By Dylan Bailey
One of my favorite things about Amelia Island is the diversity of food. If you travel a few blocks, you can experience a world tour of cuisine. Mexican, Thai, Southern, and even Korean; there’s no lack of variety. When someone recommended I try Island BBQ, I surfed my way down to it in a heartbeat.
Island BBQ’s roots run deep in Fernandina Beach. They’ve been cooking meat over an open fire pit for two decades. Their previous location was behind Hammerhead Beach Bar. As of this year, they’ll celebrate their 7th birthday in their current location. Nestled beside a PC repair shop, they’ve become a quintessential hole-in-the-wall.
I looked up reviews online and what I found were people praising the buffet. This piqued my interest since they aren’t as common as they used to be. Not only that but a BBQ buffet? Count me in. I stopped by the restaurant on Thursday for lunch.
I got there around 11:30 a.m., in the hopes I could beat the lunch rush. The parking wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. If I’d come an hour later, it would have been a different story. It’s an unassuming location, tucked inside a strip mall on 14th Street.
The restaurant buzzed with chatter as a friendly woman welcomed me. I asked her about the location and what she recommended. It was an enjoyable conversation that made me feel right at home. While ordering a traditional meal is available, I opted for the buffet since that’s what most people talked about. The meal, which includes a drink, came out to $16. Impressive for the amount of food I was about to consume. Something to note is that they change out their offerings frequently, so you may not get what I had during my visit.
Today’s buffet dipped into the chicken side of things. Deep-fried and smoked chicken were at the forefront of the buffet. There was also country-fried steak, smoked sausage, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and banana pudding—that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If I listed everything available, we’d be here for a while. What made me chuckle were the crunchy taco shells at the end that had a heaping pile of seasoned ground beef beside them. I can’t say I was expecting to plate a taco next to my fried chicken, but I sure did.
The inside of the restaurant features a wonderful, laid-back vibe. Picnic tables and chairs that look like they would be at home beside a fire pit dotted the dining area. It was like going to a backyard get-together. I loved it. Old friends greeted each other with warm smiles and the woman I talked to earlier made her rounds asking how everything was.
There’s more to Island BBQ than meets the eye. On the other side, you’re greeted by a pool table and arcade machines lining the walls. From Spiderman Pinball to Mario Kart, there was no shortage of interesting machines. If the dining area charmed me, the arcade room amplified it.
Back to the food itself. It’s a buffet, so you’re getting a large quantity of food. I can’t say it was the best I’ve had, but I enjoyed it. The fried chicken was crunchy, soft, and full of flavor, and the country-fried steak, with a large portion of white gravy, was amazing. The cheddar gave the macaroni and cheese a sharp, enjoyable taste and I couldn’t resist having a second portion of the banana pudding.
When you go to a buffet, not everything will hit the mark. The mashed potatoes had an offputting flavor to them. It was too sour for me. They cooked the yellow rice well, but it was bland. Did it detract from my enjoyment? Absolutely not. Despite these minor issues, I enjoyed my meal.
My plate was like a fever dream, in terms of the eclectic range of food I had piled onto it. Besides some items that fell below the mark, I enjoyed my time here. I was so full when I left I didn’t eat until the following day. The staff, atmosphere and liveliness, made this a fantastic experience. If you want to fill up on some good old Southern cooking, I’d recommend stopping by Island BBQ. You never know what you’ll find in the buffet.
Address: 1925 S. 14th St, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
Open: Monday – Saturday
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 6 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Monday 6 a.m. – 4 p.m.