July 31, 2019

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press
Longtime friends Jason Webb, left, and Bayne Hayes at the newly opened Reefers Gastropub in Islamorada created a menu that offers unique and contemporary dishes to traditional pub food, along with a wide selection of wine and craft beers.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press Longtime friends Jason Webb, left, and Bayne Hayes at the newly opened Reefers Gastropub in Islamorada created a menu that offers unique and contemporary dishes to traditional pub food, along with a wide selection of wine and craft beers.

ISLAMORADA — A merger of classic pub food with cutting-edge contemporary cuisine fills the menu at the newly opened Reefers Gastropub on Upper Matecumbe Key.

“We draw foods from all over simply because they’re good,” owner Jason Webb said. “We’ve got tropical inspirations and southern flair, traditional United Kingdom pub concepts and chef-driven cuisine with unique twists. When you eat here, you eat the way the chef eats.”

Reefers Gastropub
Reefers Gastropub offers pan-seared scallops with Brussels sprout petals, mushrooms and bacon dust, with parsnip creme and sherry reduction.

Executive chef and co-owner Bayne Hayes serves up specialties like pan-seared scallops with Brussels sprout petals, mushrooms and bacon dust, topped with parsnip creme and sherry reduction.

“I just have a passion for food and drink,” said Hayes, a culinary professional for 27 years. “Jason and I have been friends for 23 years, and been talking about doing a project together for about 15 years.”

Smaller plates include bacon blue chips (house chips with blue cheese sauce and caramelized bacon with balsamic reduction), or a Scotch egg and chicken wings.

Specialty burgers made from ground short rib are popular, but Webb said the fajita naan — Indian-style bread holding grilled skirt steak, shrimp or both, topped with sauteed onions, peppers and chipotle creme — “is one of our top sellers. We bake the bread daily and everybody likes fresh bread.”

Several fish dishes are available such as fried Szechuan yellowtail or seafood pasta. Just don’t look for a fish sandwich.

“We got the message loud and clear: Islamorada doesn’t need another fish sandwich place,” Webb chuckled. “We do look forward to finding out what the locals want. We know locals will be the ones helping us through the tough times.”

Two dozen craft beers, including several Florida Keys and state varieties, are available for brew aficionados.

“We have an ever-changing roster on tap,” Webb said.

Wine-based specialties include a ginger lime spritz, or the “Key-z” mango sgroppino (prosecco with a mango sherbet cube).

Housed in one of Islamorada’s historic buildings, Reefers is based at the former Fern Inn where Fern Butters created Key lime pies beloved by celebrities. She often has been credited with being the first person to sell Key lime pies commercially.

Webb said the building has upgraded after an eight-month renovation, with the addition of stylish decor and outdoor dining.

After a successful career as an entrepreneur and principal in a Georgia and South Florida roofing company that thrived in the wake of Hurricane Irma, Webb was looking for a change.

“My dad and I used to come to the Keys for fishing and scuba diving quite a bit,” he said. “I brought my wife to Key Largo for her first visit and she fell in love with the place. We’d been wanting to do a gastropub for years. It was the right time.”

Reefers is located at 105 Palm Avenue, near mile marker 81.5, oceanside. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 305-425-1980.

kwadlow@keysnews.com