Forget cheeseburgers in paradise. At the Margaritaville resort in Hollywood Beach, you can get a perfectly seared prime bone-in rib-eye, local spear-caught fish, and a homemade banana cream pie that's better than your mom's — all in our own little slice of South Florida heaven.
When the 17-story, 349-room Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort opened last fall, no self-respecting South Floridian thought to look to the destination hotel for food.
Instead, it's the type of place tourists from cold, northern environs flock to for a chance to revel in that no-worries tropical vibe inspired by founder, singer-songwriter, and author Jimmy Buffett. Ask any local, and they might tell you it's not the type of place to head for a date night, celebration dinner, or fancy meal.
But what if it is? In December, the resort unveiled its eighth and final food and beverage venue, an all-new 142-seat steakhouse named JWB after the hotel chain's founder, James William Buffett himself.
"JWB is really the first of its kind, and with this property they definitely wanted to build something different," says executive chef Andres Teran. "Rather than bring in an outside company, they decided to create their own."
The restaurant bar and lounge, viewable from flip-flop-festooned lobby entrance, might appear like a dressed-up Landshark at first glance, but not so. Look closer and you'll see a wine cellar wall and open-air kitchen, walls constructed with handpicked reclaimed brick that complements aged hardwood floors and elegant deep ocean blue drapes, complete with Venetian plaster walls accented by European glass mosaics and a 30-foot mural.
It's also the type of place where servers dressed in starched white shirts, crustacean bow ties, and permanent smiles will place the napkin in your lap, polish your wine glass before pouring, and remove the salad fork after the first course. In other words, JWB is fancy.
Accessible to resort guests and locals alike, the establishment offers a decidedly luxe dining experience backed by a contemporary menu of fresh seafood, raw bar items, and prime steaks paired with a book's worth of world-class wines and another one for signature, handcrafted cocktails.
What you won't find is the same premade, predesigned kitsch of a Margaritaville restaurant — nor is JWB held prisoner to any cheesy resort theme. It also means Teran — who came onboard to help develop the menu alongside concept chef Carlo Sernaglia — is able to make changes to the menu as he sees fit.
The first step was streamlining the kitchen to offer higher-quality items: a full South African lobster tail in place of a Maine half-lobster-tail with the signature surf and turf, for one, and a new meat vendor that could offer a larger selection of Florida-farmed cuts.
That includes Teran's favorite, a hefty, un-Frenched, 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye. Like he does with all the meat, the chef spends days evaluating everything from thickness to fat marbling, hand-selecting each cut. It arrives fresh from a farm in Arvondale, Florida, every few days, a wet-aged cut of steak hemmed by a ribbon of fat.
Teran, who's been cooking steaks for more than a decade for some of the best in the business from Shula's to Morton's, has established a foolproof process for delivering the perfect steak. It begins with simply seasoned meat given a quick sear in a flaming hot cast iron plancha, forming a thin crust of flavor while locking in juices.
Next, the steak goes to the charbroil grill where a team of chefs cook the meat over specially calibrated heat that starts out low and gradually increases. Just before serving, it's brushed with a touch of brown butter for a luminous shine, adding a bright, nutty note of flavor.
It's not all about the beef, though. The real focus is on the seafood, an entire program dedicated to sourcing the freshest fish possible, says Teran. A raw bar offers an incredible array of fresh options, while starters include crab cakes, calamari, lobster bisque, and giant fried oysters.
Rather than offer simple line-caught fish, JWB employs a team of local spear fishermen tasked with sourcing the day's fresh catch. Out by 8 a.m. and back to the restaurant by 5 p.m. the same day, the spear-caught program means your server could be offering you a choice of anything from buttery grouper or firm-fleshed snapper to hours-old cobia or mahi sourced anywhere along the state's Eastern coast. It's prepared simply, with nothing but a touch of salt, pepper, and olive oil, and served with a side of seasonal vegetables.
"If there's no fish, there's no spear-caught selections that night," says Teran. "It's all part of our mission to offer a more local, sustainable seafood option."
While it might seem out of place at a fancy, upscale steakhouse, it's worth trying JWB's signature paella del mar, a recipe created by Sernaglia that uses authentic Spanish Bomba rice. The dish begins with a flavorful lobster stock, resulting in broth-bloated nubs of rice seasoned with a homemade sofrito that bakes up to a crispy finish from the steel pan it's served in.
Unlike traditional recipes, you won't find any sausage here, only seafood — a bounty of shrimp, white-fleshed fish, mussels, and clams flavored with just the right amount of dulce ahumado, a smoked paprika that lends a delicious smoky richness to the seafood stew. As a final touch, the dish is topped with a few dollops of fresh-whipped lemon aioli, offering a hint of acidic brightness to an otherwise seafood-sweet dish.
Perhaps most exciting — although rather unexpected — is the JWB sushi program Teran helped to pioneer. Though the restaurant was originally conceptualized with just a few sushi offerings, today a separate sushi menu offers six signature rolls and daily specials executed by a team of dedicated sushi chefs, says Teran.
As with the rest of the kitchen, senior sous and sushi chef Kon Lee is given free rein to do what he likes with the bounty of fresh fish at his disposal, composing up to three specialty dishes each day, whether they are new rolls, shareable sashimi platters, or trios of colorful, bite-size tartares.
Recently, a chef's sampler platter offered some of the freshest tuna and salmon sashimi I've had in years served alongside gleaming slices of Japanese scallops. A pair of tart-sweet plums called yamamomo acts as a palate cleanser between bites.
For dessert, you might be tempted to try any of JWB's extensive handcrafted cocktails, which include the Blue Heaven Rendezvous, an acai-blueberry vodka-based drink made with fresh lemon juice and raspberry puree, or the Jamaica Mistaica, a French almond-flavored rum mixed with hints of fresh lime juice and orange liqueur.
If it's something sweet you're after, go for bananas Foster cream pie. It's a homemade version, cut into massive slices that seem to swallow the entire plate, with pudding-like custard oozing out from under a veil of fresh-whipped Chantilly cream and barely contained by the banana-studded butter-graham crust. It might not look pretty when it's set down before you in a slopping heap, but this is one dessert — like the JWB restaurant itself — that shouldn't be judged by appearances alone.
"I consider myself very lucky to have been able to help develop this concept with Margaritaville," says Teran. "We had a lot of fun designing the JWB menu, keeping it very South Florida while adding our own inventive twists along the way. As a result, [this establishment] is unlike any other restaurant in the area right now."
JWB Prime Steak and Seafood
1111 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood. Hours are Sunday to Thursday 6 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 6 to 11 p.m. Call 954-874-4444, or visit margaritavillehollywoodbeachresort.com.
- Fried oysters $18
- Prime bone-in rib eye $54
- Fresh speared fish MP
- Paella del mar $48
- Bananas Foster cream pie $10