Papa Dobles, Key Lime Pie, Papa Hemingway, and Key Lime Seafood Penne
What You’ll Find in Islamorada: The Fishing Capital of the World
By Dr. Joe Leonardi
Warning: “A Journey Across The Overseas Highway” spells out food descriptions that might provoke you to immediately book a trip to Islamorada.
This week, I welcome Dr. Joe Leonardi, a Chiropractor from Kingston, Pennsylvania, and the author of several books in the Historical and Realistic Fiction genres. Joe is a one-time candidate for congress, an educator, and his greatest pride, a non-combat United States Navy veteran.
Begin Your Journey to Islamorada
A jolt as the wheels touch down. The roar of engines as they go into reverse. The jetliner slows and taxis to the jetway. The flight captain announces for us to remain seated until the plane comes to a complete stop. I don’t think I’ve heard a more useless announcement because as we are rolling along, people spring from their seats and unlatch overhead compartments as if they can exit before the doors open.
We sit and chuckle at the hurried crowd. When those around us have finally moved away, we get up. I reach above and grab two simple duffels and we are last out the door.
One step across the metal threshold and the heavy, hot, close Miami air greets us with a welcoming hug. It feels good as it penetrates old bones that have been enduring a Northeast Pennsylvania winter.
We are not at our eventual destination, and because overpacking is not a necessity, we skip the throngs at the baggage carousel and head straight to the car rental place. Being a preferred member allows a straight shot to the garage. My old friend, whose name I do not know, who is here on each of my trips greets me with a broad smile and tips his hat to you.
“Your car is ready.” He hands me the key, and we shake hands.
The top is already down. He knows me too well. We exit down an angled ramp and find our way to Florida’s Turnpike. Of course, as I have done on each of my ventures to the sunshine state, I have forgotten sunglasses. It isn’t long before we arrive at the same convenience store where I have purchased at least a dozen pairs of dark lenses to protect my eyes. I get you a pair, even though you were smart enough to take yours. I always marvel that this is the only store I have ever been to which is on the left side of a highway.
Sunglasses – check.
Shirts changed to lightly colored tank tops – check.
Sunscreen applied – check.
A couple of bananas and a few bottles of water now occupy the back seat and we are ready to continue south. You see my friends, this installment is not about the destination, but about the journey. A journey along one of the most scenic roads one can ever drive and an interesting stop or two along the way.
But before we begin, we take a moment to just sit in the car taking in the warmth and sunshine. Scanning the radio for a Latin music station, we must set the proper Miami mood. Once I find one, the driving beat of Gloria Estefan Turns The Beat Around, so I turn the key and let the plugs spark fuel to fire, set my foot heavy upon the accelerator and roar back onto the turnpike.
I smile and joke, “Toto, we aren’t in frozen Pennsylvania any longer.”
We were not on the road for half an hour when I suggest we make a stop at roadside attraction I have often wanted to visit, but never before made the time. You are game. I put the Coral Castle in my phone’s GPS and after a couple of turns, we are on The Dixie Highway pulling up to the limestone structure.
Walking along the outside, my hand rubs the rough structure. It has weathered much in its nearly century of standing. Admittance is paid, and once inside, we are mesmerized by the tale of how a lone, slight man, with no advanced tools, nor anyone’s assistance, built this monument to a love who broke his heart. Every part of the structure is made from the limestone he magically moved and crafted. Chairs, a bed, stairs, and sculptures all the same coral. We are informed there are many myths as to how this solitary person put together this magnificent structure.
“He had an unrivaled working of physics, so much so, he was able to perfectly balance the heavy, revolving door that keeps the outside world from entering, but can be spun upon its axis with little nothing more than a solitary finger.”
It is fascinating, and while I would like to know more, I don’t think I will bother to research any of the truth behind it. After witnessing this man-made wonder, it is much more fun to believe the myths of its creation than try and find out what may be the truth. Who knows, perhaps the truth is not out there.
Before heading out I crack open a bottle of water which has warmed considerably in the Florida sun. A banana hits the spot and gives much-needed potassium before we head back on the road south.
A quick jaunt by Florida City and the end of the peninsula is near. The turnpike has melded into US 1 and much of the surrounding area is desolate, but the ocean is in view and we are crossing a bridge that is elevating above the water. Beneath us the sea is calm and tranquil, as we crest the top, the first of the Florida Keys, Key Largo, welcomes us and our journey upon The Overseas Highway. There is where it begins.
Here traffic slows as the small town is overflowing with tourists. This is a big area for diving. One day we must make a stop, but today our stomachs are growling so I keep on the road. Islamorada is but a mere 15 miles, but traffic is heavy, so it may take another 30 or so minutes to reach a favored spot for a late lunch.
