Even on a blistering August weekday, a healthy flow of people struts up and down the Broadwalk, the paved pedestrian walkway that lines Hollywood Beach. There's a strand of blue-collar businesses to the west and wide-open sand and waves to the east. Walking down the strip is a pair of girls with purple-and-pink-dyed hair in skimpy bikinis whose bellies jiggle with each step they take toward the shade. Twenty-something bros in Spy sunglasses and flowered board shorts walk slowly, dragging their Reef sandals.
Around lunchtime, much of the restaurants' outdoor seating is empty. Near Buchanan Street at Hollywood Grill, an Armenian and Russian restaurant, workers sit four across at a table on the far edge of the sidewalk near the front door. They stare out over the Broadwalk as a towel-wrapped family of tourists speaking Italian pauses to look at the menu. It plies pickled herring with potatoes, lamb kebabs, and a platter of cured beef tongue and basturma, an Eastern European cured meat that's heavily salted and seasoned with cumin, fenugreek, garlic, and paprika. Yet the family slinks instead to a nearby bar advertising "The World's Best Bloody Mary."
As you near Johnson Street, the quiet din of a faraway hydraulic drill grows to a low roar. Only a few hardhat-wearing construction workers walk around the dusty, gravelly site that in about three years will be transformed into Margaritaville, a manufactured, Caribbean-influenced resort hideaway inspired by Jimmy Buffett's beach-bum brand. Developer Lon Tabatchnick, who's partnering with hotel giant Starwood Capital on the project, finally took control of city-owned land in early July after securing $80 million toward the $147 million project. He's signed a 99-year lease on the waterfront property and is to pay $1 million a year for the life of the lease. The city is kicking in $23 million and expects to bring in about $1.9 billion over the lifetime of the deal. Work was supposed to kick off in March, but hurdles in financing and permitting forced developers to at least twice delay construction.
Renderings of the finished resort show what could be the backdrop for an episode of the Love Boat. Multiple pools are surrounded by tall royal palms. There's a circular, two-level tiki bar with a massive thatched roof that backs up to a glittering, gray-and-white hotel. A grounded twin-propeller plane and a long sailboat with a billowing jib sail jut toward the Broadwalk.
Buffett is likely to stop by the resort for a grand-opening performance, according to the company that manages the Margaritaville brand. After that, who knows?
"Jimmy tours regularly, and if it works out that a tour stop in Hollywood makes sense, then absolutely," said Tamara Baldanza, director of new business for Margaritaville Hospitality Group, "but you'll never know for sure when he's going to come."
Meanwhile, the attitude toward the 350-room resort, where that lost shaker of salt may be hiding, is skeptical.
"It's going to be a hassle until it's built, but as soon as it's completed, it's going to bring revenue to the Broadwalk, especially me," says Bob Ferro, owner of Nick's Bar & Grille, an institution on the beach. "We need it desperately."
Throughout the day, beachgoers walk up to the open windows at Nick's to grab a beer. Inside, to the hum of a strawberry daiquiri blender, people chow down on fried clam rolls and chicken wings. Ferro estimates the beach will see, on average, an additional 500 people per day and is knocking down his longstanding dive to build a three-story restaurant he says will have all of the original location's charm, along with space for all the new blood.
"Anything they do to improve the area is good," says Fulvio Sardelli, who owns the pricey Sardelli's Italian Steakhouse on the Intracoastal Waterway side of the beach. "Maybe I'll get a customer or two out of it."
Yet from an informal survey of business owners, what they seem to fear the most is the 27 months it will take to build the resort. The Johnson Street garage and a neighboring lot closed last month, and with them went 800 spots, almost a third of all public parking on the beach. Margaritaville will open with more than 1,000 spots, with 600 of them for the public, but some are skeptical they'll make it that long.
"I don't think the city has given any consideration to how badly it's going to affect us," said Manoucher "Ali" Shaditalab, who owns the Peruvian restaurant Pachamamma on Johnson Street. In the first month since the parking crunch, he estimated business is down 60 to 70 percent. "I've spoken with the minimarket beside me, and he said he can't last more than two months."
"Two years [without parking] is not six months," says Hasan Kochan, who owns Istanbul Restaurant, a Turkish spot that plays loud, driving techno and serves spicy pizzas topped with lamb and tomato. "People could wait six, eight, ten months, but two years is too much."
Yet opinions vary, even around the corner. Some business owners are concerned over the effects of Margaritaville's construction, while others brush it off.
"Business attracts business," says Nathan Lieberman, who with his father, South Beach developer Alan Lieberman, owns Taco Beach Shack. Three years after opening, the small, outdoor-seating-only restaurant has become a favorite thanks to tacos filled with juicy short rib or freshly grilled mahi.
Lieberman says he's not concerned about the more than half-dozen restaurants the new resort will hold either.
"When the weather is nice, no one stays inside a hotel; they walk around the beach; they go to the cafés," he adds. "Hollywood Beach needs Margaritaville, more development, and more action."
In the meantime, we've rounded up the ten best restaurants on Hollywood Beach:
Nick's Bar & Grill
1214 N. Broadwalk, 954-920-2800
When you ask South Floridians for a recommendation on Hollywood Beach, Nick's is the name that always pops up. At 2 p.m., still wet from the ocean, you can stroll up to one of the windows on the stone-built bar and order a frozen strawberry daiquiri, and at 2 a.m., you can go in again for a beer. Order the Ipswich clams with drawn butter. The meaty mollusks are lovingly referred to as "pissers" for the water jet they shoot out as they filter food from the seawater.
