Everything evolves, and one's list of favorite restaurants is no exception. While I am not removing any of my aforementioned favorites from the list, I have certainly developed some new ones in the last few months. I credit this mainly to a change of residence location (plainly put, I moved), and job- my regular dining rotation has altered along with my schedule.
Always a place I kind of liked, this establishment has rapidly become our go-to place for lunch. The menu has Mediterranean influences (housemade hummus and baba ghanoush, braised lamb ribs over
Moroccan-spiced chick peas with feta and tzatziki), to which I have always been partial anyway, but the consistency and quality of what comes out of their kitchen is the primary reason we continue to patronize Azur with such regularity. For a few weeks there I think I had the grilled chicken sandwich, a thing of such simplicity, (yet here conceived and executed so incredibly deliciously) about twice a week. Fresh ciabatta, crispy bacon, sundried tomato tapenade, romaine, and the juiciest, plumpest, most perfectly cooked chicken breast I've had in a restaurant in...maybe ever. A lovely meld of flavors and textures. I actually don't care to eat chicken very often, due to all the hormones and cruelty hubbub of late, but I have had chicken here a multitude of ways, and I have to say, they know how to cook chicken breasts to absolute perfection, which is hard to resist. Additionally, worth mentioning are the gnocchi, which they make in-house and serve a variety of ways. Most recently, I've had the beet and goat cheese gnocchi (delightfully pink!), and the tomato, buffalo mozzarella, and basil (caprese with potato pasta? Um, duh.)
You also can't go wrong with the steak ciabatta, a 6 oz. ribeye smothered in sweet caramelized onions, manchego cheese, and piquant salsa verde. A somewhat rich lunch, but never a disappointment. And on the side? Well, the lunchtime scene-stealer at Azur are the shoestring french fries that accompany each sandwich (you could also opt for orzo salad, if you are being “good,” or something ridiculous like that). These frites are just the right width- not the too-skinny shoestring fries that are more reminiscent of Potato Stix (and p.s., are those good for anything other than a topping for a casserole made out of a can of soup and served somewhere in the midwest? They're like, “we're not a french fry, we're not a chip, we're awkward to eat, we generally just suck”), and just thick enough to hold the appropriate amount of ketchup or mayonnaise. They are addictive.
And, by raving about the lunch, I'm not discrediting the dinner, I just happen to eat lunch there much more often than I make it for dinner. Which is also excellent- I had lovely malpeque oysters on the half shell last week with a simply perfect mignonette sauce, which, if you've ever met me, you know I am slightly obsessed with. My companions and I each had a different gnocchi- all of which were excellent. So, in short, and based on the frequency with which I (and many locals) dine at Azur, I would heartily recommend it to anyone visiting Key West.
Oh, but they are closing on September 5th for a month. So I guess you'll have to wait.
425 Grinnell St.
Now, right off the bat, I know am going to lose roughly half of you when I tell you that The Cafe is a vegetarian restaurant. Wait! Don't go, please hear me out. It is actually a pescetarian restaurant, meaning they also serve fish, shellfish, and mollusks. And unless you are one of those gout-bound carnivores who is insistent upon bacon cheeseburger lunch, ribeye dinner, pork chop Cheerios, etc, etc, every day of your life, you will absolutely be satisfied with your meal at The Cafe. The menu does not read like you're on a master cleanse yoga starvation diet, although it does have the requisite not-steak “peppersteak” (seitan) and not-chicken “chicken salad”(soy-based protein). The menu reads like it trusts that you are a relatively intelligent diner, looking for the freshest ingredients turned into simple, quality food that just tastes good.
On a recent visit, and actually on every visit, the bruschetta is a must. Sure, it is comprised of your traditional ingredients- tomatoes, balsamic, basil, bread, etc.; but the conception here is pure genius. Attention to detail is what elevates any simple dish above the others on the playing field, and The Cafe's bruschetta is a prime example. They brush the ciabatta with a honey/garlic/vinegar mixture before topping it with mozzarella and toasting it, and this simple step creates nuances in flavor that most traditional recipes lack. When the cheesy breads, if you will, are then topped with the tomato basil mixture, and drizzled with balsamic, the result is an awesome contrast in temperatures and a perfect marriage of flavors. Pure, simple, fresh goodness. Pretty much everything The Cafe stands for.
Every day and night they run specials, based on what's fresh and available, and recently I indulged in a fantastic vegetarian lasagna that was more than satisfying- my dining companion and I were able to share it and be quite satiated. The lasagna was made in the traditional layered fashion, but with the creamiest ricotta cheese, a fantastically flavorful housemade tomato sauce, sauteed shallots, and...wait for it...jumbo lump crabmeat. Being from Baltimore, I am generally hesitant about ordering crab anywhere outside of MD, but I'll be damned if this wasn't fantastic. A truly flavorful lasagna, and the crab, which is such a delicate protein, and all too often abused, was not overcooked or lost in the mix. They know how to treat their seafood.
Also worth mentioning are their fantastic homemade (non-alcoholic) beverages, including delicious and beautifully tart raspberry iced tea, and ever changing but always refreshing "tonics"- usually an herbal and sweet effervescent drink that just somehow makes you feel a little happy and healthy.
So I hope you stuck with me and will be willing to give The Cafe a try, even if you are a card carrying member of the bacon-of-the-month club. One night won't kill you. And you might even come back the next.
509 Southard Street