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Tony Capecchi

Woodbury, Minn.

Drink in the Island Life at Lorelei

“Another perfect day, on this island town.” It was impossible to argue with the guitar-strumming duo who sang those words as the sun set over Lorelei Cabana Bar and Marina in Islamorada, Florida on this 76-degree May evening. 

My wife and I were stuffed from a fantastic dinner at the world-renowned yet refreshingly casual, ocean-side restaurant as the musicians crooned up on stage, but that didn’t stop us from devouring our frozen key lime pie. As we indulged, it occurred to us that the only way to improve on the accuracy of the song’s refrain would be to add the phrase: “at this perfect bar.”

“Perfect” is a cliché, but spend an evening at Lorelei’s outdoor restaurant and you’ll quickly see why it’s the first word that comes to mind. You’ll also see why Lorelei, recently named one of the top five “after-fish restaurants” in the world, attracts folks from all over the planet.

 


 

The restaurant feeds over 1,500 people throughout a busy day, with live music every night, a massive marina home to hundreds of boats and 33 fishing guides, and an ideal view of the sunset. But most importantly, Lorelei possesses a vibe all its own––a fun-loving fellowship shared by its staff and guests alike that embodies the spirit of the Florida Keys. 

“We have fun here,” said John Maloughey, the restaurant’s general manager. “We get good musicians every night and we offer very affordable prices so people want come back.” 

Maloughey knows a thing or two about coming back. The Islamorada native has failed at retirement twice, returning several times to manage the restaurant he’s helped operate since 1989. Lorelei is the place the locals go––along with the tourists, of course––so when Maloughey walks along the west-facing deck, he’s stopped by handshakes, smiles and fishing tales from friends. 

His down-to-earth nature is commonplace at the restaurant. He sat down at our table to shoot the breeze with my wife and me, sipping on a lemonade while we enjoyed rum runners from the restaurant’s extensive happy hour cocktail list

“I still work about 80 hours a week, but when you love what you’re doing and you don’t necessarily need the money anymore it’s a lot different,” Maloughey said. “We have a lot of staff who’ve been here for years, and that makes it nice.” 

Our waiter that night, Sean, was a classic Keys man. His home floats; a boat he shares with his wife as they “follow the seasons.” He bartends in the Bahamas during peak tourism season there, then motors north to the keys to dock at Islamorada and work at Lorelei the rest of the year. “We have no bills, no kids, and no complaints,” he said casually. What a life.

Maloughey, meanwhile, has two adult daughters––both of whom can run their own boat. “I took both my daughters out boating and fishing since they were little,” he said. “Islamorada is a great place for kids if you like the water, but there’s a not a ton else for kids to do in this town, so we make sure we’re a family-friendly place, and people seem to appreciate that.” 

Indeed, the gang at Lorelei does more than its fair share for area kids. Each year, they run a huge youth fishing derby and give away tons of prizes. For a full month before the event, Maloughey feeds the fish at 10am every day to help the kids’ success rate for the 10am fishing event. 
 


For adults, Lorelei’s marina hosts over 50 major fishing tournaments every year, with prizes worth tens of thousands of dollars. The restaurant and its fresh seafood, cheap drinks and picture-perfect view of the sunset have a way of bringing out the kid in everyone. Several tables away from us, a group of eight broke out into a round of "Don't Worry, Be Happy" when the professional musicians took a break. 
 


When Davidson and Webb got back on stage and resumed singing, an old buddy of theirs walked up to the stage to greet them. The friendly duo didn’t hesitate to take a break from singing to visit with their friend. When they resumed, a 50-something year-old woman went up to the stage and started dancing, trying unsuccessfully to bait every man and woman within sight to join her. 

The evening rolled on with that sort of carefree, fun atmosphere and as my wife and I enjoyed delicious shrimp, fish dip and snapper tacos, we mutually agreed that while Lorelei cost only a fraction of the price of other dinners on our trip, it was hands-down the best dinner we’ve had in the Keys.

Jrose from Natick, Massachusetts summarizes Lorelei well in a TripAdvisor review: “Great service, great views and excellent music. Recommend it for all. Try it early and often in your stay.”

Indeed, it’s a perfect end to any day on this island town. 

The website for Lorelei Cabana Bar and Marina is www.loreleicabanabar.com. For more information, email johnm@loreleicabanabar.com or call 305.664.2692. 

For more information on the Florida Keys and other fun things to do in the area, visit www.fla-keys.com.

We started with Lorelei’s Smoked Fish Dip, made of smoked local fish with island spices topped with capers, diced onions and served with crackers (above), and the Steamboat Channel Shrimp, fresh steamed, peel-and-eat served chilled, with island spices (below).


 

At the waiter's suggestion, we also tried some Bacon Wrapped Shrimp Skewers, drizzled with a sweet Thai chili sauce. They were incredible. Such a unique taste combination, I would have never tried it had it not been for Sean's suggestion, but it was fantastic.


