Pusser's Bar and Grille has been holding down a prime corner location in the "Shoppes of Veranda" (aka next door to Ruth's Chris Steak House) in Ponte Vedra for a couple of years now. If you haven't been, what's keeping you?
A great location, friendly, attentive service, and the best rum concoctions this side of the Caribbean await! Oh, and there's the food, but that's not what I think of when I think of Pusser's.
We're blessed in this region with some fantastic seafood, a wealth of independent restaurant operators with unique perspectives, and some simply good places to kick back and raise a wrist. For me, Pusser's falls into the latter category.
I'm ok with dropping some bucks on a frozen rum concoction to sip while downing a plate of coconut shrimp, but it turns out not all my friends are so inclined. Few of them have been to Pusser's. Another of my "not so scientific" polls revealed that the number one reason for that fact was, well, the NAME Pusser's. It reminds people of something... less than appetizing.
My personal frame of reference is shaped by an ex-Royal Navy Liverpudlian-turned-Canadian I dated several years ago while living in Cincinnati. He was mad for a grog made from Pusser's Rum, which is, in fact, quite good.
On one of his visits stateside, he left behind a tin cup with the Pusser's logo, a china coffee mug with a map of the Bahamas, and mix-tape of the Beatles featuring some rare UK release versions of my favorite songs. I still have that tape. Hmmm....
When Pusser's management invited me to re-visit their Ponte Vedra restaurant, I was skeptical. After all, I panned it last year during the 2009 Taqueria Tour. Had anything changed since then?
A sneak peak at their new menu, and a stipend of fifty dollars (in the interest of full disclosure) to defray the cost of my explorations convinced me to take another look. So without further ado, and in the name of Seafood Summer, let's talk seafood!
First up - this starter from Pusser's bar menu - Fried Calamari, served with house-made Marinara ($8.50) can be had for half-price during "Half Off Happy Hour" Monday - Friday 3-7 p.m.
Not much you can say about Calamari - this rendition was good - tender, crispy breading, large rings. I didn't taste the Marinara, I'm more of a lemon and tartar girl when it comes to fried seafood.
Another appetizer we enjoyed was Mussels Montserrat - Steamed mussels in white wine, garlic and butter. Served with toasted Cuban bread. ($8.95)
These are also half-price during happy hour, and worth returning for.
You can get them served Fra Diavolo but our server wisely informed us theirs was a tomato based version, which, again, not a fan of. LOVE the spicy, just not the tomato sauce. Good call, friendly waitress person!
This is as good a time as any to point out that - in my humble opinion - the number one asset of Pusser's is not the great location, or the rum, or the food - it is the service staff.
Everyone we've encountered has been friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and efficient. They have a knack for making you feel welcome and comfortable. They truly seem to be enjoying their jobs, which is a plus. Kudos to the entire front of the house staff.
I should mention that most of our visits were incognito - it was only the last time we attended that our cover was blown - as our patron wanted me to meet General Manager Dan Monk, and Executive Chef (and Ponte Vedra native) Chris Delay. Both men made a stop at our table to greet us, and were equally friendly and knowledgeable.
Chef Delay came to table while we were sampling our entrees.
Grouper Ponte Vedra is a pan-seared grouper (Red Grouper, he informed us) topped with a generous portion of sauteed jumbo lump crabmeat and béarnaise, served with fresh vegetables and tropical sticky rice. ($24.50) Portion sizes are generous here.
The crab was the star of this show. My Grouper was in little grey pieces, from the small end of the filet, and was all but lost under that mound of sweet jumbo lump crab. The sauce was rich and thick, and there was rather a lot of it. Vegetable medley was standard fare.
Their sticky rice is a bit sweet - its a Caribbean thing - but I'm not overly enthusiastic. In this case it was a good pairing with the rich sauce and sweet crab, but again, the humble Grouper was lost in translation.
The Matriarch accompanied me on this occasion, and her entree choice was the St. Lucia Seafood Pasta - Fresh shrimp, scallops and fish tossed in a basil white wine sauce over linguine. ($20.50)
She enjoyed the straightforward presentation, and the abundant fish and shellfish. The bits I tasted were nicely done. Big, beautiful shrimp and scallops and at least two varieties of fish made this a most enjoyable choice. The sauce was a rich and flavorful enhancement to the dish.
While the food on these visits was better than my previous trips, I am still convinced that the real beauty of Pusser's is in the drinks. $2.50 Red Stripe all day, every day, and a lineup of frozen concoctions that would knock any parrot head off their perch.
There's an indoor bar and an upper deck bar called the "Upper Deck." They can accommodate large groups and special requests.
On one recent Saturday there was a charitable event for over 100 young professionals being hosted on the Upper Deck - complete with an old fashioned low-country boil.
Our drink of choice is the Painkiller - sweet and spicy - but beware - it packs a punch! If we're coming back, its because of that. And to try the Coconut Shrimp, of course.
The usual clientele of the restaurant is multi-generational, although I haven't seen too many children there, and dress is anything from date night finery to beach casual.
Pusser's Bar and Grille is located in the Shoppes of Veranda, across from Ruth's Chris steakhouse. There is complimentary valet parking in the evenings, and a covered parking garage available. Open daily for lunch and dinner starting at 11am and for Sunday Brunch from 10am-2pm.