More than 4 million cruise passengers are expected to sail from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale this year. Pity the poor vacationers who end up at Bimini Boatyard Bar and Grill. No one ever needs to eat here.
Bimini Boatyard this year celebrates its 25th anniversary, and perhaps the restaurant started with the good intention of offering fresh seafood with a laid-back Bahamian vibe. In 2014, it is the worst kind of high-volume restaurant, driven by making money at the expense of unknowing tourists.
We'd made reservations several days in advance, and called the day of our visit to make sure we were set to sit on the lovely waterfront patio. We were told outdoor seating, even with reservations, is first come, first served. So what's the point of a reservation? Doesn't Bimini Boatyard want its customers to be happy? Apparently not.
So if you're not outside, you're in the dining room with the white, raftered ceiling and a wall of filthy windows looking out to the patio. There's nothing like dirty windows to whet an appetite.
I really wanted to like this place, and the staff — hostess, bartender and waiter — are so friendly and welcoming that you believe you're about to have an exceptional experience. Our waiter explained how the restaurant brings in fresh seafood every day. So why, we wondered, was there just one special? It was an overwrought poached mahi ($34) concoction with overcooked vermicelli, cilantro and salmon tartare. Mahi doesn't need all this ornamentation.
We started with Bimini bread ($4), served with honey butter. I thought this bread was always served warm, but apparently it's not. Shrimp flatbread ($12) wasn't flatbread at all. Instead, we received four triangular wonton wrappers topped with shrimp, spinach, blue cheese, pineapple and some hot sauce. The wrappers were rubbery and wet, and the price seemed out of line for the size of the dish. Anemic calamari ($8) with sweet chili sauce needed more time in the fryer. The kitchen does, however, serve a very good artichoke, spinach and crabmeat dip ($12). The dip also includes Jack and Parmesan cheese, and arrives warm with a pile of colorful corn chips.
Then, the first of four abysmal entrees arrived. Snapper Viequez ($26) is served with tomato salsa and lemon beurre blanc. The fillet itself was quite good, and so was the sauce. But the accompanying yucca had a day-old quality. I believe it was fried, but it could have been roasted. Each tiny rectangle wasn't so much chewy as tasting like plastic.
Cay Sal grouper ($32) presented a new set of problems. The grouper was so tough that I couldn't cut it with a fork. What kind of fish can't be cut with a fork? There was such a minuscule amount of so-called lump crab meat on top that I first thought it was grated cheese. Wood-fired filet mignon ($31) was fine, but the $12 lobster tail was clearly freezer burnt. My co-diner described the taste as musty. Even the mashed potatoes had an off flavor.
At dessert, the pastry in a berry crisp ($12) tasted uncooked. The mango flavor in the cheesecake ($6) tasted as if it came from a jar.
Our waiter was amusing, but it's difficult to communicate with a server when almost everything that's being served is so consistently bad. I try to refrain from being critical during a meal, and respond to any questions about the quality of what's on my plate with a simple, "It's fine." But this was some of the worst food I've been served in South Florida.
There are far better restaurants within walking distance of Bimini Boatyard. Market 17, Kelly's Landing and Shula Burger come to mind.
Bimini Boatyard is a holdover from when all a Fort Lauderdale restaurant had to do to lure tourists was decorate in a style not found in Northern climes and put some seafood on its menu.
The rest of us should beware.
1555 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Dinner daily, lunch Monday-Saturday, brunch Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free valet