2017-07-13 / Key West Dining

Santiago’s Bodega brings Spain to Key West

Florida Weekly Correspondent

Far too often, tourists and locals alike get sucked into the gaping vortex that is Duval Street and develop a sort of culinary myopia that causes them to overlook the many incredible options hiding mere blocks off of Key West’s storied main drag. To forgo the side streets means to miss out on what this writer considers one of the absolute best restaurants on the island — Santiago’s Bodega.

Situated at the quieter end of Petronia Street in the heart of Bahama Village, Santiago’s has been delighting everyone lucky enough to dine within its walls since the tapas restaurant opened in 2006.

For those of you who haven’t yet had the good fortune to eat at Santiago’s, an instructional caveat: the tapas menu is almost intimidatingly large. And, even worse, there are truthfully no bad dishes to be had. So, consider this article more of a gastronomic guideline than a hard-and-fast list of must-eats, aside from the sangria. You should always, always start your Santiago’s meal with the sangria (red or white, whatever your pleasure). Now that your whistle is wet, the gluttonous feasting can commence.

COURTESY PHOTOS / NICK DOLL PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY PHOTOS / NICK DOLL PHOTOGRAPHY The avocado and pear salad is a great way to start — mixed greens in a creamy parmesan dressing, topped with ripe avocado and pear, toasted pine nuts and more parmesan. The sweet and savory play beautifully with the cheesy nuttiness and the salad is light enough you’ll still have room for a table full of delicious small plates.

Of the cold tapas, the yellowfin tuna ceviche is a standout. Thick cubes of fresh, local yellowfin tuna are bathed in a slightly spicy citrus marinade and served with chunks of avocado and mango. The citrus marinade cures the outside of the tuna, making the dish sweet, salty, and briny. Make sure to get a little tuna, avocado and mango at the same time — it’s a perfectly balanced, refreshing bite.

The mozzarella burrata is a gift from the Italian gods. Burrata is a variety of fresh mozzarella that is finished with cream, so when you cut into it the inside oozes the same way a perfectly poached egg yolk would. Santiago’s appreciates the unadorned beauty of the burrata and serves it with a simple and delicate walnut pesto, halved cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. It’s so good I’ve been known to make an entire meal of that dish alone.

Moving on to the hot tapas, it’s always near impossible to decide what to order and what to omit. The pinchos morunos, skewers of pork tenderloin grilled and served with a spicy-sweet apple chutney, are scrumptious. The croquettas, potato patties spiced with cayenne, stuffed with prosciutto and provolone cheese, and topped with a scallion cream, are crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside and just plain delicious. The dates, stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in prosciutto, and then baked until the prosciutto is crispy, are divine. And if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth, the dates can serve almost like petit fours for a touch of sweetness to finish off your meal. And that doesn’t even hit half of the hot tapas options. I mean it when I say you literally cannot order a “wrong” dish.

I’m slightly ashamed but I’ll admit it; one of my most favorite things on Santiago’s stellar tapas menu is the decidedly un-Spanish saganaki — a flaming ode to Greek halloumi cheese, set afire tableside via a delightfully boozy accelerant. When the alcohol (mostly) burns off, what’s left is an herby, perfectly squeaky wedge of mild soft cheese so tasty you’ll be inclined to throw your dish on the floor and scream “Opa!” (Note: Florida Weekly KeyWest in no way condones the destruction of Santiago’s property. Please do not do this.)

You might be so busy inhaling all of the food to really take a look around the place, but Santiago’s interior décor is truly beautiful and reflective of both Key West’s natural aesthetic and owner Jason Dugan’s personal journey to opening his dream restaurant.

The floors are hand-laid hardwood and the bar and tables are all handcrafted from reclaimed wood salvaged by creative director Robert Henry Thompson’s artistic team. There are gorgeous stained glass doors mounted behind the bar and the low, warm lighting will transport you right to a romantic restaurant in the heart of Barcelona (as if the pitcher of sangria hasn’t already done that).

Excellent food, impeccable service, and an ambiance so seductive you won’t want to leave? If you need me, I’ll be stuffing my face on Petronia Street ¦

Santiago’s Bodega 207 Petronia St. www.santiagosbodega.com

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