Ever since Jill and I finished up our afternoon at Tommy Bahama with Susan Robinson of Key Culinary Tours a few months ago, we vowed that we would return to experience more than “just” their brilliant desserts.
Even in late May, after the snowbirds flew back north and our restaurants supposedly slow down, St. Armand’s Circle is still buzzing with shoppers laden with bags, and restaurants running out of seats during peak hours. St. Armand’s will always be top tier of “the greatest places for a stay-cation” in Southwest Florida.
We arrived at Tommy Bahama a little before 6 p.m. and opted for a table upstairs. I swear we were leading a parade – the place filled up almost completely within 15 minutes or so. With 21 years in business, and counting, Tommy Bahama is obviously doing it right!
Our server, Drake, was as welcoming, knowledgeable, and professional as you’ll find. With over 10 years employed at Tommy Bahama, that also speaks volumes about a place. He started us off with some Crown Bread (which was on point – pun intened) and a dish of their Honey/Cinnamon/Nutmeg/Ginger whipped butter. The butter was beyond delicious! The only reason there was any left at the time the entrées arrived was because we both knew to show restraint and not to fill up on this tasty bread.
We started our with a couple of the signature craft martinis, with Jill choosing the Coconut Cloud Martini, a concoction of Ron Matusalem Platino Rum, Stoli Vanil Vodka, Cruzan Coconut and cream of coconut. This is one dangerously delicious drink and one of the most popular on the cocktail menu!
My choice of the Monkey Business Martini was a unique blend of Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Bacardi Pineapple, (I mean, who mixes those together?) fresh grapefruit and lime juices, Orgeat, Luxardo, and bitters. This refreshing surprise only leads me to think that maybe I will stick with the martini menu and work my way down through the other 6 offerings. (Good thing Jill is always reminding me to stay me on task!)
Tommy Bahama is currently running a “Tacos and Tequila” promotion, but knowing that many of our subscribers are from other areas and may miss the promo, we decided to order from Chef Shannon Mills’ menu, which is long on creative Caribbean-inspired flavors. Wanting to make sure your SarasotaFoodies enjoyed a “little” taste of the promotion, Tommy Bahama’s manager, Don Bishop presented us with the cutest mini tacos you’ve ever seen. (Jill left his business card in the photo so you could see how small they are!) These “pop the whole thing in your mouth” tacos featured two versions of taco you can enjoy at Tommy Bahama, the Barbacoa Taco with Island Slaw and the Pork Belly Taco. Delightful and fun! FYI – the tacos are full size when you come for Tacos and Tequila!
My first course was the Ahi Poke Napoleon, with capers, sesame, a creamy guacamole, and flatbread. I felt the freshness of the tropics start to come over me like a gentle breeze with each bite. The tuna had a nice peppery zing to it, and I really liked the component of the crunchy flatbread. I’m feeling pretty good about my choice and would happily order it again.
What Jill ordered, however, made me a tad envious. As much as I enjoyed my appetizer, her Lump Blue Crab Bisque is a soup I would order every time, winter, spring, summer or fall. She ordered the smaller portion offered on the menu, but it still delivered a big WOW! The combined flavors of Blue Crab, sherry, cream, and citrus gremolata were divine, and topped with crushed croutons for a little crunch along with a citrus zest. I managed to finagle a single spoonful, (insert sad emoji here,) and decided that “to share or not to share,” either way it would be unfair! Unfair of me to gobble most of Jill’s appetizer and unfair that I couldn’t. In fact, Drake informed us that the Lump Blue Crab Bisque has been on the menu since the restaurant opened. Great call in keeping such an amazing soup year round.
For dinner, I selected from the “Bungalow Favorites,” the Grilled Baby Back Pork Ribs. The Sweet & Spicy Blackberry Brandy BBQ was the tipping point in choosing this, and the Island Slaw and Cauliflower-Potato mash promised me that my perfect little “vacation” would continue on. In advance of my rib feast, a thoughtful touch of warm towels and lemon arrived . . .of course!
And oh, those ribs! I can pretty much turn my backyard barbecue into a garage sale item. As soon as I picked up my fork, the ribs pretty much surrendered and just fell off the bone. The beautiful crisp bark was slathered in the aforementioned sauce, and knowing that were headed for dessert (having spotted some gorgeousness heading to a nearby table,) I managed to restrain myself, yet again, from eating the whole slab. I didn’t restrain, however, from dipping my fries in the remaining honey/cinnamon butter, and why not? Both are good on potatoes, as I happily discovered. Incidentally, I packed up a fair portion of my ribs for a fantastic lunch the next day – a delicious déjà vu.
Meanwhile, Jill’s Macadamia Nut Crusted Snapper was making her a positively happy camper. Seasoned with Hawaiian Red Sea Salt, grilled asparagus – a personal favorite of hers – almond rice, and a wasabi soy beurre blanc sauce that she must’ve remarked at least 3 times as being otherworldly. The fish was perfectly moist, and the whole dish was executed perfectly. And while I managed to save a fair portion of my dinner for lunch the next day, it was a struggle for Jill to do the same.
Remembering that dessert we watched being delivered across the room, we turned our attention to the Piña Colada Cake. Brought to the table by another smiling server, Sabrina, it didn’t seem possible that anyone could manage in one hand. While looking large enough to take down a cruise ship, the vanilla cake, Myers Dark Rum, diced pineapple, white chocolate mousse, and toasted coconut was incredibly light and flavor packed with every bite as amazing as the ingredients would indicate.
The size of the Pina Colada Cake reminded me of a happy hour special in reverse, instead of “two for one” you get “one for two” with nary a crumb left. This deliciousness was accompanied by some of the best coffee I can ever remember at the close of a meal. Drake told us that Tommy Bahama’s coffee has been reviewed on its own merits on several occasions and found to be irreplaceable. Agreed. When the last thing you taste at a restaurant is the coffee, you want a brew of this exceptional quality. While I normally take cream with my coffee, I wanted to enjoy this cup au natural!
The entire time we dined at Tommy Bahama I also noticed both managers, Don and Ron, in constant motion, seating guests, making sure everyone was happy with their meals, and even sweeping and maintaining things is perfect order. How great to see the staff supported like that! As a previous restaurant owner myself, I always give kudos to a well managed restaurant.
In fact, the whole experience reminded me of kicking back at a luxury resort while everyone, from server to bartender, managers, musicians and kitchen staff made sure we were enjoying a relaxed and sumptuous meal. Want to take a vacation from the kitchen? Head over to Tommy Bahama!