Review: Margaritaville: The Cookbook: Relaxed Recipes For a Taste of Paradise

Boy, where to even begin. Let’s start with the easy part: I was beyond pleased with Margaritaville: The Cookbook. I bookmarked darn near every recipe in it. By the time I reached the last page I was excited, chomping at the bit, to get started making everything I had tagged. What I thought would be a boring restaurant copycat cookbook couldn’t be farther from that. This is great stuff.

One of the authors of Margaritaville, Carlo Sernaglia is the Concept Chef for the Margaritaville brand. He’s not fooling around. What’s in the cookbook is often the same food you can get in the many Jimmy Buffet-owned or licensed restaurants. And we’re not talking 10 or 15 recipes here either. There’s page-after-page of them, from breakfast to appetizers to desserts to drinks. Everything.

As you’d expect, many of the recipes have an island theme. But not all. I found the ingredient lists to be very accessible. No need to scour the internet to find some bizarre ingredient and have it cold-shipped to the house.

The breakfast section has some nice island-y twists on classics, like huevos rancheros, omelets and pancakes. For example, the South Florida eggs Benedict. What’s different? The Key Lime holandaise, which has, yep you guessed it, key lime juice mixed in. A nice refreshing citrus variation that I cannot wait to make.

The appetizers have a seafood theme, from crab dip to lava lava shrimp to fried oysters. I am pretty sure i bookmarked every recipe to make and make soon. There are a ton of appetizer recipes. Since I’m a big appetizer kind of guy, this was my favorite part of the book. I consider appetizers to be side dishes and often serve them instead of sides.

The list of salads and soups were all light, refreshing and include the steps for making the same dressings you’ll find in the restaurants.

The section on burgers, sandwiches and hot dogs reminded me of the appetizers: I bookmarked everything. Specially the Cheeseburgers in Paradise with Paradise Island Dressing. We live near (but not near enough) the first Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant. Having a copycat of their delicious namesake burger is a win. A big win.

Next up, main dishes. Everything from fried chicken, to tuna steaks to jambalaya. Something for everyone, and each with a nice twist from the normal versions you’d expect.

You gotta have sides (or at least, appetizers!), and this book has lots of great ones. At the top of my to-do list: JWB (as in James William Buffett) creamed spinach, Yukon gold loaded mashed potatoes, and spicy red onion rings. Yep, onion rings made with red onions. Where have I been that I haven’t made those yet?

You knew that the dessert section would have a recipe for Key Lime pie. And it does. How could it not? And also crispy bananarama. No, they don’t serve the band Bananarama. It’s a flour tortilla smeared with Nutella and topped with nuts and cinnamon, then rolled around a banana and deep-fried. Yes, I bookmarked it. Of course I did.

Last up, the drink section. Like the book (and song) says, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere and this book doesn’t leave you looking somewhere else for good tropical drinks. No matter what your indulgence, there’s a drink in here for you. Don’t forget the little umbrellas.

Margaritaville: The Cookbook wraps up with 3 non-recipe but totally useful sections. ‘Party Menu Suggestions” gives you menus for different theme parties, like ‘backyard beach bbq’ or ‘dockside dinner’ and ‘build-your-own burger paradise’. All
the work has been done for you including suggestions for decorating. ‘Recipes Organized By Fun’ gives you menus for different activities. Going on a boat ride? Tailgating? Looking for some menu ideas for a grill-out? This section, like the party menu suggestion section, does all the work for you, giving you a full menu no matter the activity. Last up, the ‘Party Tips’ section, although short, contains some ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ ideas for your next party. Little time savers and things that will make your next party a lot easier and a lot less stressful.

On my ‘Mater Rater scale Margaritaville: The Cookbook gets top scores across the board. I don’t even have to think about it.

'Mater RaterOne of the first recipes I made from this cookbook was the BBQ Island Club sandwich. It’s a wonderful spin on the classic, and something I’ll make again.

For more of my reviews of cookbooks available for the Amazon Kindle readers, visit Kindle Thyme.

96th Street Steakburgers, Indianapolis, Indiana

Sadly, 96th Street Steakburgersm, like Boogie Burgers, another favorite burger joint, is now closed. For diner-style burgers in the Indy area, visit Stookey’s in Thornburg, the Broadway Diner in Fortville,and Triple XXX in Lafayette. If you find yourself in the Knoxville, TN area, you have to stop at Scotty’s.

I visited 96th Street Steakburgers once before, long ago, right after they opened. I can’t remember the meal as being overly great or bad. I’ve been on a steakburger kick lately, so I decided to drop by for lunch with Anita and a co-worker of hers.

96th Street Steakburgers, Indianapolis, IndianaFrom the outside, 96th Street Steakburgers makes you think “steakburgers”. It has that old diner kind of feel. Inside, it is fairly sparse, with a cold concrete floor that makes a horribly loud noise when people drag their chairs across it. But hey, I’m not there to marvel at the floor, I want a burger.

