Two USN Chiefs on the Loose in Key West

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Herb and Landis Harfst. Photo courtesy of the Harfst's.
Herb and Landis Harfst. Photo courtesy of the Harfst’s.

Here we go again! Our last episode was a trip to Sicily which you may have read about in a previous issue of R&R Travel News™. This trip is not quite so far afield as that one, but it involves the same cast of characters, Landis and Herb (a.k.a. the Herbs) and Happy and Nick (a.k.a. the Nicks). Herb and Nick are both retired Navy Chief Petty  Officers.

The trip for the Herbs started on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012. Since Herb and Landis like to visit friends and antique stores as part of the trip the Herbs and the Nicks are not compatible travelers.

The first day was a longer than normal driving day for us since we went all the way from Richmond, Va., to Navy Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., in one shot. We did manage to get in a couple of antique stores nonetheless.

We stayed that first night at the Navy Lodge on Kings Bay, where we had stayed quite often in the past. It is a small lodge, on the base but outside of the security area and so it’s easy to get to. The rooms are spacious with two queen beds, a kitchenette, bath and sitting area. As always in Navy Lodges, the room was clean and comfortable. It is interesting to note, however, that the front desk is only open from 0800 to 2000 hours daily. If you have reservations and arrive outside those hours they put your key in a lock box which can be opened with the last four numbers of your Social Security number.

The young lady at the front desk pointed us in the direction of the Borrell Creek Landing Restaurant for dinner. The restaurant was less than 10 minutes from the lodge and was definitely a winner. It is located a short distance off the main road and seems to be in the middle of the woods. The interior was very nice, lots of dark wood and brick. We were there after dark so we did not get a look at the swamp which our waitress said was just outside our window.

The wine list is not extensive, but has some very good wines. The menu is quite extensive with an emphasis on seafood. Entrees were in the high teens to low twenties range. We started the meal with an appetizer of deep fried alligator bits. Landis had never eaten alligator so it was a first time experience for her. We thought them a little bit bland but okay. For our main courses, Landis had a mussel dish and Herb had fried catfish. Both were very good. We would recommend the restaurant to anyone.

The next morning we paid a visit to the NEX. Herb has lost quite a bit of weight and had no shorts that fit and one can’t go to Key West with no shorts. The exchange is medium sized and well stocked. Then to the base gas station for fill-up and on the road again.

We stopped only once, at an antiques mall in Jacksonville. We had been there before and had enjoyed it. Herb collects German beer steins and managed to find two for the collection. That night we spent the night with friends in Palm Beach Gardens.

Leaving Palm Beach Gardens the next morning we drove on to Key West, stopping to eat lunch at the Islamorada Fish Company. This is another restaurant we can recommend. It is very casual, with outdoor seating on the water, good service, good food and reasonable prices. We both had the grilled scallops which were served with a medley of grilled veggies and French fries; a very good lunch at a reasonable price.

Trumbo Point Trailer Rental. Photo courtesy of Herb and Landis Harfst.
Trumbo Point Trailer Rental. Photo courtesy of Herb and Landis Harfst.

We arrived at the NAS Trumbo Point Annex in Key West around 1730 and picked up our key, found our trailer, unloaded and settled in. We had done a little grocery shop on the way in and were happy with a large salad for dinner. It was then to bed after a long day.

A little description of our accommodations: this is our fifth trip to Key West. On our very first trip we discovered what has to be the deal of the century. On the Trumbo Point Annex of the NAS are 40, two-bedroom trailers that rent for $65 per night. Mind you, we are not talking luxury here but they are comfortable, clean and everything works. They are furnished with an almost adequate selection of cooking and eating utensils. We always bring a small gas grill and the necessary tools. The seafood here is incredibly fresh so we do a lot of grilling out. One of the best things about the trailers is that there is a very large and recently renovated pool about

Trumbo Annex trailer interior. Photo courtesy of Herb and Landis Harfst.
Trumbo Annex trailer interior. Photo courtesy of Herb and Landis Harfst.

100 yards from the trailers. It costs retirees a dollar a day. Active duty members swim free.

