No Leaves to Palm Trees: Key West 2012

Last month, I was fortunate enough to spend the final week of Winter Break in Florida. I traded jeans for shorts and packed my favorite pair of $10 sunglasses en route to a week full of sun, sand and my aunt’s famous home cooking. With the rental fully packed and stocked with road trip essentials, we were on our way to the Sunshine State leaving Rhode Island in the rearview mirror.

Road Trips. You either love em’ or you hate em’. For many, the idea of sitting in a cramped car just isn’t fun. But to me, road trips are the ultimate adventure. The ever-changing landscapes that surround the highways are constant reminders of how far you’ve driven and how much closer you are to your final destination. In a way, there’s a sense of accomplishment and purpose when you’ve logged over 1,500 miles sandwiched between luggage, backpacks and coolers of cold cuts and soda.

In a little less than 27 hours, we exchanged 35 degree weather for calm, cool breezes and swim trunks. After enjoying a mammoth plate of rice and chicken courtesy of my aunt, our night ended with a dip in the heated pool and some much-needed rest. A full day was ahead of us and Key West was on the brain.

The next morning, we slowly rose from our sleepy tombs and started to get ready for our journey to the southernmost point in the United States. After driving for about 3 hours, we approached a stretch of highway known as the seven mile bridge. Suspended over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the bridge serves as a gateway to the many small islands that eventually lead to Key West. It also is home to the limo-bridge-explosion scene in True Lies. Yeah, THAT True Lies. Nonetheless, our destination was quickly approaching.

As soon as we found a decent parking spot, I stormed out of the Chevy Malibu and stretched until I heard something snap, crackle, or pop. While continuing to stretch, I gazed into the distance and became amazed at what I saw. A seemingly endless view of blue, serene waters and swirling white clouds. I made it. I was where I wanted to be.

If it wasn’t for my dad, I could have easily planted myself in the sand for hours and allowed the dying waves to crash into my feet. Instead, we all decided to head out for lunch and explore the city a bit. Key West is a very small town and Duval Street is home to a majority of their tourist attractions, shops, art galleries and restaurants. After talking to a few locals, we were pointed in the direction of a Key West staple, Willie T’s.

More famously known for their unbelievable mojito menu, Willie T’s is also home to an awesome lunch menu full of burgers, wraps, and seafood. Pictured above is their Conch Chowder which both my father and I ordered. A creamy blend of Caribbean conch, roasted corn and potatoes, this chowder exceeded all expectations. My only gripe was the size of the cup. I mean damn, I want chowder not tea and crumpets!

I continued with the seafood theme and ordered their fried fish sandwich. It was perfectly breaded and seasoned with Caribbean inspired spices. The fresh-cut of fish was very flaky and moist. To up the ante, I generously began spreading their in-house tartar sauce all over the sandwich and yes, it was amazing. The fries actually sucked and I would have preferred a side salad or more chowder.

Willie T’s also offers a variety of pressed sandwiches for those looking for lighter fare. We managed to order their Chicken Club Panini and was thoroughly impressed. A char-grilled chicken breast nestled in between layers of Applewood bacon, avocado and tomato led to an amazing fusion of flavors and textures. If you’re looking for a safe choice for lunch, their Paninis are the way to go.

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After lunch, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon looking for famous landmarks, houses and beaches. Below, are some pictures I took while wandering through downtown and the many beaches that make up one of my favorite cities in the country. Until next time Key West…

*Check out more pictures on Instagram!! (chrisperalta)

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