413 Middlesex Road, Tyngsborough
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight
Major credit cards accepted
Accessible to the handicapped
Call-ahead seating available
Curbside take-out service available
With 30 locations nationwide, Bahama Breeze specializes in Caribbean-inspired food, tropical drinks, and colorful décor intended to evoke the sensations of the islands. Founded in Orlando in 1996, the casual-dining restaurant chain began offering reasonably priced food and high-quality service in Tyngsborough, its first Massachusetts site, in March.
While it seems safe to say every restaurant's goal is to exceed expectations, our experience at Bahama Breeze did, in fact, make us feel special. When the hostess directed our four-person party to a table, we asked whether we could have a booth instead. She readily agreed, but our move caused confusion with our waitress, who wasn't aware of the switch.
After about 15 minutes, we caught the manager's eye as he made his rounds and explained the situation. He apologized more than necessary and immediately took our drink order. Almost instantly, our waitress found us and also profusely apologized for the confusion.
She quickly took our food orders, and the manager returned with our drinks, which he said would be complimentary. He then checked back with us two additional times, despite our reassurances that all was well.
From a dizzying selection of appetizers and “small plate’’ snacks, we opted for the conch fritters ($8.29), lightly fried pieces of a tasty shellfish that isn't commonly found on menus in New England. The eight pieces were more than we expected, yet we easily managed to finish them off.
The crab, shrimp, mango, and avocado stack ($12.79) was a cylindrical compilation of layers of jumbo lump crabmeat, chilled shrimp, fresh avocado, and apple-mango salsa with a spicy, honey-red pepper drizzle.
The dish was light and cool, entirely appropriate for the hot summer evening.
The three chicken empanadas ($4.49), a selection from the small plate menu, were hand-rolled, fried pastries stuffed with adobo-seasoned chicken, mushrooms, sweet peppers, and onion. The seasoned sour cream on the side was complemented by a mixture of black beans, roasted corn, and tomato salsa that is made onsite daily.
Our first entrée came from the daily fresh fish menu, which offers a choice of three varieties either wood-grilled or sautéed, and accompanied by either rice, garlic mashed potatoes, or cinnamon mashed sweet potatoes, and a vegetable. The pan-seared mahi mahi ($20) was served with a generous amount of creamy mango butter sauce that went well on the firm green beans. The two pieces of fish were somewhat thin yet firm, and the mashed sweet potatoes were fluffy and candy-sweet from the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
The grilled Jamaican jerk chicken ($15.79) was two chicken breasts marinated in bold rather than spicy jerk seasonings, and accompanied by mango pineapple salsa and the same creamy, cinnamon mashed sweet potatoes and green beans. A lighter portion is available, but this diner happily ate every bite.
While the chicken tortilla soup ($3.49 for a cup, $4.99 bowl) was extremely flavorful, there was only one piece of chicken amid the plentiful diced vegetables, avocado, and sprinkle of tortilla strips in a light broth. The Breeze salad ($4.49) was exceedingly fresh, with greens, Roma tomatoes, cucumber slices, and pumpkin seeds providing a pleasing crunch, and a citrus-flavored tropical vinaigrette that is so popular the recipe has been posted on the company’s website.
The Key West fish tacos ($11) were three flour tortillas filled with a generously sized piece of sautéed tilapia atop diced avocado, iceberg lettuce, and tomato salsa with ancho chile-seasoned sour cream on the side. A side order of yellow rice and beans was served with one atop the other in a separate dish.
For dessert, the signature Chocolate Island ($6.29) is rich chocolate mousse on a fudge brownie that is swimming in milk chocolate sauce and vanilla bean anglaise with fresh whipped cream. Rebecca's key lime pie ($5.49), made by the restaurant, has a brown-sugar crust and airy meringue topping.
Bahama Breeze’s general manager, Justin Lance, said parent company Darden Restaurants is responsive to customer feedback, which is responsible for restoring the conch fritters to the menu. Additionally, the website’s menu has photographs of many of the items, so diners will know exactly what to expect.
Lance said the most popular dishes at the Tyngsborough location have been the coconut shrimp (served as an appetizer or entrée), mojo-marinated pork and sweet plantains, jerk chicken pasta, sweet baby-back ribs glazed with guava barbecue sauce, and baked Jamaican grilled chicken wings, which he noted are so popular “we can't keep up with them.’’
Also in heavy demand is the location’s outdoor patio, which features live music every night in July and August while offering the same menu as the 320-seat dining room.
Other special touches include the stocks of sugar cane that are imported biweekly from Florida for the bartenders to crush into juice for the restaurant’s Lemon Breeze and mojito drinks.
“So many little things we do are unique and take a lot of work to produce, yet we're casual dining,’’ Lance said. “That's how we separate ourselves from other brands.’’