With all the hype surrounding the completion of the long-awaited Riverwalk, establishing the first restaurant and kick starting the immediate area’s nightlife scene may seem like a daunting task, but the YachtSea Grille sailed smoothly through its first month in business.
“You’re on vacation from the moment you step on board,” owner Kurt Petty said of the cruise ship-themed restaurant, which boasts a wide range of cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, in addition to an ambient setting and an efficient and tightly-run crew of friendly staff.
“I’ve been opening restaurants for other people for the past 27 years, so when I decided it was time to open my own, I made a point to hire people that are even better at their jobs than I am," Petty said. "From the wait staff to the bar and the kitchen, we have a really fantastic crew on board.”
The majority of restaurant seating is on the outdoor cruise ship deck, but diners need not worry about any discomfort in the Florida heat. The deck is equipped to stay cool in the afternoon with air conditioning and electric curtains that open as the evening cools down to better expose the river view.
Nautical-themed décor and menus, Brazilian ipe-wood tables (two of which feature built-in fire tables crafted by Petty himself) and sparkling blue and white floors modeled after the ocean enhance the restaurant’s luxurious cruise ship style without venturing into the realm of tacky and touristy — but the ambiance is only the beginning.
YachtSea Grille has three separate menus, starting at sunrise with a traditional breakfast selection in the under-$10 range that includes on-the-go offerings for local professionals. Additionally, happy hour starts at 7 a.m. for hospital staff looking for a place to enjoy a beverage after their night shifts end.
“Everyone needs a 5 o’clock somewhere and we certainly don’t want to forget the folks working the graveyard shift at the hospital,” said Petty.
The lunch menu features appetizers, soups, salads, wraps and Angus beef burgers served on gourmet pretzel rolls. Like the breakfast menu, items on the lunch menu are suitable for a diverse crowd. For on-the-go hospital staff and neighboring business professionals, online ordering and quick meals are available. Dishes designed for patrons with time to kick back and enjoy a leisurely lunch, such as the hickory-smoked Kansas City ribs, are also on the menu.
“We want to be accessible to all kinds of patrons, so we’ve made it so that people can dictate what kind of dining experience they’ll have here," Petty said. "If you need to get in and out, we can make that happen — or, if you want to sit back, order a bottle of wine and relax, you can do that, too.”
Petty’s Kansas City background comes through strongest on the dinner menu, where the Midwest is represented in certified Angus beef slow-cooked boneless short ribs and rib eye and Kansas City strip steaks flown in from Iowa four times a week. Seafood makes an impressive splash on the dinner menu as well, with pesto encrusted trigger fish, cedar plank salmon with maple mustard glaze and a Cioppino fish stew chock full of clams, bay scallops and shrimp.
“The only thing I have frozen on this menu is my French fries,” said Petty, adding that everything on the menu is made fresh to order.
YachtSea Grille’s commitment to quality is evident in even the simplest dishes, like the homemade coleslaw with sundried cranberries, poppy seed, apples and chives or the New England clam chowder, made with 100% cream, potatoes and celery and served with oyster crackers.
“The way I see it, there’s a clam in every bite or else it isn’t right,” Petty said. “If I wouldn’t serve it to my mom, it’s not coming out of this kitchen.”
YachtSea Grille employs four chefs, led by executive chef Chris Trapiani, who created the menu, and executive sous chef, Rov Avila.
“We trust our product, we know our ingredients and we try to stay as consistent as possible,” said Avila of YachtSea Grille’s menu. “Everything that comes out of this kitchen is something we’re proud to serve.”
“I love that when I visit with tables and ask how everything is, I already know the answer is going to be a positive one,” said Petty. “I can honestly say the chefs have really outdone themselves.”
In following with the theme of the restaurant, YachtSea Grille offers generous cruise ship-size portions both on the plate and in the glass.
The full-liquor bar features a top shelf selection and $5 wells during happy hour, with a variety of traditional cocktails and tropical delights as well as dessert treats like the raspberry cheesecake martini.
Next spring, Petty says the restaurant plans to expand into an upper deck with a sailboat theme. In addition to opening up more space for live entertainment, Petty hopes to expand the beer selection to cater to a craft beer crowd.
The Riverwalk is scheduled to officially open in October, and will feature an extensive skate park, sand volleyball and botanical gardens right in YachtSea Grille’s backyard. In the meantime, the restaurant draws in customers with its own entertainment, with live music on the lower deck every night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.