By Pam Windsor
June 18, 2023
ROSEMARY BEACH – Nestled within the Pearl Hotel, the Havana Beach Bar & Grill has a look and feel all its own.
“If you’re coming to Havana Beach, you’re coming somewhere a little different,” said Matt Moore, corporate director of projects and concepts for The St. Joe Company, which owns the restaurant and hotel. “When you walk through the doors, it’s not a typical Southern kind of seafood restaurant.”
The restaurant has vibrant colors, marble tabletops, and a look and feel inspired by Ernest Hemingway and his love of Cuba.
“The bar itself is an exact replica of Hemingway’s favorite bar in Cuba,” noted Chef Matt Rolens, executive chef at The Pearl. “I believe El Floridita is the name of the hotel where the bar was located. So, the entire bar has that kind of cool vibe.”
It’s the perfect spot to sit and watch as the bartender crafts one of those craft cocktails the Havana Bar has become known for, like the Smoked Old Fashioned, a popular choice for those who love bourbon.
The Havana Beach Bar & Grill has also become well-known for its food, such as the signature Hemingway Shrimp & Grits.
“I’ll put our Shrimp & Grits up against anybody’s shrimp and grits anywhere,” said Chef Matt. “I’ve had people from Louisiana and elsewhere tell me it’s the best shrimp and grits they’ve ever had.”
The key, he said, is in the details.
“We use Gulf shrimp, and we lightly blacken them,” he explained. “That’s fairly standard. What makes ours a bit more unique is we serve them with a crawfish cream sauce.”
And it’s all served on what he believes are some of the best grits available.
“We use Anson Mills grits from a farm out of South Carolina,” he said. “The gentleman there found the perfect species of corn that was nearly extinct, and he brought it back. That corn is dried in the traditional way and not ground until we order it, so you don’t have bags of corn sitting around losing flavor. I think these flavorful grits are what makes the dish so amazing.”
The key, when it comes to cooking, is finding the best ingredients.
“If you do that,” Chef Matt said, “cooking almost becomes easy. You have to do very little to the product to allow the natural flavor to come through.”
Another popular choice on the menu is the Havana Cuban, made with tender smoked pork, black forest ham, Swiss cheese, and served on a panini pressed hoagie roll.
There is also the lightly blackened grouper with charred tomato and fried okra, which is paired with Carolina rice and New Orleans-style red beans. And the Mandy burger, named for Chef Matt’s wife.
“It’s made with a grass-fed beef patty. It’s got candied apple-cider peppered bacon, Boursin cheese, and crispy fried onions. And the way the cheese melts on it, it almost becomes its own sauce.”
Guests can choose whether they want to dine on the veranda, the lounge, or when the weather’s nice – the rooftop bar which has its own menu.
To add to the casual, upscale, yet laid-back style of the Havana Beach Bar & Grill, there’s a musician who plays the piano five nights a week.
It’s the perfect spot to enjoy amazing food, fantastic drinks, and get a great view of the Gulf, morning, noon, and night.
The Havana Beach Bar & Grill is at 63 Main Street, Rosemary Beach. Open seven days a week, brunch is served 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. A Bar & Lounge menu is available in-between. The restaurant takes reservations for hotel guests only (to ensure they have a table), but is open to the public. Reach them at 850-588-2882 or visit www.thepearlrb.com.
Photos by Collis Thompson