If you don’t have the ability to make it to an actual beach during your stay in Florida (and many don’t), give lunch at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville a try. As my party was promptly seated, the first thing I noticed was the décor that every Florida native is well accustomed to. Surfboards on the walls, tiki-totems in the corners, and pictures of crashing waves all adorned the seafoam green and white patio area where we dined. The interior was comfortable with a tiki bar off to the side and a giant mast/sail with lights strung along it, but we had a clear sunny sky and wanted to take advantage of our beach weather with outdoor seating. I was not disappointed with the experience. I will give you a run-through of our lunch and why a Florida native, and vocal non-Parrothead, would feel comfortable recommending Margaritaville to the starving masses of park visitors.
First Course: Volcano Nachos
Mere minutes after we placed our order, this sizable test of gastrointestinal fortitude was set before us. The nachos are piled high and smothered with the usual cast of characters: chili, cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, and jalapeños. They offer chicken as an additional topping option (additional charge as well), which we decided was in all our best interests. Don’t let the Volcano in the name fool you though; only the jalapeños are hot. It is a pricey appetizer at $15.99, but the nachos are abundant making it an economically sound choice for a group. It does suffer the same downfall as all other establishments’ loaded nachos; the bottom half will be topping free. Fix loaded nachos – write your congressman!
Second Course: Asiago Crab Dip
Prepared well and very tasty, but low on quantity. It runs $13.99 and is a two person split at most.
Third Course: Fresh Florida Grouper Sandwich
When I think beach, I think fish. In lieu of a “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” I went for the grouper. It was just as greasy as any burger, and equally messy. One of my companions laughed as I was cleaning stringy coleslaw off of my neck. The coleslaw and avocado did a great job balancing the extreme saltiness of the fish. I had the option of eating it blackened, fried, or grilled. I chose grilled and was surprised at the quality and preparation of the fish itself. Accompanied by a small mixed green salad of my choosing (fries are the standard) this was more than enough to fill me up, and tasty enough to justify the $16.99 price tag.
Third Course (Part 2): Rancho Deluxe Burger
One of my dining companions made me glad I strayed from the cheeseburger path when he took a very forgettable stroll down it. The Rancho Deluxe Burger is essentially a standard burger with the add-ons of Applewood smoked bacon, ranch dressing, and Monterey Jack cheese. My friend’s description of “better than a theme park burger” was a backhanded compliment at best. Willing to come back and try something else, the burger obviously didn’t ruin his entire experience. If you are coming in with expectations for burger “paradise” though, you will be disappointed. $14.49 not well spent.
Third Course (Part 3): Beach Club
While the expectations of a club sandwich are never tidal wave high, our third esteemed diner was pleasantly content with his choice. The cold-cuts (the most important part) were high quality, and the sandwich was sizable enough to be lunch-level filling. A safe bet for $13.99 if you’re hungry but still have a bit of walking you don’t want to be weighed down for. Fries were eaten by both of my ‘partners in dine’ (sorry) and they were about as remarkable as the burger.
The damage was $102, but we received $14 off with our Annual Pass discount, bringing it down to $88. That price does not include any margaritas you may be in the mood for, so keep that in mind as well; specialty drinks run from $10.50 to $12.00.
As for the service, they were on their game. We were seated quickly. The turnaround time from order to each course was short. Our server had a great attitude and winning personality.
The benefit of a beach-themed restaurant is that it doesn’t run the risk of being too touristy, because all beach eateries are touristy. The only difference between Margaritaville and a restaurant I spent my youth at is the presence of Mr. Buffet himself. Jimmy may be worried you will have too many margaritas and forget where you are, so he reminds you constantly. Pictures, quotes, and a projection screen in the interior make sure you are well aware that this is his restaurant. Not a fan? No worries. The music, although blasting outward from the restaurant to attract customers, is at a nice background level in dining areas, and varies from beachy performer to beachy performer. If you can’t find your way to some sand and some ocean you could always try a trip to Margaritaville and a hotel pool instead.