Key Largo Food and Wine Fest at Pelican Cove – Foodie Dream Vacation
Fresh seafood, potent libations, the natural beauty of Florida Keys and great ocean view accommodations is why the Key Largo Food and Wine Festival at Islamorada’s Pelican Cove Resort makes for a perfect foodie vacay. I had the privilege to indulge in this pleasure, thanks to an invitation by the Islamorada Resort Company, the owners of the fully renovated, 63-roomed Pelican Cove Resort, with its own private marina –and pelican birds.
What impressed me the most about Pelican Cove Resort was the relaxing vibe emanating from its truly serene white sand beach. The nearby Cabana Bar and Café ensures a completely content day-in-the sun experience.
Besides, watersports activities, such as kayaking, paddle boarding, and big-wheeled water tricycle biking, the very reasonable $25 a day resort fee allows guests to visit their other Islamorada Resort properties – Amara Cay, La Siesta and Postcard Inn, via a complimentary air-conditioned shuttle bus.
All rooms at the intimate Pelican Cove Resort have Atlantic Ocean views and terraces. Tip: Ask for room 321, a king bed suite on the resort’s top floor with an oceanfront vista.
The 2016 Key Largo Food and Wine Festival took place at the Pelican Cove’s large outdoor event space, where I arrived comfortably on Islamorada Resort Company’s shuttle bus, along with other food bloggers from Miami for the festival’s Grand Tasting Finale. The Key Largo Food and Wine fest has a laid-back and informal atmosphere, with wineries and restaurants spread about the cozy waterside grounds.
Vintners are well represented from Casillero del Diablo to Trivento. However, I was most captivated by the crimson-hued Pink Cava, Pere Ventura’s Tresor Brut Rose from Barcelona. This 15-year aged, Spanish sparkling wine is made from the Trepat grape variety for its distinctive aroma of wild red berries. On the palate, it is a perfect bubbly balance of acidity and fruit.
Also very well represented were spirit makers, from Lucas Bol’s Damark Gin to Richard Rawling’s Gas Monkey Tequila infused with Cinnamon. My first table visit was at Barritt’s Ginger Beer, a sweet and zesty soft drink that is an excellent mixer, especially in the trendy Moscow Mule cocktails. The Barritt’s rep first made for me a delicious and spicy Mexican Mule – muddled Jalapenos and Tequila mixed with Barritt’s Ginger Beer and Fresh Lime Juice. My favorite was the Dark and Stormy, a rum cocktail similar to a Cuba Libre, but with Ginger Beer instead of Coca-Cola.
Instead of the trademark Gosling’s Black Seal rum, Barritt’s Ginger Beer version uses Papa’s Pilar Dark Rum. The molasses-based, blended dark rum is rich and complex, and named after Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat that he used for trips between Key West and Cuba.
Dark and Stormy recipe:
2 oz. rum Dark Rum
3 oz. Barritt’s Ginger Beer
1/2 oz. Lime Juice, or squeezed fresh from half of a Key Lime
Combine dark rum, Barritt’s Ginger Beer, and the lime juice, (which is traditional in Florida, but not in Bermuda), into a tall glass full of ice. Stir and enjoy! You’re welcome.
What thrilled me the most was to find St. George Spirits’ table, the maker of my fav craft gin, Terroir Gin. The rep introduced me to one of their new flavored vodkas, Green Chile Vodka. The delish vodka is made from a variety of California-grown hot and sweet peppers -Jalapenos, Serranos, Habaneros, Red and Yellow Bell Peppers, that build layers of sweet, savory heat.
Just in luck, St. George’s mixologist, David Ortiz, was at the Cooking Demo tent giving a lesson in Old Fashioned cocktail making. For this tropical Florida Keys version, David poured St. George’s Pear Brandy with a splash of St. George’s Citrus Vodka as the libation’s base liquor, mixed with Simple Syrup and Orange Bitter, and a burnt Grapefruit Peel as the garnish. David also shared to “stir all-spirit cocktails, [such as Gin Martinis], but shake fruity, citrusy or creamy drinks” –like Old Fashioneds.
The results of another cooking demo was Chef George Patti’s Paella A La Valencia -Snapper, Shrimp, Chorizo, Chicken, Shiitake Mushrooms & Saffron Risotto. After receiving my freshly prepared bowl, I asked the chef to recommended a beer to pair with his dish, a favorite served at his Longboat Key restaurant, Pattigeorges. Chef George sent me over to the Islamorada Beer Company table, where I especially enjoyed the Sandbar Sunday, a crafted American Wheat Ale with a delicate spicy note and a slight citrusy character.
Yes, there was food, too! Mostly tasty seafood creations, but I did very much enjoy, from Florida City’s Sonny’s BBQ, the finger-licking good Baby Back Rib covered in Sonny’s Sweet BBQ Sauce and Red Neck Egg Roll – Melted Jack Cheese over Pulled Pork encased in a traditional Egg Roll, a fried flour dough wrap.
Skipper’s Island Ceviche and Crab Cakes and Key Largo Conch House’s Corn Cakes with Avocado and Salmon were delicious discoveries. Chef Andrew Tsang of Snapper’s served the festival’s most popular dish, Lobster Mac N’ Cheese accompanied by a light and refreshing champagne cocktail made with a scoop of Key Lime Sorbet.
My personal favorite was Oltremare Ristorante’s perfectly tender Grilled Octopus –served with Swiss Chard, Kabocha Squash Puree and house-made Sun Choke Chips.
Oltremare’s executive chef, Darius Olivera, shared the cooking method for the octopus in his amazing dish:
5 lbs. cleaned Octopus
1 whole Spanish Onion
3 cloves of Garlic
2 large Cubanelle Peppers
1 whole Bay Leaf
1 cup of White Wine
½ bunch of fresh Thyme
1 tsp of Black Pepper
2 tsp of Salt
1 cup of Greek Yogurt
Place all ingredients, except Greek Yogurt, in a stock pot. Fill with water until all ingredients are submerged.
Simmer softly and skim until Octopus is tender (about an hour and a half). Once tender, remove Octopus from water, and cool.
Once cooled, add Greek Yogurt to Octopus and let marinate for a least two hours. Then, remove Octopus from the Greek Yogurt, and char-grill.
For more information about the Key Largo Food and Wine Festival, visit: http://floridakeysuncorked.com/grand-tasting/
Pelican Cove Resort is located at 84457 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036, (MM 84.5). For resort reservations or more information, visit: www.pelicancovehotel.com