Photo |Shane Rice
No stranger to the Nappies or celebrity, “Panini Pete” Blohme is pressing hard in this year’s awards as Best Chef, Best Eastern Shore Lunch Spot (Panini Pete’s) and Most Innovative Menu (Squid Ink).
Lest you think this is just some guy in a chef’s coat making sandwiches, there are some things you should know about this restaurateur and his houndstooth past. Growing up in South Florida, he began working in kitchens at age 14, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in 1986, and bounced around cooking jobs — including at the University of Alabama — before opening the restaurant that gave him his recognizable moniker in the Fairhope French Quarter in February 2006.
Panini Pete’s was an instant hit, fitting right into that quaint Fairhope scene. Six years later, another Panini Pete’s opened in downtown Mobile, and just like that, Pete had dual citizenship in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Pretty soon everyone on both sides of the bay had their favorite sandwich, but what you really wanted was those beignets with a little squeeze of lemon.
In 2014, he and his longtime friend Nick Dimario had a chance to partner on a restaurant and hospitality company. This birthed Fairhope’s Sunset Pointe, their first restaurant with a view. A bit more than sandwiches, the tapas and finer dining menu, combined with waterfront vistas at the old Fly Creek Marina, poured on the charm.
An opportunity to take over Ed’s Seafood Shed in 2017 gave them another perspective, this time from the Causeway. With an iconic restaurant such as this, they somehow managed to improve the menu but keep all of the sacred items. Most of us know the lunch and dinner pretty well, but if you’ve not had the breakfast, treat yourself.
Squid Ink Eats & Drinks replaced the Mobile Panini Pete’s location in the summer of 2019, and once again we saw Pete stretching his legs. This gastropub puts a twist on pretty much everything from small plates to pasta to high-end cocktails. Keep an eye on this menu, because you never know what’s coming out next.
Fried deviled eggs are a favorite. I used to eat the smoked oysters straight from the tin. No matter what avant-garde delicacy hits my plate, I’m also getting straight-up French fries. They may be the simplest thing on the menu, but they’re simply perfect. Paella fritters, tuna poke bao buns, mussels Pernod, West Indies pressed sushi — it all ensures I’ll only go when I have a big appetite. Even the things that sound simple still have an air of innovation about them.
While all of this is going on, Pete finds himself on the reg tied to the Food Network with links to Guy Fieri, including appearances on shows such as “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” “Guy’s Grocery Games” and more. He’s always on the go in some form of media.
He’s also on the alumni council at CIA. His beignet mix helps raise money for scholarships to the prestigious school.
He’s spent over 10 years traveling internationally to feed the troops on military bases, submarines and aircraft carriers with his group, the Messlords.
“It’s amazing where food has taken me,” Pete said about his Nappies. “There are so many great chefs around, I feel like this is more of a lifetime achievement award.”
When asked how he juggles the restaurant group and the traveling, he said, “Lots of chefs can’t do all of this when they get the opportunity because they can’t leave their operation for very long. I’m able to do this because I have a great team.”
Staying consistent, creative and delicious — it’s all hard work. Don’t sell yourself short, Pete.
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