Dig These New Island Imports at Jacksonville’s Bahama Breeze

Posted by on Jul 15, 2012 in Dining, Jacksonville | No Comments

Long before Bahama Breeze set up shop at the St. Johns Town Center in 2010, I had been steeped in the Darden chain’s island-inspired fare and colorful cocktails from my upbringing in Orlando’s culinary melting pot. And from many grueling happy hour testing sessions, I can say with scientific precision that their appetizers/small plates and libations are what make this concept stand out (and occasionally cause me to stumble out).

(If only they thought to plop J-ville’s B.B. on a body of water vs. a body of SJTC asphalt! But that’s a topic for another blog post…)

So when fellow foodie Devon Stiles (The Food Bitch Blog) invited me to a tasting of B.B.’s Legendary Island Cocktails, I didn’t waste any time in accepting the invitation, carefully reviewing the menu, and applying the appropriate pre-tasting fasting regimen.

Now I’ve been an attendee at numerous tastings for B.B.’s Darden sibling, Seasons 52, just a couple of blocks south. But let’s face it … Seasons and B.B. are hungry for different audiences. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from this blogger festival.

Well, I knew there’d be music, of the slightly-less-than-raucous-Parrothead genre. The one-man band fit the bill, bringing a tad-more volume than was suitable for inside-voice small talk on the covered patio. General Manager Jennifer Frisco dropped by to give us the new-menu play-by-play. Then our servers brought plenty of noise, but theirs was mainly confined to the good things on their platters.

All hail, the Painkiller!

The first trio of cocktails fired the opening salvo, making their first splash on the B.B. menu: Barbados Rum Punch, Goombay Smash and the aptly named Painkiller (pictured at left). If you’re a fan of the former Hurricane Hattie’s, or St. Augustine’s Conch House Restaurant, you know these concoctions well. The Rum Punch landed a hit for me, with its uber-sweet blend of Mount Gay Eclipse Rum, passion fruit juice, lime juice and grenadine. Its unabashed redness was shared with the hunch punch of my college days/daze, but this one sensed I was now a responsible 37-year-old with a mortgage and compromised alcoholic immunity and took mercy on me. The Goombay combined Captain Morgan’s and Myers’s Original Dark Rum, and together they scored more tangy points than sweet, as Goombays are wont to do. By contrast, the Painkiller was a smooth-sailing sipper of dark rum, Cream of Coconut and pineapple and orange juices. It was sweet but not overly so, an elixir born to live at the beach (and work on that tan). These were all refreshing and welcome additions to an outstanding cocktail menu.

Yes, it's as big as it looks.

Also advertised at our table were new snacks and small plates, and these munchables did not disappoint. We began with Sweet Peruvian Corn Cakes ($3.99; pictured down below left), which were plump, creamy and hot, only to be chilled out by the accompanying roasted pineapple salsa. The White Bean Hummus ($3.49) at first resembled a king-size dollop of guacamole, surrounded by a thicket of flatbread crisps and sliced veggies. But after closer examination, the hummus’ trademark consistency (and lack of jagged veggie chunks) convinced me to its true identity. The Chips ‘n Vine-Ripened Tomato Salsa ($2.99) should be standard-issue to every table gratis (let’s all take a page from the Mexicans’ dining playbook, shall we?). They got this salsa right, with refreshing hints of cilantro, pico de gallo and plantain chips joining the fun along with light tortilla chips. The Classic Cheeseburger Sliders ($7.99) must be seasonal visitors to the Caribbean, but there’s no doubt they should visit your table, no questions asked. The Coconut Shrimp ($8.99; pictured at right) is a fixture on the Appetizers board, and for good reason – they are substantial in size and in flavor. Honestly, I’m scratching my head at the inclusion of the Chicken Quesadilla ($8.99) on this menu. While competent but not outstanding, I’m tempted to Google ‘quesadilla + Caribbean’ to find the thematic connection. Guess they’re in the same boat (pun ruthlessly intended) as the Classic Cheeseburger Sliders. Finally, the Conch Fritters ($8.29) were much of what you’d expect in any seafood restaurant and were apt performers for this palate.

Let them eat cakes!

If you can’t make it to a beachside haunt, B.B. is a good “townie” compromise for lunch or after work. Close your eyes, take a sip and that parking lot will melt away, if you don’t melt away because of it while leaving (this IS July, after all). This formula for fun still works, especially when you’re not.

You’ll find Bahama Breeze at 10205 River Coast Drive, just off Town Center Parkway. Happy hour is weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. (yes, 6 p.m. … be warned), and the restaurant opens for lunch at 11 and closes at 11 on weeknights (midnight Fridays and Saturdays). Learn more at bahamabreeze.com, or follow #bahamabreeze on Twitter.