Kauai Community Market

Banana, banana hearts & rambuton

Banana, banana hearts & rambutan

If fresh produce is your thing, you will love the Kauai Community Market each Saturday from 9:30a.m. to 1 p.m. located at Kauai Community College. You will find organic produce grown on Kauai and boy is  there a lot of it! Some of the things you will find are apple bananas, arugula, avocados, beets, carrots, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, kale, lettuce, mango, radish, scallions, snow peas, sour sop, tomatillo, lilikoi, papayas, coconuts, rambutans, oranges, limes and much, much more!!!

I love that our kids will grow up with memories of picking fruit and vegetables out at the local farmer’s market

Banana Hearts?? I had never seen nor heard of banana hearts (pictured above) before the Kauai Community Market. The banana heart is the flower of the banana plant. The banana heart itself is edible at that stage when it is cooked as a vegetable. It is most commonly served as a salad or as a sautéed vegetable dish with coconut milk. To prepare the banana heart: pull off the outer layers which are very fibrous and not to be eaten, pull layers until you reach the soft core, cut off the stem portion and discard. Cut the banana heart into halves. Slice thinly. The banana heart is ready to cook at this point. If you’re not using it immediately, soak in cold salted water. The most common way of cooking the banana heart is with coconut milk.

Rambutan

Rambutan

One of our kids favorites, rambutan!!! The word means “hairy”. I find them to be similar to a lychee. You can find them for sale on the side of the road all over Kauai. Rambutan is a popular garden fruit tree grown in small orchards. Rambutan is one of the top three tropical fruits produced in Hawaii. It is one of the best known fruits of Southeast Asia and can be found elsewhere in the tropics including Africa, the Caribbean islands, Costa Rica, Panama, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, Ecuador where it is known as “achotillo” and on the island of Puerto Rico.

They are usually sold fresh and eaten as a snack or in a fruit salad. They can be used in making jams and jellies, or canned.

Papaya

Papaya

Papayas

Papayas

Papaya

Papaya

Every week we purchase papayas at the farmer’s market. The kids love to eat them for breakfast! They can really vary in price depending on the vendor. Generally they are cheaper the more you buy. Often times they are priced according to their size. Today we found a gigantic papaya for $2.50 (pictured below). We tend to purchase some that are ripe to eat now and some that still need to ripen. This way you can eat them throughout the week. Some vendors will sell them for 3 for $5.00. You can ask to sample the papaya. Usually there is one already cut open.

Eggplant

Eggplant

Eggplant??? I have never seen eggplant that looks anything like the eggplant sold at the Kauai Community Market. It looks quite unusual but tastes very good. It is thinner than most eggplants that you would purchase in a supermarket that tend to be egg-shaped and very dark in color. The local eggplant also looks twisted and curled. It is easy to chop into cubes and stir fry or put into a curry dish. I am sure there are thousands of ways to cook and serve this eggplant.

The eggplant pictured is a Chinese variety, commonly shaped like a cucumber. They are sometimes called Japanese eggplants in North America. Eggplant is commonly known in British English as aubergine and also known as melongene, garden egg, or guinea squash. Eggplant is commonly used in dishes such as moussaka and ratatouille. It is related to both the tomato and the potato.

Choosing Produce ~

Choosing Produce

Choosing Produce

IMG_9511Touch, smell, taste samples and inspect produce. That’s the best part of the farmer’s market!!!

Lilikoi

Lilikoi

The farmer’s market enables the customer to speak directly with the grower. For example, what is the difference between bananas, apple bananas, and ice cream bananas? What do they taste like and how to eat/cook with them? We were able to get information from the vendor as to which bananas are best for baking bread.

How do you choose the best pineapple? Sniff, look and feel the pineapple. First thing to know is that once a pineapple is picked, it will not ripen further. Sniff! If it smells sweet than it is usually ripe. If there is an absence of scent than it is not ripe. Be cautious of an alcohol or vinegar scent which indicates a spoiled pineapple. Look at the pineapple and note that color is not always an indicator for ripe. Just because the pineapple is green doesn’t mean it’s not ripe. Don’t buy if it has cracks, if the skin in reddish-brown, wrinkled or mold is present. The leaves should not be withered or brown. Only choose a pineapple with healthy, green leaves. The pineapple shape is important. It should have rounded edges and developed eyes (spiked centers of the round circles of the pattern). Squeeze the pineapple to ensure it is firm. A whole, refrigerated pineapple can last up to two weeks. Once cut, don’t store at room temperature. Fresh, cut pineapple can be frozen for up to 6 months.

Lilikoi (passion fruit)

In Hawaii passion fruit is called lilikoi and comes in yellow and purple varieties. It is very sweet and smells delicious. Passion fruit can be cut in half and the seeds scooped out with a spoon, but be careful not to scoop out the lilikoi. It is mixed in with the little, black seeds. Lilikoi can be made into a flavored syrup for shave ice or used as a desert flavoring for malasadas, cheesecakes, cookies, ice cream and mochi. Passion fruit is also made into jam, jelly, or butter. Lilikoi syrup can also be used to glaze or marinade meat and vegetables. Many local restaurants use the fruit for cocktails. Most passion fruit comes from backyard gardens and is commonly sold at farmers markets throughout the islands. However, passion fruits are seldom sold in grocery stores.

Leigh Drachman’s Lilikoi Bars

Servings: 24 bars

Ingredients

Shortbread crust:

11/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter

2 cups flour

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut butter into 1/2-inch pieces. In a food processor mix until all ingredients combine to form a gravely texture. Spread into a 13 by-nine-inch baking dish. Press evenly onto bottom with the palm of your hand. Bake 20 minutes.

While shortbread is baking, prepare custard.

Lilikoi custard:

4 large eggs

11/2 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup fresh lilikoi juice

1/3 cup white flour

To prepare the fruit, cut through the thick rind and scoop seeds into a food processor. Blend for 30 seconds to a minute to loosen membrane from seed. The seeds will remain in tact. Then press the slushy pulp through a strainer with the back of a metal spoon.

