Welcome to my backyard--the Florida Keys! I'm a travel writer, blogger and photographer with a passion for all things Florida, especially the Florida Keys. These islands are so much more than Duval Street and Jimmy Buffet. They are rich in history, culture, cuisine, nature and events--all surrounded by pristine waters teeming with wildlife. Whether you're a local or a visitor, the Conch Republic has many surprises in store. Let me be your guide.
Hidden at the back of Key West's Green Pineapple boutique on Duval Street, Lush Bar has a low-key hedonism. Mark Certonio, director of the Key West Food & Wine Festival, opened the intimate spot devoted to organic wine, chocolate, coffee and tea six months ago. It’s developed a cult following, especially for the Thursday organic wine-and-chocolate-pairing classes. Stools crafted out of old wine barrels and a bar made from reclaimed Dade County pine served as the perfect place for my tasting.
My mouth started to water when Certonio brought out a large block of Brix extra dark chocolate on a carving board and began chopping off chunks with a large silver knife. Made from beans sourced in Africa, Brix is formulated to pair with different wines. I tried all four concentrations from 40% to 70% cocoa paired with the sweet Trinitas Cellars Revelation Cuvée, a late-harvest Zinfandel from California. Certonio taught me how to properly savor the chocolate's texture, flavor and aroma. I first coated my mouth with the wine, and then let the chocolate slowly melt on my tongue. This was followed by another sip of wine; its hints of cherry, vanilla and smoke intensified the complex chocolate flavors. The final pairing was his own homemade concoction — a piece of Brix dark chocolate, sprinkled with coarse artisanal Florida Keys sea salt and drizzled with Florida Keys black mangrove honey. Paired with Fonseca's Terra Bella Organic Port, it sent all of my senses reeling.