Tavernier, Florida, and the Upper Keys

 

When my wife and I met, neither of us was in a position that provided us a great deal of disposable income. When we became engaged, we knew that coming up with the money to get married would be challenging. As I’m sure many of you may know, there is really no such thing as getting married inexpensively once you decide to hold the ceremony somewhere other than a courthouse lobby.
My opinion from day one was that we should go to the Keys to get married, as we really didn’t have the money to get married at home and still afford to have a honeymoon. In my opinion combining the two in some fashion was the way to go and I felt I could afford to make it happen. Initially Michelle felt differently and wanted to marry close to home where she believed as many people could make it as possible, so we agreed that we could take a serious look at having the wedding near home. We looked at many venues, and all were well outside what we had available to spend if we also wanted to have a honeymoon trip. Decisions, decisions…
We decided to explore having our ceremony at Michelle’s grandparents’ home that had the space and a nice view, as well as the emotional bonus for the simple fact that it was her grandparents’ home. Over the first few weeks of planning my wife cried nearly every day (I have come to understand since then that this is common) as she tried to satisfy the opinions and suggestions of her fellow wedding planners. I became frustrated at seeing my wife crying so frequently and again pressed for a destination wedding. My thought was that this would reduce the size of the wedding somewhat, lower the overall expense, and still allow us to have a great wedding and amazing honeymoon. There will always be some people who can’t attend a wedding no matter where it is, and if you are unsure how many times you will be able to take such a trip I say that as a couple you do what is best for you during this special time in your life, and hope that everyone understands. After a few difficult discussions about what we could and could not afford and discussing whether the people who absolutely had to be there could be there we agreed to change direction and start looking more seriously at getting married in the Florida Keys.
To prevent a blog from becoming a novel, we settled on renting an amazing home in Tavernier, Florida on the bay side that was able to house us, our parents and the wedding party. The home was on a canal with access to the bay, had the space we needed for the wedding ceremony and had a great feel to it. We managed to have an amazing wedding thanks to help from Michelle’s parents and a couple of their best friends, along with an amazing vacation for about the same amount of money that the wedding alone would have cost us at home. Those memories will live on with us for the rest of our lives. Winner, winner chicken dinner!
Now with the back story complete, on to the reason we are writing this blog entry. We want to kick off our vacation destination and restaurant reviews now as we await our next camping trip in December. I hope you’ll find some reviews of the amazing restaurants we visited in Tavernier and the Keys useful, or maybe they will just remind you of the amazing times you spent there yourselves. If so, please feel free to comment! You may notice that we tend to be appetizer people. Both of us really like to have a variety of flavors available, and this allows us to satisfy our tastes. Coconut shrimp was a thing for us in the Keys, so if you like those, we may have a few places for you!

Anglers Cafe & Live Bait Islamorada – 90515 Old Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33070

Anglers Cafe Storefront

First, let’s talk about a little place called Anglers Café & Live Bait. Islamorada. Unless you fish, you would probably never see it despite driving right past it on your way through Tavernier. It’s a small place with a limited menu. The building is divided in half between the bait and tackle shop and diner. Customers can pass freely between the two when inside, and don’t let the idea of it being a bait shop throw you off. There are no foul odors or anything gross. All the bait is handled outside. There are just a few small tables to sit at on the diner side of the building. Since we were visiting early in the day we had the BLT’s. If you like mimosa’s, rumor has it that those are pretty good as well! The bread was fresh and crusty, and the lettuce and tomatoes were cool and crisp. We went back a few times for breakfast throughout that week before taking our boat out on the bay. The owners/operators were friendly and provided great service and a little free local fishing advice. We’ll certainly stop again if we go back to Tavernier.

Our Food Selection:

BLT – $6.99

MEAT Eatery & Tap Room – 88005 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036

MEAT storefront

 

MEAT, what can we say about this place? Want to know what they’re known for? MEAT! Yes, if you are a fan of some delicious, juicy, meaty goodness, this is the place for you! What’s that you say? You also enjoy fried food? Then oh my gosh, a day that involved a meal at MEAT would be a lucky day for you! Now to be honest I have never been a big fan of pimento cheese and burgers are not a food I crave very often, but this Inside-Out Juicy Lucy burger was A-Mazing! The cheese is stuffed inside the burger and the burger was cooked perfectly to order. The cheese mixing with the juicy burger was delicious! Being a fan of onion rings and bacon, they were in my opinion the perfect topper for this burger. You could add more, but why? Some things are great just the way they are, and outside of a dip in some ketchup I didn’t add anything else to mine. But you do you! The fries were crisp and tasty. I hate a soggy fry, and these were not at all soggy. We both enjoyed the flavor that little sprinkle of parmesan cheese provided.
The establishment has a selection of adult beverages, and of course sodas and tea. If you spend any time in Tavernier, this is a great choice for the meat loving crew! This is another one that we visited more than once. We ate in and picked up carry-out for the house on one occasion.