Also on the Trumbo Point Annex are some duplex apartments and a large, hotel-like building called the “Fly Navy” because high on the side of the building in huge letters are the words, “Fly Navy.” It was once a BOQ but is now a Navy Gateway Inn. We have never tried staying in either place because we enjoy the easy access and the independence that the trailers provide. The Fly Navy is about three blocks from our trailer and, as an extra benefit, they offer a free breakfast buffet that trailer renters can take advantage of – two free breakfasts for each trailer. Breakfast is not served on weekends or holidays but what a deal!     In addition to all of this, there are RV spaces. We don’t know the details but there are people who spend all or most of the winter living there.

Our first full day in paradise was spent with a more extensive grocery shop at the Commissary and a visit to the Exchange next door. Both establishments are located a short drive from Trumbo Point Annex at the Sigsbee Annex. Also on Sigsbee are the Navy Lodge and MWR. Back at home base, we spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around the pool.

On our second evening in Key West, the Herbs had dinner at Louie’s Backyard, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by friends. This is a very high class place! Located off the beaten path, right on the ocean, it has indoor and outdoor dining areas as well as a wine and tapas bar. Entrees are all in the $30 to $40 range. But, having said that, let us also say that our meals were so good that we felt they were worth every penny! Again, the wine list was not extensive but the wines listed were very good (and very pricey). If you are watching your budget we would recommend having your wine at home before you go. The wait staff is very attentive and very pleasant. Louie’s Backyard is now on our list of favorites.

We started our meal by splitting an appetizer of mussels steamed in a really good broth. Fresh, hot bread accompanied the mussels and was really good for sopping up the broth. Landis continued her meal with the diver scallops and Herb had the shrimp and grits, both were taken to a higher level than we had ever experienced. Since Herb has now been diagnosed with diabetes, he ended his meal with a cup of very excellent coffee while Landis had a dessert that had a brownie secreted at the bottom of a cup of Crème brûlée. We were more than satisfied. It was then back to our trailer and a good night’s sleep.

Day two started with breakfast at home since it was a Saturday and there was no free buffet at Fly Navy.  We then made a foray to what had been our favorite seafood shop and market only to discover that the City of Key West owns the building and, with the intelligence usually given to governmental organizations, had raised the rent so high that the market went out of business. The locals are outraged because it was a unique and wonderful place to shop.  The building now stands empty.

We then inquired as to where we could by fresh seafood and were directed to Fausto’s Market, a locally owned place that bills itself as “The Food Palace.” It is a very eclectic place with a small seafood section. Not a very big selection but what they had was fresh. We couldn’t figure out why anyone would buy “previously frozen tilapia” from Vietnam when right next to it was locally caught yellow tail snapper. Similarly there was “previously frozen” shrimp flanked by locally caught Key West pink shrimp. Go figure.

Having made our purchases, we headed back to the trailer for lunch and then to the pool to veg out until the Nicks arrived. Hors d’oeuvres and wine were consumed on our makeshift patio between trailers. That evening Herb made his signature Brazilian Style Fish Stew with the snapper and shrimp purchased earlier that day. (Recipe upon request). Desert, coffee and a bit of reading before bed ended day three.

Featured left to right: Herb, Nick Urick and wife, Happy. Photo courtesy of Herb and Landis Harfst.
Featured left to right: Herb, Nick Urick and wife, Happy. Photo courtesy of Herb and Landis Harfst.

Day four started with church for the Herbs and an exploratory expedition for the Nicks. While these activities were going on, the weather changed dramatically from very warm and sunny to very cool, windy and rainy. The weather pretty much shut down outdoor activity and the day was spent reading and catching up things that had so far been left undone. For dinner we went to a Cuban restaurant called El Siboney that had been recommended to the Nicks. It is a small place, located off the beaten path and not advertised at all except by word of mouth. We were told that it is the place for the local Cuban population. After our meal we could understand why. The food was definitely Cuban style, large portions and really good. An added bonus is that it was not expensive. If you are coming to Key West, add this restaurant to your “bucket list.” The rest of the evening was spent reading and it was then to bed. The morning and the evening were the fourth day, to paraphrase Genesis.