290 N. Broadwalk, 954-674-9674
It's Edelweiss on the Atlantic. Organic Brewery's fermenting vats glitter through glass windows, easily drawing in passing tourists. Here they brew a nutty, hoppy India Pale Ale and a filling stout they call Russian Knight, which leaves a lingering taste of coffee. As the craft beer obsession builds and beercentric joints look more like gastropubs than German bierhauses, Organic is a relief. There's a floor-to-ceiling mural of cobblestone roads lined with small white-and-green Bavarian cottages. Grab a seat in one of the chunky wood chairs, order a manhole-sized chicken schnitzel, and grab a growler with some stout to go.
Taco Beach Shack
334 Arizona St., 954-920-6523
There's a lot of beach food on Hollywood Beach, and tacos more than fit the category. Yet the tacos and overstuffed burritos from South Beach real estate tycoon Alan Lieberman's Taco Beach Shack are a cut above the rest. Pull up a stool at the bar and order a short-rib taco topped with a nuclear spicy kimchi slaw. There are also calamari and cilantro tacos as well as quesadillas stuffed with mahi-mahi, pico de gallo, and cilantro cream. Though his place is only a stone's throw from where Margaritaville is rising, co-owner Nathan Lieberman has few concerns. "I think business attracts business, and people attract people," he says. "The more energy, the more action, the better."
321 Johnson St., 954-926-1020
About a year ago, Carolina and Manoucher "Ali" Shaditalab bought Pachamamma to pursue Carolina's dream of owning a restaurant. The design echoes the art of ancient Central America, and the cuisine is a survey of everything that has made Peru a culinary force to be reckoned with. Even on a hot day, their aji de gallina, a traditional Peruvian chicken stew, hits the spot. The combination of a creamy, garlicky taxicab-yellow sauce with pulled chicken and steamed rice is just what you need to help bring on that afternoon nap in the sun.
905 N. Broadwalk, 954-272-2525
From Russia with love. Hollywood Grill serves myriad Eastern European cuisine you can find in the homes of Georgians, Armenians, and others from the former Soviet Union. The stars of the menu are the kebabs — lamb, beef, chicken, sea bass, snapper, and more. If you're looking to get a bit more adventurous, then try the pickled herring or cured beef tongue. Be happy you can take this culinary trip without even having to change your wet bathing suit.
707 N. Broadwalk, 954-921-1263
Hasan Kochan's Istanbul is one of the mainstays on the Broadwalk. In business for more than two decades, Kochan recalls a time when cyclists and skaters weren't allowed to gracefully make their way up and down the oceanside walkway. Like many business owners, Kochan is concerned about the removal of almost a third of the beach's parking. "People are going to come to the beach and turn and turn and turn, and after an hour when they can't find parking, they'll leave," he worries. However, if they've had Kochan's Turkish pizzas — small round flatbreads topped with ground lamb and tomatoes and fragrantly seasoned with coriander, cumin, and parsley — they might be willing to search a bit longer.
Sugar Reef Grill
600 N. Surf Road, 954-922-1119
While dive joints line the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk, Sugar Reef offers upscale Caribbean cuisine (like gumbo and Jamaican jerk-rubbed pork loin) in a setting that somehow gives a white-tablecloth-dining feel while holding on to that beachfront ambiance. Paper-covered tables and crayons allow kids to entertain themselves as they wait. Meanwhile, an adult can kick back with a glass of wine and pair it with roasted duck with a sweet and spicy mango salsa or a combination of shrimp, mussels, and calamari with pasta in a creamy tomato pesto sauce.
Sardelli's Italian Steakhouse
331 Van Buren St., 954-921-8331
The Sardelli family — known for Fulvio's 1900, just off Hollywood Boulevard — spent five years and their life savings turning an empty lot just off the beach into an opulent Italian villa. After the massive investment, Fulvio Sardelli said that he sees Margaritaville developer Lon Tabatchnick as a man of his word and that the area needs any and all improvement. Whether it will bring people in the door for a $15 scallop — perfectly cooked and set atop a parsley pesto sauce and creamy parsnip puree — remains to be seen, however.
Billy's Stone Crab
400 N. Ocean Drive, 954-923-2300
Old-world manners are standard issue here, where waiters wear matte-black ties and clean, pressed white shirts. Here, sitting in an oversized blue banquette, you can get your fill of steak, stone crab, and fresh-caught Florida fish all before massive windows that offer a stunning Intracoastal view. If you're vacationing on a budget, the place also serves alligator tidbits. Rubbery pieces of gamey tail meat are fried up crisp and served with mustard sauce and a spicy remoulade.
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Le Tub Saloon
1100 N. Ocean Drive, 954-921-9425
Whatever changes come to Hollywood Beach, it seems like Le Tub Saloon — practically a national treasure for its juicy burgers on poppy-seed-sprinkled buns — will remain the same. Though the original owner, Russell Kohuth, passed away in 2010 at 75, it remains true to its founder thanks to Robin and Steve Sidle, who've run the restaurant for the past 15 years. When Margaritaville opens and you're looking for a respite from the rum runners and the steel drums, this will be the place to go.