With a food processor or whisk, mix eggs and granulated sugar until combined, then stir in lilikoi juice and flour.

Once shortbread is done, reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Pour lilikoi mixture over hot shortbread and bake 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan and cut into bars. Sift confectioners sugar over bars and serve.

Avocado

Avocado

Wholey Avocado!!!! Avocados are grown in tropical and Mediterranean climates throughout the world. They have a green-skinned, fleshy body that may be pear-shaped, egg-shaped, or spherical. The best characteristic is that they ripen after they have been harvested. The word “avocado” comes from the Spanish word aguacate. In Portuguese it is known as abacate. The fruit is sometimes called an avocado pear or alligator pear. The avocados range in price more than any other produce at the market. In the picture above, you can see that the smaller avocado is priced at $1.00 and the medium one is priced at $2.00. I have seen them as high as $6.00 each.

What’s not to love about avocados?? They are great on omelets, sandwiches, plain with a little salad dressing or the ever popular guacamole. They are also a very healthy fat. About 75% of an avocado’s energy comes from fat, most of which is monounsaturated fat as oleic acid. The saturated fat content amounts to 14% of the total fat in a single serving of avocado while containing zero cholesterol.

Avocados have 35% more potassium than bananas but we always hear people say eat bananas for potassium. Avocados are rich in folic acid and vitamin K and are good dietary sources of vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E and pantothenic acid.

Sharwil avocados are a medium-sized fruit with rough green skin and oval in shape. The fruit has greenish-yellow flesh with a rich, nutty flavor and high oil content and a small seed. The skin is green when ripe. It represents more than 57% of the commercial farming in Hawaii. Sharwil avocados are sensitive to frost and probably why they grow so well in Hawaii!!! The other types of avocados at the farmers market are Beardslee, Fujikawa, Green Gold, Malama, Linda, Kahalu’u, Lamb Haas, Ota, Murashige, Yamagata and San Miguel.

Kauai Community Market

Kauai Community Market

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Hanalei Taro & Juice Co.

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Rafael Aloha Tacos

It is a great experience to walk around the Kauai Community Market, even if you aren’t purchasing produce. Enjoy the tropical breezes while taking in the view of the mountains. There are plenty of food vendors to experience and products to purchase. Moloa`a Bay Coffee hand picks their award-winning coffee from 4,000 arabica coffee trees basking in the tropical sunshine. They also grow cacao, bananas, and a variety of citrus. Their beans are roasted and packaged at their roasting facility in Kapaa.

Moneypod Jam

Moneypod Jam

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Moloaa Bay Coffee

Monkeypod Jam uses copper pots and old-fashioned recipes to make their unique line of fruit spreads. All spreads are handmade using locally grown fruit and contain no more than five ingredients. Island favorites include Lilikoi Lemon Curd, Banana Foster Jam and Tomato Chutney. I tried the banana foster jam and it would be amazing on frozen yogurt or ice cream!!!

Miki Macs Honey

Miki Macs Honey

Hanalei Juice & Taro Company serves up traditional Hawaiian favorites such as Laulau, Kalua Pig, Poi, Lomi Salmon, and Kulolo made from taro grown on their farm.

Hanalei Pasta

Hanalei Pasta

The menu also includes contemporary flavors like Taro humus, Taro Veggie Burgers, Taro Mochi Cake, Tropical Taro Smoothies, and Banana Poi Bread.

Miki Macs Honey is made from bees dining on mac nut, citrus and tropical blossoms which are harvested in the Kalaheo area. The owners have been beekeeping hobbyists for the past six years and have a total of five colonies. Miki Macs Honey is sold in convenient 2 oz. bottles to take with you on the plane. They are also sold in 8, 16, 32 and 50 oz. containers.

Stop by Hanalei Pasta to pick up dry, packaged pastas to cook later or to eat their wonderful hot pasta dishes which include vegetarian and meat lasagna options. They offer fresh pasta made in the kitchens at Tahiti Nui and accompanying sauces.

There are herb plants, farm fresh eggs, Manoa lettuce, tropical flowers, nuts by Kauai Nut Roasters  available for purchase at the market as well. There are many more products and vendors available at the famer’s market. Check it out for yourself!

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Uncle Bear’s Smoked Pork

Our son’s favorite thing to purchase at the farmer’s market is Uncle Bear’s Smoked Pork musubi!!! Musubi’s are usually made with spam but Uncle Bear makes his musubi’s with smoked pork, rice, egg and wrapped in seaweed. Somehow we always seem to end up here, purchasing the colossal musubi for $3.00 or 2 for $5.00.

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Stop by JC’s Puerto Rican Kitchen for some amazing pork pasteles, pastele stew, nachos, chicken or beef burritos, tacos and the best ever salsa!!! JC’s offers an outdoor seating area where you can watch all of the excitement of the market while enjoying lunch. They have great vegetarian options as well: tacos, burritos and nachos. Be sure to visit with the friendly owners, John and Rhonda.

 $$$ saving tips: Each week we head to the farmer’s market with $20.00. It is sort of a game with the kids, how far can our money go?? They compete to find the best prices for local produce. They love rambutans, so they actually care how much they can purchase for $4.00 0r $5.00. As it gets closer to 1 p.m., vendors may go down on their prices to get rid of the produce.

John & Rhonda, owners of JC's

John & Rhonda, owners of JC’s

 

However, much of the produce is picked over or gone by 1 p.m. Don’t purchase the first cluster of bananas or bag of rambutans that you see. Walk through each aisle and find the best deal. Cheaper is not always better! Some of the produce is cheaper because it is bruised, not ripe or damaged skin. Inspect before you buy. Ask the vendor their price and then ask if the price is cheaper if you purchase more than one. Prices vary drastically! We have seen one avocado for $1.50 and another one for $6.00.

5wheelsto5star was featured in the March 2014 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine

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Sheraton Kauai Resort

Sheraton Kauai Resort

Sheraton Kauai Resort

Gogurts poolside

Gogurts poolside

Looking for a great family friendly hotel on the beach on Kauai?

