When we visit Key West and think about dinner, we think of more than something to eat. We think of the ocean, warm breezes and tropical beverages in a magical place. Those thoughts logically lead us to a table at Louie’s Back Yard, where the best seats are located on a multileveled terrace overlooking the Atlantic. Here you dine while pleasure boats sail past and pelicans graze the waves.
In truth, this gracious pink classic-revival house could serve TV Dinner and it would be irresistible on a moonlit night; but Chef Doug Shook happens to be one of the innovators of Key West cuisine, and his kitchen is nothing short of spectacular. Here you will eat well and graciously, from such Key West basics as fresh-caught local shrimp and yellowtail to a twist on Key Lime pie made with gingersnaps in the crust. You never know for sure what meals you will eat here, because the menu is always changing, based as much on the cooks’ whims as on what seafood and “dooryard fruits” are available. One day when we were hanging out at Louie’s, we met fisherman Bob Elkins as he brought some local groupers in to the kitchen. We watched Doug Shook cut up the fish moments later. He rubbed the filets with annatto and grilled them and served them with black beans and mango salsa … within only a few hours of their swimming in the ocean waters.
The Louie’s supper forever etched in our book of great culinary memories was a pair of lovely grilled strip steaks glazed with hot chipotle chile sauce, sided by garlic mashed potatoes and red onion corn relish. To top things off, we had fancy coffee and feathery Key lime tarts. It was perfect! But it was more than that. It was magic. The sun had set and we were sitting on the broad open patio overlooking the ocean. Soft island breezes made hurricane lamps flicker. Bulbs strung among branches in overhead trees formed a radiant canopy above the patio. The ocean glowed cobalt blue when distant, soundless lightning storms at sea ignited over the horizon.