The Cafe at Louie’s Backyard, Key West, Florida

Nancy and I stayed over in Key West for a day after Liza, Mike, and the kids left so we could spend some time with Mike’s parents, Sue and David Boyd. Nancy and I did the same thing last year, and we had lunch at Louie’s Backyard with them before our afternoon flight home. You can read details here.

That lunch was on the back deck of Louie’s, overlooking the water, and it was as tasty, relaxed, and pleasant a lunch as can be. This time we had dinner together upstairs at Louie’s Cafe. The Cafe has an ocean view, at least during daylight hours, which are pretty scarce at the year’s turning. Locally the Cafe is famous for its tapas, which dominate its menu. That night they also had an 18-ounce steak on the menu, and I briefly contemplated the idea of an 18-ounce steak with some interest, but merely as a hypothetical (“If I were in Kansas …”) But in Key West one is repeatedly reminded that you aren’t in Kansas anymore and, although my mind wandered, the tapas offerings swept the steak aside.

What tapas they are! I don’t recall ever seeing such a wide mix of flavors and cuisines of so many different nations on a menu. And at Louie’s, Chef David Shook comes up with unexpected and creative twists on familiar dishes, each of which works beautifully. For example, picture a baby wedge salad. You see blue cheese dressing, bacon bits, and some chopped tomato, right? Now picture, if you can, a baby wedge salad that has been grilled and adorned with smoked pumpkin seeds, queso fresco, a nice hunk of avocado, and a chipotle lime dressing. A master stroke. Chef Shook has a remarkable grasp of the possibilities of various foods and dishes.

I didn’t bother with pictures or notes. For visual interest, I’ll throw in one picture from our lunch last year: a different take on octopus (charred, with chorizo, potatoes, and chile oil). Louie’s really does wonderful things with octopus.

Anyway, with all the dishes coming and going, pictures and notes were out of the question. Besides, I was there for a nice, quiet dinner with good friends. Through the mists of memory I do recall enough to say that you really should order the fried artichokes and lemon with romesco and aioli, the grilled baby octopus with smoked paprika and preserved lemon aioli, and the crab stuffed shrimp wrapped in bacon. And the baby wedge. From there, let your imagination run wild and free.

As suggested above, Louie’s Cafe also offers a main course every night — such as that 18-ounce steak — and they have a pizza or two available daily. They also have a nice selection of wines by the glass or by the bottle. A very nice selection.

The Cafe is one of three great dining environments at Louie’s Backyard. There’s the main dining area, which I mentioned here, is relatively formal — this is Florida, not New York, and it’s Key West at that; the more relaxed back porch; and the Cafe. Each offers wonderful food, service, and setting. You’ll want to try all three eventually. But, please, do be sure to go to Louie’s Cafe, and thoroughly explore their menu.


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