Celiac.com 10/02/2009 - My hubby and I just returned from a wonderful 5 days in Florida’s Key West, and so I want to write about it  while it is fresh in my memory, for I think my experience may benefit others who are trying to stay gluten-free during a stay there.

In preparation for this trip, I first made a list of the top 20 rated hotels and bed and breakfasts (B&B) according to information I found on the internet. I made a separate list of restaurants, bars, and health food stores that also had received good reviews as to being able to provide gluten-free food. We had heard that it is not necessary to rent a car on Key West, so I wanted our hotel to be close to as many of the gluten-free sources of food as possible. So then I found each hotel on Mapquest, and then used the “find nearby” feature to get a list of restaurants near each, noting how many were also on my gluten-free list.

I discovered that two hotels dominated in being close to multiple restaurants of my gluten-free list: The Gardens Hotel, and Seascape An Inn. Both were close to the main street, which is Duval Street. The Gardens was also close to Pepe’s, Santiago Bodegas, Mangoes, Help Yourself, The Café, Sugar Apple, and Blue Heaven. On the other Hand, Seascape was slightly closer to Duval Street, just around the corner from Hemingway House, and close to Sugar apple, Blue Heaven, Mangoes, and Santiago Bodega’s.

I called both to get prices. The Gardens Hotel said they charged $185 per night. Seascape said they could give us an off-season discount, bringing our stay down to 109 per night. No contest. We booked with Seascape. When talking with the wonderful Koko, at Seascape, I told him that I was gluten-free, and he said that they would be sure to have boiled eggs, a large selection of cut-up fresh fruits (strawberries, cantelope, honeydew, fresh pineapple, dried apricots), and gluten-free yogurt at their breakfast buffet. He was as good as his word.

Seascape is owned by Marcia and Dave, who took over ownership last December, and did some renovations. Marcia personally greeted us when we arrived. She had us put our luggage away in our room, and treated us to our choice of a complimentary glass of our choice of red or white wine or beer. Only after we had relaxed for a moment did she register us. Then she talked to us about places to go and things to see, marking both our hotel location, and the locations of some other places on a map that she gave to us. We gabbed a bit, and I found out that Marcia is a delightful person, and used to be a registered nurse in my home state. Then she showed me her capacious coupon drawer, and loaded me down with discount coupons for the various tourist sights and restaurants. That saved us considerable money! She called Blue Heaven for me and found out it was closed for the “off-season.” Too bad, but we did well without it.

Throughout our stay, here and there I noticed the industriousness of Dave and Martha: Dave out bright and early in the morning skimming fallen leaves from the pool or using a longhandled loping saw to trim falling fruits off of the Chrismas Tree Palm. Martha cleaning, dusting, and polishing everything to perfection.

As I entered the lovely garden courtyard for the first time, I was immediately greeted by one of the 3 resident cats, Fred, the sociable and laid-back tabby who often has just enough tongue sticking out to be comical. I sat down on one of the deck chairs, and it did not take much coaxing before he jumped up into my lap, and stayed for a good, long time enjoying being “scratched” behind the ears, petted, and massaged.

Our room had French doors which opened onto garden the courtyard with its 10-person heated spa. The room had a ceiling fan. The beds had lovely fluffy comforters with 3 pillows at each head. This was one of the rooms that Koko had told us was freshly renovated. And it had a hint of that clean scent of Lysol that I appreciate in a hotel room. Above the bathroom sink on a shelf was a vase with a fresh sprig of baby’s breath. In a candy dish on the bedside table were gluten free chocolates and little Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups which are also gluten-free. In the capacious closet were real wooden hangers, not those silly thingies without hooks. Also in the closet were a refrigerator, full ironing board and steam iron, electric blanket for wintertime, luggage rack, and a coffeemaker with all the fixings to make coffee in the room. There was a sizeable flat-screen TV, and a programmable radio-alarm clock with various choices of alarm sounds. The basket of bathroom supplies included not just bar soap, but also body wash; not just shampoo, but also conditioner. On the wall next to the sink was a powerful hair dryer. There was a clean folded dark blue towel designated for use when removing makeup. The rest of the towels, hand towels and wash cloths were snowy white. The shower looked new, shiny, and sparkling clean.

We had arrived late in the day, so after we were settled in our room we just wanted to have dinner and then return for a nice soak in the spa. I tested the water, and it was a bit cool for me (I have Raynaud’s), so I asked Marcia if they could raise the thermostat on it just slightly. She said “Absolutely!” I asked for an extension cord for my CPAP machine and she was quick to bring one to our room. When we returned from dinner, we had our soak in the spa, and the temperature was perfect! There was a basket of large towels laid out, and a basket for putting used towels into when done.

