Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dennis Cafe

There was a time when Dennis Cafe was a name that attracted all sorts of people to the breakfast counter on the corner of United Street near the southernmost side of the island. In those days it was called Dennis Pharmacy because the squat little building with the Coppertone ad on top housed an old fashioned chemist's with an old fashioned diner attached. Nowadays it's a bank, which used to be Marine Bank but which sold out to an out of town concern that goes by the delightfully distinctive bland moniker (as bland as it's logo) of Centennial Bank:The old diner lived off it's reputation as a breakfast hang out for the rich and famous of a bygone era and the walls had photos and autographs to prove it. I ate there from time to time (and failed to take any pictures!) but it wasn't on my route around town and I wasn't particularly upset when the institution closed. Some people penned awful laments to the paper about the passing of an era, etc... which is odd because the news that the pharmacy was to re-open in the decidedly unromantic Professional Building in New Town wasn't greeted with any great fanfare:The formerly unified pharmacy/diner operation split and the restaurant opened, again with no fanfare in Bahama Village across the street from another institution, Floyd's Barber Shop on the Three Hundred Block of Petronia Street:Finding myself at a loose end downtown early one morning I followed my wife's advice to try somewhere new and at 8:05am promptly walked into the new Dennis cafe for a quick breakfast. 35 minutes later, long after I had placed my order my breakfast arrived, a plate of grouper and grilled onions, a cup of grits covered with molten American cheese, two eggs and a slice of Cuban toast:This substantial breakfast stuck to my ribs all day, of that there was no doubt, but a bill of $17:15 rather put the kibosh on any plans I might have had for a return visit. This slow simple meal set me back one clean crisp twenty dollar bill for a breakfast that used to epitomise poverty in old Key West. "Grunts and grits"was the daily menu during the last depression, a grunt being a small, tasty, but bony fish caught around the island and grits being cornmeal ground up very fine and boiled in water. Nourishing but bland. Grits is good they say, because in the South grits is singular and only damned Yankees say grits are good.In it's old location Dennis Pharmacy was a community center and there was lots of hustle and bustle around the old diner counter with the rushing dinner ladies hurrying back and forth. Nowadays there is still a counter in the new Dennis Cafe, but the pace is more languid:There are paradoxically many less expensive items on the breakfast menu, all the usual meat and eggs and potato choices one expects from a cafe, and the bright blue exterior marks the Key West institution:Dennis Cafe is just up the road from Blue Heaven on Petronia Street.