Friday, 10 December 2010 14:29
Ballyhoo Grill is on fire. Everything is homemade, from to the margarita sour mix to the key lime pie.
By Molly Bruce; Photos by Rodney Rogers
Ballyhoo pays attention to the smallest details, like chunks of freshly sliced Parmesan cheese on your Caesar salad and hand-squeezed juice to go in your screwdriver. The fish all comes from the Gulf, so their menu changes depending on what’s fresh at the fish market. This Newberry Road restaurant has been a Gainesville staple since 1998, and it does not disappoint.
A GATORS' PLACE
When you walk into the Key West-style restaurant, you first notice the beautiful tiki hut covering the outdoor seating area. Then you notice the Gator memorabilia. Owners Chris and Debbie Fragale are big Gators fans—just check the sushi menu’s “Tim Te-Roll” and “Brantley Roll.”
According to operating partner and manager Brad Bedson, Tim Tebow was a frequent customer while he played at Florida. He and Coach Urban Meyer show up in the framed photographs lining the walls, posing with Debbie and Chris, along with Joaquim Noah and other sports stars.
Address: 3700 Newberry Road
Popular Dish: Cedar Plank Salmon or Bimini Stuffed Grouper.
Price Range: $$$ (out of $$$$)
Seating: Outdoor under the tiki hut or inside
Specials: Happy Hour 2-7pm daily and 2-10pm at the bar on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Ballyhoo is also the site of one of the more notorious pieces of Gators memorabilia—“Treebow,” a slightly larger-than-life sculpture of the famed Gators quarterback in a Gators uniform with his iconic No. 15 jersey.
The statue was made when the owners cut down an old oak tree to build the outdoor seating area about two years ago. It became infamous in September 2009 when NCAA officials asked Ballyhoo to change the likeness of Tebow, so the “15” became a “7.” After the real Tebow graduated, No. 15 was reinstated in all its glory.
ONLY THE FRESH MAKES THE CUT
After taking in all of this atmosphere, you’re in for a treat once you sit down at the table. The appetizers will have your mouth watering, especially the trusty crab cakes with red and green peppers, drizzled in remoulade and served with wontons and mango salsa. But, chances are that an appetizer on special may also grab your attention.
Server Phil Brannon, who has been with the company for eight years, said the specials are inspired by “whatever is freshest.”
Megan Bedson, wife of the manager Brad, likes the firecracker shrimp, which are fried and tossed in a spicy Thai sauce.
“They’re like potato chips,” she says. “They’re addictive.”
From the appetizers, it only gets better. The full sushi menu offers plenty of choices, including specialties like sumomono, a refreshing and light salad of wakami, cucumbers, conch, shrimp, fish, masaga and krab ($7.90).
Two of the more popular entrée dishes, the North Atlantic cedar plank salmon and the bimini-stuffed grouper, are not only delicious, but are presented like pieces of art. The aroma of the cedar wood from the salmon dish could drift from across the room and make your decision for you—it’s wonderful.
Brad, who has worked for the company for 20 years, says he simply cannot pick a favorite dish.
DINNER AND A SHOW
Dessert makes everything sweeter. Though the homemade key lime pie and carrot cake sound tempting, the most popular dessert is cooked tableside with some flare. It’s bananas foster done the right way, with real cinnamon sticks, brown and white sugar, and freshly sliced bananas sautéed with rum that is all set on fire before going directly to your plate, with a creamy sauce covering crepes stuffed with vanilla ice cream. It is so popular that Ballyhoo has three tableside carts to accommodate. As Megan put it, once one table gets it, “Next thing you know, every other table wants it.”