Not much has changed at the Cortez Cafe since the seventies when fishermen in the sleepy village of Cortez would gather to swap stories and gossip over a hearty breakfast and a bottomless cup of coffee before heading offshore. In 2002, owners Sam and Debi Varelis left their respective careers in wholesale produce sales and real estate to carry on the tradition of Cortez’s community gathering place. In 2003, they expanded into the hair salon next door, nearly doubling the size of the size of the restaurant.
Tucked away in a small strip mall, almost invisible to the passing beachgoers on Cortez Road, this unassuming little cafe has several large tables fill the center of the dining room. Locals and tourists alike share these tables freely and talk about everything from fishing to politics. There is no such thing as “strangers” here. “This is home to me, and it feels like home to our patrons. I think that is what makes this place so special.” Sam tells me as he hands me a plate that is overflowing with a deluxe club sandwich and fries. “Tourists and snowbirds come here once and they become regulars for the rest of their stay, and then come back year after year.” It’s not hard to understand why, with generous portions of home cooking in such a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. On any given day you can watch people come and go, stopping at several tables along the way to say hello and chat with friends and neighbors.
Breakfast at the Cafe is like none around, with a variety of Cortezian 4 eggs omelettes that are bound to please any palate and pancakes so big they spill off the plate. One thing is for certain, you will not leave hungry. Did I mention the grits? They are hands down the best around, guaranteed to satisfy even the pickiest of grit connoisseurs. Don’t bother asking how he makes them, I’ve already tried. Lunchtime rolls around with juicy ½ pound Angus burgers you can barely fit in your mouth. All the soups and specials are homemade daily and range from comfort foods like Meatloaf and Chicken Parmesan to Grouper Hoagies and Greek specialties. Top it off with a slice of homemade pie, all made from Debi’s own recipes that have been handed down for generations.
The Cortez Cafe is located at 12108 Cortez Road, nestled between the Barber Shop and the local Fish Market. They’re open for breakfast and lunch 7 days a week. It’s not unusual to see fishermen in white boots sitting next to sunburned tourists, or to walk in on an impromptu birthday celebration for an unsuspecting local complete with cake for everyone. Stop in with family and friends for a meal that will fill you up and not break the bank, or for a simple cup of coffee and good company to start your day. Meet me at the Cafe, you’ll be hooked!