Wine swigging pterodactyls greet diners and help set a playful tone at Louie's Backyard.
A sign sporting a scallop shell and five stars signaled our arrival at Louie’s Backyard in the former family home of Captain James Randall Adams, who scoured local waters for shipwrecks in the early 20th Century. Frances and Louie Signorelli transformed the building into a restaurant with a massive deck, right on the water. In January 1983, Phil Tenney and Pat Tenney purchased and renovated the restaurant before reopening on December 27, 1983. Longtime chef Doug Shook has cemented the restaurant’s reputation for finding innovative uses for local ingredients. Due in part to his efforts in the kitchen, Key West is known for being more than just a bohemian community that used to house Ernest Hemingway.
Given plenty of deserving local shorebirds, including the ibis and egret, it was an odd choice to select a prehistoric bird as a subject, but the artist repeated their pterodactyl characterizations in other sculptures throughout Louie’s Backyard. We were seated on the back deck, with moonlight shimmering off the water, contributing to the dramatic setting.
Louie’s Backyard offered warm slabs of fluffy house-made Asiago and ciabatta, served with a dish of butter.
Crisp Flatbread with Key West Pink Shrimp, Bacon and Gruyere ($15) was millimeters thin and cracker-crisp, with a couple nice surprises: spicy Dijon mustard and herbs.
Baby Conch Ceviche with Blood Orange Vinaigrette ($15) hosted crispy yellow pepper strips and a heap of microgreens that soaked up spicy vinaigrette. It was an interesting preparation of the tender gastropod.
It was hard to resist the night’s special: Crumb Crusted Florida Lobster with Citrus Butter Sauce and Potato-Heart of Palm Hash ($40). Twin lobster tails were lightly breaded and expertly pan fried, set atop flavorful hash and ringed by al dente green beans. The tangy citrus sauce complemented the crustacean, which sadly has no claws.
Grilled Scallops with Black Truffle Sabayon, Spinach and Portobello Fettuccine ($36) featured high-quality seared sea scallops, but the noodles were overcooked to the point of mushiness. The noodles were under-sauced to boot and the mention of black truffles and spinach were highly exaggerated. The rosemary skewer didn’t help anything either. Overall, this was a highly disappointing dish, clearly not worth $36. The oceanic embarrassment almost single-handedly kept Louie’s Backyard off Food GPS.
For dessert, we split a Key Lime Tart with Crisp Gingersnap Crust ($7.50) with three whipped cream berry cradles plated on a vortex of raspberry sauce. No trip to Key West would be complete without a slice of Key lime pie. Thankfully, this was no ordinary slice. The sweet berry sauce counterbalanced the dessert’s natural tartness, and the crust added crunch, but wasn’t brittle or dry.
While we had a good dining experience in a stellar setting, and the ingredients were certainly premium, the scallop dish ensured that Louie’s Backyard didn’t deliver the promised five stars. More like four. Or given the $$$$ price, perhaps three-and-a-half. Still, Louie’s Backyard was the clearly the best of the day’s four Key West restaurants, and serves as a worthy stop if you’re in town.