Baker's Cay Resort Key Largo: Escape to an Island Paradise with Luxe Waterfront Accommodations
As a Miami kid, my family used to spend weekends driving down to Key Largo to swim, fish, and cavort before ending the day in a ramshackle diner gobbling down fresh fried yellowtail snapper and luscious key lime pie. Part of the adventure was the 20-mile treacherous, swampy, two-lane stretch after Florida City, with makeshift roadside memorials to those who didn’t concentrate. While north Key Largo has thankfully preserved most of its thick, luxuriant semi-tropical foliage, the southern end became a stew of strip malls, dive shops, craft boutiques, small marinas and momand- pop motels. In fact, for most travelers, the green-andwhite mile markers (Key Largo: MM 118 to MM 90.7) served as mere distance calculators on the southwest trek to the final destination – Key West.
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Thanks to the recent Homestead road expansion, Key Largo now stands securely as an extension of South Florida, an easier destination than traveling north in the constant, annoying traffic to Broward and the Palm Beaches. Like its giant Miami-Dade neighbor, this island paradise contains its own mini-boom marked by upscale hotel properties. It includes Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton of over 60 five-star urban landmark and beach resort hotels “handpicked by their unique character.” What is most striking about this former 1890s pineapple plantation remains its sensitive environmental “footprint.” Nestled in a delightful 14-acre hardwood hammock of gumbo limbo, palms, bougainvillea, poisonwood, mahogany, tamarind, and red, black and white mangroves, the 200- room resort at MM 97 overlooks treetops, the shallows of Florida Bay, and the nearby Swash Keys that mark the southern border of Everglades National Park.
The recently renovated Baker’s Cay Resort boasts six new 370-square-feet bayside rooms, six 760-square-feet two-bedroom kitchenette suites on the north wing, and 10 deluxe 730-square-feet one-bedroom suites. The décor reflects the intersection of water and foliage accented by fishhook wall adornments, colorful yellow throw pillows, long wood tables, sofas and mid-century lounge chairs, lantern bedside lamps, and large, high beds with an extra-big pillow decorated with nautical knots and a manatee motif. The airy mood is enhanced by bright white walls, sturdy cottons and textiles, and attractive Cubanpatterned shower wall tiles complemented by Lather bamboo crème toiletries. “The color palette throughout the interior and exterior design are variations found on the marine graphics on our docks and elements on the water’s edge - yellow sun, canvas white sand, natural woods and big leaf green,” says LA-based Principal Designer Dayna Lee (with partner W. Ted Berner III) of Powerstrip Studio.
Past large banyans, monstera, and the porte-cochere, enter the lobby through a 20-foot wooden door surrounded by multiple windows heightening the resort’s upscale, open-air “fishing camp” vibe. To the left, meeting rooms and a ballroom are softened by a small, cozy library, pool table, and fitness center. Before the reception a native limestone encrusted elevator reinforces the natural elements component of the design concept. Even the nearby gift shop sells sustainable products like 4ocean recyclable bracelets, Stream2Sea biodegradable sunscreen, natural fiber Hemlock sun hats with vibrant liners, The Keys salt scrub, and Maaji reversible swimwear from Colombia. Next door, the petite Green House Hair & Beauty Salon offers cuts, waxing, hand and foot care, bridal preps, and an excellent deep tissue massage.
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Explore the property by walking to the Hammock Wing and Ben’s Garden where two heated pools and bar face the lush interior landscape. Opposite of that, on Hammock Beach, you can read and relax surrounded by mangroves, buttonwood, sea grape, and the very swimmable shallow waters of Florida Bay. Next to the main dock (fun for light fishing), aqua fans can stop by Scupper’s Watersports on Coconut Beach and Tiki Bar for jet skis, sunset cruises, and parasailing (scary, but exhilarating at 600-feet high!). In addition, their eco-tours reveal the hidden treasures of Florida Bay’s mangrove islands with osprey nests, roosting brown pelicans, the amazing mangrove root system, roaming stingrays, and bottom creatures like sea anemones, sponges, starfish and the “sexy” nudibranch, member of the sea slug family.
With my love of fishing, I decided to join Capt. Casey Scott of Sea Monkey charters (seamonkeycharterfishing.com) dockside on his 30-foot Contender with twin 250 H.P. Yamahas for a morning on the ocean reefs. A fourthgeneration Islamorada fisherman, he also takes guests on his 18-foot flats skiff with 115 H.P. Suzuki in the shallows of Florida Bay backcountry for snook, tarpon, redfish, and sea trout. After crossing Tavernier Creek to the Atlantic, we sped towards a shallow reef. A slow, drifting chum trail soon brought a golden cloud of yellowtail snapper and we shortly limited out. On deeper reefs, over 100 feet, I caught several small sharks and a small mutton snapper. Capt. Casey was attentive and instructive, giving tips on how to properly set up the bait, hooking the fish, and in all cases keeping only what was legal for consumption. (For large groups, try all-day party boat fishing with Captain Chan on his 65-foot Gulfstream at Oceanside Marina MM 99.5.)
In fact, Baker’s Cay Resort has just initiated a Dock to Dish local seafood tour in keeping with its sustainable practices ethos. Guests can fish with Capt. Casey and take their catch to Executive Chef Andy Papson, who guides them in preparing their dish using fresh herbs from his rooftop garden. That evening, I ate in the outdoor terrace of their Calusa dining room. Decorated with bright blue Cuban cement tile, “wave” ceiling fans, and oversized straw basket fixtures, Calusa serves a hearty Creole-Caribbean cuisine that works well with fish, chicken, and meat.
Starters varied from bodega chowder with shrimp, conch, corn, bacon, and sweet potato to crudo, ceviche, and yummy Haitian chicken drummettes. My yellowtail was cooked in banana leaf using a chermoula rub and Johnnycakes. Meat lovers will enjoy the bone-in stewed short ribs with creamy collard greens, and roasted provisions or root vegetables. New Orleans-trained Chef Papson ends the meal with dreamy, light beignets in a terrific chicory crème anglaise.
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Downstairs, facing Coconut Beach, Dry Rocks is Baker’s Cay Mexican cantina and tequila/mezcal stomping grounds; there’s even a Yappy Hour (4-5 P.M.) for dog-lovers with Cay-9 kibble and Bark Brew! Try sharing small plates with queso blanco, quesadilla or loaded yucca fries or fresco tacos with mojo pork or skirt steak followed by churros with nutella de leche or the guava-glazed key lime pie. Best of all, tequila fans have a wide choice from the hard-to-distill Del Maguey Wild Jabali Mezcal ($45) to superstar Gran Patron Piedra Extra Anejo ($120). For me, it was a simple “King of Largo” with barrel select Patron Anejo tequila, lemon juice, and syrup to help process the spectacular red-orange sunset westwards on vast Florida Bay.
Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo is located at 97000 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, Florida, 33037. For more information, visit bakerscay.com or call 305-852-5553.