Category Archives: Florida Keys

Introducing the Florida Keys Spectacular: A Podcast for Keys Fans

a pickup truck that's been bedazzled, Florida-keys style.
Introducing the Florida Keys Spectacular — bonus podcast content for Florida Keys fans!
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Do you love podcasts? Do you love the Florida Keys? Do you already listen to the Florida Spectacular podcast, co-hosted by me and Rick Kilby?

Well, then, this is your lucky Thursday. Why? Because, as of today, Florida Keys historian Brad Bertelli and I have a biweekly podcast about the Florida Keys.

Introducing the Florida Keys Spectacular podcast.

It’s no secret I love the Florida Keys.

One of the things I struggled with when I started visiting the Florida Keys regularly? Finding non-touristy things to do. Oh, yes, I swam with a sea lion (something I loved, but feel bad about now) and yes, I’ve eaten at Margaritaville. But… those things aren’t really the Florida Keys I love.

The Florida Keys really opened up to me after I met Brad Bertelli in 2015, when a stroke of serendipity sent me to the Florida Keys to get interviewed by a Canadian television station. At the time, Brad worked for a Florida Keys museum, I didn’t have this website, and my book was not-yet published. Brad, already a published author, was really nice to an unknown Florida writer. Throughout the years, we became friends as well as colleagues. (When my book, Florida Spectacular, comes out later this year, you’ll read one of my favorite Brad stories in the introduction.) During the pandemic, Brad and I had virtual cocktails for people playing the Florida Keys home game (which was everyone, really).

Photo of Brad Bertelli, co-host of Florida Keys Spectacular podcast. A bald-ish man with black frame glasses, smiling at the camera. Man is wearing a white tee.
There’s no better co-host for the Florida Keys Spectacular podcast than Brad Bertelli.
Photo courtesy Brad Bertelli.

Today, Brad has a few more books, a column about Florida Keys history in Keys Weekly, and a Facebook group about Florida Keys history that has more followers than a small town.

A few years back, I started the Florida Spectacular podcast.

The show has gone through several iterations. Right now we hit a sweet spot. Rick Kilby (another amazing Florida author) co-hosts. Rick and I have a lot of fun taking listeners across Florida every week. We talk about history, environment, and, of course, things to do in each part of Florida.

While Rick spends a lot of time traveling the state, he doesn’t spend nearly as much time in the Florida Keys as I do. And, honestly, there’s a lot more to the Sunshine State than Key West, Florida Bay, and the upper and middle keys. It’s a different world, honestly.

Which is why it makes sense to have a different podcast. Every Thursday, Brad holds court at Robbie’s in Islamorada. Anyone who wants to talk Florida Keys history can hang out with him, ask history questions, or share memories. I found myself, as I so often do, in the Florida Keys recently, so I found Brad at Robbie’s, bought him a beer, and told him I had a proposition. Why not take his knowledge about the Florida Keys and create an off-shoot of the Florida Spectacular podcast? This one would be only for Keys fans, and we’d cover everything from where to buy sandwiches for a picnic lunch at Windley Key (Episode 1) to the original route of the Oversea Highway (Episode 2).

Brad was all in immediately. While I plowed my way through a piece of fish at the Hungry Tarpon, we planned. Back home, the planning continued. Brad taped a commercial. Brad drafted some scripts. We chose topics. And, finally, today, the Florida Keys Spectacular podcast goes live.

Subscribe to Florida Keys Spectacular today and support us!

Florida Keys Spectacular is bonus content, available to anyone who supports the podcast at the $5/month level. For that $5, you get two episodes a month. Each one will take a deep dive into the Florida Keys. We’ll give you Florida Keys history, suggestions on things to do, and the ability to see the Florida Keys like a local does. No podcast explores the Florida Keys like we do. Take a listen — you won’t be disappointed!

I’d love to do the Sally Struthers thing and say, “for the cost of a cup of coffee” but, well, inflation. Also, aside from Joffrey’s, some of my favorite coffee in Florida is Baby’s Coffee, and since it’s a bit of a drive to Baby’s, it costs me a whole lot more than $5 to get a cup (but so worth it!).

