Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Key Largo & Islamorada Uncorked Food & Wine Festival

"….Off the Florida Keys.. There's a place called Kokomo. That's where you want to go to get away from it all." A couple of weeks ago, we were invited by the Islamorada Resort Company to attend the Grand Tasting of the Key Largo & Islamorada Uncorked Food & Wine Festival taking place in the Florida Keys. I grabbed a date, my flip flops and a pair of sunglasses and headed over to our meeting place, where a nice, comfortable bus was waiting for us, playing some pretty cool tunes on the radio. It wasn't Kokomo, but after a day of good food, great spirits, and incredible surroundings, we didn't want to be anywhere else. 

The ride was great, and I was excited to get to Pelican Cove Resort & Marina in Islamorada (MM84.5), where the Food & Wine event was taking place. Now I happen to love the Florida Keys, and enjoy driving out there for the day or a long weekend. And every time we go and pass the Pelican Cove, I always wonder what it is like inside. Well, now I know. And it's a pretty cool, relaxing place - not only for events but also for a romantic getaway. The festival was held in the Grand Lawn of the resort, where numerous area restaurants and caterers featured their gourmet specialty tastings (both land and sea) and wineries from across the United States offered selections of their fine wines. We grabbed our souvenir glass of wine and dashed into the space, not sure where to start. There were food tables, wine tastings, Bloody Marys and Mimosas, and a culinary demonstration tent with continuous interactive seminars going on. 

The Pelicans welcomed us as we entered the property, and kept a watchful eye as we all pointed our cameras in their direction. The resort is beautiful, embodying the true relaxed essence of the Florida Keys, with 63 rooms and suites on the water, a tennis court, pool, saltwater lagoon, cabana bar, cafe, marina, water sports, and fishing charters. The best part? All of the amenities are included in the $25 resort fee and they will transport you back and forth between their other Islamorada Resort Properties in a complimentary shuttle bus, at no extra cost.

The backdrop to this extravaganza was none other than the Atlantic Ocean, and we were able to experience the eclectic cuisine of the Florida Keys all in one spot. From the tantalizing seafood dishes to the flavorful ways the meat was prepared, it was one gastronomical explosion after the other. The feast continued as we headed towards the water, with more cocktails, a gigantic seafood paella being prepared right before our very eyes and more samples to try.

There was an amazing Ajo Blanco Gazpacho with Lump Crabmeat served at the Cheeca Lodge & Spa table which totally rocked my world. I think I must've had five or six tastings. I gazed at my date intently each time he grabbed one until he knew he had no choice but to let me have it. I even took a recipe card to try and replicate the sensation at home. I also loved Oltremare Ristorante's Grilled Octopus, served with Swiss Chard Kabocha Squash Puree and Sun Chips. It was a piece of heaven in one bite. 

Spirits included the legendary and iconic Hatfield and Mccoy Whiskey, which was very smooth with a light, sweet flavor and Disaronno Italian Liqueur.  Barrits Ginger Beer was preparing some pretty memorable cocktails using Jose Cuervo Tequila and Papa's Pilar. The wine flowed endlessly and by mid-afternoon, we knew why folks in the Keys are always chillin'.

Our day trip didn't end there. We took part in the Islamorada's Art Under the Oaks event, where we got to interact with locals selling their crafts to the tune of some good music and we visited some of other properties that are part of the Islamorada Resort Company.  First we donned our virtual hard hats and stopped at the Postcard Inn at Holiday Isle where there are some extensive renovations going on. You know where I'm talking about. This is the home of the world famous Tiki Bar we all love and share more than one embarrassing memory about. It's getting a facelift and if the future renditions are any indication, it is going to be amazing. I can't wait to come back in a few months and sip on a Rumrunner while enjoying the beachside fun.

And last but most certainly not least, we visited the group's more upscale property Amara Cay Resort in the Fishing Capital of the World. With breezy hammocks, an elegant laid-back ambiance, and a shimmering oceanfront pool, the resort is the perfect balance of relaxed atmosphere and luxurious style. And it boasts the Oltremare Ristorante,  Islamorada's favorite culinary spot for a fusion of traditional Italian cuisine with a tropical twist. The bar offers an extensive wine list alongside a menu of classic cocktails and signature drinks.

It is here where we had our dinner and I was enamored with the place. We started with a nice Antipasto featuring cured meats, artisanal cheeses, marinated olives, almonds and local honey. We also shared the Frito Misto, a tasty plate of rock shrimp, calamari, cubanelles, fennel, green beans and romesco, and a fresh Burrata Salad topped with pancetta. I accompanied the appetizers with a refreshing and sweet Monkey Punch.

As entrees, we had the Short Rib, served over coarse ground polenta and my favorite, the Grilled Cobia. Both dishes were fantastic but I loved the taste of the fish with the melted leeks. As a finale, we shared a chef's selection of desserts, which included an original Tiramisu that left me licking my lips in admiration. 

Needless to say we had an amazing day at the Florida Keys and I personally cannot wait to return. Stay tuned as I bring you more about Amara Cay Resort and Oltremare, where I will be staying very soon for a weekend getaway.  You know what they say… it's "always 5 o'clock somewhere" and I'll have "my toes in the water…" We'll stop here. For more information, visit their website here.

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