting the ordeal and time it takes to get from destination to destination: waiting in airports, enduring the food, and suffering in air plane seats with no stretch. Thankfully I have a five months before my next planned trip, only one province over.

I am thankful to be able to explore all the above and that I have in-laws willing to host, take care of, clean up after, and pay for everything for us; all so that we can enjoy such wonders on our limited budget.

Until the next adventure and the next opportunity.

Amigos Tortilla Bar, Key West

Day five of our trip to Florida, and we took a four hour road trip from Hallendale Beach, where we were staying near Miami, all the way to Key West.

After exploring the city, we settled on Mexican of dinner. At this point, this was our 3rd order of tacos in 4 days. My partner is particular, and this is the one type of food that he continues to enjoy any time, any where so here we were. Not to mention it fit the budgets of our hosts and it looked to be one of the more popular restaurants downtown. And I was drawn in by their advertising of them being the only place in the US to offer “square tacos”.

My uncle-in-law grabbed a beer on tap, it came served in a collectable cup. A red plastic cup stamped with their logo and name on one side, and a fun-loving quote on the other.

He got the a platter of 3 tacos with rice and beans. Once again, “Amigos” are the only ones to offer square taco in the USA. They are prepared fresh daily with fresh ground corn and water. The thoughtfulness behind it is that a folded square tortilla holds more filling, with less spilling, when eating. Having tried this for myself first hand, I can concur.

Had had his 3 squared tortillas topped with beef simmered with dried chilies, and toasted cumin. He noted that he preferred the beef to be ground, instead of it being shredded like he had here. In one square he got a fatty piece of pulled beef, and found it off putting.

I had one squared tortilla myself, choosing carnitas as my filling of choice. This was slow roasted pork with garlic, and touch of cinnamon. Served with oregano, lime, and onions. It was tasty, and I didn’t need to go for any of the table top sauces as a flavour agent.

I also ordered one of their Baja fish tacos. This was beer battered fried mahi mahi topped with pico de gallo, tomatillo salsa, cotija cheese, and garlic aioli. It was even more tasty than my pork taco, but also very watery, each bite had juices spilling, resulting in a taco that got soggy fast. Lucky, with three bites this crispy fish hand held didn’t last all that long. I just wondered why this came in a regular round and circular tortilla shell.

Where as the shrimp taco that my aunt-in-law ordered came in the square shell as well. And this was prepared similarly to my fish one. Beer battered, fried, and topped with pico de gallo, tomatillo salsa, cotija cheese, and garlic aioli.

My partner ordered the Enchiladas platter. 3 corn tortillas filled with chicken, and topped with melted cheese and their homemade enchilada sauce, served with rice and beans. Despite its look, I found this plate very bland. The rice offered a nice texture, but other than that there was no stand out to this serving.

We also got some fire roasted corn on the cob with mild chile sauce, garlic aioli, cotija cheese, and green onions. It looked better than it tasted. The kernels were over cooked, watery without any char from the grill. The sauces coating it did their best, but couldn’t inject much to in it terms of taste. I wanted more salty cheese, but only got the overwhelming sweet BBQ sauce in the forefront.

To drink my partner ordered a bottle of their Mexican coke. We both prefer it to North American coke for its sweeter taste. If you have never tried it, you should.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
With all the other options in Key West, there isn’t much that needed repeating here. Decent overall, but not all that memorable. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

AMIGOS
425 Greene Street, Key West Florida 33040
1-305-292-2009
amigostortillabar.com
Amigos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Taco Spot, Hollywood Beach

Today we were exploring Hollywood Beach in Miami. A walk by the water, the collecting of shells, and the feeling of sand between our toes. We followed it with a stroll along the boardwalk, where we took notice of a couple of girls holding whole coconuts and pineapples, drinking out of them with a straw. They were walking out of a restaurant decorated like an island hut with a thatched straw roof, broadcasting lively Spanish beats for that tropical vibe. This was “The Taco Spot”.

My partner immediately suggested that I get one, knowing I love a good novelty cocktail. And that way he could also stop for some tacos. So we put our names down and were able to easily grab one of their four tops right on the sidewalk 20 minutes later.

They do nachos, salads, burritos, quesadillas, and a collection of Mexican done appetizers like fries and wings. But given their name, we stayed within their lane.

You can have your tacos single or make them a combo. Both options give you the choice of filling and the shell that they fill. Your choice between a soft flour or corn tortilla, or a hard shell taco. We tried one of each, but I can confidently recommend getting the hard shell. It isn’t the store bought, bright yellow in a box kind, but made in house and fried to an amazing crisp. Just reminiscing about its texture now, I want to go back for more. They would also be great as nachos chips.

I enjoyed my single hard shell taco with shredded chicken and cheese. Each taco is served with their signature cilantro cream, cabbage, pico de gallo, chopped cilantro, and radish. We got our sans the last two, out of preference. The filling itself was a little plain, but the four table top sauces allowed you to squeeze flavour as needed.

