by Damon Noisette // photo by Agnes Lopez
Sawgrass Village is in the midst of a massive, multi-phase redevelopment project to bring the sleepy, 1980s-era shopping center into this century. While Publix and CVS received a minor facelift on their façades, Aqua Grill, a Ponte Vedra dining landmark since it opened in 1988, went for a full reconstruction. So after a short closing in September, the new Aqua Grill opened in October, this time in a brand new lakefront building a few hundred feet away from the original.
On the night I visited, the restaurant was packed and the evening was a bit windy and chilly. I mentioned as much to the host when he insisted we take a table on the back patio overlooking the lake. “You’ll like it,” he said forcefully. “Trust me.”
We were led through the dining room, a kind of contemporary glam-meets-rustic space with a mix of wooden tables and booths, water features and crystal lighting, to the patio. Sure enough, a series of heaters in the ceiling and roll-down windscreens keep the patio pleasantly toasty, with a freestanding fireplace adding a bit of visual interest if not noticeable warmth.
Aqua Grill also has a bar that is almost like a separate restaurant, a cozy Ponte Vedra pub of sorts with a menu of items like buffalo Mayport shrimp ($8), lobster hushpuppies ($9) and a mahi-mahi sandwich ($15). Flights of wine in three-ounce pours are available ($13-18), making up for the limited by the glass options.
Unfortunately they were out of what the menu claimed was “The Best Calamari” ($9) that evening, so I ordered the lump crab cake ($14) and seafood chowder ($8), a dense combination of shrimp, scallops and crab in a lobster fumet and such a considerable amount of cream one could fairly argue it was closer to a seafood bisque. Regardless, it’s a fine starter, as were the crab cakes.
In the new digs, Aqua Grill remains true to its core menu of seafood dishes while incorporating elements of the new Southern menu. Both the fried boneless pork chops ($21) and the grouper pesada ($26) are paired with a five cheese mac and cheese; the pork chops, naturally, come with collard greens. The “Classics” section of the menu features eggplant parmesan ($16) and “Pasture” entrées include a bone-in veal chop ($36) and a braised pork shank osso bucco ($24). I am always skeptical of any gluten-free dessert, but the chocolate decadence ($7) with fresh berries and vanilla ice cream eclipsed even Aqua Grill’s “award winning key lime pie” ($7). Both were aptly named.
Hit the Bar: For light eaters or those looking for less expensive options, the bar menu has a fine selection of sandwiches, burgers and snacks ranging from $5 to $15.
Table With a View: Outdoor seating overlooks the lake by A1A and is comfortable in most weather; it is also quieter than the main dining room.
Plan Ahead: Aqua Grill is a popular spot in Ponte Vedra, and tables can be hard to come by if you don’t have a reservation. Grab one on OpenTable.
Aqua Grill, 950 Sawgrass Village; 285-3017; aquagrill.net