Sunday, October 5, 2014

Rumba Island Bar & Grill, Clearwater, FL

Rumba Island Bar & Grill totally blew my socks off last night.  Not just because it was finally cool enough to dine al fresco for the first time in six months...or because even though we were practically sitting curbside on Gulf to Bay Blvd., we could easily imagine that we were relaxing on an island oasis without even having to squint our eyes...or because every staff member we encountered was so laid back and warm.  I think it's safe to say that our entire party walked in anticipating a Red Lobster experience at best, especially considering the low price point of the menu offerings and the all-inclusive nature of the entrees (bread, salad and two sides come with all dinner options), most of which are available for under $15. Our preconceived notions couldn't have been further from reality as both quality and quantity exceeded expectations at every turn.

UD and I settled in at the outdoor "tiki bar" while we waited for our dining companions to arrive.  I was immediately pleased by the oh-so-reasonable adult beverage pricing ($5.00 for house chardonnay, $7.50 for a generous pour of Chateau St. Michelle, and $1.49 mugs of Bud, Bud Light and Miller Lite...all regular prices, not Happy Hour prices).  Since I was already a little "hangry" when we arrived, Dr. Dawg went into damage control mode, having been meticulously trained over the past decade in the first aid procedure of  "feed a woman, starve a b!+ch".  A $4.39 order of Caribbean Skinny Onions with Jerk Aioli was promptly administered, effectively diverting the looming least for the time being.  Light, crispy, carby and spicy, they were truly a salve for the hormonal beast within and everyone got to live.  Yay.

In full-on, eyes-bigger-than-stomach mode, we also requested half a dozen tender little sweet-meets-heat Mama Maria's Muffins, subtly flavored with cheddar cheese and scotch bonnet for $1.19.  A single party in your mouth mini-muffin is delivered with every entree, but go ahead and order an extra basketful or you'll bitterly wish you had because these babies are like crack.

A better-than-average, meaty and beautifully presented smoked fish spread was also sampled by our group.  Heavy on the protein, light on the mayo binder and boasting a pleasant after-beat of heat, it proved to be $3.99 well spent.

After the carbo-loading frenzy we indulged in at the bar, I was already suffering the effects of a tightening waistband by the time we were seated for dinner.  An Island Shrimp and Rice Bowl (a hearty portion of coconut rice topped with tender, sauteed shrimp in a zesty tropical fruit sauce studded with pecans and finely chopped veggies) sounded appropriately light.  Since fresh snapper (my favorite fish) was available, I had it topped with a grilled fillet, having no idea how substantial the bowl would be in and of itself.  It was a truly delightful concoction...and one which, unfortunately, I was unable to finish.

Due to the fact that Underdog ordered an entree "proper", he received the full menu of accoutrements along with it...another Mama Maria Muffin, a house salad and two sides.  The little Fiesta Salad with mango salsa and honey poppyseed dressing left 90% of other Tampa Bay house side salads in its dust.  Very nice.

His $14.99 Rumba Trio was a taste bud-tingling combo of grilled jerk wings; a big, slow-smoked, falling-off-the bone, mango BBQ glazed Barbados-style rib; and a few butterflied and crispy-fried shrimp.  Available sides at Rumba are several notches above the norm and include garlic mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, coconut rice, crunchy island slaw and cranberry stuffing, just to name a few.  A meat-and-potatoes beast at heart, the garlic mashed potatoes were a foregone conclusion for UD and, by applying a bit of wifely pressure, he also agreed to pay an upcharge of $2.50 for the crab mac and cheese as side #2.  As critical as I can be, I can't come up with a thing to complain about.  This was one. damned. fine. <$20 dinner.  And the crab mac and cheese...SO over the top in its decadence factor. Sturdy in consistency, generously interspersed with crustacean morsels and baked in a crock beneath a little golden-brown cheesy blanket, this may be the perfect food.

Rumba Island Bar & Grill is part of the local Baystar Restaurant Group which also includes Salt Rock Grill and Marlin Darlin (both of which I've tried) and, for my money, it's superior to its sister restos.  Friendly service; thoughtful, fresh, Floribbean-inspired food; generous portions; reasonable prices and chill vibe combine to make it one of the best in its price point in the Tampa Bay area.

Rumba Island Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

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