The GSN offices are located in the exact geographical center of New York State, and if you’ve been following the weather you know that this winter has been brutal. With not a single day above freezing and snowfall every day so far this February, the white stuff keeps piling higher and higher. So, it was with a smile that we received an invitation to the grand opening of Margaritaville at the Destiny USA mall in Syracuse, NY to escape the cold and dreary landscape and pretend for a few hours that we really were in the Florida Keys.
Upon checking in at the hostess station, we were given a brief tour of the facilities and seated in one of the many areas for dining. There are several rooms each with a slightly different atmosphere. The restaurant takes up a whopping 10,000 square feet of prime retail space in one of the largest malls in the Northeast so they have a lot to work with. The decor was bright and eye-catching, but lacked any sense of authenticity. It would have been nice to see some real memorabilia displayed like a Jimmy Buffet autographed guitar or photographs. The table where we were seated had a view of several tv monitors playing loops of Jimmy Buffet tailgate parties, concert footage and tanned, happy people partying in the sunshine. It was a nice touch to remind us that winter won’t last forever, even in Syracuse.
Our waitress was super friendly and upbeat, pointing out her personal favorites on the drinks menu and offering us insights into the training the company gives their employees. Even though the restaurant had only been open for two weeks, she knew each and every menu item by heart. We started things off with an Uptown Margarita and a Planters Punch. The Margarita was tart, served on the rocks with a Gran Gala float. It was just right. The Planters Punch was less interesting, but did include the requisite dash of Angostura bitters. Another positive aspect of the bar program is that they use fresh squeezed citrus in several of their drinks.
We followed our drinks with some recommendations by our waitress. We chose two appetizers; the Drunken Shrimp Skillet and a half order (by request) of the Volcano Nachos. When they arrived, the nachos were more than sufficient for the two of us. We made a dent in them, but could not finish the massive tower. The tortilla chips were excellent and the cheese was generous. Also, the inclusion of chili con carne made this a fairly hearty meal in itself. But, the shrimp was the highlight. The citrus butter sauce was absolutely stunning and the shrimp fresh, cooked to perfection and easily could have made for a fine entrée. The flavors of the food went quite well with our tropical fruit based cocktails.
Next, we ordered a Zombie and a Bahama Mama. The Zombie was tasty, but suffered from only using silver rum instead of the usual mix of light, gold and dark rums. The Bahama Mama was fairly boozy with Margaritaville Spiced and Coconut Rum, Cruzan Aged Dark Rum, and crème de banana, but didn’t taste alcoholic in the least. Oddly enough, the flavor seemed more akin to mango than anything else. We followed up our meal with a shared order of the Fish Tacos. The fish was seasoned and prepared just right, with the fried cod being even better than the grilled. The accompanying side of rice was disappointing as it was obviously reheated and came in clumps, the black beans were bland, but the pico de gallo was lovely.
After our meal, we decided to hang out at the bar and talk with one of the bartenders. The bar stools were all taken, but we stood near an empty corner and were greeted within seconds. We had hoped to order a Hemingway Daiquiri, but were asked, “What’s that?” So, we tried something easier. “How about a Mai Tai?” Again the response was “What’s that?” So, we settled on a shot of Appleton VX and a Landshark draught. In chatting with the bartender we learned that she had a fairly intense training program. Forty hours of memorizing the cocktail menu and making drinks over and over in front of trainers until they knew them backwards and forwards. They do all their mixed drinks free pour style with a count system of four per ounce. My main chagrin was that she said she had been bartending for seven years at a number of bars and yet still didn’t know how to make some of the most basic tropical style drinks. But then again, this a Syracuse; a beer town.
Before we left, we checked out the gift shop. Yes, a gift shop at a restaurant. But, remember, Margaritaville is supposed to be an experience in much the same way a theme park is. There were plenty of Margaritaville shot and cocktail glasses with logos, beer mugs and bottle openers, but nothing beyond what you’d expect to find at any tourist trap. It would have been nice if there were limited edition Jimmy Buffet items or authentic crafts from the Gulf Coast for sale.
All in all, the trip was pleasant, but seemed like the staff was still working out some kinks with seating and workflow. Perhaps by the summer, everything will fall into place and it will seem as if they really are bringing a piece of the Gulf Coast to Central New York.