Posted by Claiborne Young | Posted on 01-22-2010
Our fearless roving reporter, Captain Jane Tigar, turns her discerning eye to Dinner Key!
A convenient stop on your way to the Keys is Dinner Key — not just for dinner, of which there is plenty offered — but maybe even for a day or two checking out the historic sites, not the boring it’s good for you kind of sites, the really fun kind of interesting sites as you’ll see in part 2 of this report.
This was our first visit and as some of the best things in life are, it was one we had not planned. Out mast too tall for the 56-foot Julia Tuttle Bridge, we seized a brief weather window to make the outside run from Lauderdale to Miami but needed a safe place to sit out the next storm. So, having at least advanced our position if not to The Keys to at least a place with Key in its name, we found ourselves waiting out the weather at Dinner Key Marina owned by the city of Miami. At $2.50 a foot plus tax for a slip with hook-ups, it’s hardly a bargain by more northern standards, but it’s a real deal compared with close to $4 a foot in nearby Miami and, for our touring tastes at least, there’s much more to do and see within walking distance of our boat.
There are almost 600 slips at the modern cement fixed docks; during the second week of January, transient slips appeared plentiful. During this stormy weekend, we found ourselves comfortable and well protected from the winds and waves on adjacent Biscayne Bay.
Moorings are plentiful here — over 200! — for boats 40 feet LOA and under at $18 plus tax per night. Call ahead though as there are moorings in depths of as little as 4 feet; marina staff told us there was plenty of room for a 5-foot draft and that despite the written maximum of 40 ft, they could take a boat up to 42 feet LOA. Depths may improve by spring as a $1.4 million 7-month dredging project in the marina has been underway since December 2009. There is shuttle service that runs on demand during the week and on the half hour during weekends between the mooring field and the main dock; schedules are at the office.
In contrast with Vero Beach Municipal Marina, this is the kind of marina a cynic would imagine a city marina would be. We were welcomed on VHF Channel 68 with somewhat unclear directions to our slip. This was followed by what my first rate first mate calls “the unobtrusive” style of docking assistance. Not only did no one in a bright colored parka wave to us and with a smile point out our slip, no one even at the last minute offered to take a line. There was, to put it simply, no one to help us. On the other hand, fairways are twice as wide as most marinas so it is easy to maneuver and spin around. Oh, and what the heck, it’s good to know that the marina staff has confidence in our docking skills. Be sure, however, to ask which side of the numbered pier your slip is on. The slips are not numbered with all the odd numbers on one side of the pier and all even numbers on the other.
Clean showers and heads are adjacent to the marina office, all of which is in what I call prison architectural style. If you are at a slip, bear in mind that it can be a very long walk to these facilities. The good news is pump outs are easy — a mobile pump out service is available. Laundry machines look good, but this is such a huge marina for the number of machines, I would not count on this as a laundry stop unless you don’t mind practicing the fine art of getting on line for a set of machines. I’ve seen more machines at marinas a fourth of its size.
There is no fuel available at Dinner Key Marina, but there is fuel at two adjacent locations, though at Grove Harbour Marina where there is a Shell sign, we were unable to find anyone to help us and we refueled much later down the water way.
While we did not sense the lively community “it’s camp!” spirit of Vero Beach City Marina and Marathon City Marina, perhaps this was due to everyone huddling in their boats during the cold snap that caused our four-day stay here.
Dinner Key — still worthy of its name.
At first glance, Coconut Grove looks like an over-developed city — much like Lauderdale, just smaller. But if you walk just a few blocks from the Marina, it quickly morphs into a charming village of shops and restaurants. If you want to eat out, it appears the Dinner Key appellation still holds and you have a lot of non-chain choices — Italian, Thai, Japanese, Argentinian, French, Spanish … From the marina office, walk to your left and then follow the edge of the marina, past the small commercial fishing vessels and to the main street. Cross the street and head slightly up hill and you’ll start to see the “charming” part of Coconut Grove, hang a left onto Main Avenue and you’ll find lots to choose from.
For us, this stay, partly due to the excellent provisioning opportunity here (see below) was Dinner on the Boat Key, so we have no restaurant reviews to share. However, it was the weekend of Taste of the Grove, a food and music charity fundraiser held in Peacock Park adjacent to the marina. We can tell you that the items we sampled there at lunch, promising non-chain restaurants include: Atchana’s East/West Kitchen inside the Mutiny Hotel, just across from the Marina; Mayfair Grill at the Mayfair Hotel (excellent pork and jicama salad; and great skirt steak). First mate Michael vouches for Al Fresco’s penne a la vodka. The food at the Ideas restaurant which features “authentic food from Spain” also looked good, but we got full too soon. The Chart House also had attractive looking offerings. We also passed by a restaurant called Focaccio Rustica that looked excellent.
Easy Provisioning Stop
For those who prefer to dine on board, this is an excellent provisioning stop. If you don’t follow your iPhone GPS directions, the Fresh Market, a high end super market, is a 10-minute walk to the right (facing the land) basically tracking the shore line and walking through parking lots, going past City Hall in its historic building and Grove Harbour Marina.
If you are here on a Wednesday, which we were not, check out the Green Market in town; it’s open from 11 to 4 PM. It’s supposed to have locally grown organic produce, local honey and local prepared foods. It’s in the Mayfair Atrium, in the main “cute” shopping area described above.
While we would have preferred no storms and no record cold snaps, we thank the inclement weather for getting us stuck at Dinner Key.
S/V Lady Jane
Stayed at Dinner Key as well, agree with the total lack of signage, very little (none) help from the staff, moored out in the middle of Biscayne bay, nasty chop. Old men have more water pressure than the showers, pump out was doityourself with no assistance and the pump didn’t work. Too many white shirts with VHF radios, nobody gets their hands dirty.They can learn a lot from Vero Beach. Not a good experience
Our experience exactly ….including non responsive dock hands, ….difficulty in finding slip numbers….etc. etc.
But we love the downtown area and have taken public transportation to downtown Miami….recomend on sunday only. we checked in here upon returning from the Bahamas and had to go to the cruise ship area to check in.