My partner got the two taco combo with a side of rice, black beans, and corn on the cob. Once again you choose your taco and your desired filling. He choose the soft corn tortilla with his carnitas and cheese taco. The shredded pork here was much more flavourful, seasoned a savoury brown with the raw vegetable for freshness. The side of beans and rice, helped in rounding out bites, making the serving more hearty.

But he actually got the combo for the addition of the “Corn on the cob” appetizer. This was a whole fire roasted corn, brushed with a cilantro pesto and dusted in parmesan cheese. Upon my first bite I was surprised by how juicy the corn was, each kernel squirted sweetly. The char of the grill together with the zestiness from the cilantro sauce were a new flavour combination for me. It was deliciously finished with the saltiness of the crumbed cheese. I wish I could mimic this at home for myself.

And last but not least, I enjoyed my prized “Pineapple pina” cocktail in full. This was a whole pineapple, hollowed out and used as a vessel for serving your choice of cold blended slush. Your choice of pina colada, margarita, strawberry daiquiri, Miami vice or mango daiquiri. Given my currently location, I went for their name sake drink: the “Miami Vice”. It is basically a pina colada with a splash of raspberry syrup. And each drink comes with a “test tube” of rum. You can either shoot it down for a good time, but I think spiking your slush with it is a better idea. What a fun drink to have adjacent to a beach lined with palm trees. We didn’t get the sun, but at least I felt like I was on tropical vacation with this in hand.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
It is great when a tourist hot spot not only boasts a great location, but a great menu to back it up. If I return to Miami I would love to come back to try some of their seafood tacos, that I shy away from for my first taste. Like their soft shell crab taco that was $5 more than my single chicken. And then wash it down with the coconut cocktail. What a great place to stop at while at the beach. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

TACO SPOT
1500 N Broadwalk A, Miami FL, 33180
1-954-921-7711
thetacospot.business.site
The Taco Spot Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Carlyle Cafe, Ocean Drive

A stop at Ocean Drive had us visiting one of the beach side restaurants for dinner. We walked along the strip exploring our options. But the decision wasn’t easy, with aggressive wait staff hawking their wares, restaurant to restaurant. They entice you in with drink and food specials, while “smoke girls” offer up cigars or puffs from a hookah. I was tempted by the latter, but we ended up at “The Carlyle”.

“The Carlyle” was the most liveliest of the three options that we walked past. With strobing lights and playful Spanish music. Together they offered a very festive and fun vibe. So we grabbed a seat under their covered patio, and majority of the time we kept dry. The occasional, sudden and brief downpour caught us off guard, dripping drops and dampening shoulders. But for the most part the patio by the side walk was the place to be. We people watched and had those passing by watch us.

As did everyone else seated, we started our meal with cocktails. Here there were no “small” or individual sized drinks. The entire drink menu hosted 36oz drinks with the ability to upgrade to 55oz. Coming with a group, we decided to get 55oz for $35, instead of 36oz for $24. This was the “Champagne mojito” for four. Cruzan light rum, mint, sugar, club soda, with your choice of mango, strawberry, or passion fruit. We had the latter, and as expected, all together it was fairly watered down. I think it was 55oz with melted ice. Tasty though, but one by yourself isn’t enough to have you feeling anything.

For food, all the offerings felt safe. Food made for the mouths of tourists. It felt standard, with no twists or unique interpretations. When you offer over 50 items on your menu how can you specialize or prepare anything truly memorable. The cost is not for the food, but for the ambiance and the locale of where you are eating it.

“Fettuccini Alfredo” in a homemade creamy sauce. Classic and saucy, good but steep at $22 for the inclusion of chicken. I did like how they weren’t cheap with their Parmesan. We got a whole bowl of powered crumbs to use as we liked. I found myself going for a sprinkle with each twirl of pasta, and again to inject flavour to the other dishes below.

The “Chicken tacos” were presented nicely. Three slow baked chicken tacos on a special rack, served with a spicy charred pineapple slaw, sour cream, and pico de gallo on the side. You top your taco as you like, but even with a healthy scoop of all three I found things lacked flavour. And although there was plenty of chicken filling in each shell, it was dry and hard.

The simple “Chicken avocado sandwich” with fries proved to be the best choice. Grilled chicken, avocado, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and Swiss cheese, all pressed between home made bread. A classic club sandwich with avocado. It just needed more mayo, and my guests added salt and pepper to theirs.

 

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
If in Miami Beach again I don’t see myself returning here. The food was nothing to write home about, and their drinks watered down. I rather grab a $55 hookah and smoke side walk side, adjacent to South Beach across the street. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

CARLYLE CAFE
1250 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach FL, 33139
305-531-3238
The Carlyle Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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