By Michelle Payer | Photographs by Ricardo Mejia
James William Buffett Has a New Place
An evening drive up A1A to Hollywood, Florida, is a dreamscape of tranquility, with vintage low-rise buildings and streets named after states leading to the city’s famous Broadwalk oceanfront promenade. It’s a place that fiercely clutches its moment-in-time, Rat Packesque ambience for a more laid-back vibe than its northern Fort Lauderdale neighbor or glitzy South Beach, which are equidistant from Hollywood, yet worlds away.
Jimmy Buffett saw an opportunity to meld his easygoing style with a relaxed, vacation-like ambience when he opened Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort in 2015. Walk through the doors, underneath the inviting “Mi casa es su casa” sign, and you’re greeted with a white-washed beach décor, original art, hanging daybed couches, plush cabana conversation areas and subtle tropical accents. Stroll underneath a magnificent chandelier of upside down margarita glasses and you’ll arrive at JWB, named after the original Parrothead’s initials; but don’t think you’re in a gaudy, tourist-only spot, for this restaurant could stand on its own in any urban setting.
Gracious hosts (including dapper, Russian-born Gregory Garber and restaurant manager Ian Falconi) take great care to welcome local guests for memorable evenings in an elegantly relaxed steakhouse environment, with its creamy leather seats, hardwood floors and exposed brick walls. As they explained, locals comprise about 60 percent of JWB’s business. That’s always a promising start, as is learning that steaks are wet-aged for 28 days, and that the resort employs local spear fishermen to deliver the freshest catches of the day. The concept was created by Margaritaville’s South Florida-based “Concept Chef,” Carlo Sernaglia, when he saw the abundance of fish teeming off shore and knew there was a sustainable, eco-friendly way to capture them (incidentally, Sernaglia has a new cookbook out, aptly titled Margaritaville: The Cookbook).
Waiters convey the species, location and spear fisherman’s name each evening when spear-caught delicacies are available (largely dependent upon weather conditions), with one of the most popular catches being lionfish. Known for its venomous spiky fins, lionfish have few predators and are destroying Florida’s coral reefs, meaning you’re doing the fragile reefs a solid when ordering this for dinner. The meat is simply grilled and served over a light risotto. This dish is a must-try if available, as are any of the spear-caught fish; the freshness and flavors are beyond compare.
The menu is varied and divided into categories, including Steaks & Chops, Chefs Specials and Raw Bar with nearly everything served steakhouse-style, meaning à la carte items can be paired with soups, salads and shared sides. Some of the most delectable accompaniments include Lobster Hash Browns, Farro Kale Succotash, Classic Creamed Spinach and Forest Mushrooms.
One of the sassiest Raw Bar selections is the Tiradito, which consists of sashimi topped with an exotic mix of choclo, cancha, hon-dashi, cilantro and aji amarillo crema, which gives it an unexpectedly spicy kick. For starters, try the Sautéed Mussels, served either in white wine or a coconut curry broth with red chili, and the Jalapeño Deviled Eggs, served with Dijon, mayonnaise and pickled mustard seeds. From the extensive Chef ’s Specials list, you can’t go wrong with Red King Crab Lakes, fl own in fresh from Alaska and served with fingerling potatoes, cole slaw and brown butter. When in season, stone crab claws are a delicacy not to be missed, and JWB serves jumbo in a trio of three that are ideal to share.
It may be difficult, but leave room for dessert. Not on the menu, perhaps to lure you in with the waiter’s irresistible description, is the Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding made fresh daily and chock-full of chocolate chips. (We asked if it comes with a personal trainer, but alas, it does not.) Dessert cocktails, including top-sellers, Key Lime Pie and Caramel Macchiato, are indulgent liquid sweets that will have you singing “changes in attitudes, changes in latitudes” or at least raising your glass and saying, “it’s fi ve o’clock somewhere.