Skimming the seas beneath the breeze! Luncheon at Louie’s Backyard in Key West, FLA


In 1971, Louie Signorelli’s oceanfront Victorian home was transformed into Louie’s Backyard. The original restaurant seated only 12, and had one lone waiter. In 1983, Phil and Pat Tenney purchased and lovingly renovated Louie’s – with special attention to the maintenance of the buIlding’s historic integrity – and transformed it into the architectural delight it is today. Their efforts earned it a placement in the National Register of Historic Places. Today, Louie’s is a gourmand’s playground, a café-style restaurant with an oceanfront background setting – a must-do experience which has become a Key West tradition.  Phil Tenney and his son Jed Tenney are at the helm, steering Louie’s Backyard into the future with its long standing traditions and excellence.


Though we are not regulars at Louie’s Backyard in Key West, Florida we have dined there several times. Most recently was when staying at the nearby Waldorf-Astoria Casa Marina in 2019. Our seaside luncheon today was first-class. The preliminary encounter with staff was shortly after 11:00 am immediately upon completion of our 2-hour drive from Key Largo where we are cloistered for the season; and following pit stops for gas and neck lanyards for ID holders for use when bicycling at home to carry the automatic garage door openers.  By unanticipated fortuity we secured a parking spot on Waddell Avenue within 100 yards of the restaurant. I was thus enabled to walk with my stick and bum knees to our landing place.

We were however early for our reservation at 11:30 am. A graceful young Spanish-looking gentleman with longish hair tied behind his head was in the process of unloading stock from a curb side truck into the restaurant. He advised that the restaurant was currently closed. When we told him of our reservation, he invited us to wait on the veranda in the rocking chairs. This we happily did. From that serene vantage we watched as another truck arrived, a fish monger who proceeded to unload three huge Grouper from an on-board freezer and then carry them by hand to what we presumed was the kitchen at the side of the restaurant. It was a sight which cemented our ensuing main course! An iconic Key West choice not far removed from our other uninventive though delectable choices; namely, conch chowder and crab cakes complemented by a salade verte and Key Lime pie.

At 11:30 am sharp, as others began to arrive, we directed ourselves from our grandparental veranda repose and entered the main door which now bore a small, tasteful OPEN sign.  The mâitre d’ greeted us zealously.  It was a magnificent day. Blue skies. Cool temperature (78°F) and, as we later discovered, a lively ocean breeze. The dark wooden floors in the vestibule glistened in the parallel shafts of brilliant sunshine gleaming through the high Victorian window casements. He directed the House Captain to seat us outside as we had requested when making the reservation.  To my recollection the table at which he placed us was precisely the one I had seen on the website and from which we had an ideal view of the sea within 50 yards of where we were perched.

We adjusted ourselves at table and absorbed the ineffable view. It was indisputably the Sacrament of Heaven! Our server César soon materialized and opened the proceedings with an enquiry about our preferred libations. His Lordship asked for sparkling water; I, a black coffee.  It had been months since my last coffee and I welcomed the memory of its stimulating effect. It was as close as I would venture to nefarious stimulant, a gratification I repeated at the end of the meal with a double espresso flavoured by raw cane sugar.

César is an accomplished steward. His warm demeanour and assiduous performance ensured that all was right with the culinary experience. He as well kindly endured our interloper’s buoyancy without evasion or equivocation.

We withdrew from table two hours later. Sated, we relished the drive back to Key Largo on the Overseas Highway with the sun now at our right as we headed northward.

The return journey was so fluid that we had time to conduct a number of late afternoon duties including in particular a car wash which I have remarkably ignored for weeks because I drive so little, preferring instead to ride my tricycle and to swim. The serendipity of the entire day is impossible to deny. Indeed so provident was the day that when stopped to refuel the car I saw at my feet an American penny which I unhesitatingly picked up and deposited in my wallet for safe-keeping.  I fully intend to polish it if I can locate an abrasive within the closet beneath the stairwell.

Post Scriptum:

Hark!  The (former) jeweler speaks!  To clean that penny, put it in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour in vinegar (about 1/4 cup) and salt.  You can substitute lemon juice for vinegar.  OR…you can rub it with ketchup (but it will take longer).  To buff out scratches, use a very fine (low abrasive) nail file and then rub it with a soft cloth and some toothpaste as hard as you can.
How I envy your day.  My husband just had shoulder surgery yesterday and today I have become his maidservant.  Actually, it’s been kind of fun.  I really wish I had one of those French maids outfits in black and white with ruffles along the edge of the apron and that charming little white hat….