Aruba Beach Cafe was my (and my then ne'er do well significant other's) favorite watering hole back in the hedonistic era that was the late 90s when we lived in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. I don't get back to the "right coast" very often these days, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to stop in for lunch on the way to Miami this weekend with my New(er) and Vastly Improved Significant Other. It was Thomas Wolfe who said "you can't go home again"...and with those five words ringing in my head, I was little worried it wouldn't be as good as I remembered it. As it turned out, I enjoyed it every bit as much as I did 15 years ago (long before the spousal unit spoiled me with Thomas Keller, Alaine Ducasse, Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck experiences). Aruba Beach Cafe, like Susan Lucci, is proof positive that there are some things that time seemingly does not alter.
The beachfront restaurant was filled to overflowing when we arrived at 1:00 PM on a gorgeous Friday afternoon. I was almost deterred by the crowd when we entered, but UD zeroed right in on a couple of empty seats at the bar so we quickly squeezed through the oppressive crush of humanity and snagged them.
We got very good service from our bartender, who was attentive and professional despite being obviously harried by the crowd overload. The Grilled Jamaican Jerk Wings were one of my favorites back in the day, so I had to have 'em. I am thrilled to report that they are still my favorite wings of all time. Marinated in jerk spices, these plump babies are finished on the grill and presented juicy, spicy and with a nice char. I have no idea what's in the dipping sauce but it's the perfect complement. I'm a wing-snorter from WAY back, but Underdog doesn't even LIKE wings and he had five of them down before I finished my first.
My better half wanted to save himself for his birthday dinner in Miami that evening, so he was looking for something on the lighter side...especially after eating half of my wings. :/ He dubiously eyed the Florida Seafood Soup, wondering what in the hell could make a bowl of soup worth $10.95. After taking finally deciding to take plunge, he experienced an epiphany in the form of a massive bowlful of shrimp, calamari, huge scallops, mussels and fish in a savory spinach and fennel tomato broth. This was the bomb. Having recently experienced seafood soups containing dried-out shellfish which had obviously been simmering since the dawn of time while waiting to be ordered, we were particularly impressed with the freshness and tenderness of the protein in this light-but-luxurious dish. UD was a cost accountant in a previous life and I'm fairly certain I heard him whispering a price-hike recommendation in our pretty server's ear as we were leaving. I'm almost positive it was that and not his phone number.
I opted for one of faves of days gone by...the Seafood Louie Salad. I love this thing and I always have! A generous serving of cool shrimp, crab and baby lobster is mixed in a creamy, dill ranch dressing and served atop a nice combo of fresh spinach and baby mixed greens (no iceberg...thank you very much!).
Aruba Beach Cafe could easily exploit its ocean-front location and panoramic waterfront views (coupled with the constant influx of unknowing tourists) by dialing down the quality. It doesn't, though...and it never has. For "beach food", it is surprisingly good (especially for the price point). Aruba...I love you. Never change.