 

For a main course, I had the Snapper Fish Dinner: fresh, blackened snapper with the chef's sauce on a sandwich with french fries and vegetables. Jodie got the Snapper Tacos, three soft tacos prepared with blackened snapper and cabbage, tomatoes, mixed cheese and a cilantro lime mayonnaise. We took our time to enjoy the atmosphere and the food, and it was all so delicious we managed to finish every bite.
 


 



Did we need dessert after all that? No. Did we have a piece of Lorelei's famous Frozen Key Lime Pie anyway? Of course. It was the right thing to do. 


 


We also enjoyed walking around the marina before and after dinner, and spotted a couple manatees swimming in the area.

 


The entrance to Lorelei features a beautiful taxidermy display, as well. It’s not a surprise to see such a variety of trophy fish, given that Islamorada is widely considered one of world’s premiere fishing epicenters.


 

“According to the IGFA (International Game Fish Association), more saltwater records have been set in the Florida Keys than anywhere else in the world,” said Andy Newman, Media Relations Director of Newman PR. “Where else in the world can you go out in the morning and catch a 300-pound swordfish and a 30- or 40-pound dolphin, come back in to catch a few snappers for dinner, then in the evening go out and catch a 100-pound tarpon?”

A recognizable landmark associated with the restaurant is its giant mermaid, Lorelei. Over the decades, there have been several different mermaids, and her look has evolved.


 

When this current mermaid was first painted, he hair was a few inches shorter, revealing her bare chest. A couple hours after the painting was finished, a bus driving the local Christian school happened to drive by. "The teacher called me up, and boy did she ever chew me out," Maloughey recalls with a chuckle. "I hadn't even been down to see the painting yet, so I didn't know what she was talking about. So I went over and saw it, and told the painter he needed to make her hair a little longer."
 

Best of the Best: World's Top 5 Dining Experiences

They say the stomach is the way to a man’s heart. Traditionally, this advice is given to young ladies courting that special someone with hopes that a home-cooked meal will seal the deal. Yet I think the guidance rings equally true for resorts and hotels.

Give me a delicious dinner or a superb shore lunch––a signature dining experience to cap off an exciting adventure––and you’ve not only filled my belly but have cemented your place in my memory. 

I’m a simple man and am more than content to stay that way for the rest of my life, but I have to admit I have become a bit of a food snob––or, more accurately, have developed a nuanced appreciation of high quality cuisine. I can’t help it. In my travels, I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to dine at a wide variety of the highest regarded restaurants on the planet. 

Allow me to share three examples. 

At a castle in the highlands of Scotland, my wife and I enjoyed supremely tender beef while watching the sun set on the tallest mountain in the U.K. The King of Norway donated the furniture we sat on for the feast, and one waiter’s sole responsibility was to help us select the perfect wine to accompany our food––and then to rush to our table and top us off, seemingly after every sip.  

At a remote fly-in fishing lodge in Manitoba, I saw the shore-lunch concept taken to a new level by a dedicated guide who painstakingly measured the temperature of his oil to ensure the beer batter would have the ideal viscosity––a skill he honed six days a week, four months a year for the past decade. My dad and I sat on a pristine island and ate perfectly bronzed walleyes that were swimming just an hour ago, while watching a bald eagle soar overhead. 

On a tropical island in the Atlantic Ocean, my wife and I enjoyed a tiki-torch lit, five-course dinner on the beach with a personalized menu congratulating us on our wedding anniversary––all while a pianist played in the background and a key deer wandered up to our table. 

As incredible as those meals were, in terms of food quality, presentation and overall ambience, none of them crack the list for Top 5 dining experiences. Let that serve testament to the level of competition. 

Without further adieu, here is my list of the five best dining experiences at resorts, hotels and lodges around the world. 

1. Ashford Castle
Cong, Ireland

The Restaurant: George V Dining Room

The Scene: The dining room, built specially for a visit from the Prince of Wales, is the cornerstone of a magnificent, 800-year-old baronial castle on Lough Corrib in Ireland’s untamed Connemara region. Eleven Waterford crystal chandeliers hang from the dining room’s ceiling. 

If you catch Atlantic salmon or brown trout during your stay, the kitchen will clean and cook the fish to perfection; otherwise, the roasted rack of lamb with red pepper coulis and spinach is tremendous. The breakfast buffet with fresh ham, beef and made-to-order omelets is an event itself, after which you may need to stroll around the castle’s gardens to avoid a post-breakfast nap. 

Why It’s the Best: Eating in the castle’s dining room is like going back in time to spend an evening as royalty. 

What Else You Should Know: The Guinness family owned Ashford Castle centuries ago. As a hotel, Ashford was named #1 Best Resort Hotel in Europe by Conde Nast Traveler in 2010. My wife and I stayed at Ashford Castle our last night in Ireland. We are glad we saved it for last––it blew away everywhere else we stayed on the Emerald Island. 

Click here to read my full article about Ashford Castle, including my adventures with salmon fishing, falconry and hiking. 
 

2. Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior
Tofte, Minnesota

The Restaurant: Three Options: The Bluefin Grille, Coho Café and Bakery, and Waves of Superior Café

The Scene: A diverse array of fresh, locally made food ranging from Lake Superior salmon and lake trout to award-winning pizzas to apple walnut french toast served with pure maple syrup, fresh fruit and locally wild rice sausages––all with spectacular views of the world’s largest freshwater lake. 

“We make everything from scratch without any preservatives added,” said Diani Dimitrova, Coho Café and Bakery Manager. “We buy local as much as we possibly can for fish, sausage and seasonal produce so everything’s as fresh as it can be.”

Why It’s the Best: Outstanding food with even better scenery, perched on the big lake. “Guests are surprised how incredibly close our resort is to Lake Superior,” said Dennis Rysdahl, owner and general manager of Bluefin Bay. “People are stunned by these amazing views––you can’t get closer to Superior than this.” 

What Else You Should Know: The Bluefin Grille was voted “Minnesota’s Favorite Resort Restaurant” by Minnesota Monthly Magazine readers. Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior is hands-down the most beautiful resort in the Midwest, in my opinion. 

Click here to read my full article about Bluefin Bay, including my adventures kayaking, biking and mountain climbing.


3. Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
British Columbia

The Restaurant: Nimmo Bay dining room for breakfast/dinner; glaciers, mountains and islands for lunch

The Scene: Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is only accessible by helicopter or float plane and sits at the base of Mount Stephens, just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage. The dining room is built on an anchored dock. During my week at Nimmo Bay there were only four guests, yet two full-time chefs––that is how serious they take their cuisine, which consists of fresh Dungeness crab you catch during the day, as well as local halibut and wild salmon.
 
Why It’s the Best: Breakfast alone consists of three courses, plus fresh fruit smoothies and hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate croissants. I promised myself I wouldn’t name a “favorite” out of the top five because it’s a matter of taste (besides, who’s better, Beethoven or Mozart?), but I will say this: I have never been anywhere with better food that Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort.

What Else You Should Know: Nimmo Bay is routinely named one of the top ten wilderness resorts in the world, and was named the best dining experience in British Columbia in the New York Times best-seller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” You will be hard-pressed to find a more breathtaking place on the planet to enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch. 

Click here to read my full article about Nimmo Bay, including my adventures heli-hiking, ocean kayaking and mountain climbing. 

4. Ritz-Carlton, South Beach
Miami, Florida

The Restaurant: DiLido Beach Club

The Scene: The only restaurant on world-famous South Beach that is actually on the beach, the setting couldn’t be cooler. And the food you eat, while watching the rich and beautiful stroll along the beach, couldn’t be tastier. Our seven course, ocean-inspired lunch included award-winning cerviche, shrimp, marinated mahi, Pacific tuna and pan-seared salmon that––get this––was flown in that morning from the Pacific Ocean. 

“The local salmon we were getting wasn’t to our standards,” explained Chef de Cuisine Andres Meraz as he brought us our fish. “So now we get it flown in daily from the Pacific. We do that with the tuna, also, because tuna in the Pacific is better than what’s available in the Caribbean.”

Why It’s the Best: Chef Andres Meraz is a rock star. Mark my words: This immensely talented, personable and good-looking young chef will be famous someday. Not yet 30 years old, the phenom has already worked at restaurants in Spain, Hungary, Italy and Austria. 

What Else You Should Know: Again, I promised I wouldn’t commit to favorites, but I will say this was the best lunch I have ever had. Living up to its name, every aspect of the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach is first-rate. Last year, the Ritz rolled out a “Catch of the Stay” package that includes deep-sea fishing by day and evening stays at the hotel with your daily catch prepared to perfection. 

Click here to read my full article about the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, including my adventures with crocodiles, manatees and sharks in the nearby Florida Evergaldes. 


5. The U.S. Grant Hotel
San Diego, California

The Restaurant: The Grant Grill

The Scene: Boasting a $6.5 million art collection, the 104-year-old U.S. Grant Hotel and its signature restaurant––complete with a Sommelier and award-winning mixologist for fancy cocktails you can’t find anywhere else––is a West Coast icon. The seasonal menu features the best California produce, fresh Pacific seafood, sustainable meats and poultry, and fresh herbs with signature dishes such as Dry Aged Prime Rib Eye with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Marrow, Onoway Potatoes, and Sauce Bordelaise.

Why It’s the Best: Class, grace and elegance envelope the hotel, and the food is produced with exquisite care. Our lovely waitress, Natalie, was the best waiter or waitress we’ve had anywhere on the West Coast. "It's the combination of our beautiful surroundings and rich history, as well as the pride of our ownership and the service excellence demonstrated by our staff every day that makes The U.S. Grant such a special place," said General Manager Douglas Douglas Korn.

What Else You Should Know: The U.S. Grant Hotel is a historic landmark. It’s within walking distance of Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, and San Diego’s popular trolley tours. Nearly every U.S. president has stayed at the hotel. 

Click here to read my full article on The U.S. Grant Hotel, including my adventures paddle boarding, hiking and catching leopard sharks and giant sting rays. 

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