Ocean fun

Ocean fun

Consider the Sheraton Kauai Resort!! Even better, it’s in Poipu on the sunny side of the island. It is about a 25 minute drive from the airport. We have stayed at all of the large resorts on Kauai and the Sheraton Kauai Resort is by far our favorite for families. Whether staying on the garden side or the ocean front side of the hotel, the rooms are all very spacious and renovated to include the Heavenly beds.

Sheraton Kauai Resort offers an oceanfront Aulii Luau, including a Hawaiian buffet and entertainment by Kauai’s most talented and award-winning musicians and dancers. The food includes several appetizers, salads and an assortment of raw ahi “poke”, traditional lau lau (pork in a wrapped taro leaf), kalua pork (cooked underground), local fish, marinated beef and island guava rub chicken.

Sheraton Pool

Sheraton Pool

The pool is medium-sized and not too crowded as many people would prefer to swim in the ocean. Pool attendants walk around and give guests frozen yogurt pops while enjoying the sun.

Exploring on the beach

Exploring on the beach

The pool is located adjacent to the ocean, offering easy access to both. There is a large grassy area where the kids can run around, play or do gymnastics as our daughter does. Whether exploring sea creatures in the rocks or collecting shells, Poipu is the perfect beach for kids. Poipu Beach was named the #1 Beach by Doc Beach in USA TODAY and the #1 Best Family Beach by the TRAVEL CHANNEL.

Our kids favorite thing is to order a fresh smoothie each day poolside. It’s great for parents as well, as you can sit back and relax with a cocktail or read a book while the kids swim. There are lounge chairs with umbrellas for shade if you get to the pool early enough. The hot tub is large, surrounded by lava rocks and offers a view of the ocean. The pool is surrounded by palm trees swaying in the wind.

Cabana

Cabana

Looking for a private cabana on the sand? The cabanas are available for rent for $50 per day. They seat two people, face the ocean and have retractable shade. This is a great option for couples but not convenient if you have kids who will be in the pool, as the pool is located behind the cabanas.

Bungalow

Bungalow

Bungalow

Bungalow

Poolside Bungalows~

Poolside dining

Poolside dining

The Sheraton offers beach and poolside bungalows which are great for those of you who prefer the shade or are in a large group! The bungalows include flat screen TVs, remote controls, ceiling fans, seating for six, ice chest with ice and bottled waters plus your own person pool server. You can order food and drinks and have them delivered right to your own personal bungalow.  The bungalows are a fabulous way to relax. You can pull your lounge chair out in front of the bungalow if you want sun and then move back inside for shade. Be advised that the bungalows do close at 5 p.m. which we found to be quite early.

Rum Fire~ Love Rum Fire!!! It’s the perfect place for families or a romantic evening out.  We have dined at Rum Fire in Waikiki on Oahu and loved it. So when it came to Kauai, we were thrilled of course!!!  Enjoy 180-degree ocean views from all of its 240 seats. The circular bar is made of a swirled marble with cobalt blue, glass lights hanging from above. They have large booths which look out to the ocean where you can enjoy a wonderful sunset. Rum Fire Poipu Beach is open from 5:30-9:30 p.m. Enjoy the fire pits outside while waiting for your reservation.

Lavas on the Beach~ Lava’s is great for families as they offer Keiki “kids” meals.

Wings at Lava's

Wings at Lava’s

Lava’s is exactly how you would picture a poolside cafe & bar. They have Hawaiian music playing, guests dine in their pool attire, while enjoying the open air environment. Lava’s is open from sunrise to sunset.

Money Saving Tips: The rooms located on the garden side of the hotel are cheaper. Some of the rooms, located on the upper floors, still offer a distant ocean view. The rooms are very nice and a short walking distance to the ocean and main pool area. Stop off at Wal-Mart on the way to the hotel and grab inter-tubes for $2.00 to use in the ocean or pool. If you are traveling with another family, split the cost of the bungalow. When we stayed at the resort they were $100 per bungalow per day which can be worth the money if you plan to spend the entire day at the pool.

Sheraton Kauai Resort

Sheraton Kauai Resort

5wheelsto5star was featured in the March 2014 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine

High Tea~ St. Regis Princeville style

Dessert Platter

Dessert Platter

“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.”
~ William Ewart Gladstone

St. Regis Princeville Lobby

St. Regis Princeville Lobby

St. Regis Bar

St. Regis Bar

What better way for 5 women to spend a lovely afternoon than to have High Tea at the  St. Regis Princeville Resort.

View of Hanalei Bay

View of Hanalei Bay

As we entered the lobby (pictured above) we instantly felt welcome with the array of tropical flower arrangements, elegant furniture, water fountain, chandelier and 180-degree view of Hanalei Bay. High Tea is served in the St. Regis Bar where hand painted murals hang and floor to ceiling windows display an amazing sunset. In the evening entertainment includes live music consisting of jazz, adult contemporary and Hawaiian.

We arrived a little early and wandered out on the terrace to take in the gorgeous sunny day and view of Hanalei Bay. There is a seating area with coffee tables so you can relax outside.

View front terrace

View front terrace

While visiting the St. Regis Bar at sunset, enjoy the Champagne Ritual where you can enjoy the art of champagne sabering “sabrage” (opening the bottle with a sword). Sabrage is a technique for opening a Champagne bottle with a saber used for rituals. It is quite exciting to watch! The saber is slid along the body of the champagne bottle and breaks the neck away. The base of the bottle is left open and ready to pour. The saber is turned around to use the backside of the blade, not the sharp side. The cork and collar remain together after separating from the neck.

Breads & Cookies, St. Regis Princeville

Breads & Cookies, St. Regis Princeville

As we entered the St. Regis Bar, High Tea settings were displayed at the various tables.