Our Food Selections:

Inside-Out Juicy Lucy Burger with fries on the side  – pimento cheese and bacon stuffed Angus burger topped with American cheese, lettuce and tomato served with house fries – $12.00
Truffled Bistro Fries with parmesan and rosemary a la carte – $7.50
Fried Onion Strings with beer cheese dipping sauce $4.50

Marker 88 – 88000 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33070Marker 88 Bouy

 

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Marker 88 was a beautiful place to have a meal. The bayfront tables were fantastic, and we loved the food. As with several of the other places we visited, we earned at least a couple of frequent flier miles with this place. The coconut shrimp was amazing. If you’re a fan of Bloodline on Netflix, you’ll recognize the scenery and tables at Marker 88. Michelle and I saw the exact table we sat at in one episode. We stopped here on the way back from Key West and picked up a carry out order to take out on the boat to eat as we watched the sunset carry us into one of our last nights in the keys. That night we were also treated to an amazing lightening show from a thunderstorm that was out over the Gulf Stream. It was such a great way to close out our week.

Our Food Selections:

Crab Cakes – $17.00
Hot Blue Crab dip – $16.00
Coconut Shrimp – $16.00

Hogfish Grill – 6810 Front St, Stock Island, FL 33040Cool Hogfish signsHogfish front

You’ll wonder where you’re going as you’re following your GPS to this hidden treasure. Luckily, they have signage to help you out! This isn’t in the upper keys, but we took a day trip to Key West and I imagine most people do the same so I’m sharing a place or two from the day trip that we really enjoyed. Hogfish is well off the beaten path in what I would describe as a keys fishing village. You’ll see lots of work trucks and some residential areas with flavor, but when you get to Hogfish, you’ll know it. The building is eclectic and seems perfectly suited to its location. Parking is slim, but we lucked out and found a spot right in front of the building as soon as we pulled up. Upon entry, it seemed as if there were more locals than we tourists, which is a good thing. We just had one appetizer at Hogfish. The fried Dragon Shrimp with special Dragon sauce and pineapple salsa. The shrimp was crispy, and the sauce was sweet and spicy. The food was great, and it was worth the trip off the main drag to get there.
On our way out, we stopped at their t-shirt stand and bought a few things, including a t-shirt for each of us. Michelle absolutely loved her Hogfish t-shirt, but unfortunately soon after returning home she accidentally splashed a small spot with bleach, and of course it was in the front where it was highly visible. I hated seeing her upset over her shirt so I checked the Hogfish website in hopes they would have an on-line store, and unfortunately, they did not. Unwilling to give up I called Hogfish a couple of times over the next few days until I was able to catch a manager there and asked if I could purchase a new shirt over the phone and have it mailed to our home. He agreed to help me out, sent me pictures of the shirts they had available (not the same ones they had when we were there previously), and accepted my payment over the phone. He even went out on his own time to mail the package to me. I am so appreciative of these guys. If you find yourself in the middle or lower Florida Keys, go check them out.

Our Food selection:

Fried Dragon Shrimp with special Dragon sauce and pineapple salsa – $13.95

What’s the Fish? Rolls and More – 90775 Old Hwy Unit 6, Tavernier

What's the Fish logo

This was a small location that was easy to miss if you weren’t looking. Don’t let the small size fool you. The flavor is anything but small. We split a blackened fish sandwich. While it was not blackened New Orleans style in a white-hot cast iron skillet, the blackening seasoning was flavorful, and the fish was cooked perfectly. We enjoyed a cold soda and our sandwich outside in the tiki area. It was a nice light lunch and the service was great which is as much the reason for our positive review as the tasty fresh food. Give them a shot if you are in town, and tell them we sent you. They won’t know us, but I’m sure they’ll appreciate it anyway!

Our Food Selection:

Fresh Catch Sandwich with coleslaw and fries – $17.00

Islamorada Fish Company – 81532 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036

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Nurse Sharks and tarpon

It was cool to watch the tarpon and Nurse sharks being fed right off the deck where the tables are located! The little spit of land that sticks out and is lit up at night is beautiful, and offers up some great photo opportunities.

