Some might ask: What do a Caribbean island and Hudson have in common? Thanks to restaurateur Pete Foster, the two unite at the San Pedro Cafe, a spot favored by locals for its unusual flavor combinations and a warm, relaxed atmosphere.
The cafe has been around since 2000; since that time, it has experimented with a particular blend of dishes from warmer climes, from Cuba to Central America. The restaurant’s theme is an homage to a little island off the coast of Belize.
“My business partner had a boat and a slip on Ambergris Caye, a small island with only one town, San Pedro,” Foster says. “We spent a lot of time on that island, and that’s where the concept grew. We play with a lot of different dishes, but our base is Caribbean, with Latin and Cuban accents.”
Since 2005, Foster has been the sole owner of the restaurant, and he remembers the careful process of building the restaurant from the ground up.
When the building was purchased in 1998, it already had seen a lot of Hudson’s history. Its first role was as the first bank of Hudson in 1872, and throughout the past 140 years, it has been home to a variety of businesses, including bakeries, restaurants and bars. Foster and his partner Bob Wasmund saw the beautiful architecture and knew it would be a great location for the cafe. They were on a low budget, and they renovated the building themselves.
Now the two-story restaurant features bright pastel colors to capture the feel of the Caribbean, and houses a giant saltwater aquarium and a waterfall cascading down the two levels. “When you walk in the door, you get a sense that the look of the restaurant really complements the cuisine we serve,” Foster says.
The cuisine certainly has been a hit with the community. “Hudson residents are sophisticated, and they appreciate the quality that we provide,” Foster says.
The cafe’s posole is a favorite, he says; it’s hand-pulled pork, roasted in-house with onions simmered in a spicy tomato broth with hominy and lime ($4.95 cup, $5.95 bowl). Another classic dish is the jerk chicken ($16.95), a hot pepper and garlic marinated chicken oven-roasted with vegetables, and a side of Caribbean rice and beans. For a lighter springtime meal, Foster recommends the jerk chicken lettuce wraps, served with avocado and grilled pineapple salsa ($11.45).
As is fitting for a community located near water, the seafood options are consistently popular as well, among them the Spanish spiced red grouper (a fresh, house-cut fillet with tropical mango salsa, $25.95) and the coconut-mango red snapper (a red snapper fillet breaded with toasted pepitas, $19.95). Those looking for a red meat option will be satisfied with the ropa vieja ($18.45), a hand-pulled short rib with peppers and onions. And diners should save room for the cafe’s desserts, like the Key lime pie ($6.95) or the chocolate habanero torte ($6.95), all crafted in-house by a pastry chef.
As if delicious food weren’t enough, the San Pedro Cafe also serves signature cocktails, including a variety of flavored margaritas like the jalapeno blood orange, made with fresh-squeezed limes ($8).
“The cocktails are all made from scratch, which really reflects our restaurant’s attitude towards everything we serve,” says Susie Halverson, director of restaurant operations at the San Pedro Cafe. “We go through pounds of mint and cases of limes every week for our mojitos and margaritas.”
In addition to creating all of the cocktails in-house, the drink recipes are also dreamt up by the staff. Halverson and her team pay attention to drink trends for inspiration, with a special focus on flavors from the region. “When you think of the Caribbean, you think of sitting on the beach,” Foster says. “Our cocktails go hand-in-hand with that idea.”
Foster’s sensibility reflects a lifelong interest in the restaurant business. He took his first restaurant job at Barkers Bar and Grill in Hudson (which he also now owns) soon after graduating from high school, and attended University of Wisconsin-Stout for the hospitality and restaurant program. After college he moved around the Midwest before buying into Barker’s in 1996. Now, as owner of the San Pedro Cafe, he still oversees the operations in and out of the kitchen, but trusts executive chef Quinton Hammond to use his creativity to keep the cafe’s cuisine interesting and delicious.
“When I’m not in the restaurant, I travel quite a bit and spend a lot of time in Key West, where I get inspiration for our menu,” he says.
Looking forward, Foster hopes to continue to add to the first thing he touched in the cafe: the building. “We’re looking into an expansion that would open this summer, which would open up a lot of room in the restaurant,” he says.
The cafe also has expanded to catering events, which is a channel for reaching the community that Foster aims to keep open.
For the time being, Foster will continue to dream up new dishes and dining areas as he brings a bit of warmth to the St. Croix River Valley area. “We operate with island hospitality at the San Pedro Cafe,” Halverson says. “When a customer walks in, we do everything we can to make them feel like they’ve been transported somewhere warm, welcoming and happy.”