96th Street Steakburgers, Indianapolis, IndianaOrdering is easy. Just walk on up to the counter. We were there early so there wasn’t a line. Most likely you’ll order like we did – from the combo menu. I ordered a #2, which is a double cheese burger with fries and a drink. I supersized it so I got more fries and a bigger drink. Anita had the #1, which is a single steakburger with fries and a drink. You get a ticket with a number and wait for it to be called when your meal is ready.

96th Street Steakburgers, Indianapolis, IndianaAt first glance, everything looks great. The fries look inviting, and they are tasty, but they were a bit soggy. The burger toppings were fresh, and the patty was cooked perfectly, but it could’ve used some seasoning. I’d have to say that the best part of the burger is the secret sauce. Without it, the burger wouldn’t have been much different than one from Steak ‘n Shake. With it, it’s not bad, just not anything to make me dream about it eating it later that night.

I found the restaurant to be in need of a decent cleaning. Being the first customers of the day I would’ve expected the tables and floors to be sparkling clean from the night’s cleaning, but they were not.

I was a little disappointed with our experience. With just a little effort (cleaning, seasoned patties, and crispier fries), 96th Street Steakburger could easily be on our regular dining rotation.

On the ‘Mater Rater I had to zing 96th Street Steakburger for the reasons I mentioned.

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Gumbo A Go-Go, Indianapolis, Indiana

Sadly, Gumbo A Go-Go has closed. But, you can still make my take on their Drunken Cajun Chicken Po Boy.

If you follow this blog at all you know that I love spicy foods. Not burn-my-mouth I’m-in-pain spicy, but food that is flavored well and has a kick. I like spice and I don’t like bland. The pox on bland! Spicy is exactly why I love Gumbo A Go-Go.

Gumbo A Go-Go, Indianapolis, Indiana I’ve eaten at Gumbo A Go-Go several times now. I am completely addicted to the Datwich. I could eat a Datwich every day. In fact, I have a tub of Datwich chicken in my fridge right now, just screaming “have me for lunch”. The Datwich is a po’boy topped with shredded chicken that has been slow-cooked in all sorts of good spices, garlic and beer. Spices (lots of sage!), garlic and beer… You can’t go wrong with that. It is messy. It drips yummy goodness. I love it. Make sure to snag a bag of Zapp’s potato chips, too.

I also tried a little of the Ya Ya chicken this time. Yowsa, that Ya Ya chicken has some kick. A lot of kick. I loved it!

Gumbo A Go-Go, Indianapolis, IndianaGumbo A Go-Go isn’t your black tie kind of eating establishment. It’s simply decorated. And it can get busy at lunch time. Get there early, order up a few dishes (at the counter) from the menu (on a chalk board behind the counter), and enjoy!

Gumbo A Go-Go, Indianapolis, IndianaI can’t wait to return to Gumbo A Go-Go. I’ll try something new, and grab me another pint or so of that Datwich chicken and bring it on home for dinner!

'Mater Rater

Half Moon Restaurant & Brewery, Kokomo, Indiana

Anita and I were recently in nearby Kokomo, Indiana, spending a day at some of the antique malls in town. We decided to eat an early lunch at the Half Moon Restaurant & Brewery, located right off Highway 31. I was looking forward to our lunch after reading some of the reviews.

Half Moon Restaurant & Brewery, Kokomo, IndianaWe were greeted by a friendly host, and seated in the dining area. As we came in, we walked by the beer making vats. Sadly, it was a little early in the day for me to have a beer. I’ll have to save the tasting for another time.

Our waitress was very friendly also. Throughout our meal she was attentive and pleasant.

I ordered the brisket sandwich, substituting beer-battered onion rings for the house chips. The brisket was great. It had a nice light smoky flavor. The meat was tender, juicy, and not fatty at all. I liked that it was served on a rugged kaiser roll, holding up to the meat and sauce just fine. Half Moon also has the BBQ sauces on the table, something I am a big fan of.

Half Moon Restaurant & Brewery, Kokomo, IndianaThe beer-battered onion rings were to die for. They come with a lightly-spiced dipping sauce that is somewhat similar to that at Buffalo Wild Wing’s, but oh so much better and made fresh (like everything on the menu). I’ve never had a batter so light. I asked the waitress later if they use that same batter on other menu items and they do, like on their fish which must be absolutely awesome. The onion rings were the star of the show.

Half Moon Restaurant & Brewery, Kokomo, IndianaAnita had the class tenderloin sandwich and fries. She loved the sandwich. It was not fatty, breaded perfectly, and cooked correctly and evenly (sometimes a problem with tenderloins). The toppings were very, very fresh. The tenderloin is also served on a kaiser roll so you don’t have to worry about it not holding up to the toppings. Anita substituted fries for the chips, which were also great.

