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CityWalk – Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville


What: Casual food with an island flair
Where: Near the bridge to Islands of Adventure
Price Range: $$ - $$$
Cover: $7 after 9:00 p.m.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. (full menu until 11:00 p.m., snacks until 1:00 a.m.)
Reservations: (407) 224-2155 or OpenTable.com
Web: www.margaritavilleorlando.com

After crossing the bridge from Islands of Adventure and the NBA Restaurant, this is the first place you encounter in the main section of CityWalk, and a welcoming joint it is. Owned by singing star Jimmy Buffett and reflecting the easygoing themes of his popular songs, Margaritaville is a hymn to the laid-back life of the Parrot Head.

Probably the first thing you’ll notice is the Hemisphere Dancer, the actual Grumman Albatross Jimmy immortalized in his book A Pirate Looks At Fifty. Today it serves as an over-the-top prop for Lone Palm Airport, a walk-up bar with a kids’ play area and outdoor seating (see Fast Food at CityWalk, below).

After a fortifying drink, you’ll be ready to step inside. The various sections of the bar-restaurant are decorated to reflect Jimmy’s many interests and the songs he wrote about them. The Volcano Bar answers the question, “Where you gonna go when the volcano blows?” Every 45 minutes or so the volcano atop the bar rumbles ominously to life and spews out bubbling margarita mix that cascades down the slopes into a huge blender on the bar.

In the restaurant section, the booths are styled to evoke the back end of a fishing boat. Look up and you'll see a model of the Hemisphere Dancer. Huge whales and hammerheads "swimming" overhead decorate another bar section. Outside, facing Islands of Adventure, is the Porch of Indecision, a verandah seating area that frequently features its own entertainment. Buffett fans will enjoy spotting the insider references scattered through the decor while others will be having too much fun to care.

The "Floribbean" cuisine draws its inspiration from all aspects of Buffett's life story, from his Gulf Shore roots to his Caribbean island-hopping. The food also reflects the atmosphere of the ultra-casual off-the-beaten-track island bars where Buffett used to perform, chow down, and waste away.

There's a heavy emphasis on fresh seafood and the corn and crab chowder (under $5) is quite good. Those who are serious about their food will probably find their best choice the ever-changing Catch of the Day, prepared to order. The rest of the menu runs heavily to salads, sandwiches, and junk food (in the best possible sense of the term). There are nachos, conch fritters (super!), and fried calamari, and the servings are generous to a fault. Prices are moderate; only a couple of choices are over $20. A separate kids' menu features meals for $7.

Perhaps the spicy Louisiana- and Jamaican-inspired dishes like Jambalaya and Bayou Shrimp Pasta fare best. The Cheeseburger in Paradise ($12), alas, is merely a large but otherwise undistinguished example of the genre. Far better are sandwiches like the Pulled Pork, about $11. Better still is the King Crab and Shrimp Salad ($15), which is served as an entree in a huge shell-shaped bowl. There's good news on the desserts ($4 to $6). The Key Lime Pie is a winner and the Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding is to die for. Beer drinkers will appreciate the wide selection of premium bottled brews (about $5). For those who like their drinks on the sweet side, the specialty drinks run about $7 and are available in non-alcoholic versions for less.

A restaurant by day, Margaritaville transforms itself after the dinner crowd thins out into a cross between a nightclub and a full-fledged performance space showcasing bands and live performers that reflect in one way or another that certain indescribable Jimmy Buffett style. The house bands here are very good, alternating between Buffett standards and a mix of calypso, easy-going rock, and country-western. Every great once in a while, Buffett himself drops by. Jimmy Buffett has been very savvy in marketing himself, so it's no surprise that there's a very well stocked gift shop, the Margaritaville Smuggler's Hold, attached to the restaurant with a second entrance from the Plaza. Here Parrot Heads can fill in the gaps in their Buffett CD collection or buy one of his books (he's a pretty good writer it turns out). In addition, there are plenty of T-shirts, gaudy Hawaiian shirts, and miscellaneous accessories that the well-dressed beach bum simply can't afford to be without.

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Universal Orlando 2011

 

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