El Meson De Pepe (Key West, FL)
On our last night in Key West, we headed down Duval Street to the Mallory Square area for an early dinner before watching the street performers and the sunset (a “must-see” recommendation from literally ALL of our friends who had been to Key West). The past two nights we had feasted on some amazing seafood we’d picked up at local seafood markets, so we decided that perhaps more Cuban food would be a good change (have we mentioned that we LOVE Cuban food?). We had passed a spot called El Meson De Pepe on our stroll through the city earlier in the day, so we decided to give it a shot.
El Meson De Pepe is located on Wall Street right next to Mallory Square. It is a huge restaurant with a large bar and plenty of seating both inside and out (and the outdoor patio is under cover, too!). Unfortunately dogs aren’t allowed on the patio area, so if you want to dine with your pooch in tow, you’ll have to tie him to the fence across the alley and hope he just drools quietly and patiently from a distance. Luckily for us, we had managed to sufficiently tire out Knox at Higgs Beach Dog Park that day, so he was snoozing away back in the room and we could dine without sad puppy eyes watching from afar.
Completa de Caballo Grande
Since we had seen a dessert restaurant earlier in the day that Edie was dying to try, we opted to only get one entrée and split it. We opted for one of the combination plates, the Completa de Caballo Grande, since it gave us a chance to try a few different items and saved us from making any really taxing decisions.
This combination included good sized portions of 3 traditional dishes – lechon asado (roasted pork in citrus juices with onions), ropa vieja (shredded beef in a tomato-based sauce) and picadillo (a ground beef dish with capers, raisins and olives).
Neither of us had ever tried picadillo, and since Edie isn’t a fan of olives and Scott isn’t a big fan of raisins, we were a bit curious if we would really like this one. Luckily, it was awesome! Somehow the flavors worked together in such a way that no single ingredient’s flavor overpowered the dish – and if you aren’t a fan of something, you can avoid the big chunks and enjoy the rest without tasting the item you dislike.
As for our typical favorite Cuban dish – the lechon asado – it was moist & tender with a light citrus flavor, just how we like it. The ropa vieja was also incredible, again wonderfully tender & flavorful but with a tomato sauce that was thick enough to cling to the meat without being runny or soupy.
The Drinks – A Mojito & A Caiperina
With our “kid” away for the evening, the parents decided to play! Thus we each decided to have a Cuban drink with our meal that night – a Mojito for Edie and a Caiperina for Scott. For those of you (like us) who had never heard of a Caiperina, it is a drink of fresh lime juice, sugar and Cachaca, a liquor made from fresh sugarcane juice that is fermented and distilled.
Both drinks were light & refreshing in the warm weather and the bartender definitely understood how to pour the booze for $9 drinks! No skimping there. He also managed to crush the mint into the Mojito in such a way that its flavor throughout the drink was evident but not a sliver managed to clog up the straw – a true art.
We ordered an appetizer before we realized that warm & buttery Cuban bread was a complimentary starter. Our server brought out a huge basket of the bread (with a few crackers thrown in at the bottom) with 2 dipping sauces on the side – one a spicy red sauce and the other a flavorful but mild tomatillo sauce. We gobbled up everything but the crackers in no time – absolutely delicious.
Unfortunately, this appetizer was also disappointing. Although the plantain chips were crispy and flavorful, the guac was underwhelming to say the least. It tasted like it had been made with less than stellar avocados.
The Entree Sides – Yellow Rice, Black Beans & Sweet Plantains
Our entrée came with the standard Cuban side dishes of yellow rice, black beans and sweet plantains. The rice was incredibly moist and flavorful, even without mixing in the black beans, and the beans were tasty and tender, swimming in a thick sauce.
Unlike the plantains at Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine in Miami, these plantains were incredibly sweet – and well fried with a nice crispy outer layer. Definitely excellent additions to the entrée!
Our server, Gerardo, was a delight. Observant and quick to please – making sure we had whatever we needed and even offering to take our picture when he saw the camera.
Our total bill, including the 18% gratuity that is automatically included on your bill, came to $56.55. Had we not done drinks (though those were totally worth it here!) and skipped the unnecessary (and unimpressive) appetizer, our bill would only have been $22.36. The combination platter was definitely a good deal – tons of flavorful food that is a perfect meal for 2 or a GIANT dinner for one.
The Doggy Bag, By Knox
Although I am typically not a fan of Scott & Mommy leaving me in a hotel room and going out without me, on this particular evening I was pooped! They made me walk for miles and pose with Santa that day, and then gave me a chance to romp & frolic with some fellow canines. That’s quite a big day for a 4-year-old! But being content to nap while they dined does NOT mean I was okay with less than stellar leftovers. Do you know what they brought me? A few crackers. Seriously?!?!? They ate pork and beef and plantains and all I got was a cracker?!?! So not cool.