The term game-changer is something that seems to be thrown around Atlantic City a little too often lately. But, if early indications are any sign of how successful Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville and its beachfront Landshark Bar & Grill are going to be, they are definitely game-changers.
Not only did Buffett, a music icon and household name thanks to hits such as "Margaritaville," "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere," bring national recognition to Atlantic City when he performed a free beach concert to more than 50,000 people near his new restaurants recently, but Margaritaville has been nearly impossible to get in for breakfast, lunch and dinner since opening. A recent Monday evening visit required a nearly two-hour wait.
That's good news for both Margaritaville and Resorts Casino Hotel, which is banking on the themed restaurants to bring the masses to the city's oldest casino and boost gaming revenue.
With about 20 locations throughout the country, including in the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada and even Australia, Margaritaville is certainly a chain restaurant … but experience would probably be the better description. With a giant blender greeting you at the entrance, a tropical theme continues inside with flooring that looks like an ocean, a massive bar, palm trees, videos, a Boardwalk patio, a ceiling painted like the sky and even beach-style houses hover above the dining room.
Of course, there's plenty of music, either courtesy of the numerous bands taking the stage or videos of Buffett and similar music artists playing on video screens throughout the place.
But unlike many chain restaurants, Margaritaville's food is above average. Using fresh ingredients ranging from tuna for the seared Ahi tuna appetizer (market price) to fish for the Catch of the Day section of the menu, Margaritaville's food is certainly worth trying.
Culinary Director Bill Rohm says the food has to be good to ensure repeat visitation and that Margaritaville takes its food seriously, even if people might initially come for the attractions.
"During the day, we are a restaurant, and in the evening we turn into a more interactive place with stiltwalkers going around making balloon hats for the kids, which the adults also love," he says. "Then at night, bands go on and tables get pulled and there's a dance floor with more of a club vibe. But the core is the food. It's very good."
Margaritaville, overseen by Atlantic City veteran General Manager Miles Lederer, is the kind of restaurant where you want to order every appetizer. But the must-try best-seller is the Volcano Nachos ($13.99), which weigh about 5 pounds and topped with chili, different cheeses, queso, guacamole, sour cream, jalapenos, tomatoes and scallions.
"I think the size of it grabs everyone's eyes as it comes out of the kitchen, but it's the combination of product on there that is the most appealing," Rohm says. "A lot of our dishes offer large portions and are meant for sharing."
Other popular appetizers include the conch fritters ($9.99), a Florida staple served with mustard caper remoulade; Lava Lava Shrimp ($11.99) tossed in a spicy cream sauce; and the seared ahi tuna, which is currently only offered in Hawaii and Atlantic City featuring thinly sliced, sesame-crusted ahi tuna with daikon radish, citrus ponsu sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.
"We are on the beach and near the water, so we wanted to add that fresh dish, which has been very popular," Rohm says.
Salads are certainly a Margaritaville staple, with the Caribbean chicken salad ($13.99) featuring mixed greens, mango, sugared pecans, tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapeno-mango ranch dressing and grilled chicken; and the lobster, crab and shrimp salad ($15.99) with tomato, cucumber, greens and onion, proving to be fan favorites.
"The Caribbean salad really fits our theme well, which revolves around the islands and Florida, plus we have a lot of seafood and Mexican-style dishes," Rohm says.
Variety is the key to the entree list, with items such as the popular Baja fish tacos ($16.99) with blackened catch of the day, shredded cabbage, Baja cream sauce and fire-roasted tomato; jerk chicken ($15.99) and jerk salmon (market price); coconut shrimp ($16.99) with orange-horseradish marmalade for dipping; the seafood mac and cheese ($20.99) with shrimp and jumbo lump crab in a Bourin cream sauce with mixed cheeses and bread crumbs; and even Jimmy's Jammin' Jambalaya ($19.99), a dish created in Margaritaville's New Orleans location that is now on menus worldwide.
There's even some unique items to Atlantic City such as the Sonora Pasta ($15.99 chicken, $16.99 shrimp) with red onion and red bell peppers tossed with linguini in a white wine and key-lime-cilantro butter sauce; and the New York strip ($25.99) char-grilled and served with cabernet portabella mushroom butter and veggies.
"We debuted those items and now they are going to be hitting the Las Vegas menu soon," Rohm says.
The catch of the day allows Executive Chef Jason LaMotte some creative freedom.
"He can shop the market and pick whatever fresh fish he likes and then create something special every day if he wants to," Rohm says. "We want to keep things fresh."
There's also an array of burgers and sandwiches, including the signature, standard Cheeseburger in Paradise ($11.99); the turkey burger ($12.99) with guacamole, jalapeno, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, an onion ring and all the fixins; a Cuban sandwich ($11.99); and a grilled, blackened or fried fish sandwich (market price) served on a wheat roll.
Drinks, as most would expect, play a huge part of the Margaritaville experience, including mixed concoctions served in the signature, take-home souvenir blender cup for an additional $7. Rohm's favorite is the Perfect Margarita ($9.75) with Margaritaville Silver and Gold tequilas, triple sec, orange curacao and lime juice on the rocks.
"It's a very strong margarita," he says. "But if you're going for a margarita, that's the one to go for."
Margaritaville even offers breakfast, including Omelets in Paradise, chef's specialties such as cornflake-crusted french toast ($10.50) and a breakfast burrito ($9.99); as well as special drink concoctions such as the 23-ounce Bloody Mary and a Key West Mary, which is garnished with a shrimp skewer.
Rohm says Atlantic City and Margaritaville are a perfect fit.
"It's Jimmy Buffett near the ocean, which is a natural fit," he says. "It's great that we are there for us as well as for the city's economy. We hired 600 people to work at both venues. They are both hits and doing phenomenally well. Even though we are in a casino-hotel, you don't feel like you are in a hotel. They are both unique, beautiful destinations. Both buildings are about having fun."
Landshark Bar & Grill
The Landshark Bar & Grill, located right on the beach in front of Margaritaville, is an oasis with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that slide open to enjoy the ocean breeze or slide closed in the offseason to ensure a year-round destination.
The second Landshark, following the smaller one in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is not only bigger in size, but is the only Landshark right on the beach. It also has a bigger, more creative menu, including all-new burgers made especially for Atlantic City.
"They are more unique and served on these great brioche buns," Culinary Director Bill Rohm says. "And they have a totally different flavor profile than the burgers in Margaritaville."
Options include the Landshark Cheeseburger ($11.49) with special burger sauce; the chipotle cheeseburger ($12.49) with Monterey Jack cheese, chipotle ketchup, chipotle mayo, pickled jalapenos, lettuce and tomato; and the South Pacific burger ($12.49) with grilled pineapple, teriyaki caramelized onions, bacon and chili garlic sauce.
Unlike Myrtle Beach, Atlantic City's Landshark offers entrees, such as fire pit chicken ($15.99) roasted semi-boneless in Landshark Lager, garlic and spices then basted with landshark Lager BBQ sauce; lobster mac and cheese ($19.99); fish tacos ($16.99) and more.
And there's also salads, sandwiches and an array of great appetizers, including another A.C. debut: Wisconsin cheese curds ($9.49) served with a choice of sauces such as the Landshark Lager BBQ sauce, marinara or blueberry ketchup.
"The whole thought process is to make it beachy," Rohm says. "We want to serve people coming from the beach or just walking in from the Boardwalk. And people are really responding. The volume of business has exceeded expectations for both restaurants. People really are embracing us at Margaritaville and Landshark."