At Mile Marker 17 in the Florida Keys sits the Sugarloaf Lodge. The Lodge is a landmark as well as a hangout for locals and visitors alike. Built in the late 1950’s, it has undergone several changes through the years. The newest change comes with the transition of ownership of the on-site restaurant, now called South of the Seven. The name is a reference to being located in the Lower Florida Keys, South of the Seven Mile Bridge. After months of renovations, the restaurant opened this month with reservation only seating and a menu that they are trying out. They are hoping to iron out any wrinkles that they find during this soft opening period.
If someone asked me what type of restaurant this was, I really could not say. Menu items are all over the board with everything from steak to seafood with American, Greek and Asian flare. So perhaps fusion would be my answer? And for the decor, I would have to say it has a kind of shabby chic vibe going, with lots of bright colors and wood and fishing adornments as a nod to the area’s fishing industry.
My husband and I dined there last evening with our friends Erik and Dianne. We started off with drinks, a wedge salad and the Saganaki (Greek cheese roasted in the oven and covered with olive oil and a splash of lemon juice). For our entrees, we were torn. None of us were brave enough to try out the $120 Tomahawk steak. Eventually, the guys both ordered the smoked duck burger with fried egg and cheddar. Dianne ordered the fresh catch fish sandwich and I ordered the filet mignon smothered with blue cheese.
The salad was fresh and the dressing was delicious. But unlike wedge salads at many restaurants, this one was not really big enough to share. Rather than being served as a wedge, it was cut up into nice bite sized pieces which is nice because it makes eating it more manageable.
The Sahanaki was interesting. It did not look all that appealing, but served with bread, it had a pleasing taste to it. Cheese lovers would enjoy this appetizer.
According to the guys, the duck burger was amazing, and they both agreed that they would come back just for that. Erik reflected that the burger had everything that you could want on a burger. It was prepared perfectly, and while it was juicy it was not greasy. The fries were few, but delicious. Thankfully, our awesome waiter brought us some extra fries since we liked them so much. The slaw that accompanied the burger was an acquired taste. It had a good bit of jalapeño in it; for people like my husband who cannot do spicy it was an unwelcome accompaniment. I, on the other hand love spicy, but it was still quite bland.
The fish sandwich looked wonderful. It was prepared nicely and had good flavor to it. It came topped with avocado and was also served with a handful of fries and slaw which Dianne also could not eat because of the spice.
The filet was served on a giant cutting board with an au jus or gravy of some sort, a small helping of mashed potatoes and some roasted carrots and onions. The gravy was amazing; without it, the steak was not spectacular. It also helped to brighten up the bland potatoes. The roasted carrots were absolutely delicious with some caramelization making them a sweet and wonderful pairing to the dish.
For dessert we tried the blackberry and blueberry cobbler topped with ice cream. I am a sucker for fruit desserts so I absolutely loved this. It was just sweet enough, and the melting ice cream added a richness to it. We also finished the meal off with some coffee which was very good. Ending a meal with a good cup of coffee goes a long way.
Service was wonderful, and presentation of all of the entrees was quite nice. Once the owners get things rolling, I am interested to see where they go with the final menu.
Even with all of the renovations they have done, there are still some things that really need to be fixed. For one, the noise was insane. As the bar and dining areas filled in, in addition to the background music playing, we were shouting at each other just to be heard by the end of the meal. While the space is large and not acoustically minded, the intense noise can be helped a bit by simply adding table coverings and sound dampening tiles under the tables to start. Adding table cloths would also give the atmosphere more of a high end dining feel, worthy of a $120 steak!
Secondly, while a great feature of this particular location is the gorgeous water view through the large windows that dominate the space, there were about 30 minutes where we were very uncomfortable at our table because the sun was blasting us. Not only did the table get hot, but it was simply blinding. When we asked to be moved to a different table (there were still plenty of empty ones), we were told that we would only have to deal with the discomfort for another 15 minutes. Some sort of blinds would go a long way not only to make the customers more comfortable, but it would also likely help with the air conditioning bill during those peak sun times.
It is nice having a neighborhood restaurant again, so I wish Chef Paul and his wife Kris good luck with South of the Seven!
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