Considering the fact that her parents managed a chain of restaurants and hotels during her childhood in California, the restaurant and hospitality business are in Melodye Reger’s blood.
After opening Gringo’s Cantina on Duval Street in the late 70s and reviving the Hickory House in the late 90s, Reger kept navigating her way a bit farther east to find the atmosphere of the Florida Keys with which she originally fell in love.
“It’s very much a throwback to the 1950s,” she laughed of the lifestyle on Summerland Key. “Everyone is so supportive of each other.”
Even though there’s an incredibly relaxed atmosphere at The Wharf Bar and Grill, don’t be fooled for a second into believing there’s nothing going on here.
In 2009, after months of renovations to the restaurant and fish market, Fishbusterz became The Wharf, and Reger once again tapped into her roots of conservation and eco-consciousness.
Her staff of nearly a dozen wait staff, bartenders and cooks are all trained to sort paper plates, glass bottles, plastic wrap and metals.
“We are able to recycle 90 to 95 percent of our waste stream, as well as composting kitchen waste,” she reported.
That’s something 20-year Keys resident Penny Smith can get behind.
“She’s the first I’ve worked for who was true to her word,” Smith commended. “Recycling should be mandatory for all restaurants. Our fragile islands can only take so much pressure.”
The staff even collects fish and lobster carcasses from local fishermen to put in their compost bins that produce dirt for the restaurant’s modest gardens.
The gardens aren’t productive enough to support the full menu, but Reger long ago recognized the need for organic produce, including eggs, chicken and milk, to be made readily available in the Lower Keys.
Even the wines available, from the bar and the full liquor store, are nearly all organic.
“Pesticides and chemicals in our food have done a lot of damage,” she explained of the extra effort to carry organic produce. “For our various benedicts during Sunday Brunch, we offer organic eggs for $1.50 more. If we can increase the demand for a product, then we can help control the cost.”
Reger certainly understands demand.
Every day from 3-6 pm, it’s Happy Hour at The Wharf, and the featured margarita flavor of the day – made only from fresh juice, not concentrated syrups – are only $3 for a frozen 16-ouncer.
This week, during Tijuana Tuesday, Mary Beth and Mark Sanville of Hebron, Conn. called the Baja fish tacos “crazy good” during lunch.
“We were here for dinner last night, and it was so good, we came back for lunch today!” he elaborated. “They’ve done a great job with this place.”
The Wharf Bar & Grill, located at 25163 Overseas Hwy. on Summerland Key, is open seven days a week from 11 am to 10 pm and Sunday at 10 am for brunch. Call (305) 745-3322 or check out www.wharfbarandgrill.com for more information.