The only disappointment was the small side of slaw that came with our meals. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t exciting. In all fairness, it’d be hard to wow me with a slaw after eating the brisket and the onion rings. I would’ve liked a little zing to the slaw, but I lean towards the spicy, and I know not everyone would agree. It certainly did not detract from what was a great lunch.

We’ll be stopping by Half Moon again the next time we are in Kokomo. I am going to have the beer-battered fish-and-chips and more of them onions rings. And a beer.

'Mater Rater

I’m a big fan of brewpubs. Also check out Black Swan if you’re in the Indianapolis area.

Jose’s Restaurant and Cantina, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Sadly, Jose’s has closed. Now where do I go for a golden margarita in Fayetteville?

Any time we’re in Fayetteville, Arkansas, we have to swing by Jose’s for a bite to eat and the best margaritas around. After all these years (I’ve been going to Jose’s since it opened 25 years ago), the golden margaritas on the rocks are still just $3 at Happy Hour. Man, you can’t beat that!

Jose's Restaurant and Cantina, Fayetteville, Arkansas

We’d had a long drive that day, and we wanted a good-sized meal. We both ordered the Jose’s Special Enchiladas, and we weren’t disappointed! Everything was tasty.

Jose's Restaurant and Cantina, Fayetteville, ArkansasI usually have the steak or chicken asada, but I figured I’d change things up this time. That and they’ve removed them from the menu (big mistake in my opinion!). Oh, and check out my attempt to recreate the steak and chicken asada here. They came out great!

On the ‘Mater Rater I give Jose’s high marks.

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Ole for Jose’s! And if you’re in the Fayetteville area, stop by my other favorite spot, Tiny Tim’s Pizza.

 

Scotty’s, Caryville, Tennessee

Whenever we’re traveling, we try to stop at only non-chain restaurants along the way. That’s pretty hard to do sometimes, since all there seems to be along the interstates are fast food restaurants.

We were on our way from Indianapolis to Gatlinburg, TN, when we found Scotty’s on our GPS. The reviews (though there weren’t many) were positive, so we stopped on in. From the outside, you might be a little hesitant to go in if you’re used to those shiny, brand new fast food joints. Don’t fret, get yourself in and grab a seat at the counter and order up some sliders or a hamburger. You won’t be sorry.

Scotty’s apparently was a chain from Dayton, OH, to Alabama. It was very popular for its sliders. I believe this is the last one remaining. It was full of locals, which is always a good sign. The waitress (and cook.. one and the same) was the epitome of efficient. Our burgers were cooked on a flattop, and came out with the little crusty edge that you can only get from a good, seasoned, hot griddle. The toppings were fresh, and the fries were good. The patties were seasoned well and tasty.

I’d stop at this place again in a heartbeat. It’s not even a block off the interstate, so you don’t have an excuse for not going there! On the ‘Mater Rater I gave it high scores because I love diner food!

'Mater Rater

At the totally other end of the spectrum in Tennessee is the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. They have great food and great sites, but no flat-top grilled burgers!

 

Yat’s Cajun Creole Restaurant, Indianapolis, Indiana

We love Yat’s. There’s one right by our house, has great food and staff, and a constantly rotating menu. Not long ago we grabbed an order to go to the park. This last week, we stopped by and ate in the restaurant. We got there early (rumors are that you might want to get there early to get their famous spinach and mushroom étouffée).

Anita ordered two half platters. One half of spinach and mushroom étouffée, and one half of red beans and rice. Each platter comes with a piece of bread, which makes for excellent soppin’. The soppin’ is one of the best parts since all of the sauces at Yat’s are absolutely delicious. Anita loved her lunch.

I also had the spinach and mushroom étouffée, along with a half order of chili cheese étouffée and crawfish. The crawfish étouffée is insanely good. In fact, I’m swinging by Yat’s next week to get some more. I think I might try it over French bread… sort of a crawfish po’boy. Oh, and that chili cheese sauce? Yep you guessed it. It’s excellent for soppin’ up with bread. And there’s no shortage of crawfish in this dish. Mmmm. Tasty. My mouth is watering recalling just how good it was.

It’s great to see local joints do well and turn out great food. Yat’s is definitely doing both. On the ‘Mater Rater I give Yat’s top scores across the board.

'Mater RaterIf you’re in the Indy area, you have to also eat at His Place Eatery. It’s my kind of eats too, just like Yat’s. For pizza my go-to Indy joint is Pizzology.

Famous Dave’s BBQ, Noblesville, Indiana

I don’t usually eat at chain restaurants. I find the food to be just too generic. I don’t need the comfort of knowing that no matter where I go in this country, I can walk into Chain Restaurant X and order the same thing I could back home. I like to try something local, owned local, and cooked local.