Our Selections:

Neither of us really remembers what we had there. The fish tacos and crab cakes look familiar, but that’s about all we can say about the menu, except that we know we didn’t have a bad food experience and the view alone is a good reason to stop so we don’t mind sharing.

We could offer a few other suggestions of cool things to see, but exploring is half the fun so maybe it’s best we don’t. Food isn’t cheap down there, so at least we can point you in the direction of a few places that it just may be worth it. Enjoy!

1991 Coleman Newport Pop-up Camper Leak Repair

Repairs and MaintenanceColeman camper.jpgIt’s inevitable. If you own camping equipment, particularly the kind you sleep in, you’re going to eventually deal with a leak of some kind. Metal skins flex, sealants dry, and accidents happen. In our case, the camper is a 1991 Coleman Newport that I picked up to use as my home away from home on school weekends in Gainesville a few years ago. I picked the camper up for about $1700 and I paid $15 a night to camp. It was worth every penny! Had I stayed in hotels every weekend that I needed to be in Gainesville for class, the expense over two years would have totaled more than $8000. Not a bad savings! Now we use the camper for our family camping trips, and I am so happy that I bought this little Coleman camper!

That being said, the camper has had a couple of minor issues. Over the last year or two I have noticed little piles of wood dust around the corners just under the top where it rests when closed. A quick examination told me that whatever sealant they used under the corner caps was no longer working as designed, and is allowing water intrusion at the corners which is in turn slowly deteriorating the wooden structure inside. Given that this was previously owned by people who may or may not have done their own repair attempts, I was unsure what I would find when the caps were removed. The material appeared hard and dry, and upon removal of caps, it appeared that someone had used something along the lines of construction adhesive as a stop gap solution.

So before I even started I knew I needed sealant. I searched blogs, and saw various recommendations from caulk to glues. Eventually I ran across the CORRECT method, which is to use what is called “putty tape”. The tape is a sticky, putty material separated by layers of paper. It comes in various lengths and widths, depending on the need. I purchased tape that was 1 inch wide and it was perfect for this job.

The repair process was as follows:

  • Remove screws from corner cap and place in spot where they will not be lost.
  • Use flat scraper to slowly work between corner cap and camper topper surface. In my case it is aluminum sheeting. Be careful here. The plastic may be brittle, and you don’t want to have to replace something that isn’t already broken.
  • Remove corner cap slowly.
  • Clean surfaces of inside of corner cap, and the newly exposed metal surface that will likely be covered with old dried out putty tape, and who knows what else. Keep the corner cap surface you are working on pressed against a flat hard surface so as to support the possibly brittle plastic as you scrape it. Be careful!
  • Use a stripper of your choice to get as much of the remaining old tape, caulk, etc. off of the surfaces as you can, then wipe clean with denatured alcohol if available. Use mineral spirits or thinner if not, but do clean the surface before placing new tape.
  • Place new tape. Watch spots where pieces over-lap to ensure you don’t leave gaps, especially near the top where water would run down into gaps, and subsequently into the area you are trying to protect.
  • Place small ink marks of some kind on camper just outside of screw holes where edge of corner caps will meet camper surface. This will help when you need to align the screw holes in the corner cap with the screw holes in the camper which are now covered over by the new take, and therefore can’t be seen through the screw holes in the cap. I didn’t do this, and it was more of a pain than it needed to be as a result.
  • Press the newly cleaned corner cap into place, being careful to line up the screw holes in the corner cap with the marks you made on the camper top shell. Test a screw to make sure it will start. If the holes are aligned then screw in snugly, but do not over tighten. The aluminum is soft, and the cap could crack.
  • Use a latex/rubber gloved hand, dip your finger in water and smooth out the area where the caps and roof material meet to improve the cosmetic appearance and ensure that all small holes are filled with material.
  • You’re done! Now repeat three more times.

If you have ever had to remove old caulk from a surface after it has cured, you will understand why caulk is not the material of choice for this job. It is horrible to remove if you need to do additional repairs down the road, doesn’t play well with paint (which the camper also needs badly) at all, and is also a bit messy, especially when compared to this putty tape. If you own a camper, you need this product! I paid about $15 for the role I have. It may or may not finish all four corners. A must have for anyone with a camper.

Backyard Bites – Florida Betony (Stachys floridana)

Betony

Well, I said I would write blogs about things inside the city limits, and out. I don’t spend a lot of weekend days at home, but since I am here and I started out with Osceola National Forest and a few Florida black bears yesterday, I’ll bring it back to the city today and check out some wild forage in my own back yard. Odds are you can find this plant in yours as well.  Of course, don’t eat anything from an area that has been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides!

