Soft music drifted across the bay. The vocalist sounded every bit as good as Jimmy Buffett. His songs added to the mood of Bayside Grille’s sandy terrace and long pier that juts out into the water. The sun was still yellow as it slowly began its nightly parade. By evening the bay is usually calm and there is no wind. Sailboats rode placidly at their moorings. A distant island was green with trees. Coconut palms on the beach added to the tropical setting. It was not a far away Caribbean island, the setting was off Mile Marker 99.5 in Key Largo, Florida. A place to take time to walk out on the pier at sunset. A wonderful spot to snap pictures and enjoy a cocktail, prelude to dining.
Robert DiGiorgio’s Bayside Grille is a two story restaurant right on the water. There is live music every night. The ambiance is relaxed for luncheon and dinner. Downstairs tables are set in a covered portico. Musicians play under a Chiki hut nearby. When the music moves patrons, they can shuck their shoes and dance on the sandy patch between the restaurant and the pier. There is a downstairs bar that adds to the tropical ambiance.
An elevator or stairs lead to the second floor dining room. A balcony stretches around the restaurant offering great vistas of the bay. Inside there is a bar with eight chairs that has its own ambiance. There are five tables inside in view of the open kitchen where chefs do their artistry. Tables are also set in the long ‘L’ shaped porch area. Tall windows protect from the elements or can be opened for diners to enjoy a breeze off the water.
Wicker chairs with plastic webbing are comfortable. Tables are covered with nautical patterned oilcloth. Overhead fans provide comfort. Flickering candles decorate each table. Ana Mendoza seated us at a table on the porch directly overlooking the bay.
The sun turned low clouds pink and violet. We could still hear soft music from the combo downstairs. Our server, Heather Seal, who hails originally from Ohio, brought a basket of baked cranberry rolls with cinnamon dip.
Bayside Grille owner Robert DiGiorgio was busy in the kitchen. When he got time he visited diners, greeting patrons as friends. “We redid the menu, the wine list and even have new cocktails,” he said. “We try to stay new, fresh and creative. Every night we sell everything on the menu.”
Bayside Grille was busy. Those in the know come to enjoy good food at sunset. “We’ve made an effort to buy the best of the best. All the shrimp we use are caught in the Caribbean. They are pink shrimp, the cream of the crop, and taste like the ocean. They are all wild caught of the highest quality and sustainable. Our scallops are flown in fresh from Massachusetts. There are no preservatives, they are not frozen. They are so large that a full order is seven or eight scallops. Everybody wants hog fish. It is from the wrasse family. It is white, flaky, with a delicate taste. A really good eating fish.” Robert DiGiorgio’s enthusiasm is catching. He enjoys meeting people and insuring that everything he serves is fresh.
“My favorite is yellowtail. It is so pretty, clean and lively a fish and its diet makes it a good eating fish. All our beef is certified Angus. We make a Churrasco steak with home made rub, open flame grilled with roasted pineapple Chimichurri served with Caribbean rice and beans. All our vegetables are farm fresh. We serve a fish trio of Mahi Mahi, Yellowtail and hog fish. It is very popular,” Robert explained.
He just came up with a new way to serve yellowtail snapper. “We take the whole spine out then deep fry it. We open it and fill the whole with rice and seafood. It comes with the head looking at you. It is filled with scallops, lobster, clams, shrimp and key lime cream.” Robert explained the dish with such delight that its savor was visible through his description.
We were left with Bayside Grille’s progressive wine list. There are sparkling wines like Chandon brut from Napa Valley, $12 for a split. They offer a bottle of Moet and Chandon Imperial from France for $65. White wines like Sea Glass Reisling from Monterey County, California is available at $8 a glass or $27 for a bottle. Sterling sauvignon blanc from Napa is $7 the glass and $25 a bottle. Red lovers will find Shiraz from Australia’s Rosemount as well as a nice cabernet sauvignon at $7 and $25 the bottle.
Cocktail specials have alluring names like the Havana Margarita of Sauza blue tequila infused with cucumber and jalapeño, orange Curacao, fresh lime and agave nectar. Bayside Grille’s Black Pearl is made with Captain Morgan black rum blended with pina colada. Cocktails are $8.
There is a children’s menu for Minnows ten years and under that offers linguini with marinara or butter, $5.95, Mahi fingers and french fries $6.95 and for $8.95 fried shrimp with french fries. Bayside Grille’s youngster menu makes it family budget friendly.
A large broad sheet describes featured selections that are daily specials. Appetizers on the special list included octopus tacos served with lettuce and pineapple, $8.95. Coconut friend scallops with mango horseradish sauce was also featured at $12.95. Dinner selections included lobster tail with crabmeat stuffing, braised pineapple in brown butter with toasted coconut, $32.95. Crabby steak was featured as a certified Angus strip steak, crabmeat stuffing, with island buerre blanc and ‘smashed’ potatoes, $26.95.
The main bill of fare included some unusual appetizers like shrimpkargot. They are served escargot style in snail cups and consist of broiled shrimp, garlic butter with bread crumb Havarti dill topping, $10,95. There is conch ceviche and a bait bucket of flash friend calamari. Appetizers include a pound of little neck clams as well as seared Ahi tuna. Appetizers run about $10.
Fish reigns supreme at Bayside Grille. Top selections include Mahi Mahi (Dorado), hog fish and yellowtail snapper. If you bring your own catch the chefs will cook it for you as well. Fish dishes run from about $22 to $28 and are cooked to taste: grilled, blackened, baked in key lime buerre blanc or specially prepared Cabo style with pico-de-gallo and melted Monterey Jack cheese.
There are bucket offerings of fried shrimp, conch fritters and Mahi as well as a pink shrimp basket and a fish bucket. Buckets and baskets all run about $17. The whole fried stuffed snapper, Robert’s new sensation, is $24.95. Pasta specials include key lime seafood pasta, shrimp and scallop island pasta. They offer Rasta pasta with pan sautéed vegetables, linguini and white wine butter sauce, $14.95.
Bayside Grille’s luncheon menu is equally as fabulous with salads, conch ceviche, little neck clams, popcorn shrimp and soups and salads. Boaters can tie up to the dock and enjoy a wonderful lunch or have it packed to take out to sea. There are excellent melts and burgers even quesadilla with blackened baby shrimp. Luncheon specials run about $9.
Leave room for Bayside Grille’s home made desserts. There is flan, a coconut cream bomb and of course key lime pie. If chocolate tempts you try the triple layer chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Desserts run from $7 to $8 and are large portions. Cappuccino comes from the espresso machine and is frosty and savory.
John Brehm is the general manager at Bayside Grille and also serves table. “Everything is local as long as we can get it,” Robert averred as John whisked a tray of grilled fish to table from the kitchen. “This year was the best year for anyone in the keys. There were no hurricanes and we tapped into a market we never had before. People don’t have to change their currency, no passport. It is the Caribbean you can drive to,” Robert DiGiorgio said.
For excellent food and an ambiance that offers spectacular sunsets right on the water Bayside Grille is the place to go. Enjoy family friendly atmosphere, live music every evening, special blues happenings and celebrity vocalists. For more information visit their website at www.keylargo-baysidegrill.com. They are located at 99530 Overseas Highway (U.S. 1) in Key Largo at Mile Marker 99.5. The local telephone is 305-451-4885.