Thought I’d take a turn as a restaurant reviewer for this one; spread my wings a bit. Hey, doctors gotta eat too. As Monday’s Sentinel announced, Darden is back on the march with multiple new restaurants planned, including several new Bahama Breezes over the next few years. We have been frequent flyers at the one in Altamonte Springs for the past several years because our son, Travis, was one of the managers there. When he transferred to the restaurant in Kissimmee, we changed our stomping grounds without hesitation or apology.
Notwithstanding the fact that our son works there, we love the ambiance and the menu at Bahama Breeze. Between the overall experience, the quality of the food, and the unfailingly good service, it is a great place for a nice/casual meal. Our default mode has always been to sit at the bar and eat there because it usually avoids waiting for a table and we enjoy watching the bartenders work.
Travis was handpicked to join the inaugural management team at the newest Breeze in The Loop and jumped at the chance to be in on the ground floor and put his stamp on the hiring, especially the hostesses and bartenders, and setting up the bar, his areas of responsibility. The restaurant is new in more ways than one. It will set a standard that all new BB’s are expected to follow in the years to come.
The restaurant retains the tropical island vibe that characterizes all Bahama Breeze locations but narrows it down a bit to simulate the feeling of being in a Caribbean sugar mill, complete with giant gears from actual sugar mills on the great wall at one end of the dining room. Sugar + Caribbean equals one thing……rum, and BB is known for its signature tropical drinks. The indoor/outdoor bar is stunning and boasts two large copper stills and the feel of a bar in a tropical resort. If you close your eyes, you can almost feel the beach outside instead of W. Osceola Parkway.
The décor is stunning, as beautiful as any restaurant that I can remember, all bright hues and tropical themes, including a large, framed scarlet macaw rendered in small pieces of metal that brought memories of a similar looking tapestry in my parent’s house. The main dining room is a great room with two series of brightly colored ceiling fans turning slowly powered a pair of exposed electric motors that just look old, with belts connected to the rotating rods that hold the blades. It is effective and eye poppingly gorgeous.
The open plan makes for a bit more noise but also adds to the festive atmosphere so one offsets the other very nicely. This is the place for a party! I expect the bar will be popular for sporting events.
Our server, Kentora, was the epitome of effervescent enthusiasm and made the inevitable delays from the kitchen and bar on this first day of business tolerable. I was told that the anticipated attendance was for the mid-300’s but the actual tally was closer to 500. Travis told us that at one time he was holding over 60 bar tabs in his hands. Despite the crowds and the delays, I did not see that the quality of the food suffered in any way. I broke a 36+ year personal moratorium and ordered the fresh swordfish, when I saw this on the menu. For over three and half decades I have refrained from ordering swordfish, my favorite fish of all, because of the overfishing that has decimated stocks, but I suspended it for one night. The swordfish steak was moist and tender; not dry as so often is the case. It was smothered in a wonderful pineapple-hot pepper salsa that went beautifully with the mild fish. Although I ordered yellow rice, I got the garlic-herb mashed potatoes instead, a fortuitous error because the potatoes were fantastic. My side salad was great and Kentora was quick when I requested a bit more dressing for it.
My wife ordered the BBQ’d bacon and cheese burger but substituted the vegetarian black bean patty for meat. This was one of the best burgers I have tasted, ever, veggie or otherwise. It came with a mound of French fries, of course. Our daughter-in-law and her friend had the grilled salmon salad and the Ahi Tuna stack, respectively. That last is one of the best things on the menu, by the way. Both loved their choices. We split a desert and, instead of our usual, the signature Rebecca’s key lime pie, we ordered the chocolate island. I can’t improve on the menu description: “a fudge brownie island in chocolate sauce and vanilla bean anglaise.” Yes, it tastes as good as it sounds.
All of the top management were out in full force, circulating through the restaurant to insure everything went well. Several stopped by our table. I have been impressed with how “hands on” senior management is at Bahama Breeze. The focus is always on a great customer experience. Because this was a “soft” opening, for family and friends by invitation only, we were charged only for our drinks. Even at full price, it was a great value. I did not want to shortchange Kentora so I calculated the full value of the meal and tipped based on that. I will doubtless hear from CapitalOne asking if I really meant to put in a 60% tip! Yeah, I did.
The formal opening was Monday, May 15. I have no doubt this Bahama Breeze will be a resounding success. Kudos to Travis and the whole management team. The new Breeze really has to be experienced to be appreciated.