Sunset Grille has 27 years under its belt, and according to co-owner Peter Darios, that makes it the oldest restaurant on St. Augustine Beach. After selling a college bar in the Hofstra University town of Hamstead, New York, Darios followed the allure of Jimmy Buffet’s tropical music to the shores of St. Augustine.
In 2011, the Sunset Grille became a double-decker restaurant with many of its 200 seats on the upper outside deck. The menu features plenty of seafood options and its consistently award-winning chowders. The menu is chock full of seafood salads, sandwiches, pastas, tacos, entrees and appetizers. There is even a cold-water lobster mac and cheese. If you’re feeling carnivorous, order a New York strip, baby back ribs or one of four hearty burgers. Kids have their very own menu.
There is a full bar and a separate menu featuring wines, martinis, tropical cocktails and frozen concoctions.
Q&A WITH CO-OWNER PETER DARIOS
How would you describe the restaurant’s atmosphere?
Key West style, a place where I wanted to hangout on vacation. It is open aired with fans and shutters made out of doors turned on their side. Makes for an eye-catching feature. The feel is old Florida — simple, nothing fancy, homey and wholesome.
What is your food philosophy?
We want to appeal to as many people as possible with a mainstream menu. Everything is fresh, nothing is prepackaged. We gravitate to the basics with chowders, wings and baby-back ribs. I’m also open to experimentation. One day, I was in the kitchen and decided to try our clam chowder over fries. Despite the kitchen’s dubious reception, our chowder fries went on to win an award.
What types of cuisine do you specialize in?
Seafood. All fresh. We buy our fish — mahi mahi, tuna, snapper and grouper — from the Seafood Shoppe downtown. You can liven up the seared or blackened fish with four toppings, the sunset (creamy shrimp and crab sauce), the pina colada sauce (candied pecan bits, mango, red and green onion), the macadamia crusted (coated with roasted macadamia nuts and topped with passion fruit and sweet potato nest) and the Caribbean (homemade fresh mango, pineapple and papaya salsa).
What is you signature dish?
We are most known for our excellent chowders. There is our New England creamy clam chowder and red Minorcan conch chowder, and for those who can’t decide … I created the New Minorcan, half of each.
What would you recommend for a first timer?
For an appetizer, try the fresh fish bites — a combination of mahi, grouper and snapper breaded and deep fried with house-made tarter sauce, the epitome of delicious. You can’t go wrong with one of our fresh fish entrees with one of our tropical-fruit based toppings.