Scones, St. Regis Princeville

Scones, St. Regis Princeville

Reservations are required 24 hours in advance for High Tea which is served between 3-5 p.m. The price is very reasonable, only $39 per person plus tax and gratuity. The tea includes afternoon flavored iced and hot teas, tea breads, scones, cookies, fresh fruit tarts, desserts and sandwiches. The scones are served with a side of lemon curd, Devonshire cream (a thick cream), and a fresh fruit salsa. My favorite was the chicken curry finger sandwich and the cranberry scones topped with a sugar crust. There is so much food, plan on taking food home. The server provides a to-go box to take your treats home.

Various macaroons were served the day we dined for tea. My favorite macaroon was the coffee flavored one. A vibrant purple, orchid was displayed on the cookie & bread platter. The sandwiches include a curry chicken on wheat bread, salmon-cream cheese-cucumber on a small bagel and mozzarella-basil-tomato on a sliced baguette.

I have experienced High Tea at the St. Regis Princeville numerous times over the past ten years. In previous years, the food was brought out in courses. For example, the scones came first on a tiered platter, then the sandwiches came out as the second course followed by the desserts. Currently, the food is all brought out at one time which I prefer so that you can sample everything. It is easy to fill up on scones and breads when brought out in courses, leaving you too full to really enjoy sandwiches and desserts.

Finger sandwiches

Finger sandwiches

Devonshire Cream, commonly referred to as clotted cream, is a thick cream made by whole cream using steam or a water bath and then leaving it in a shallow pan to cool. As it cools, the cream content rises to the surface and forms ‘clots’ or ‘clouts’. This type of cream is common in South West England and in particular the counties of Cornwall and Devon. Rodda’s in Redruth, Cornwall, is the largest commercial producer in the UK which  produces up to 55,000 lb of clotted cream a day.

Devonshire Cream

Devonshire Cream

Recipe for Devonshire Cream 

1  package cream cheese 3oz.

1 tablespoon white sugar

1 pinch salt

1 cup heavy cream

In a medium bowl, cream together cream cheese, sugar and salt. Beat in cream until stiff peaks form. Chill until serving

Place setting

Place setting

Flowers, St. Regis Bar

Flowers, St. Regis Bar

History of High Tea~

High tea was once known as “meat tea” because it was an evening meal or dinner of the working class eaten between 5 pm and 7 pm.

High tea consisted of a hot dish, followed by cakes and bread, and butter and jam. Cold cuts of meat, such as ham salad were often served. High tea was eaten by middle- to upper-class children while their parents would have a more formal dinner later. The words “high tea” were first used around 1825. The word “High” refers to well-advanced to signify that it was taken later in the day. High tea would translate into “late afternoon tea”.

The term “high tea” was used as a way to distinguish it from afternoon tea, and was used predominantly by the working class and in certain British dialects of the North of England.

Various ways tea was served~

Traditionally, loose tea is brewed in a teapot and served with milk and sugar. The sugar and caffeine together prevented the working poor of 19th and early 20th century England from feeling down or depressed. Tea was often served with a small sandwich or baked snack. For the more privileged, afternoon tea was served with more luxury ingredients such as  sandwiches made with cucumber, egg and cress, fish paste, ham, and smoked salmon, scones with Devonshire cream and jam, and usually sponge or fruit cakes and pastries. Muffins or crumpets are a common item served at high tea today.

Crumpets, griddle cakes made of flour and yeast, are generally circular in shape . The round shape was formed by the dough being restrained in the pan by a shallow ring. Crumpets have a  flat top with many small holes with a chewy and spongy texture. They may be cooked until ready to eat warm from the pan or  eaten freshly toasted. In Australia and New Zealand, the crumpets are shaped square to fit easily in a toaster. They are often eaten with a spread of butter on the top of them. Crumpets are similar to English Muffins except they are made with milk, cooked only on one side, and served whole rather than cut in half.

High Tea

High Tea

Explore Florence…

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy is by far my favorite place in the world!!! It is an absolute dream city that you could walk around for days and just get lost in it all. I have had the pleasure of visiting Florence twice and would love to return and spend a whole week walking around all of the museums, monuments, cathedrals, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Since it is a non-drive zone, it really has the feel of going back in time with the narrow streets, cobblestone sidewalks and carriages passing by. The pictures are absolutely inviting but Florence is a place that you must see for yourself. You will be in awe of the marble sculptures, cathedrals and the indescribable experience.

Florence

Florence

Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany. Florence has approximately 370,000 residents which increases to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area. Florence is famous for its history!!! The first time I experienced Florence, I knew I had to bring my husband back because he is a history buff. Known for being the centre of medieval European trade and finance, Florence is one of the wealthiest cities of the time. Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance.

The historic centre of Florence attracts millions of tourists each year, and in 2009, Euromonitor International ranked the city as the world’s 72nd most visited. Forbes ranked Florenceas one of the most beautiful cities in the world! The city also contains numerous museums and art galleries, such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace. Bet you didn’t know that Florence is important in Italian fashion, as it is ranked in the top fifty fashion capitals of the world.

The picture above is of the Facade of the Cathedral.

The original façade was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio while attributed to Giotto. It all started as a mid 15th century ink drawing in 1587, which is currently on display in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo (located behind the cathedral). This façade was the collective work of several artists which was completed in its lower portion and then left unfinished. It was dismantled in 1587-1588 by the Medici court architect Bernardo Buontalenti. Some of the original sculptures are on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo. The competition for a new façade turned into a huge corruption scandal and it was left bare until the 19th century.

In 1864, a competition was held to design a new façade and was won 7 years later by Emilio De Fabris. Work began in 1876 and completed in 1887. This neo-gothic façade in white, green and red marble forms a harmonious entity with the cathedral. The whole façade is dedicated to the Mother of Christ.
Duomo

Duomo

Duomo meaning “Italian Cathedral” can be seen for miles. It is probably the most recognized structure in all of Florence. The Cathedral is located at Piazza Duomo in the historic center of Florence. The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile. We visited the cathedral from the outside, but tours are available. Guided visits are available for the Duomo (€9), its dome, (€11, includes entrance fee), the cathedral terrace (€15, also includes the dome), and Santa Reparata (€9, includes entrance fee). All guided tours last approximately 45 minutes to one hour.

