By Marta Rose-Thorpe
A recent visit to Blu Poolside Bar & Grill inside the new Embassy Suites by Hilton Panama City Beach was a fascinating experience and an evening to behold. The food and beverages were all top-notch, which I will describe shortly, but it was the atmosphere and service at the Embassy Suites that stole our hearts. My husband and I were met by Executive Chef Scott Plumley and Director of Sales & Marketing Barbara Lita, then seated by Michelle, who would serve us throughout the evening, alongside Liz. From the first moment, we knew we were in good hands and were treated like royalty (albeit in a light and breezy, not-so-formal fashion!). Everyone at Embassy Suites has a big, genuine smile, and the happy energy trickles throughout the whole establishment. Our friends Roy and Kandi Woods (Kandi of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association) joined us, as well as General Manager Mike Chouri and Director of Finance Carol Zukosky. It was a celebration of the start of summer, friendship, and good food!
Michelle started us out with a cocktail, and Blu has a long list of delicious concoctions. I decided to try the Panama Pear Mojito, a lovely rum with prickly pear puree, lime juice, agave, and mint. This cool elixir was minty and crisp. Jimy ordered his standard, an Old Fashion, with bourbon, maple syrup and bitters. “Smooth and sleek,” he commented. The Don’t Slip (tequila, grapefruit, and pear juice) and Piney Mimosa (prosecco and pineapple vodka with orange and lemon juice) are future indulgences on my list. Blu also has a full wine list and serves beers, seltzers, and spirited frozen drinks.
This establishment serves lunch and dinner daily, and with its central location and proximity to so many businesses, Blu is becoming the “It” meeting spot for business lunches and dinners, friend meetups, and social gatherings by the locals. Michelle started bringing out a succession of dishes from the Sharables, Hot Hands and Entrée menus. The stunning Emerald Tuna Crunch salad got our attention with its pepper-crusted, seared ahi tuna strips laid over baby greens, fresh mango, avocado, applewood smoked bacon, and topped with almonds, crispy wontons, and fried goat cheese with a splash of mango sesame vinaigrette.
It was an aesthetic fusion of tastes, textures and temperatures, and that goat cheese was screaming with flavor! Now, our moms always claimed that a colorful plate is the most nutritious plate, and the Lemon and Herb Seared Salmon served alongside a sticky rice pilaf (reminiscent of veggie risotto) and freshly steamed, al dente broccolini is the epitome of this declaration. The salmon was prepared in a carrot-ginger butter and soy glaze, and the entire dish was emblazoned with bold, bright, colors.
Then Michelle brought the powerhouse of the feast, Filet Mignon ladled in a luscious thick gravy with a toss of micro greens atop. The meat was a thick cut of the most mouth-watering, tender filet I’ve had, and this flamboyant offering looked as good as it tasted, served with smashed potatoes and a veggie medley of red & green cherry tomatoes, red & green bell peppers, yellow squash, asparagus, and onions. The men enjoyed Blu’s Jumbo Wings, crispy fried and smoked in a variety of flavors to choose from: buffalo, brown sugar-chipotle, sweet chili, spicy bbq, hot honey, and parmesan rub. I asked how they liked them… and my answer was the empty plates. A favorite “Hot Hands” plate was the Grouper Tacos… grilled and topped with kale coleslaw, avocado aioli, salsa verde, and roasted corn & black bean salsa. So many flavor sensations! Carol enjoyed what I consider to be the most unique dishes on the menu (and I will return to try this), the Roasted Cauliflower tossed in whipped ricotta and roasted chile paste, sprinkled with smoked almonds over an edamame puree.
But the best was saved for last. I didn’t know how we could possibly surpass this extraordinary meal, but Michelle brought out Blu’s three desserts (and I honestly can’t choose which one I like the best, so you’ll just have to come in, try them all, and let me know!): the Sticky Toffee Bread Pudding with a salted caramel dip, Key Lime Cheesecake with a berry coulis, and Chocolate Chess Pie with Chantilly cream. The latter was a rich, dense, fudge torte that I had not previously encountered in this area.
Let me add a few words about the wonderful team at Blu Poolside Bar & Grill. Mike Chouri, General Manager, has many years of experience in leading hotel and resort operations for many Hiltons, Marriott’s and IHG branded hotels including Hilton Boston Woburn, Nickelodeon Orlando, Westin Las Vegas, the Sheraton and The Westin Tysons corner, Hilton Sandestin, and Hilton Alexandria Old Town. Executive Chef Scott Plumley is a Pensacola native with over 30+ years in the food and beverage industry. Plumley has been curating menus and handcrafting dishes throughout resorts and restaurants in Northwest Florida for more than 30 years and has worked with a variety of respected industry leaders including chefs Philippe Robles, Gary Serrafin, Josiah Citrin, Matt Mauldwin, and Johnny Earles.
Barbara Lita, Director of Sales & Marketing, joined the Hilton world in 2000 in her home state of New Jersey with the DoubleTree by Hilton Jersey City. Her Hilton career includes work at the Newark Airport, in Naples, Florida, and with the Hilton Marco Island team. “I am blessed to have found my forever home here and work with a great team and beautiful resort that feels like home and family,” she says.
Blu Poolside Bar & Grill is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. (the kitchen closes at 10 p.m.). Happy Hour is daily from 4:30 p.m. Located at 16006 Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach (between Pier Park and Calypso). For more information call (850) 328-5545 and visit panamacitybeachresort.embassysuites.com.