Peacock Garden Café

Peacocks left their mark on Coconut Grove long before the lovely, loud, guano-dropping kind roused a love-hate relationship with residents. English immigrants Charles and Isabella Peacock ran the region’s first hotel here in 1882. They purchased the land from John Frow, keeper of the Cape Florida lighthouse on Key Biscayne, and entertained the area’s most prominent residents, including Commodore Ralph Munroe, who later built his home, The Barnacle, nearby. The Peacocks’ granddaughter, Eunice, married George Merrick, the founder of Coral Gables.

So it was natural for South Florida history buffs and longtime Grovites to rejoice when a restaurant named for the Peacocks opened in April in a hidden breezeway across the street from Peacock Park, where the historic hotel once stood. Owner Eduardo “Lalo” Durazo’s Jaguar Hospitality Group, well-respected for its two culinary successes in the area – Jaguar, a Latin American ceviche bar in the Grove and the Mexican charmer Talavera in Coral Gables- promises uncomplicated garden-inspired cuisine amid vintage Grove photos and empty birdcages. Unfortunately, local history is far more interesting than the menu. Pairing grilled proteins with a choice of salad (Chinese, nicoise, Greek, Caesar or pear and blue cheese), chef Oscar Del Rivero (Blue Door at Delano, The Palms, Talula) mistakes honesty and simplicity for boring and unimaginative.

Ambience: An orange canopied trail, marked with hanging glass ball fishing floats and hand-painted wood signs, leads up to the Peacock Garden Cafe’s delightful brick-paved garden terrace. Wedged between the 116-year-old Coconut Grove Branch Library and the 22-story Sonesta Hotel, and shaded by orchid-adorned oaks, palm trees and Lignum vitae, the casual, 85-seat patio enjoys constant breezes from Biscayne Bay, out of sight but only 200 yards away. Scattered about are wrought iron patio tables that look like they were salvaged from the Palm Beach homes of The Ladies Who Lunch. Wait staff in khakis and button-down shirts complete the Nantucket South atmosphere.

What Worked

  • Salads with crunchy greens and house-made dressings
  • The pear and blue cheese salad with dried cherries and walnuts
  • The Chinese salad with wontons and snow peas in a mustard vinaigrette
  • Satisfying and healthy daily soups
  • Fresh cream of mushroom soup with snappy mushrooms and a light broth
  • Refreshing non-alcoholic basil lemonade
  • Crisp white sangria made with fresh basil, white wine, Triple Sec, brandy and lime juice

What Didn’t Work

  • Bland boneless chicken breast
  • Dry yellow fin tuna with a  soggy inside
  • Overcooked skirt steak
  • Grilled slabs of meat or fish that appeared as an unadorned lump on the plate, overwhelmed by a heaping pile of greens
  • A thin and soupy “fresh fish” casserole made with corvina had an appealing blend of fennel, herbs, white wine, carrots and tomato served in its own ceramic cookware
  • A traditional lasagna, made with veal, lamb and pork, that demanded more density & seasoning
  • An interior with a cold, cavernous feel of a banquet hall
  • Overly eager, young wait staff