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Restaurant ReviewMelbourne & Palm Bay

Hemingway’s Tavern Restaurant Review – Melbourne, FL

A few Saturdays ago, my husband and I worked up an appetite running a day’s worth of errands here, there, and nearly everywhere around Vero, at what felt like warp speed. Chuffed with ourselves for having crossed so much off our perpetual to-do list, we seized the rare moment of not having our dog along for the ride to celebrate with a leisurely drive up A1A, and dinner at a destination we’d hoped to visit for some time.

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Pulling into the entrance of Hemingway’s Tavern in Melbourne, I immediately noticed the restaurant’s Key lime green shutters — a subtle but certain nod to Ernest Hemingway’s serendipitous love affair with Key West.

Once inside, we were struck by the colorful character of the restaurant and the easygoing mood its atmosphere evoked. The dining room had a distinctly laid-back personality and an island-like tropical presence, without feeling expected or overtly Tiki. Countless pictures and objects — including a replica elephant head — adorned the walls, still, it didn’t feel cluttered; just eclectic. It was genuinely interesting and beautiful in a way that intrigued my eye and encouraged me to explore. Boredom was evidently one thing that Hemingway’s would not be serving up.

What they were serving — in fact, their entire menu from the first page to the last — made choosing formidable but exciting, like a course selection treasure hunt. Armed with their menu as a map, its colorful descriptions as clues, and our server as a “phone-a-friend” lifeline if needed, it was as if I was being challenged to pinpoint the perfect meal for myself from among a number of right choices.

Having to start somewhere, I picked a cocktail aptly named The Unforgettable, which intertwined the flavors of blueberries, basil and ginger with vanilla vodka. My husband ordered a cup of coffee that was brewed to order and served in a mug he liked so much that we left with one just like it. Later with dinner, he enjoyed Hemingway’s rum-based take on his typically bourbon-based drink of choice. Their Pilar Sherry Cask Old Fashioned showcased the Tavern’s very own aged dark rum with a splash of dry curacao, orange bitters, and a Luxardo Maraschino cherry — a mark of Old Fashioned authenticity that did not go unnoticed nor unappreciated. The use of rum provided a vibrant new dimension to a classic favorite — a welcome cocktail evolution versus a revolution.

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As an ocean lover living on the Florida coast, fresh fish tends to be what I seek out on a menu when dining out, especially since cuisine-wise my husband is strictly a landlubber, so I rarely ever cook seafood at home. For that same reason, our appetizer order was split. I ordered the Charred Octopus & Hash, a beautifully composed dish featuring a large charred tentacle atop chorizo-yuca hash with a chimichurri sauce.

Octopus is notoriously easy to get wrong, but Hemingway’s kitchen prepared it masterfully. Each flavor and texture on the plate was purposeful and placed with intention, such that the harmony of the dish would be noticeably awry if even a single component was missing. On the recommendation of our server, my husband opted for an order of Tavern Smoked Wings, split between their Guava BBQ and Tuscan Parmesan varieties. They were moist but crispy, delectably smoky, and gone in an instant.

The Snapper Hemingway seafood dish as prepared by Hemingway’s Tavern in Melbourne Florida

For a main course, I was torn between two fish dishes, but able to pick the winner easily: When a split decision includes a contender named after the establishment itself, it’s an irrefutable tie-breaker. Panko-encrusted and lightly pan-fried, my Snapper Hemingway was topped with a meaty, deftly seasoned crab beurre blanc. The bed of Rice Caribe it sat upon was a surprise and perhaps the unassuming MVP of the dish. Zesty pops of bright Caribbean flavors from finely chopped golden raisins and pineapple shone through every grain, adding a beautiful complexity to the entree as a whole.

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When visiting a restaurant for the first time, my husband is an unbudgeable purist. If at a pizzeria for example, while I’ll be drawn to the more exotic, unfamiliar options, he’s certain to order a plain cheese pie. He brings things back to basics and gauges his barometer of a restaurant’s finesse by their approach to, and mastery of, the fundamentals. Likewise, in the case of his entree choice this evening, he opted for a burger. Thrilled to see bison available as an upgrade, he ordered a Bison Premiere Burger – the most basic of the menu’s burger choices – charbroiled with cheese, lettuce and tomato on a brioche bun. Cooked just to his liking and served with thick, hand-cut crispy steak fries, a grilled pineapple-coconut slaw, and an added side of mac and cheese, the dish passed all his discerning tests with flying colors.

Bread Pudding dessert as prepared by Hemingway’s Tavern in Melbourne Florida

I’m a passionate and adventurous foodie, so it comes as a surprise to many that I don’t actually have much of a sweet tooth. Dessert is generally something I can take or leave, however, a bread pudding will always capture my interest. Hemingway’s Sweet Plantain Bread Pudding was no exception — especially given the way our server’s eyes lit up when I asked if it was worth trying. I am glad I twisted my own arm, because our meal would not have been the same without this sweet ending. Made with Cuban bread and served warm, this dessert’s appealing presentation reminded me that we feast first with our eyes. It was decadent without being cloyingly rich or overly sweet and paired with a luscious crème anglaise. My idea of a perfectly balanced dessert to a tee.

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Supercharged with a palpable spirit of adventure, Hemingway’s Tavern is, in a sense, a love letter written to its namesake, Ernest Hemingway himself. If you brush up on your knowledge of the prolific author and the beloved island that inspired so much of his work, you’ll notice him in every corner.

Beyond its dining room, Hemingway’s Tavern boasts a large bar constructed to resemble his beloved Pilar fishing boat, as well as a Cafécito coffee cafe, and a souvenir nook. There, my husband — a hot sauce aficionado with a preference for vinegar-based varieties — was happy that we could purchase a bottle of Hemingway’s signature hot sauce, “The Bull,” which he describes as a “cross between Crystal and Tabasco,” on our way out.

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The front entrance to Hemingway’s Tavern in Melbourne Florida after dark with lights on.

An epicurean adventure reminiscent of the Keys from beginning to end, we left Hemingway’s full and happy with leftovers, souvenirs, and a newfound desire to read To Have and Have Not in hand, already pining to return.

To learn more about Hemingway’s Tavern, be sure to also check out our Foodie Day Trip article where we feature several restaurants from the Melbourne & Palm Bay Florida areas. Click here to read that article.

Hemingway’s Tavern
Address: 1800 W. Hibiscus Blvd | Melbourne, FL 32901
Phone: (321) 802-9648
https://hemingwaystavern.com

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Kristin Sinatra

A former VP of Marketing & External Affairs now working independently in Vero Beach, Kristin is regarded as an intuitive leader and creative visionary within the professional marketing and design communities. Some treasured feathers placed in her cap over the course of her 20+ year career include speaking at Google Headquarters, being nationally published, championing several comprehensive rebrands, being cameoed in the first book written about LinkedIn marketing within the nonprofit arena, having her graphic design work lit up in Times Square, and rescuing her dog and best buddy, Shea.

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4 Comments

  1. I was there also for the first time and was very happy with everything had the best espresso martini ever!

    1. I’ll have to give that a try next time on your recommendation – we can’t wait to return!

  2. Really enjoyed reading this scrumptiously descriptive and adventurous culinary tale! Can’t wait to try out Hemingway’s Tavern once we migrate south to Florida in another week. Thank you for putting this destination on our foodie Treasure Map!

    1. So glad you enjoyed, and that I was able to inspire your appetite! I know you’ll have a great experience just like we did.

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