On the very chilly night of December 6th, 2018, I was invited to the Renaissance, Chicago, to hear about the renovation of Hawks Cay, an all-inclusive, family-friendly resort in the Florida Keys. After receiving a pummeling at the hands of Hurricane Irma, which caused extensive water damage, the resort decided to turn lemons into lemonade, closed for more than half a year and completely refurbished every aspect of the property.
I, and a number of local media members, were in attendance for a dinner catered by Chef Willam Ryan, Executive Chef of Hawks Cay’s fine dining restaurant, Sixty-One Prime. We were there to sample their new menu and to hear about the resort’s $50 million renovation.
I have to say, after hearing about the extensive damages and the way the owners viewed it as an opportunity to re-think the resort experience, it was heartening. It certainly looked impressive, as the images they’ve contributed to this article, attest.
After the storm’s battering, the resort and surrounding area were without power for more than a week. And in the Florida heat, you can imagine what standing water can do. When the staff returned, they closed down and got to work immediately. Every building was stripped back to the bones and all of the wooden surfaces were replaced, assuring no mold or mildew damage.
And while they were at it, they upgraded and modernized every aspect of the resort, even changing the formerly traditional Island-style décor to a sleek, new, coastal spa color palette and feel.
New features include a completely redesigned hotel, refreshed spaces throughout, two new restaurant concepts, an expanded adults-only area, and much, much more. It is a completely upgraded and refreshed environment, but with the same commitment to family-friendliness and the provision of appropriate experiences for everyone.
From their on-site spa, world-class golf, and deep-sea fishing experiences for adults to a dolphin encounter, environmental camp and Pirate-themed swashbuckling adventure for kids, there’s something for the entire family at Hawks Cay. And its location on the beach of Duck’s Key, halfway between Key Largo and Key West, allows water access from all parts of the property and water-based activities enough to keep everyone happy.
Hawks Cay boasts the AAA Four Diamond Award and is a member of the Preferred Hotel Group Lifestyle Collection. It sits on 60 acres and features 177 guestrooms and 250 two and three-bedroom villas, six restaurants, five swimming pools, a spa, a full-service marina, and saltwater lagoon. Available activities include fishing, diving, kayaking, kiteboarding, paddleboarding, tennis, and their unique dolphin program – the only one of its kind in the continental U.S.
Discounts are offered for AAA members, Seniors, Florida residents, Teachers, and members of the Military. Check the website for availability.
.As part of the refresh of the resort, the menus of the restaurants were upgraded with an eye to “Florida Local” sourcing. They took the whole period of the renovation to secure their sourcing and devise the new menu. Our menu showcased some of the new dishes from Sixty-One Prime, destined to become a dining destination.
The appetizer course was: Diver scallop with beet risotto, parmesan cracker and watercress oil. I’m a sucker for scallops and beets, so this was an automatic hit for me. The scallop was fluffy and perfectly prepared.
First Course: Korobuta Pork Belly with apple turnip chutney and blackberry pearls. As with many pork dishes, I found this rather salty, though beautifully presented. The chutney was very nice. If you love pork, you will probably like this a lot.
Second Course: Key West Pink Shrimp, white bean cassoulet, smoked tomato oil, parsley jus.
This is where a commitment to sourcing locally can become a liability. I love the idea of using local shrimp, if the shrimp are delicious. These were super fishy and tough. I adore shrimp, but one of these was enough for a lifetime. Compared to normal rather fluffy, tender shrimp, this felt like it had been lifting shrimp weights every day to become world champion muscle shrimp and, just, no. Everything else was delicious, but if your star is not terrific, take it off the menu.
We cleansed our palates with Campari sorbet (not pictured), which was absolutely delicious and I ate every bit.
Third course: Florida wagyu tenderloin, stoned ground grits, root vegetable compote, markers mark jus. This was well worth the wait. I ate every bit of this. It was perfectly prepared and every flavor complemented the other. I’m normally a grits hater but these were delicious and the root vegetables were a perfect pairing.
Dessert: fresh berries, frozen yogurt and mango sphere. The mango sphere was amazing, it just burst into wonderful liquid deliciousness. The lightness and brightness of fruit after the heavy red meat was a perfect way to end this tasting.
The food we were treated to is on the current menu at Sixty-One Prime and can be enjoyed by all Hawks Cay guests.
If you’re looking for a vacation in the Florida Keys, Hawks Cay’s new renovation is well worth checking out. Visit their website.
Photos by Hawks Cay and Suzanne Magnuson