Monday, January 19, 2009

Salute Restaurant

Say "Blue Heaven" out loud in Key West and everyone within hearing jumps for joy and spontaneously claps their hands. Everyone love the restaurant in Bahama Village and the place has become a byword for exotic Caribbean cuisine in Key West. The owners have made a nice living from the place and now it seems like they need a new challenge. While Blue Heaven bubbles along nicely on Thomas Street, Higgs Beach has seen a breath of fresh air blow through the city's most beachified eatery:Salute (pronounced: Sal-ooh-tay) in its previous incarnation suffered from inconsistency as a friend of mine put it, someone with experience in the table waiting trade. Sometimes food and service were good, and sometimes less so, but prices were always fairly stiff so the expectation was that things should be good. My wife wanted to celebrate her 55th birthday on the beach and so we gave the new management a shot and it worked out quite well. We got three orders of the day's special, yellow tail snapper on salad greens with mango-eggplant salsa:Which was really quite excellent even though the unpublished price, as it wasn't on the menu was $17:50 which seemed like a lot of money for lunch. Bruce got the roast chicken-pesto salad sandwich off the regular menu for an advertised $10, quite the deal by comparison:And, being the unsophisticated New Mexican he is, he got his first taste of orzo pasta which got his seal of approval. We all four shared a gazpacho soup and a white bean soup which was better for me on this freezing cold day (65 degrees- 17C) than the cold gazpacho:The regular menu is quite reasonable and includes some rather bland sounding pasta dishes, primavera, marinara, and something else I can't remember:Salute currently finds itself in the middle of a modest, by Key West standards, political tug of war. On the one hand Monroe County owns Higgs beach but the Sheriff's department, as a cost cutting measure pulled out the two deputies that were assigned to beach patrol on ATVs. With the departure of the all terrain vehicles, and the deputies with them, the homeless population, especially in winter, has burgeoned at the picnic facilities:The county had previously suggested handing the park over to the city but the city commission recoiled in horror complaining of the cost of maintenance- cleaning the beach of seaweed, cleaning the park of bums etc...Now the relatively new county administrator, the exotically named Roman Gastesi is suggesting turning the shambles into a first class recreational facility for Monroe County. And, as odd as it may seem I think the new management at Salute may have inspired this fresh attitude.From the outside the restaurant things haven't changed that much, the colors remain the same more or less as does the decor inside the building. And the horribly noisy muzak still blares from the wall doing it's best to hatter the beach ambiance:The food was excellent and the service cheerful and owing to the chill we were spared the clusters of local subjects lurking on the sand. Understand these aren't working poor or distressed locals, who enjoy the benefits of numerous caring social service agencies. These are people who chose to live at Higgs Beach during the winter and live out their drug induced dramas in a public park and very tedious they are too. The fact the restaurant is thriving, particular in the lunch hour I'm told, may indeed make it a decent "anchor store" for Gastesi's ambitious renovations planned for the beach. The outdoor area filled up as our lunch progressed and on a day of cold north winds it was perfectly comfortable to sit outside:The inside seating area and bar looked snug too:There is even a little, colorful, lounging area outside where this dude was reading the Paradise insert from Thursday's paper and sipping a beer:
I hope Salute (pronounced: Sal-ooh-tay) makes it as a vibrant part of Higgs Beach not least because people, including families, have been clamoring to get their picnic and beach front area back. Dog owners get dog park across the street for off leash romps, and parents get their toddlers off leash at Astro City and now we effete wine sippers get to eat pesto off leash at Salute, no longer moribund.Quite the views of people playing on the Higgs pier and the fishing boats snug at anchor, protected from the biting north wind:A nice place for lunch.