History of the Dome~ In the beginning of the 15th century, after a hundred years of construction, the Florence Cathedral was still missing its dome. The basic features of the dome had been designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. In 1367, the architectural choice of Neri di Fioravante’s model was chosen over a competing one by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini which was one of the first events of the Italian Renaissance. At the time, the use of buttresses (structure made of brick or stone built against a wall for support or reinforcement) was forbidden in Florence. In August 1418, the Arte della Lana (the wool guild of Florence) announced a structural design competition for erecting Neri’s dome.  Filippo Brunelleschi, a master goldsmith, was chosen.

The Duomo, Cathedral

The Duomo, Cathedral

The dome posed many technical problems.

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

Brunelleschi researched the great dome of the Pantheon in Rome for solutions. There was not enough timber in Tuscany to build the scaffolding and forms.Brunelleschi chose to follow such design and employed a double shell, made of sandstone and marble. He constructed a wooden and brick model with the help of Donatello and Nanni di Banco which is currently displayed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The model served as a guide for the craftsmen. Construction of the dome started in 1420 and was completed in 1436. The dome was the first octagonal dome in history to be built without a temporary wooden supporting frame.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

The Palazzo Vecchio

The Palazzo Vecchio meaning “Old Palace” is the town hall of Florence. The massive, Romanesque, solid cubicle shaped building with a walled fortress-palace is considered to be the most impressive town hall in all of Tuscany. The location of the fortress-palace is what makes it  one of the most significant public places in Italy. It overlooks the Piazza della Signoria with the replica of Michelangelo’s David statue as well as the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi. The Tower includes three bells, the oldest one was cast in the 13th century.

How did the building come about? The commune and people of Florence decided to build a palace in 1299 that would be worthy of the city’s importance and would provide security to the magistrates. Arnolfo di Cambio, architect, constructed Palazzo Vecchio so that the Uberti family (rebels of Florence and Ghibellines) homes would never be rebuilt on the same location. The tower contains two small cells, which imprisoned Cosimo de’ Medici in 1435 and Girolamo Savonarola in 1498. The tower is named after its designer Torre d’Arnolfo.

The large, one-handed clock was originally constructed by the Florentine Nicolò Bernardo, but was replaced in 1667 by a clock made by Vincenzo Viviani. Most of Palazzo Vecchio is now a museum but remains the symbol of local government housing the office of the mayor of Florence and it is the seat of the City Council since 1872.

Perseus with the Head of Medusa at Loggia dei Lanzi

Perseus with the Head of Medusa at Loggia dei Lanzi

The Perseus with the head of Medusa is quite a violent and interesting sculpture which was created by Benvenuto Cellini’s 1545. The sculpture sits on a square base with bronze relief panels located in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy. The piece was introduced to the public on April 27, 1554. Michelangelo’s David, Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes were already in the piazza.

What is with the snakey head? The sculpture is about the mythological story of Perseus beheading Medusa. Medusa was a hideous woman-faced Gorgon whose hair was turned to snakes and anyone that looked at her was turned to stone. In the sculpture, Perseus stands naked except for a sash and winged sandals, standing on top of Medusa holding her snakey head in his hand. The body of Medusa spews blood from her severed neck. The bronze sculpture is surrounded by three huge marble statues of men: Hercules, David and later Neptune.Cellini was the first sculptor to introduce bronze in Perseus and the head of Medusa in the piazza.

The Loggia dei Lanzi (the arches above the sculptures in the picture) consists of wide arches open to the street.  The wide arches appealed so much to the Florentines, that Michelangelo even proposed that they should be continued all around the Piazza della Signoria. The Loggia dei Lanzi is an open-air sculpture gallery of antique and Renaissance art including the Medici lions.

Cosimo I de' Medici

Cosimo I de’ Medici

Cosimo I de’ Medici – Florence
I find it interesting how the bronze sculptures appear green in color. Why? Bronze alloys contain copper. When bronze oxidizes (comes in contact with water and oxygen) or “rusts”, the process causes the bronze to turn in a green color. More commonly recognized in the Statue of Liberty – due to oxidation.
The bronze equestrian statue of Cosimo I by Giambologna, pictured abovereflects the famous equestrian statue of Marc Aurelius located at the Campidoglio in Rome. It illustrates the relation between the Roman Empire and Florence and Cosimo I himself.
The David

The David

The David (statue of David)
By far the most moving experience in all of Florence is seeing the original David with your own eyes located inside the Galleria dell’Accademia. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the Galleria and therefore I have attached a picture of the replica of The David located in Palazzo Vecchio. The David is known as the world’s most famous statue.
The statue, which is 17 feet tall, was commissioned by the Florentine republic, who saw the biblical hero slaying the giant Goliath as a symbol for the creation of the nascent republic.
The statue was installed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio but in 1873 it was replaced by a replica and moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia to protect it from the elements. Another replica can be found at the center of the Piazzale Michelangelo.
The statue was created by Michelangelo in 1501-1504 from a single block of marble and instantly became admired for its proportions and attention to detail. Michelangelo chose to depict David as an adolescent instead of a young boy. The statue brought instant fame to the 29 year-old Michelangelo.
Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio means  “Old Bridge”. It is a Medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental (space between two arches) arch bridge which spans over the Arno River, in Florence. The Ponte Vecchio is unique as it has shops built along it, which used to be common. Butchers originally occupied the shops in the Ponte Vechhio but now they are filled with jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.

