Tuesday May 6, 2008



So, as I was pulling into Key West a few weeks ago, I called up our friend, and Key West authority, Squathole to figure out where to have a big post-100-mile dinner. “Pepe’s,” he says, “hold on, let me see if their address is printed on the bottle of hot sauce I bought there.” Well, it was, but whether through my bad hearing or S’s bad vision, I ended up with the wrong address: 506 Caroline, right off Duval. After looking for it, giving up, looking for someplace else to eat, not finding anything promising, I ended up finding Pepe’s up the street at 806 Caroline.

From first glance you can tell it’s going to be perfect: Pepe’s opened in 1909 and looks it. It looks a little shacky from the outside, but inside is surprisingly cozy, blending indoor and outdoor spaces with equal parts Key West shamble and fine dining. It looks empty from the outside but is actually packed — mostly with locals as it turns out, this being one of the places on the island they cherish.


The parrot guy holds court, and expounds on the joy and life-long commitment that is parrot ownership (tip: never buy a parrot at a pet store). The parrot doesn’t talk, but instead likes to imitate other animals. He does a pretty good pig. I made pals with seasoned locals Ollie, his wife, and the parrot guy, who could totally get babes if he tried.

So the food. Well, first beer: there is exactly one beer on tap. It’s Yuengling, and it’s $1 per glass, and it tastes absolutely perfect when it’s on tap and you’ve got no choice. (I strongly advocate the 1-beer concept to other restaurants, btw. It’s got charm, and so long as it’s a half-way decent beer it will make people happy.) I think I drank about 6 over the next couple of hours. The food is surprisingly gourmet. Pepe’s style fish comes with melted cheese, but I opted for the blackened. It came prefectly cooked, generously portioned, and with fancy presentation, vegetable, and mashed potato. The rule of thumb in the Keys seems to be that the seafood is fresher and better, but not really any cheaper, than Miami, and so it was. Apparently Pepe’s has a master pie baker, so leaving without pie is considered self-in-foot-shooting. There’s a daily pie special(!), Ollie ordered a slice to go, and I followed suit, which meant killer macadamia nut and chocolate chip pie for breakfast next morning. Need I say more?

Pepe’s Cafe
806 Caroline Street, Key West, Fl.
(305) 294-7192

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  1. squathole    Tue May 6, 12:59 PM #  

    I’ve been thrown out of better places than Pepe’s, but never as enjoyably. So I always go back. Usually for breakfast, where that fine “Pepe’s Really Hot Sauce” is perfect on eggs and potatoes.

    Great photos, as always. Look at the color of that KW sky behind the restaurant.

  2. Stefan    Tue May 6, 05:24 PM #  

    Yup, pretty good food. I don’t remember what exactly I had when I went there a year ago, but it was pretty good.

  3. Rick    Tue May 6, 06:57 PM #  

    Had lunch there recently. Waited 45 minutes for a grilled cheese sandwich and some kind of soup.

    Granted, my selection wasn’t exactly a test of their culinary skills, but still…my grilled shrimp at the 1/2 Shell was 10X’s more enjoyable and delivered to me in half the time.

    And they, too, had Yuengling on tap.

    One word for Pepe’s: hyped.