After two years of lying dormant, Manatee Bay Restaurant on Grassy Key is under new ownership, and Patricia Baggott is looking forward to bringing the business back to life.

The Middle Keys eatery is surrounded by five motels and with only two weeks under her belt since the grand opening, she’s already seen several returning customers checking out the new fare.

Patricia and her son, Enrique, formerly of Little Italy in Layton, are excited about their classic Italian offerings with a twist of modern international fusion.

Take for instance the Chicken Cordon Bleu encrusted with walnuts and stuffed with sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and provolone. Or the Steak Madagascar, a strip steak served with brandy peppercorn sauce, tomatoes, artichokes and a Béarnaise. The Grouper Meuniere – a filet lightly battered and sautéed in lemon butter and parsley – is so light and flavorful, and this fish cooked to perfection.

Yes, at night the restaurant serves some of the finest Italian fare around, but this staff and crew is offering their clean, classic cuisine beginning at eight in the morning.

Patricia said she’s going to try serving breakfast for the first month or so to test the waters. From simple staples like egg sandwiches and biscuits and gravy to fresh vegetarian hash, homemade blueberry and banana nut pancakes and eggs Benedict, Florentine and Neptune (crab cakes, grilled sliced tomato on an English muffin with Hollandaise) their offerings are wide and varied. And delicious.

Manatee Bay’s lunch menu includes fresh salads, small entrée portions and more than a dozen sandwiches.

Originally, from Peru, the pair came to the Keys after Enrique completed his formal training at Le Cordon Bleu. After stints at Key Colony Inn, Frank’s Grill and Tranquility Bay’s Butterfly Cafe the family worked to establish a loyal customer base at Little Italy. Patricia saw on opportunity at Manatee Bay and happily rose to the occasion.

When she first came in, the walls were sterile white and decorated with cheesy, Keysy fishing nets and other assorted décor. She ripped out the randomly placed booth seating, painted the walls a warmer hue and created a clean but classic tropical atmosphere. The kitchen is centered in the middle of the restaurant with dining space on three sides. Though she was not initially pleased with the layout of the space, she has designed a comfortable eatery. The dining area offers well-lit ambiance during the day and quiet, intimate space in the evening.

Enrique recounted one of his final exams in culinary school in which a rigid French chef tossed his dish in the garbage with no explanation. He later understood his plate lacked a simple garnish.

“After working under him, I knew I could work under any chef,” he laughed.

These days, though, he is running the show. Enrique has maintained that attention to detail while incorporating his own, healthy clean style. His dishes are prepared with only fresh ingredients and everything is made from scratch.

Manatee Bay, located at 58152 Overseas Highway, is open (how many days a week?) serving great breakfast, lunch and dinner at affordable prices. Daily and nightly specials are also available. (305) 517-6103


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