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The Capital Grille
717 South

Clearwater’s Rumba Island Bar & Grill | By Mary D. Scourtes

Fried lobster tails with Jamaican greens, braised cabbage,
sautéed veggies. Plantain garnish, drawn butter and pineapple sauce.
Enjoy dinner indoors at a high-top with tropical ambience

The roar of the surf might be an 18-wheeler rolling down Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, but the tiki bar at the entrance to Rumba Island Bar & Grill offers an escape from the humdrum of daily life.

Fall easily into an eat, drink and party mantra as you lazily sip a cold one, listen to reggae and generally feel like you’re on vacation. It’s easy to soothe frayed nerves with an earthy Brazilian caipirinha in hand.

With its exotic selection of more than 100 varieties of rum (including $18 shots of Rum Clement), general manager David Novak says there’s no place like Rumba Island. Given his enthusiastic patrons, he loves visiting tables to drink in the positive vibes. Some say they have driven by the Gulf-to-Bay restaurant hundreds of times, then get hooked on one visit and show up again the next night.

Co-owner Nick Pappas credits the good feedback to the fresh catch from his business partner, Frank Chivas. His boats, which dock at Indian Shores, bring in fresh grouper and snapper daily.

Jamaican-born, chef Donald “D.C.” Chambers massages deep nuanced flavor into a homemade jerk aioli for fried green tomatoes and spicy jalapeno sauces for coconut-encrusted grouper. The conch ceviche gets its buzz from four kinds of peppers. Chambers takes his ’cue seriously too, with lip-smacking island grilled meatloaf, Caribbean pulled pork and Barbados-style ribs with mango-barbecue sauce.

Appetizers bring in even more fun. Island remoulade gives flash-fried calypso calamari and runaway bay crab cake places of honor, while Monterey and cheddar cheese quesadillas offer a shake of seasonings. “Many come in just for Mama Maria’s Scotch Bonnet peppers muffins,” said Novak. An iceberg wedge with maytag blue cheese is a welcome interlude.

Grouper packs island charm on a coconut rice bowl flecked with fruit and pecans. An orange marmalade-marinated Montego Bay chicken is right on. A rack of lamb gets a rubdown with Caribbean seasoning, coffee demi glaze and addicting wisps of fried onions. Flirt with adding tempura-battered fried lobster tail to put your entrée over the top.

Entrees get elevated with interesting sides. Try the coconut milk and pepper braised cabbage or the Jamaican collard greens with caramelized onions and bacon. They run circles around the nearby competition. End with double-chocolate Kahlua cake or banana rum cake and the taste buds will be dancing all the way home. “Our popularity has to do with the ambience, great food and quality at a good price,” said Novak. Yah Mon.

Rumba Island Bar & Grill
1800 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Clearwater
Open 7 days a week.
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.
Dinner: 6 – 10 p.m.

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