Famous Dave's BBQ, Noblesville, IndianaOf course, I’m about to eat my own words because I actually like Famous Dave’s BBQ. Not because it’s the best BBQ I’ve ever had. It’s good, decent BBQ, with some great sauces. Actually, I’m addicted to the sides there. I’ve eaten at a lot of BBQ joints where the BBQ was outstanding but the sides were mediocre (or came in a plastic container from Sam’s Club). That’s not the case at Famous Dave’s.

Famous Dave's BBQ, Noblesville, IndianaThe one in Noblesville hasn’t been open very long. We’ve been there 3 times. We’ve had absolutely great service two of those times, and not-so-great the other. I’ll mostly brush that off knowing that the place just opened and there’s a lot that has to happen before a restaurant gets into its groove.

I’m addicted to Famous Dave’s ribs, but more addicted to the coleslaw (with horseradish and pineapple… really, don’t poo-poo it… it’s outstanding). And the green beans. And the jalapeno mac-and-cheese. Every side is good.

Another thing I like about Famous Dave’s is that they have wet wipes on the table. I know, I know. You’re thinking “What????”. But, too many joints make you ask for them and you get just one lil ole tiny wipe. That isn’t going to cut it after I’ve trashed a rack of wet ribs. Oh, and that reminds me…. All of the BBQ at Famous Dave’s comes “wet”, meaning it is already sauced. There are 6 different sauces on the table, so if you prefer one those instead, ask for your BBQ to be “dry” or “naked”.

So, give Famous Dave’s a visit. The food is good, and the ambiance is nice. And don’t forget to try the coleslaw.

'Mater Rater

 

Firehouse BBQ and Blues, Richmond, Indiana

Anita and I were antiquing in nearby Centerville, Indiana, when we drove the few miles to Richmond to grab lunch at Firehouse BBQ and Blues.

Firehouse BBQ and Blues, Richmond, IndianaFirehouse BBQ is located downtown Richmond, in an area that seems be revitalizing itself. The building is the longest standing firehouse in Richmond. There’s a restaurant side, and a bar side, and a stage area for live music. From their website, it seems they keep a pretty full band schedule. If we’re ever in the area in the evening, we’ll swing on by for some good BBQ and music… and beer.

Firehouse BBQ and Blues, Richmond, IndianaThe old firehouse walls are exposed.

Firehouse BBQ and Blues, Richmond, IndianaI had the brisket sandwich with a side of green beans. The sandwich comes pre-sauced, which I’m not usually a fan of, but in this case, it was good. Very good, actually. And the beans? I could’ve had a few more helpings. They were quite tasty. Anita had the (very good) pulled pork sandwich with a side of the cheesy potatoes, from which I stole several bites. We also ordered a banana pudding dessert, which was really great.

Firehouse BBQ and Blues, Richmond, IndianaYou can’t go to Firehouse BBQ without also admiring the painting on the south side of the building. It is very well done.

Firehouse BBQ and Blues, Richmond, IndianaEverything was great, though service was a little slow at the start (it improved as our meal went on) and the tea was a little thin. Firehouse BBQ and Blues is now the only BBQ joint in the Richmond area after my other favorite, Baumbach’s, closed.

'Mater Rater

 

Triple XXX Family Restaurant, Lafayette, Indiana

If I was a student at Purdue University, I’d probably eat at Triple XXX a few times a week. Not because it’s gourmet dining. Not because it was on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. And not because of the ambiance (although, it is a cool old diner). The food is fast, and in the case of some of breakfast dishes I saw come out of the kitchen, the portions are big.

Triple XXX Family Restaurant, Lafayette, IndianaThis was my second time eating at Triple XXX. I decided that Anita needed to try it out, too, so we stopped there before heading out to a local antique mall, The Leaping Leopard.

So, we both ordered the Bernie Flowers All-Pro burger with all of the toppings. The burgers at Triple XXX are ground on the spot – I saw it with my own eyes, and cooked up on a hot griddle. Topped with onion, lettuce, tomato and Miracle Whip, all on a toasted sesame seed bun. I liked the texture of the burger, and the toppings were fresh. But, the burger wasn’t seasoned at all. After adding a bit of salt and pepper, I chowed down on it and enjoyed. Anita felt the same way – the burgers just needed seasoning.

Triple XXX Family Restaurant, Lafayette, Indiana
I had onion rings on the side. Good, yummy, onion rings. I could have eaten two sides of onion rings. They were good.

Anita had curly fries on the side. Though good, she felt that there weren’t that many on the plate compared to the size of the orders of regular fries we saw around us.

You know, I’d go back to Triple XXX again. I’d like to try their breakfasts. Everyone around us was enjoying them.