“I could be you! You could be me!” exclaims our waitress with glee, setting down her everpresent pot of coffee to write an order that happens to precisely match what she likes to eat in the morning: an omelet of jack cheese, Anaheim peppers, and smoked sausage sided by a creamy griddle-cooked mashed potato patty and a slab of bread du jour – warm coconut quick bread, nearly as sweet as cake. Breakfast at Pepe’s, from 6:30 every morning, is heaps of fun, always featuring a bread of the day in addition to a big menu of omelets, pancakes, homemade granola, and creamed chipped beef on toast.
Later in the day, Apalachicola Bay oysters by the dozen make Pepe’s a destination for insatiable oyster lovers who consume them raw, baked, or roasted Mexican style. Weekly traditions include a Sunday night barbecue that features beefsteaks, pork ribs, tenderloin, chicken, salmon and mahi-mahi. And who can resist a lunch menu that offers both a blue-collar burger and a white-collar burger? (The former is six ounces, the latter four.)
As attractive as Pepe’s food may be, it’s the place that’s irresistible. It boasts of being “the eldest eating house in the Florida Keys,” and it sure does have the feel of a place that’s seen it all. The old wood dining room is covered with nick-nacks as miscellaneous as grandma’s attic, including pictures of famous people and nobodies, a nude painting, nautical bibelots, scenes of old Key West. Each varnished booth is outfitted with a shelf that holds about a dozen different hot sauces for oyster eating. Out back is a bar where locals congregate. (The bar opens at 7am!) And to the side on an open patio strewn with mismatched tables, illumination is provided by an array of fixtures that includes a crystal chandelier, green-shaded billiard lamps, and Christmas lights strung among the trees.