Breakfast Under the Lemon Tree

    Guests know what they want at this Ocean Drive mainstay

    The Lemon Tree’s head chef, Alger “Pete” Gaston, enjoys continuing the tradition of culinary delights at the Vero Beach landmark. Photo by Sam Wolfe
    The Lemon Tree’s head chef, Alger “Pete” Gaston, enjoys continuing the tradition of culinary delights at the Vero Beach landmark. Photo by Sam Wolfe

    Just to be clear, The Lemon Tree does serve lunch. However, it is breakfast that has made this restaurant a Vero Beach landmark, and head chef Alger “Pete” Gaston has no problem with that. After eight years at The Lemon Tree, he is used to the morning rush. “It can be a challenge during busy mornings,” he admits with a laugh, yet his laid-back manner makes it clear that he takes it all in stride.  

    As is the case for many chefs, Gaston’s love of cooking began in childhood. “Growing up, I loved cooking. Being around Mom in the kitchen was great.” Southern homestyle food was his mother’s specialty. And there is Southern style in some menu items at The Lemon Tree, like the smoky cheese grits, the chicken and waffles, and the biscuits and gravy. Gaston is also a fan of a good hamburger, and “Pete’s Angus Burger” bears his name on the menu; it’s also an item that he’s quick to recommend to guests who can’t make up their minds.

    However, many guests at The Lemon Tree know exactly what they want. “We get regular customers every day,” he says, and they often have regular orders. “We’ll cook the same thing for some people every day,” Gaston adds with a smile. Although he might playfully try to talk them into trying something different, “it’s kind of hard to do,” and they usually stick with their favorites.

    Part of The Lemon Tree breakfast menu is a selection of Benedicts—“the Bennys,” as Gaston calls them. Although the Traditional Benedict and the Crab Cake Benedict have been around for a while, two new choices have been added in the past few months: Smoked Salmon Benedict and Southern Benedict. The latter ingeniously combines a “Benny” with biscuits and gravy.  

    Along with being a chef, Gaston is also a mentor. His protégé at The Lemon Tree is Sage Roberts. “He’s my right hand,” says Gaston of Roberts. “If I’m not here, what he says goes.”

    In turn, Roberts calls Gaston “a problem-solver. If something happens, it’s not a big deal—it’s getting fixed.”

    Just outside the restaurant stands the lemon tree that gives the place its name. Every morning, guests walk past it, step under the welcoming yellow awning, and enter the restaurant to enjoy breakfast. It’s a Vero Beach tradition—and Pete Gaston is making sure it stays that way. 

    Seafood lover's quiche. Photo by Sam Wolfe
    Seafood lover’s quiche. Photo by Sam Wolfe

    Breakfast: Seafood Lover’s Quiche

    This is a staple among The Lemon Tree’s famous breakfasts.

    Serves 4

    • 6 eggs
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
    • Pinch of salt
    • Pinch of pepper
    • 1/2 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
    • 1/2 cup cheddar, shredded
    • 1/4 cup raw spinach, chopped
    • 1/4 cup tomatoes, diced
    • 1/4 cup onion, chopped and sautéed
    • 1/4 cup green pepper, chopped and sautéed
    • 1/2 cup uncooked Maine lobster meat
    • 1/2 cup uncooked shrimp, deveined

    Whisk the eggs, adding nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Add cream and stir.
    Pour into a prebaked pie shell. Gradually incorporate all other ingredients. 

    Bake at 245 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour, making sure center is set.  

    Remove from the oven and allow to cool at least 45 minutes. Then cut and serve.

    Herb-crusted salmon. Photo by Sam Wolfe
    Herb-crusted salmon. Photo by Sam Wolfe

    Lunch: Herb-Crusted Salmon

    The secret here is the combination of herbs and mustard, which forms a savory crust while the fish is being cooked.

    Serves 8

    • 2 (8-oz.) salmon fillets
    • 4 tsp. fresh parsley
    • 4 tsp. fresh basil
    • 4 tsp. fresh chives
    • 4 tbsp. Dijon mustard
    • 1 tbsp. butter or olive oil
    • A few drops of water
    • Mix the herbs together. Drizzle the Dijon on the salmon fillets, and then coat with the herb mixture. 

    Heat butter/olive oil in a frying pan. Place salmon in the pan, herbed side down, and press down. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, then flip. 

    Add a few drops of water and cover the pan with a lid to “steam” for approximately 2 minutes, until the fish is done cooking. Then serve. The salmon will be moist, and the Dijon-herb mixture will have formed a crust.  

    Lemon pie. Photo by Sam Wolfe
    Lemon pie. Photo by Sam Wolfe

    Dessert: Lemon Pie

    What better dessert to represent The Lemon Tree restaurant than this classic lemon pie?  

    Serves 6

    Graham Cracker Crust:

    • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
    • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
    • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Melt the butter and allow it to cool. Stir the butter into the sugared graham cracker crumbs until they are moist. Scoop the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and press down firmly in an even layer on the bottom and up around the sides. 

    Bake the pie plate with crust for 8 to 10 minutes, until the crust is a light golden brown. 

    Remove from oven and set to cool for 5 to 10 minutes while you prepare the filling. Maintain an oven temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

    Lemon Filling:

    • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
    • 2 (14-oz.) cans sweetened condensed milk
    • 5 large egg yolks
    • Whipped topping

    In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice, condensed milk, and egg yolks. Pour the filling into the slightly cooled graham cracker crust and spread evenly. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until the top of the pie is set. The pie should still be jiggly. 

    Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 5 hours (or overnight). 

    Top with whipped cream and serve.

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