Florida Keys Thanksgiving, American Crocodiles, and Sharks

Feet and legs in a white hammock with the sea in the background for Florida Keys Thanksgiving
No turkey in sight from my hammock. This year we celebrated a Florida Keys Thanksgiving.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

It’s been a hard year. Barry and I started 2023 with four parents, three close uncles, and one longtime-friend; by November 1, we had one parent and one uncle left. Needless to say, neither of us felt like giving thanks at a table with so many empty chairs.

Fortunately for us, Past Cathy — not expecting any of the death that chased summer into fall — had booked us a cottage at our favorite place in the Florida Keys: White Gate Court. We were going to have a Florida Keys Thanksgiving this year.

We did this once before, in 2020. COVID-19 meant we had to cancel our annual May trip to White Gate because everything was (mostly metaphorically) on fire. By November, when they called us to reschedule, we were desperate to get back to the Keys. Since no one was having a big family Thanksgiving that year, we had our first Florida Keys Thanksgiving.

Red dachshund wearing a holiday tie for Florida Keys Thanksgiving
Seeing Fred, White Gate Court’s canine ambassador,  always makes me smile. Here he’s decked out for his Florida Keys Thanksgiving.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

I called our Florida Keys Thanksgiving “FloridaKeysGiving.”

That moniker still applies, and, while I’m not sure we’ll do this every year, I wouldn’t complain if we did. We arrived at twilight the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and the sky was streaked with pinks, oranges, and purples. We’d missed sunset — getting out of town took forever — but watching the afterglow as we pulled onto Matecumbe  offered us a magnificent welcome. The first thing we did after we unloaded the car was take a glass of wine down to the water and take a few slow breaths. That’s pretty much all I accomplished Monday, too, which was exactly what I needed.

reef formation that has grown on a step in saltwater in the Florida Keys. Florida Keys Thanksgiving photo
The steps to the water from the beach at White Gate have an entire ecosystem happening.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Tuesday we’d scheduled a half-day fishing charter. The forecasted 11 MPH winds kicked up to about 22, and when we arrived at the dock, the captain offered us a refund. We instead rescheduled for Thanksgiving morning. I spent Tuesday reading in a hammock and trying to convince myself to get in the water.

Wednesday I braved the cold water — it was below 80º and I’m not built that way, usually, but once I submerged myself, the water became more than tolerable. I snorkeled a bit, and finally — after roughly seven years of coming here — caught sight of the resident nurse shark.

My love affair with sharks is well-documented, and those of you who know me will believe me when I tell you I swam up to him. Or, rather, when I tried to swim up to him. He swam away as soon as I started his way, proof that they’re more scared of us than we are of them.

Thanksgiving morning, we went fishing.

That’s probably one of the best sentences ever written about Thanksgiving. On my bucket list: tarpon and bonefish. I’ve never caught either. Of course, this may be because I don’t fish nearly enough and barely know what the hell I’m doing when I do go, which is why it’s always a pleasure to have a great guide.

The last fishing charter I did in the Keys was with Capt. Casey (Sea Monkey Charters), and we fished off — I swear this is true — Dildo Key near Flamingo (do browser history a favor and don’t Google that; here’s a link).  This time, though, we stayed farther down the chain of islands and wanted a charter closer to White Gate.

Until I wrote about Robbie’s for a series of articles about the Florida Keys six months after Irma,  I dismissed the entire enterprise as a tourist clip joint. I was wrong, and that’s another post for another time, but when we wanted a good captain, I asked my friend and fellow Florida-phile Brad Bertelli for help. Every week he hosts a “learn Florida Keys history” at Robbie’s and has never failed to disappoint with his Florida Keys travel suggestions. He suggested Capt. Rich Hastings, and once again, he failed to disappoint.

a live bonefish in a net, caught on Florida Keys Thanksgiving
The bonefish, right before her return to the water. We killed no fish on this trip.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

I’ll spare you the cast-by-cast of the fishing charter, but I will say that  as we made our way south from Robbie’s, we passed an American Crocodile in the mangrove cut, I caught a bonnethead shark, and I also caught my first bonefish. If there’s anything that compares to the thrill of catching a bonefish, seeing a croc in the wild is right up there. As for catching the shark? I felt bad. Sharks, as I’ve mentioned, are among my favorite things. The shark — and the bonefish — are, to my knowledge, still swimming happily around the flats where we fished, talking about that time they got away.

Man fishing off skiff for Florida Keys Thanksgiving
Bonefish? Nope. A bewildered and not-at-all-happy stingray.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Fishing isn’t about the fish.

