Our builder, Woody, was nice enough to take us out for a ride on the Clermont Chain of Lakes this past October. While riding around on his boat, we noticed the Tiki Bar restaurant and decided, “We should go there someday.” Well, someday became reality today, when we drove up to Minneola to give this place a whirl.
We’d actually tried to eat here the day before, but the huge crowds made us shy off. It’s the kind of place where people get a table and park it, and we were hungry, so we decided to come back right at opening time, 11:30 am, the next day. As we pulled into the parking lot, an SUV sped past us and cut us off, in their rush to get into the restaurant before us. The male driver got out and ran up to the restaurant to claim a seat, while his wife pulled out the stroller and baby. Crazy, anyone?
When we got up there, there were still quite a few tables left, though they were all gone within a matter of 15 minutes or so. We sat down at a table next to Mr. & Mrs. Pushy SUV, and heard them bragging to a family who was waiting patiently for a table, “We know not to get here after 11:15.” Perhaps they were in such a rush because they were running 15 minutes behind their targeted arrival time?
The Tiki Bar is located in Minneola, at the corner of Washington St. and Main St. It shares a parking lot with the Lake Minneola Inn. The inn is charming, right on the water front, with lush, tropical grounds. The restaurant is also right on the water front, with an area where boats can park while their drivers enjoy a meal and a drink or two, before setting out for some irresponsible boating:
As you walk up the pathway, to the restaurant, you’re greeted by a cute sign:
The restaurant itself is composed of a bar area under a roof, and several tables (but not many!) out on the deck.
The sounds of Jimmy Buffet music, the Hawaiian shirts of the waitresses, and the lovely view of the lake and gorgeous green grounds make for a very tropical feel. Unfortunately, the food does not live up to all this atmospheric promise.
The restaurant serves burgers, wings, and baskets of fries, in addition to a few desserts and a small selection of beers. Being pescatarians, there were three things that we could order on the menu: a tuna Caesar salad, a grilled tuna sandwich, and a fried fish sandwich. My husband elected the fried fish sandwich, while I went with the grilled tuna (sashimi quality!) sandwich.
The fried fish sandwich had two things going for it: it had a large piece of fish, and the fish was cornmeal-breaded and not overly greasy.
Though promising in appearance, the taste was sub-par. The cornmeal breading was seriously in need of salt. Once my husband had shaken a lot of salt onto it (and we’re not the type of people who salt our food at restaurants), it was tolerable. The fish, however, was quite fishy tasting and had obviously been frozen. For a restaurant located right on the side of a huge lake, one might reasonably expect freshly-caught fish. One might be disappointed, though.
The piece of fish was so large that what he wished he’d done was just cut off part, to eat by itself, and then eat a single layer of fried fish inside the bun. He tried to fold it in half, thus piling on two layers of fish into the bun, and that was disastrously messy.
This sandwich came with what could have and should have been tartar sauce, but what was actually just plain mayonnaise with a few pickle nuggets to indicate that it was, indeed, supposed to be tartar sauce. He said that even tartar sauce out of a bottle would have had at least some flavor. He had to poke around this sauce, before discovering the pickle nuggets and realizing that this mild-flavored topping was, indeed, “tartar sauce.”
My own sandwich, the grilled sashimi-quality tuna, proved to be a similar disappointment. The tuna fillet had been liberally basted in what tasted like pure soy sauce, mixed perhaps with a small amount of sesame oil. It was way too salty, and didn’t compliment the tuna well. This was a great pity, since a good sauce would have been relatively simple to make, and would have turned this from a mediocre dish into a very good one. Roy’s on West Sand Lake serves a piece of tuna with a spicy soy mustard butter sauce that is smashing. Simple ingredients, but big payoff in flavor. The Tiki Bar would benefit greatly from a re-thinking of their fish sandwich sauces.
The tuna itself tasted okay. It wasn’t rare at all, and it had a very large piece of fat running through it and, in parts, along the bottom of it. In certain areas, the fat made the tuna so tough and chewy that I couldn’t even take a bite of it. I picked out the thick, obvious layers of fat, but wished that I hadn’t had to.
Our other disappointment was in the value for the money. If I pay $8.70 for a sandwich at a casual restaurant like this, expect to at least get an accompaniment of fries. As you can see from the photos, what we each got was a bag of Ruffles original flavor potato chips. Disappointing. We could have paid an extra $3 for a basket of fries, but why should we? We’ve been at Disney restaurants that offer the same portions, with a side of fries for similar pricing. We expected that a restaurant up in Minneola would not be charging the same tourist trap prices that Disney does. Our error.
As we left, we noticed a man had set up a chair and was relaxing in the grounds, enjoying the lake view:
In summary, the Tiki Bar is one of those places to go if you want to pay a lot of money for the atmosphere, and if your culinary expectations are low. We would not return for ourselves, though we might take out of town guests here, just to show them some of the lovely views that Clermont has to offer.