The sign by MM 58 in Grassy Key reads “Rainbow Bend Resort” and even after turning into the parking area behind the fence, it’s hard to notice another, more modest sign for The Hideaway Café. The restaurant faces a breathtaking panorama of the ocean and is very well camouflaged.
A few stairs up and you are inside, where the picturesque views continue, no matter where you are seated.
A man in a white shirt and tie was arranging the menus at the front desk: “A table for two? Right this way.” Robert Gray is the owner of the Hideaway Café. It recently reopened.
“We got slammed by Hurricane Irma. It knocked us, out but fortunately the core staff stayed together,” said Gray. “I think that’s what happened to many other businesses — we spent those days together. We lived together, helped each other, fought through the hardships and celebrated the holidays together. It took us a year and a half but here we are.”
Originally from New York, Robert Gray and his late wife Jacquelyn had been in the restaurant business in New York and Miami Beach. In 1999, they had heard about a restaurant available on Grassy Key. “Jackie came down and instantly fell in love with the place. It looked different then, of course, but after she got back to Miami she told me that we were moving to the Keys,” reminisced Robert. He said his wife was the chef in the kitchen, while he took care of the front of the house.
Their former sous chef, Freda, is now a chef and continues to use Jacquelyn’s original recipes plus some of her own. Guests definitely gravitate towards the famous duck glazed with soy, garlic and honey, and for the crisp, herb-coated rack of lamb served with mint sauce.
But first, a bowl of tapenade whets the appetite. Freshly chopped tomatoes, basil and garlic in olive oil on a warm slice of bread tease the pallet. So did the Caesar salad that came before the main course.
“How’s the shrimp bisque?” asked Robert, who is always cruises the tables checking on his guests’ comfort.
I had to admit that it tasted delicious — not too thick, not too runny — just right.
“Freda does a great job,” smiled Robert. “I can’t reveal everything, but sherry is one of the secret ingredients.”
But it’s not just about the food. It’s about the atmosphere — small, romantic lampshades complement the napkins and white tablecloths. The owner’s consistent, yet unobstrusive presence. It’s about the friendly servers, happy hum of conversations in the background and soothing oldies by Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday. The atmosphere is serene — a slight breeze, the reflection of the ocean, and swaying palm trees … plus, a perfect view of the moonrise. It is about the whole experience.
The “reviews” are good.
Kevin and Kelly, visiting from Rhode Island, said, “It’s a hidden gem.”
“We liked it so much that we had to come back,” echoed a couple from Massachusetts.
The signature desserts are banana flambé with rum or Amaretto sautéed strawberries. The promise at the end of the dessert menu – “The only thing we overlook is the ocean” – held true. Our key lime-raspberry mousse, decorated with the hearts of raspberry sauce and white chocolate, was a melt-in-mouth experience.
On my way out I pointed out the stuffed maître d’ by the door that looked a little battered.
“I wanted to get rid of him after the hurricane but then decided to keep it,” smiled Robert. “Let’s give him a name! Melvin sounds good. Mel it is!”
Frank Sinatra’s words “What a world, what a life,” was still ringing in my ears as we walked out. The parking lot had filled with cars. The Middle Keys’ best kept secret may be out of sight, but there are a few in the know. While passing a couple heading towards the restaurant, I commented on the excellence of the food. “Oh, we know. We’re locals. We’re just glad he is back!”
Hideaway Café at the Rainbow Bend Resort, MM 58
Opens at 4:30 p.m. and the last seating is at 9 p.m.
Reservations recommended. Call 305-289-1554.