In the morning, we discovered that once we had loaded our  breakfast plates and poured our free Champaign mimosas, they could be taken to the covered porch at the side of the house, which had little glass-topped tables. All around were orchids in full bloom – about 8 different kinds. There was a cooling breeze on the porch. Fred and Blackie joined us there, probably hoping for a handout, but polite enough not to ask. 

Now about dinner. Our first and last dinner of our stay were both at Santiago Bodega’s (SB). Marcia had told us that they had a half-priced tapas special early in the week during the off-season. So we went there.

There were certain standouts on the Tapas menu at SB. We absolutely loved the dates stuffed with goat cheese, and wrapped with Canadian bacon. Be sure to squeeze a bit of your lime over them. Yum! The beef tenderloin with melted goat cheese on top was to die for. Double-yum! The chicken skewers were also delicious, as were the pork with mango salsa. However, truth be told, the mango salsa was more like raisin salsa, with only a couple tiny bits of mango, and all the rest raisins. The green bean and the asparagus tapas were also tasty. The sangria (you can have your choice of red or white) was also delicious. I should caution that the servings though delicious, seem skimpy, so if you don’t want to break the bank trying to get full, either go on a night when there is a half price special, or follow up your dinner with a trip to Better Than Sex Desserts (see below). Both times we were there, SB had no gluten-free deserts.

We went to Mangoes twice: once for dinner and once for frozen daiquiri and frozen pina colada and shrimp cocktail. The dinner was scrumptious. We started out with a wonderful salad (big enough to be split in two) of chopped fresh mango, shrimp, lettuce, onion, heart of palm, bacon, etc.) It was yummy! Then my hubby, who is not gluten-free ordered a lobster stuffed with crabmeat. Unfortunately I couldn’t have that because the crab was mixed with a bit of bread. However, hubby shared an untainted bit of the lobster with me, and it was sweet, juicy and succulent. I had the broiled Grouper with broiled tomatoes, served on a bed of rice and asparagus. It was delicious!

Sloppy Joe’s at 201 Duval Street was also on our list of restaurants. I’m not sure why. They had absolutely nothing on the menu that was gluten-free except for the Havana Nachos. Those were good though: a serving large enough for two, with lots of sliced olives, chopped tomatoes, chopped onions, grated white cheese mixed in, and then chedder on top and melted over it all. It was served with on-the-side containers of sour cream and salsa.

And remember that there is a Wendy’s at 355 Duval. Be sure to print out their gluten free menu and take it in your purse, so you can know what is safe to order there. One day we had baked potatoes with chives and sour cream, and Cokes, to hold us until a late dinner.

We had a great time! If you go, be sure to take the Fury glass bottom boat trip. Time it to take the one that is scheduled so as to include the Champaign toast to the sunset on your return from seeing the reef. Then as the boat docks, go over to the Mallory Square sunset celebration to see the various entertainers: tightrope-walking dogs, cats jumping through hoops of fire, magicians, mimes, etc. Lot’s of fun. On your first day, take the on-and-off trolly tour, learning about the history of the island. Be sure to get off and see the butterfly museum, Hemingway House, the Audubon museum, and the Mel Fisher museam that tells about his reclaimation of $200 million in sunken treasure. Explore the various art galleries higher up Duval Street. Buy souvenir T-shirts for your children or nieces and nephews. Enjoy seeing the 6-toed cats, and roosters everywhere! Soak in the spa every evening after dinner.

I have saved perhaps one of my favorite places for last: Better Than Sex Desserts. Marcia told us about this little dessert and wine restaurant just through the alley from her B&B. We went there after a light dinner elsewhere. We were greeted at the door by the owners: Len Johnson. His wife, Dani is the chef and chocolatier. She came over to talk to me about their gluten-free offering: the “Tongue Bath Truffle.” She was a delightful person, and I really enjoyed talking with her. Anyway, I ordered this dark, rich gluten-free wheatless truffle cake, served dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and dollups of whipped cream. Also served with it was my choice of various sorbets and sherbets. I opted for the raspberry sorbet. Hubby ordered the fresh strawberries to be dipped in a bowl of decadent warm chocolate sauce. We also ordered wine with the dessert, and a decaf coffee for me which had a faint suggestion of cinnamon – great with the dessert. As we were practically groaning with pleasure over these deserts, a live musician was playing the guitar and singing wonderful old songs. My hubby requested two of my favorite songs: Sweet Lorraine, and Nature Boy. I asked for a second cup of decaf in order to stay and listen more. What a lovely end to our evening and our week at Key West!

Disclaimer: I am not related to Marcia, Dave, Koko, Len, or Dani, or anyone else in Key West! I just know that if anyone deserves to do well in business, it’s them at the Seascape An Inn, and at Better than Sex Desserts. Do give them your business! You won’t be sorry!

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