The fifth day began with breakfast at Fly Navy then back home for a few chores and to pick up our dirty laundry for a trip to the laundromat. The laundromat is located on the Sigsbee Annex of the Naval Air Station about a 10-minute drive from Trumbo Point. A slight inconvenience, but we had planned a Commissary shop and a visit to the Navy Exchange and to MWR, all of which are located on Sigsbee. Once all this activity was done, we went to another fish market to purchase shrimp for dinner. Next door to the Fishbusterz seafood place is a very unusual restaurant name the Hogfish Grill. We had eaten dinner here on previous trips and decided to try lunch. We all had variations of fish sandwiches, all of which were excellent. Another place to add to your bucket list. Both these establishments are located on Stock Island, just north of Key West.

Trumbo Point swimming pool. Photo courtesy of Herb and Landis Harfst.
Trumbo Point swimming pool. Photo courtesy of Herb and Landis Harfst.

We had planned an afternoon at the pool but when we got there we discovered that it was closed. We fell back on Plan B and drove down to yet another Naval Station Annex, Truman Annex, where there is a very nice small beach. If you go there you will need beach-walking shoes as most of the beach is crushed coral and not foot friendly. There are a few covered picnic tables and some benches but folding chairs and or folding lounges would make things a little nicer. Herb did find a small patch of sand and put down a towel and lay on the beach like a beached whale.

Truman Annex seems to be where, in the olden days, the barracks were located. These have now become Navy Gateway Inns. The rooms have two twin beds, private bath, TV and microwave and rent for $55 per night. The bonus here is that Truman is located on the Gulf of Mexico and in the middle of downtown Key West where all the action is. If one doesn’t mind eating out for every meal this would be an ideal place to spend a few days. After an afternoon on the beach, we returned home and Nick fixed us a favorite dish of his, lemon spaghetti with shrimp. Happy had made a coconut pie for desert. We all ate too much. Reading ended the day for us.

The next morning was our last day in Key West. We started with breakfast at Fly Navy and then made a shopping excursion to downtown Key West. The last time we were here we discovered a small, Cuban sandal factory right in the heart of things. The sandals are all leather, handmade on the premises and Landis and our daughter and granddaughters love them. All styles and colors are either $11, $12 or $14.  They don’t always have all sizes and colors, but we were successful in finding all the girls a pair.

We then walked up to Duval Street, the heart of the tourist trap that is Key West and did the “Duval crawl.” Happy and Landis had been there the day before and found a cookbook with many of the recipes from Louie’s Backyard and Herb wanted a copy for himself.  We found it and then walked to another of our favorite restaurants to have lunch but discovered that there was an hour and a half wait so we elected to walk across the street to a small place called La Creperie. A good decision. The place is very, very casual and the menu small, but the food was excellent. We all chose one or another variety of panini and all were good. We then walked back to the car and drove to Louie’s Backyard so that the Nick’s could make reservations for a 50th birthday party for their daughter. Then to a bakery so a cake for the party could be ordered. It was then back to the trailers where we changed and the Herbs went to the pool for the last time.

That evening Herb cooked up a frittata using the left over fresh veggies. An evening of packing and reading ended our last day.

On Thursday morning the Herbs and the Nicks parted company for their trips home. Herb and Landis drove to Palm Beach Gardens to spend the night with friends.

On Friday we drove to Homossasa, Fla., for two more nights with friends. Our friends took us to a restaurant called Stumpknockers named after a local fish. Located in Inverness, its a very casual restaurant decorated with stuffed fish, tanned alligator hides and other outdoorsy stuff. The food was very good, the portions were huge and the prices were reasonable. What more could you ask for?

The next day we hit the road again headed toward the Navy Lodge on Kings Bay. We made a stop at a favorite antiques mall in Waldo, Fla., and found another stein and gifts for family.  We got up early, consumed a bag breakfast and hit the road for Pawley’s Island, S.C., to spend some time with an old Navy buddy and his wife. We had attended EM”A” and Nuclear Weapons Assembly Tech schools together in 1957 and 1958.

While there we spent some time locating a third buddy that neither of us had been able to find. We struck pay dirt! The buddy is now living in Hawaii. A fact that led Landis to immediately propose our next “On the Loose” Space-A adventure. Herb now has no more excuses.

After two days in Pawley’s Island we hit the road again for home, arriving there at about 1700. Another adventure safely accomplished.

Herb Harfst , CPO, USN, Ret.
and wife, Landis Shepherd
Richmond, Virginia
Herb.Harfst@gmail.com
LandisShepherd@gmail.com

Reprint from May-Jun 2012 • Volume 42, No. 3