It's 7:30 on a weeknight, and the waiting area of Bahama Breeze Island Grille is mobbed. Some folks mill about, while others, lucky enough to snag a seat, occupy the upholstered bench. There are singles, couples, seniors and families with young children. All await the magic moment when their handheld buzzers blink and vibrate, telling them their table in ready at this corporate chain version of tropical paradise.
Unless you're imbibing one of the specialty drinks -- such as the fine Cuban mojito or rousing red Sangria -- the escapist vibe might escape you: Despite the potted palms and thatched lighting fixtures, the cavernous space is dimly lit at night, with a deafening din.
Here, sunshine comes from the unfailingly cheerful servers. To keep that good vibe going, order some chicken empanadas, flaky little pastries filled with a lively mix of braised chicken, onions and mushrooms. Meaty habanero chicken wings, while not exactly fiery-hot, have zing and allure. And while mojito-marinated pulled pork over sweet plantains works, chicken tortilla soup poses the question of how a dish so colorful can taste so bland. What may set your teeth on edge: an icy-cold super-sweet jumbo lump crab stack that layers crab meat, chilled shrimp, avocado and mango. So pretty, though.
Attractive, as well, are Key West fish tacos in need of a flavor infusion. But the burger is decent, although more well done than ordered and served with humdrum previously frozen fries. A "sun-drenched" portobello and vegetable sandwich with pepper jack cheese on grill-pressed Cuban bread has a certain satisfaction quotient. But jerk chicken pasta -- a mix of bow ties, "jerk" chicken breast, asparagus and mushrooms in Parmesan cream sauce -- is about as Jamaican as fettuccine Alfredo, to which it bears an uncanny resemblance.
A server recommendation on two occasions is the chipotle beef rice bowl. The mix of sirloin, roasted corn and black beans in chipotle sauce over rice and cheese is imbued with an oddly assertive smokiness.
Save your appetite for dessert. Rebecca's Key lime pie with meringue topping is made in house and it's a knockout. So, too, is the "chocolate island," chocolate mousse on a fudge brownie in milk chocolate sauce swirled with vanilla bean crème anglaise. As escapist as it gets.