It is an American success story. When Robert DiGiorgio’s father left post-World War II Italy he came to South Florida. “After the war there was nothing left in Italy. My father emigrated from Monte Casino. That is home to the second richest monastery in the world. He met my mother in South Florida. Her parents came from the Independent Republic of San Marino,” Robert DiGiorgio related with a smile.
“Five years later they opened a restaurant and had me and my sister. Dad is 78 years of age and he still likes to visit and check up on me,” he added. Robert’s good humor and sentimentality for his family’s humble beginnings add a special dimension to the way he runs his restaurants. They are homey and emphasize fine ingredients, prepared well.
Robert DiGiorgio owns two restaurants at the same location. Café Largo is Italian, right on US 1 at Mile Marker 100. Behind it, in a separate building, is Bayside Grille. The restaurant is right on the water, a perfect setting to view sunsets. There is live music every evening and two separate dining areas. Downstairs Bayside is informal with bar and restaurant serving casual fare. Upstairs Bayside offers a complete menu with vistas across the bay. There is indoor seating and a terrace for dining outside. A dock enables boaters to pull in for meals.
“We have a unique property. There are three dining rooms, three bars. There is live music every day. We do an international blues festival and get twenty blues musicians here. There is also a song fest with Nashville artists. We offer three different menus, two different wine lists and three different dinner lists. Our wine list is modern progressive. It begins with the easiest to drink then progressively a little more robust. It helps people order,” Robert explained.
The Bayside wine list is comprehensive. A split of sparkling Chandon wine from Napa Valley is $12. Stellina di Notte Proseco from Italy is $9 the glass, $27 a bottle. French Champagnes like Moet and Chandon Imperial is $65 the bottle and Veuve Clicquot yellow label is $85. White wines include Seaglass Riesling from Monterey County $8 a glass, $25 the bottle. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is $39 and Jordan Russian River Chardonnay is $50 the bottle.
John Brehm is Bayside’s General Manager and mixologist. He will create exotic tropical cocktails to order at Bayside’s bar. John’s Key Lime Mojito consists of key lime rum, mint leaves, simple syrup (water and sugar), fresh lime and club soda. It is served in a classic glass and has a wonderful tang. John makes a mighty Tequila Sunset, something like a Margarita with his own fused pomegranate tequila and pomegranate liqueur. Cocktails are $8 and great fun on a warm evening as the sun goes down.
Bayside’s upstairs chef is Azziem Eason. He’s done every kitchen job starting by delivering milk and helping his mother cook in a restaurant. When Azziem was 16 he took a job in a fast food place flipping burgers.
“I attended the Robert Morgan Vocational School in Miami and obtained a two year degree in culinary arts,” Azziem said. He worked efficiently in Bayside’s open kitchen at the far end of the restaurant. The preparation table and refrigerators were filled with fresh fish, shellfish and meats.
When asked what he liked best to eat, Azziem laughed: “Food. Food itself is delicious.” This noted chef echoed Robert DiGiorgio’s philosophy for his restaurants when he said, “I get good ingredients and keep it simple.”
There is no doubt about it, Azziem learned his culinary skills well. From his mother’s side then after his formal culinary education he cooked for Latin, Irish, Italian and American restaurants. Watching him work is akin to witnessing an artist begin a tableau then create a masterpiece that is beautiful to behold and savory.
John Brehm served a basket of hot small raisin rolls with a sweet cinnamon dip. The rolls at Bayside Grille are hard to resist. Taking a bite while sipping cocktails at Bayside’s upstairs, overlooking the bay, as the sun dipped below the horizon, unrushed, in a convivial atmosphere, is a special treat.
Occasionally music from the combo playing downstairs would drift up and island style living would add to the ambiance. The main upstairs restaurant is enclosed in winter with large sliding glass panels. There is also an outside terrace. Table settings are simple. Nautical motif linoleum covering, flickering electric candle, linen napkins and good food.
Bayside’s menu includes appetizers like their signature shrimp broiled in garlic butter topped with bread crumbs and melted cheese $9.95. Lil littleneck clams is a whole pound of white baby clams served in white wine garlic butter sauce $7.95. Bayside’s Kerribbean Krab Cake is all lump meat simmered in sweet butter served with a key lime mustard sauce $9.95.
Main courses include fresh fish and shell fish as well as beef and chicken. The Reef n Beef platter is a broiled lobster tail with filet mignon. The dish is served with honeyed onions, mashed potatoes and chef’s vegetables $39.95. Sesame seared tuna ahi is a thick tuna steak topped with Hoisin-teriyaki glaze served with coconut steamed rice and chef’s vegetables $21.95. The three fish platter features baked mahi mahi, yellowtail and grouper.
The menu includes Landlubber Delights like the 14-ounce Commander’s strip steak $24.95. Beef lovers will want to try Bayside’s special braised short ribs with a skewer of shrimp. John Brehm’s service was perfectly timed. Each course came to table with synchronization so there was time to enjoy the sunset, converse and enjoy the atmosphere.
John was born in Miami. He was food and beverage director, then corporate purchaser for five large restaurants there. “I knew Robert DiGiorgio for fifteen years through my previous jobs. One day he called me up and said he needed a server. There was going to be a whole lot less stress and more money. Robert has been involved with Bayside Grille his whole life. His Dad started in the restaurant business first in Miami then they opened this restaurant. He is here often,” John smiled. His loyalty shows as does his affection for the DiGiorgios. It is a family business. All that participate are made to feel they are part of it.
“I bake the desserts,” John said. We let him choose. He brought a large slice of twelve-layer coconut cake to table. The cake was wonderful. No other way to describe the homemade delight of the layers and coconut icing. We shared John’s Key Lime pie. The graham cracker crust was savory and the key lime filling provided just the right tang to pair sensations. Its sweet crust melted on the tongue with tart lime. Desserts are $8. Let John pick them or select from his home-made Parrot Bay orange rum cake, Oreo cake or Flan de Queso.
The Florida Keys are laid back and relaxed. Going barefoot on the beach, taking time to watch sunset over drinks and dinner, the vast Atlantic Ocean renown for coral reefs and underwater parks, nature preserves and bird life make for a perfect holiday.
“I like not living in a big city,” Robert DiGiorgio said. “I like Key Largo. It is a small town and you get to know everybody. I like people to enjoy their visit to my restaurant and enjoy their visit to Key Largo.”
Bayside Grille offers great food, excellent service and an ambiance hard to match at evening with the red ball descending every night over the bay. For more information visit their website at www.keylargo-baysidegrill.com or call them for reservations at 305 451 4885. The restaurant is located at Mile Maker 100, 99530 Overseas Highway (US 1), Key Largo, FL 33037.