A sign welcomes us to Islamorada and lets us know we are now in “The Fishing Capital of The World.” At this time of day, the traffic is now light, most are out experiencing deep sea fishing, and the usual lunch hours have ended. I see Lion’s Lair, a specialty swimwear and intimate apparel business that has managed to take hundreds of my hard-earned dollars over the years for travel companions. Today we have no need, but it is a tell-tale sign that our eating destination is less than a few minutes away.
Or sooner. I have been to the “Marker 88” restaurant more than a dozen times, and yet, each time, the entrance sneaks up on me. I hit the brakes hard, downshift and make a sudden ninety-degree angle right turn onto the long driveway. My empty and rumbling stomach leaps into my throat and then settles quickly as it knows what to soon expect.
The car comes to a rest. The lingering smell of asbestos tickles the nose but does nothing to deter appetites. This is the best time to come. The lunch crowd is gone and there isn’t a soul in the place. Well, there is one soul in the place.
“Joe, is that you? I was just thinking it is time for one of your visits.”
It still amazes me; the people I see a handful of times a year know me better than many back home.
“Hi Lori, too cold up north.”
She smiles, “I know. When are you just going to up and move down here?”
I give her the same answer as always. “Soon.”
“Well, you know the routine, you have the place to yourself. I will bring out your Papa Dobles and menus.”
As we walk through the restaurant, we head out back to the beautiful body of water where the Gulf of Mexico forms the Florida Bay. Glider-style tables dot the sea. Lowering our bulk into one causes the metal to groan as it gently sways as we settle in.
The sea air is fresh and cooler and less humid than the air that greeted us at the airport. The beach is one of the few natural ones in the Keys. Most of the beaches require sand to be shipped in for the tourists to sun themselves.
Alongside a refreshing Papa Dobles is an appetizer of sweet potato fries. The deep orange potato, fried to a crisp texture, covered in salt, is giving off an enticing aroma. We take a fry and gingerly bite into it. It snaps as teeth break the surface. The inside releases a small burst of hot steam warning us to blow on it before our next bite.
As we peruse the menu, the sun drifts from directly overhead and takes a temporary spot over the bay. In a few short hours, people will line all points west to watch her dazzling display of beauty as she sets beneath the ocean.
As we finish the fries, fresh Papa Dobles appear in front of us as well as plates of Key Lime Seafood Penne that we didn’t order, but Lori knew that was what we were getting. Honestly, what could be more Florida Keys than freshly caught lobster, shrimp, and blue crab mixed with penne pasta in a key lime-Tabasco butter sauce.
The savory scent of melted butter mixes with the tart tang bouquet of key lime. The heat from Tabasco opens our nasal passages in such a way that the fragrance overwhelms. After another deep breath, we dig right in. The sweet, tender lobsters melt in our mouths. Not wanting to miss even the slightest morsel, both fork and spoon are a necessity. We take a quick look around and we are still the only ones in the place. so bowls are lifted, brought to mouths, and with slurping sounds, we finish off the remaining sauce. Butter streaks our chins as the delicious broth passes our lips.
As our plates are cleared, a walk along a pier that juts out over the bay is a must. Standing out over the sea, the water is crystal clear. Various sea life is visible moving about. Not too far off, what appears to be a nurse shark taking a break from the ocean floor, is sunning him, or her, self. The sun’s light reflects at us at such an odd angle, we squint until the dorsal fin drops beneath the surface.
Dessert is the next order of the day, and there is no reason to ask what we are having. As we retake our seats, set on the table is truly the best Key Lime Pie in all The Keys, if not the world. This pie is more than simply a key lime filling atop some type of crust, no — atop this filling, made with freshly squeezed key lime juice, are several inches of snow-white meringue. The fluffy topping has a sugary coat beckoning us to plunge in our forks. As the tines pass through the filling and break the graham crust, the scent of that fresh key lime juice escapes its confinement. We raise a portion to our mouths; the sweet but tart bouquet tickles our noses causing us to immediately place the decedent dessert into our mouths. We allow it to sit on our tongues, the intense flavors reawaken our appetites. Slowly chewing, a loud pleasurable moan is all the expression necessary.
I order up a pitcher of Papa Dobles. Lori asks if we are staying next door. I nod my head yes. She tells me I can leave the car in the lot; she takes my keys and will put the top up and tells me she will have them for me at breakfast.
The drink of Papa Hemingway continues to relax as much as the warm breeze blowing in off the ocean.
Our next installment will take us the rest of the way down The Overseas Highway where we will explore the Southernmost Point in the Continental United States.
Visit Joe’s website, ShortStoryScribe.com to get your hands copies of his books that reveal his fascination with storytelling.
A Journey Across The Overseas Highway is one of many travel stories created for the Everything, Everywhere, Travel Guest series, a weekly feature that shines a light on travelers from around the world and all walks of life. Here’s a companion story you’ll love by Neil Patel, a digital marketing icon.
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