If you’re a foodie in search of fine dining, traveling south over the Sunshine Skyway is certainly worth the effort. The views on the way to Longboat Key are pleasant reminders of the natural beauty afforded to residents around Tampa Bay.
As you work your way down the sliver of a barrier island, you discover Euphemia Haye, described accurately on its website as an “historic, wooden cottage hidden amongst a scenic ‘jungle’ of tropical greenery.” This is chef Raymond Arpke’s culinary playground, based in a simple philosophy: take the best ingredients and produce perfect examples of traditional favorites with a few surprising tweaks.
The handsome walls are lined with dark-stained wooden ends of wine shipping cases proudly branded with vineyard logos and rows of plaques de muselet, the small decorative metal caps that top Champagne bottles. Leafy vines intertwined with tiny white lights are present at every twist and turn. The result is charming and builds the anticipation of the food to come. Luckily, the kitchen fulfills your expectations.
Thinly sliced, cold-smoked salmon is served over classic warm Russian-style buckwheat crepes, and garnished with a duet of colorful caviars (not the good stuff that would put the price out of reach), sour cream, minced onions, capers and fresh dill. It’s a tasty relic from the old world.
Chef’s pâté is a yummy spread mixing duck livers, veal, mushrooms, fines herbes, and garlic that can be garnished as you wish with fresh vegetables, capers, and diced onions on crisp, hot toast. It’s a great combo of flavors and textures that, like the salmon, evokes another era.
Snails Leslie braises Burgundy Helix escargot with mushrooms in a luscious herb, sherry, and garlic butter sauce that just makes you want to eat more. The sauce is so lip-smackingly good that thoughts of being a kid hiding in the corner hoarding the Halloween candy come to mind.
The entrees share the throwback style of the appetizers, but also a high level of technique that delivers big flavors.
After a few underwhelming duck dishes recently, it’s nice to report that Euphemia Haye’s roasted duckling is pitch perfect. Their famous bird is a huge partially boned half-duckling portion that barely fits on the plate. Add a big serving of yummy bread stuffing and a tangy sweet sauce of seasonal fruit and you’ve got a winner — not only for dinner, but also for tomorrow’s lunch.
Filet mignon “Fritzie” grills an expertly seasoned 8-ounce center cut filet served on a Wisconsin potato pancake with caramelized shallots that absorbs all the appetizing juices. It’s garnished with a mushroom fan, and accompanied by classic bourbon demi-glace that provides a touch of spirited sweetness.
Key West snapper showcases a juicy fresh Gulf fillet encrusted with seasoned bits of chopped pistachios, then baked to flaky white perfection and coated with a faultless key lime-jalapeño beurre blanc. It’s an absolutely delectable dish garnished with a few red pepper curls as a nice visual contrast.
After you’ve had a chance to take in the charm of the intimate downstairs dining room during your appetizer and entrée service, you owe it to yourself to visit the Haye Loft upstairs for dessert.
Not only is there live music, but there’s also the most impressive display of impeccable old-fashioned desserts I’ve ever seen. It’s as though they gathered up all the grandmas who won “best pie” state fair blue ribbons and put them behind one case.
In reality, Euphemia Haye has a pastry chef brigade that turns out absolutely flawless desserts with magazine-cover precision. There’s apple walnut crumble pie, peanut butter mousse pie with Myers rum & dark chocolate icing, coconut custard pie, banana cream pie, Florida Key lime pie, and triple berry glaze. We chose a fine chocolate mint cheesecake and absolutely classic Southern pecan pie.
The miraculously flaky pastry and creamy dark filling combine texture, sweetness and nutty goodness in an exciting balancing act worthy of Nik Wallenda crossing the Grand Canyon. The pastry brigade is working without a net; their lemon meringue pie with a spectacular golden brown four-inch meringue over scrumptious tart lemon custard is simply outrageous.
Euphemia Haye also offers classic flambéed desserts for two: bananas foster, cherries jubilee and crepes Suzette. There’s also a selection of ice cream and sorbet, but for my money choose one of the fabulous pies.
This is a special-occasion destination, with prices to match, but the entire experience holds you in an old-fashioned warm embrace that makes Euphemia Haye and the Haye Loft more than worth the expense — and the trip to Longboat Key.
NEXT WEEK: Café Largo
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