Kids in front of Ponte Vecchio

Kids in front of Ponte Vecchio

History of the bridge~ The bridge crosses the Arno at its narrowest point where it is believed that the via Cassia (important Roman road) crossed. When was it built? The bridge first appeared in a document of 996.  It was reconstructed in stone, after being destroyed by a flood in 1117.  In 1333, the Ponte Vecchio was swept away again but two of its central piers were saved. Giorgio Vasari recorded that the bridge was rebuilt in 1345.   that attributed its design to Taddeo Gaddi, besides Giotto one of the few artistic names of the 14th Century still recalled two hundred years later. Modern historians present Neri di Fioravanti as a possible candidate. Displayed in a little gallery at the central opening of the bridge is a weathered dedication stone, which once read Nel trentatrè dopo il mille-trecento, il ponte cadde, per diluvio dell’ acque: poi dieci anni, come al Comun piacque, rifatto fu con questo adornamento, which means “In the thirty-third year following thirteen hundred, the bridge fell, from a watery flood: ten years later, at the pleasure of the Commune, it was rebuilt, with this adornment”. 

Structure of the Ponte Vecchio~ The bridge consists of three sections of arches. The main arch has a span of 98 ft and the two side arches each span 88 ft. The rise of the arches is between 11½ to 14½ feet.

On August 4, 1944, During World War II, the Ponte Vechhio was not destroyed like all other bridges in Florence.  The buildings at both ends of the bridge were destroyed which prevented access . The buildings have since been rebuilt using a combination of original and modern design.

Buca San Giovani

Buca San Giovani

Let’s eat!!!

Ristorante Buca San Giovanni

Ristorante Buca San Giovanni

Finding a restaurant or “ristorante” in Florence is no easy task I must warn you. There are 1797 restaurants in Florence!!! Fortunately, we were on tour and the restaurant was already chosen. We really were fortanute because we experienced the BEST baked lasagna we have ever had in our lives. Ristorante Buca San Giovani opened in 1882 and is located in the Piazza Di San Giovanni. They are open for lunch and dinner and ideally located downtown Florence. It is just steps away from the historical city centre and it’s masterpiece like the Cathedral, Palazzo Vecchio, Uffizi Gallery, Loggia dei Lanzi, Ponte Vecchio,The David at the Accademia. The wine list has a selection of 40 red wines!!! This is compared to the list of White/Pink wine which has 10 selections. Can you say heaven?? One of my favorite things about dining in Italy is that you will almost always have three glass at your setting for lunch or dinner for red wine, white wine and water. Can’t we all dine this way universally?? Here’s the real question, does the food, bread and wine taste better just because you are in Italy? Very well could be.

Buca San Giovanni Label

Buca San Giovanni Label

Since we were in a group, we had the pleasure of dining downstairs which is actually underground~ in the Gallery. It was amazing!! The gallery has red brick ceilings in an arcg form and feels as if you are eating in a wine cellar with wine bottles everywhere you look. Interesting historical fact~ the Buca San Giovanni was the former Sacristy of the Baptistry San Giovanni, before the building of the Cathedral Santa Reparata, later on was a secret meeting place where the Rosa Croce Masons started the activities. Many important people showed at the “Buca” like the Prince of Bulgaria for his bachelor party in the 30’s and th U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Ristorante San Buca Giovanni

Ristorante San Buca Giovanni

Below you will find a list of some of their highlights~

Crunchy eggplant strudel with Buffalo’s milk mozzarella and grilled cherry tomatoes
Macaroni with meat and mushrooms sauce
Scamorza large raviolis with , saffron potato cream sauce and courgettes
Sliced beef with rocket and Parmesan cheese
Bitter chocolate basket with cream and strawberries

Desserts~

Dry almond biscuits with Vin Santo

Cream pudding with chocolate

Tiramisù

Rice pears cake with warm Armagnac cream

Bitter chocolate basket with Chantilly cream and strawberries

Mille-feuille with orange cream and cinnamon

Cheese cake with morellos sauce

Crème caramel with aniseed flavour

Chocolate soft cake with vanilla ice cream

Pineapple

Strawberries coupe

Ice-cream coupe

Movies you ask? Florence is so picturesque that is has been the setting for many movies. Many of the movies are International of course but some that you may be familiar with are The Dark Knight Rises, A Room With a View, Tea With Mussolini, Stay As You Are, Hannibal, The Devil in Love, The Mandrake, My Friends and Romola.

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Leather

Leather

Shopping!!!! My favorite thing about shopping in Florence is the Italian leather.

I was sniffing purses, belts and wallets everywhere we went. Be sure to look for the label stating “genuine leather made in Italy” as there are a lot of vendors selling knock offs and faux leather.

Shopping

Shopping

Money Saving Tips: Don’t buy any knockoff goods from any of the hawkers selling their fake Prada (or any other high-end designer) on the streets. It’s illegal, and fines are astronomical if the police happen to catch you. The police will fine you a hefty fee while the vendors only receives a small fine. Faux leather is pretty easy to detect. Touch, feel and smell the leather. As crazy as that may seem, I opened all the zippers and looked at the lining. If it has a plastic feel to it at all, don’t buy. The vendors on the street, as opposed to in the shops, often times will offer bargains. I bought two leather purses for €10 less than if I would have purchased them individually.

5wheelsto5star was featured in the March 2014 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine

For the Love of Gelato!!!

Gelato in Florence

Gelato in Florence

Gelato in Roma

Gelato in Roma

Throughout the Mediterranean our kids flipped out over gelato!! Everywhere we went, they wanted more and more. In Florence, Italy our daughter ate gelato three times in one day which is not cheap.

Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream, but is it really the same thing as ice cream??? Gelato refers to varieties of ice cream made in a traditional Italian style. Gelato is made with milk, cream, various sugars, and flavoring such as fresh fruit and nut purees. Often times you will see it served in a glass as a parfait or in a dish with whole fruits. In the picture above the gelato is displayed in parfaits. Whether in a cup, on a cone or in a dish~ It’s all amazing!!!

First you must know the gelato lingo!!! Gelati is plural for gelato and Gelateria is where geltao is sold.

Money saving tips: We ate gelato all along the Mediterranean. Be sure to look around and price out the gelato as some gelaterias are located on the same block for twice as much and the one next door. At Piazza Navona in Rome for example, gelato is priced very high within the piazza but if you step a block outside of the piazza you can find it much cheaper and just as good! It’s the same for paella in Spain or wood burning oven pizzas in Rome. When visiting Barcelona, the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (The Market) has amazing gelato for much cheaper than purchasing on La Rambla. If you would like to read more about The Market, click on the link Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria on the right hand side under “topics”.