Florida betony (bet·o·ny) is a bit of a hidden gem. Sometimes called Rattlesnake weed, or hedge nettle, it’s plentiful, tasty, easy to get, and stores itself until you’re ready to use it. Up north, when fall comes, the need to cut the grass ends. Not so here in North Florida. I suppose technically our need to cut the grass ends in the fall, but we may need to cut the betony if we like a well groomed lawn. Fall and winter are when betony does its thing. During the hot months, it lays dormant. In my yard, it is just starting to hit its stride. It is taller than the grass anywhere it is growing. In the case of betony, the part you are looking for as food is below the surface in the form of a tuber. They range in size, and I have seen them as large as a person’s finger, but most around here seem to be a bit smaller. They are more crisp and plump when the weather is wet and can range in color from clean white to dirtier brown. In my yard I seem to find the cleaner ones in the wetter periods, but not sure if that is the same everywhere. They can have long interconnected root systems with tubers throughout and can be hard to get rid of.

Betony With Roots
Betony with root system and small tubers.

That’s a huge problem. Too much food in the yard! I’ve had them alone, and in salads. The taste is light and mildly sweet. Texture is maybe a bit like a radish, but less dense. Other parts of the plant can be eaten like greens, but the tuber is the star of this show.

Tramatese Versicolor – Turkey Tail Mushroom

MushroomBear Cubs

 

DisclaimerPlease do not use this site to identify mushrooms for consumption. I am providing my opinions, and very basic information. You need to do your research, speak with local experts, and don’t eat anything you haven’t seen someone else eat, and live to tell about it!

This is a beautiful polypore mushroom, so-named because it has pores on its underside rather than gills. This is where the mushroom produces its spores. The spores fall out of the tubes and are spread by wind, animals, etc. to eventually produce new mushrooms elsewhere. It grows on dead or dying wood. This mushroom is said to have medicinal properties. Compounds from tramatese versicolor are in fact used in cancer treatment and have been shown to kill cancer cells. Also said to help with auto-immune disorders. Compounds in pill form are also used in combination with chemo and are reported to ease some of the sickness felt from chemo treatments. I am not aware of any scientific proof that the mushrooms in their whole natural form kill cancer, or any other illness. That being said, it is unlikely to harm you unless you have an unusual sensitivity to this mushroom, which is possible with any edible or medicinal mushroom, so I myself have made tea with turkey tail and green tea leaves and found it enjoyable. The name comes from the zoned colors, which resemble a turkey’s tail. They also sometimes grow in turkey tail like fans, such as what is pictured above. If they are fresh and the pore surface isn’t white, they aren’t turkey tail mushrooms.
Continue reading Tramatese Versicolor – Turkey Tail Mushroom

Momma Bear and Two Cubs

Bear CubsThis young lady came in with her two babies. She was straight downwind of me but came in anyway. It was Awesome! I hope you enjoy it as much as me! This was the 4th time I’ve seen bears in this area over the last two years. May post a little video of the 5:30 am walk in later.

Why We’re Here

Hi everyone. My name is Tim, and I am an avid outdoorsman. My family, Michelle, Jake, and Lexi love the outdoors as well. In my life, I have been fortunate to spend time with many people, albeit for short periods, whose talents spread far and wide. Whether teaching me the basics of hunting, fishing, boating, surfing, shaping surfboards, riding motocross, working on my toys, foraging, etc. their experience, and my exposure to them has been invaluable.
I currently work with abused and neglected children, and in my time working in this field I have met so many children, parents, and families who have never seen a wide-open space, have never seen the ocean or any other large body of water, and who have never spent time anywhere outside the concrete jungles that many of us call home. My hope is to offer these people and anyone else who is interested a chance to see the beauty that is out there, both within the city limits, and outside them in our waterways, state parks, national parks, campgrounds and wildlife management areas. We want to take everyone along with us as we see the sights, sounds, and sensations that our beautiful state and country have to offer. Along the way, we will share what we know about identifying wild green edibles and wild mushrooms. Many of us in the United States have lost touch with the natural resources available to us every day, and we hope to change that! As things bend, break, or otherwise go wrong, I’ll also share any tips and tricks I have learned about maintaining our equipment. I’m frugal and like to do my own repairs and maintenance when I can! Thanks for visiting our blog, and please follow us and join our mailing list!IMG_20180518_113443346.jpg