That all said, if I’d caught nothing, it wouldn’t have mattered. The morning started with rain and clouds, but by about 8:30, the sun peeked through and the water reflected the colors of the sky. Fishing is — or should be, at least — a mostly-quiet sport, so in between catching fish, I had plenty of time to watch the water. As I did, I breathed in and out, and remembered that, after a year I could have done without, I still have so many reasons to be thankful.

A small red mangrove surrounded by saltwater; taken during Florida Keys Thanksgiving

Photo by Cathy Salustri

The End of an Era? Key Lime Tree Pie Shop Fire

a pile of rubble by a palm tree
The sad end of a delicious era?
Cathy Salustri

The best things aren’t things, but experiences. What if, though, one of those amazing experiences involves a thing?

One of my favorite Florida Keys traditions has ended, possibly for good. The Key Lime Tree key lime products shop has burned down, and I don’t know if it will reopen.

I first stopped there on the way home from a trip to the former Bay View Inn on Conch Key (it’s now the Conch Key Fishing Lodge and Marina), and after a far-too-long absence from the Keys– (I wrote about that in this post), I wanted extend the saltwater, salt-air vibe for as long as I could. Since moving there wasn’t an option, I went for the next best thing: bringing home a key lime pie.

Knowing nothing about which roadside shop had good key lime pie, I stopped at this one.

It was the best part of the trip.

Every year since (except for 2017 – thanks a lot, Irma), I’ve stopped here to get a pie. When I learned I had celiac, I floundered, but – alas – the shop had gluten-free key lime pies (it’s all about the filling for me, not the crust, anyway.)

a store with a chain link fence around it and rubble on the ground

Cathy Salustri

The first time the man who would become my husband and I traveled to the Keys, I made him stop on the way home to get a pie. He thanked me when he tasted it.

In 2015, Quebec’s TV5 brought me to Islamorada to tape a segment about the human fascination with dolphin. I stopped at the shop on my way home and met the owner. When I told him how long I’d been stopping, he thanked me with a shell necklace that hung around my rearview mirror for years.

For year now, we bring home one, maybe three pies. When we first bought The Gabber Newspaper, we brought home a half pie for every non-vegan member of our staff. (Journalism may not pay much, but we do have pie.)

For a while, we knew where the shop was because of the Don Bailey billboard of an almost-naked carpet salesman. (Uh, if you’re not from South Florida, you may want to read this to understand that.) When the billboard changed – much to my dismay – had to learn the mile marker (95.2)

I’ve been to the Keys twice this year (so far). The first trip, in February, was a group trip I led. My co-leader and I left the Keys late in the evening, and after 10 days of leading a group, neither of us thought about stopping for pie. It was dark, and my mind was on the drive home.

When I returned for a far more leisurely trip in May, the pie shop had a fence around it – and a black charred shell of a building.

A sign for Key Lime Products

Cathy Salustri

I did a little research and found two articles in Keys Weekly, and they painted a picture that overshadowed my own dismay.

First, last fall, the shop had a series of burglaries. Police finally arrested the alleged thief on November 2, 2022, after the shop owner, Violet Wahba, had lost several thousand dollars in merchandise and store fixtures.

Next, on December 15 – not even six weeks after the arrest – a Key Largo resident who lived by the shop called Wahba to tell her the shop was on fire.

These two things, of course, came on the heels of the pandemic, which came less than a year after Wahba bought the shop in March 2019.

Despite all that, it seems Wahba still tries to operate as she can on the property, because there was an A-frame sign outside the fenced-off business suggesting  some operating hours. I’m not sure that’s still the case, but I hope so.

Wahba’s daughter created a Go Fund Me for her mother to help rebuild the shop; in it, she says the fire destroyed not only the building, but $150,000 worth of merchandise (they sell a lot more than pies).

I was shocked to see no one had donated. I sent them $25. It’s not a lot, but I hate to see the end of this iconic stop along US 1 in the Florida Keys.

Until we meet again, Key Lime Tree. I hope it’s soon.

Sign on ground, reading "The Key Lime Tree – Gifts – Baskets – Food Products– Lotions – Skin Care"
I was sorely tempted to take the sign as a moment, but left it in hopes the owners would rebuild.
Cathy Salustri