What makes gelato different from ice cream? Gelato is a type of soft ice cream which contains a relatively small amount of air. Gelato in Italy must have at least 3.5% butterfat. The sugar content in homemade gelato, as in ice cream, is balanced with the water content to act as an anti-freeze to prevent it from freezing solid. Several types of sugar are used including sucrose, dextrose, and inverted sugar to control sweetness. Typically, gelato—like any other ice cream—needs a stabilizing base. Egg yolks are used in yellow custard-based gelato flavors, including zabaione (an Italian dessert, or sometimes a beverage, made with egg yolks, sugar, and a sweet wine) and creme caramel, and non-fat milk solids are also added to gelato to stabilize the base. Starches and gums, especially corn starch, are often used to thicken and stabilize the mix.

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, Barcelona

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, Barcelona

Facts about Gelato~ In the United States there isn’t a standard of definition for gelato set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as there is for ice cream. Ice cream in the U.S. is defined by the Federal Code both by its ingredients, which includes milk fat of 10% or more, gelato in the U.S. covers a wide range of products including frozen desserts eaten like ice cream; products that are identical to ice cream with the exception of their butterfat contents; and premium ice cream containing butterfat far exceeding the minimums set forth in Italy. Recipes will vary as will the person making it, but most dairy gelato contains 16–24% sugar. Whereas, ice cream in the United States contains 12 to 16% sugar.

Where does gelato come from? The history of gelato dates back to frozen desserts in Sicily, ancient Rome and Egypt which were made from snow and ice brought down from mountaintops and preserved below ground. Then, frozen desserts appeared during banquets at the Medici court in Florence. Bernardo Buontalenti, the Florentine cook, is said to have invented modern ice cream in 1565. He presented his recipe and his innovative refrigerating techniques to Catherine de’ Medici, who in turn brought the novelty to France as Queen consort. In 1686 the Sicilian fisherman Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli perfected the first ice cream machine. Gelato increased in popularity in the 1920s–1930s in the northern Italian city of Varese, where the first gelato cart was developed!!

Interesting Gelato Stat: Italy is the only country where the market share of handmade gelato versus industrial one is over 55%. More than 5,000 modern Italian ice cream parlors employ over 15,000 people today, mostly Italians.

Gelato in Florence

Gelato in Florence

Want to make your own gelato???

Piazza Navona, Roma

Piazza Navona, Roma

Making gelato is similar to making ice cream. There are several steps involved. The mixture for gelato is typically prepared using a hot process first, dissolving sugars. White base is heated to 185 °F completing a pasteurization program. The hot process to make chocolate gelato is basically the same for ice cream and is traditionally flavored with cocoa powder and cocoa butter.

Gelato and some premium ice creams are so dense that they require a slightly higher serving temperature. This is the perfect point in which your scoop is firm but not hard and not so soft that it melts immediately. Gelato recipes usually include more egg yolks, more milk and less cream than ice cream. It actually has less fat than regular ice cream. Gelato’s low overrun (less air) makes for an extremely dense, rich and creamy treat that we all love.

Sorbets are all about the fruit, fruit, fruit. With the absence of milk, cream or eggs, they depend only on sugar, lemon juice and fresh fruit for flavor. Elegantly simple and refreshingly tart, sorbets were the rage during Victorian years, when they were served as palate cleansers between rich, heavy courses. A sorbetto, the more intense Italian version, generally has more fruit and less water, resulting in a softer, less icy texture. Sorbet is all about the FRESH fruit.

Giada’s Chocolate-Hazelnut Gelato

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/4 cup
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)
  • 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, crushed, for garnish

In a saucepan combine the milk, cream, and 1/2 cup sugar over medium heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl whip the egg yolks with the remaining sugar using an electric mixer until the eggs have become thick and pale yellow, about 4 minutes. Pour 1/2 cup of the warm milk and cream mixture into the egg mixture and stir. Add this mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Place a strainer over a medium bowl and pour the warm custard mixture through the strainer. Stir in the vanilla and hazelnut spread until it dissolves. Chill mixture completely before pouring into an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions to freeze. To serve, scoop gelato into serving bowls and top with hazelnuts.

What type of gelato maker should you buy? Gelato makers can run anywhere from $22.00 – $1200 depending on the brand, size and features. De Longhi GM6000 Gelator Maker with Self-Refrigerating Compressor will cost you about $300! Cuisinart ICE-100 compressor is both an ice cream maker and gelato maker which runs about $251. If you own a KitchenAid mixer, there is an attachment for ice cream which is $85.00. Be sure to research before purchase, check out ratings and read reviews as some of the ice cream makers are for both ice and gelato while others are for frozen yogurt and sorbets. Gelato is made to perfection at a slightly lower temperature than ice cream in Italian Gelaterias; however, it can still be made at home using an ice cream maker.

According to World of Ice Cream, here is the equation for gelato:

Gelato= less fat + no air added = richer taste

Gelato in Barcelona

Gelato in Barcelona

 5wheelsto5star is featured monthly in Destinations Travel Magazine

 

Miami, South Beach & Key Largo!!!!

White Sands of Miami Beach

White Sands of Miami Beach

St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort

After taking a Royal Caribbean cruise along the Caribbean for a week, we wanted to spend some time on land in Miami. Our ship, The Allure of the Seas,  sailed into Fort Lauderdale Everglades Cruise Port and then we rented a car and drove about 30 minutes to Miami.

Guest Room

Guest Room

The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort is an oceanfront property with breathtaking views. The picture above is the view from our room. The long stretch of beach is a great route for running or taking long beach walks with the family. We spent more time along the beach then poolside, although I must say that the pool side lounge chairs are similar to beds. They are amazing to take a nap on and our kids loved them. The pool area is exclusive for guests, outlined by a fence along the beach. The St. Regis offers fresh fruit in a silver platter pool side and attendants walk around with other treats. Sunblock is available for guests to use in the pool area as well.

