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Photo by Rob Bartlett

The Peppy Bistro is an ideal conversation starter 

Pep talk

The trio of eateries ensconced at the crossroads of Edgewater Drive and Winter Park Street all present casual dining options for the College Park restaurant-goer, but one – the Peppy Bistro – lays claim to serving the once-maligned "fusion" cuisine. Well, for better or worse, it doesn't. Chef-owner Jerry Peppy's bistro is more a study in international cuisine than anything seeping into the realm of fusion.

Peppy took over the former Paxia space in November of last year with the intent of retaining some of the restaurant's Mexican favorites, but what he ultimately did was tie a tourniquet around the arm of its bill of fare and inject it with a heavy dose of Italian and Spanish savor. For the Peppy patron, the rush ... well, there isn't really a rush, but if you've sat by your phonograph and listened to Nat King Cole on Christmas Eve, then you know what I'm getting at. So, yeah, mellow trip.

In fact, the spirited atmosphere of bookend neighbors RusTeak and Outpost isn't really present here at all (an irony not lost on me in a bistro named "Peppy"), though it has come to reluctantly embrace its role as the chill filler in this restaurant sandwich. We've enjoyed south-of-the-border vestiges like guacamole ($8) and steak fajitas ($16) in near silence on some nights, and picked around a salad of bland grilled octopus and far-better shrimp ($17) amidst the clatter and din only a roomful of 10 people can make. When Jerry pops by our table to talk about the "Peppy Meatball" ($11), heads turn to see what all the racket is about.

The sheer enormity of the beefy globe is cause enough for conversation, in which Jerry (a delightful chap, I should add) dutifully obliged us. The meatball, a mix of ground beef and short rib, is plopped atop a marinara neither too sweet nor too tart, and is crowned with an amorphous toupée of ricotta reminiscent of Brother Theodore's coif.

Now, I've enjoyed scooping up paella using a mussel shell, but in the case of the paella de Peppy ($25) – "our best seller," the server cooed – I didn't think my first bite would be of a mussel shell. A broken shell, to be specific, mixed into the ricey wave of shrimp, clams, octopus, andouille sausage and scallops. It wasn't the only broken shell in the mix, either, which pretty much ruined the paella for me – that, and an underlying bitterness.

The "steak of the week" ($30) featured three chops of Australian lamb and twice the number of asparagus spears over couscous to, the menu stated, "keep the excitement going." My enthusiasm was curbed on seeing the Zen rock-garden aesthetic of the plating, but the lamb was lamby and of sacrificial worth.

College Park imbibers have raved about Peppy Bistro's happy hour, as they did about Paxia's before. Alas, I haven't had the pleasure, though I can't say we were all too piqued after a sip of the pisco sour-inspired "Judgement Day." Price: $12, but hearing your wife humming the tune of a '50s crooner while contentedly devouring a $6.50 slab of chocolate torte? Priceless.

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