St. Regis poolside

St. Regis poolside

It is a fantastic, relaxing atmosphere. The St. Regis is located on  Collins Avenue and directly across you will find shops which serve as an international destination. The shops include  a collection of prestigious designer boutiques, bistros, and outdoor cafés compared to those in New York, Beverly Hills, Paris, London, and Milan.

If you prefer a hotel in the area which is a little more low-key, kick back and family friendly….check out the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood, FL. It is only about a 7 minute drive from the St. Regis Bal Harbour. The property has several lagoon pools, including an infinity pool. We stayed at the St. Regis while our friends stayed at the Westin Diplomat which worked out great because we were able to experience the perks of both hotels.

Westin Diplomat

Westin Diplomat

Pool at Westin Diplomat

Pool at Westin Diplomat

Founded in the 1920’s, Hollywood, Florida, is an intimate community of 126,000 and is located on the coast between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Hollywood is quite popular with sun-seekers, offering palm tree-lined streets, beautiful beaches, myriad diversions and trendy, redeveloped downtown. Aside from the sunbathing, championship golfing, and countless other recreational pursuits, visitors to Hollywood are pleased by the wide array of shopping options in the nearby Aventura Mall, The Shops at Bal Harbour, and Sawgrass Mills.

Pennekamp State Park

Pennekamp State Park

IMG_6100

The kids wanted to stop off for some fishing, so we stopped at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Pennekamp is a Florida State Park located on Key Largo in Florida on the Atlantic Ocean waters. It was the first underwater park in the United States. The main attractions of Pennekamp are the coral reefs and their associated marine life. There is a really cute gift shop with souvenirs that say “Key Largo” and amazing ice cream! You must try the chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

Our son caught his first whiting fish!!! The Whiting Fish is a common food fish of the cod family found inIMG_6066 the northeastern Atlantic Ocean around Europe and the Mediterranean regions. Our son was thrilled as he is used to catching fish of the Pacific.

While the kids went fishing, a few of us took a glass bottom boat ride on the Spirit of Pennekamp. The boat takes passengers on a ride to view a unique glimpse into the serene undersea world. At 65 feet in length, this high-speed catamaran is capable of transporting up to 130 passengers to the various nautical destinations of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The itinerary includes a number of shallow reefs teaming with wildlife. Tours are 2 ½ hours long. I could not believe the boat tour was only $24!!!! By far the best deal in town. $17 for kids 4-11 years old. I highly recommend the boat tour.

The reefs may be viewed from glass-bottom boats, or by snorkeling or scuba diving. Other activities available in the park are canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, picnicking, swimming and wildlife viewing. Full-facility and youth/group campgrounds are available.

There is a lot to see at the visitor center which features a 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium and six smaller aquaria, as well as natural history exhibits about the park’s different biological communities and ecosystems and a theater showing nature videos.

South Beach

South Beach

South Beach!!!!!!

We couldn’t be in Miami and not visit South Beach!! After researching authentic Cuban food in the area, we drove to Puerto Sagua located at 700 Collins Avenue in South Beach. Finding parking was rather interesting. Collins Avenue is very busy, with bumper to bumper cars even in broad daylight. The food was very good and our kids got to experience plantains with their meal. I highly recommend the cuban sandwich, although everything was wonderful. The menu offers a wide range of dishes from croquettes to beef oxtail soup. I must warn you that clothing seems to be optional in South Beach. We brought our kids and there were people walking the streets as well as dining in restaurants in what looked like thong underwear. It is quite interesting and a cultural experience. Personally, I was thinking I should have brought disinfectant wipes with me.

The Fish House, Key Largo

The Fish House, Key Largo

Visitor's Center

Visitor’s Center

Upon entering Key Largo, be sure to stop of at the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce Florida Keys Visitor Center!! The Visitor Center has information about the entire Florida Keys. Brochures and maps are available for accommodations, attractions, diving and snorkeling, fishing, dining, weddings, nature and ecology tours, shopping, water sports and, of course, there are clean restrooms.

It is a great place to stop in and grab souvenirs too! They sell post cards, shirts, stickers and jewelry. Don’t miss the fascinating and informative display that includes a 1700s-era British cannon, one of 13 cannons found in a reef patch offshore of Key Largo.

The staff were very informative about where to go with kids, where to fish and the most important….where to eat!!! We were on a search for conch and the lady who helped us knew just the place to go.

Next stop, The Fish House!!!!

Key West Beer

Key West Beer

After stopping off at the visitor’s center in Key Largo, we had to try the CONCH that everyone talks about.

Fish House Sign

Fish House Sign

So off we went in search of The Fish House, specializing in the finest seafood available. The Fish House opened just as the Conch Republic was born. “Since the key to terrific seafood lies in the freshness, we made that our trademark.  At our very doorstep we find one of the most prolific areas in the world for marine life, including a host of edible fish. Daily we supervise the harvest of the finest eating critters on earth, and we put them on your table while they are at their tastiest peak. Fresh-caught fish arrives daily at the dock and is brought directly to The Fish House.  Our experienced staff hand picks the best fish, separating it by size, then weighing it.  The fish are then carefully filleted on site, combined with only the freshest ingredients and spices, and cooked to perfection.” taken from the Fish House website

Whole  Yellowtail Snapper

Whole Yellowtail Snapper

From the outside of the restaurant, it doesn’t look like much. They have fun kids menus “for the minnows” with crayons and a great drink menu consisting of Cognac, Brady, Tequila, Single Malt Scotch, Ports and Sherry for adults! The Fish House offers a “raw bar” where you can order oysters by the dozen or half dozen, shrimp, smoked fish dip or stone crab. They also have a full sushi menu. We ordered the Conch Fritters which are made of ground conch in seasoned batter served with cocktail sauce. They also have lobster mac n cheese on the menu!!! We ordered the Whole  Yellowtail Snapper, a true keys delicacy.

5wheelsto5star was featured in the March 2014 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine