Aqua Grill looks to ‘wow’ patrons with memorable moments at new restaurant


As Aqua Grill Owner Cary Hart prepares to welcome longtime patrons who come to his restaurant each year when they visit Ponte Vedra for THE PLAYERS Championship, he’s looking forward to seeing their reaction to its new location.

If the response from local patrons is any indication, he said, it will be a positive one.

“The most common reaction we get is, ‘Wow!’” Hart said. “It’s so magnificently beautiful and has been so well received, I think people will really be blown away.”

A Ponte Vedra Beach mainstay for 28 years, Aqua Grill relocated last fall to a new building constructed next door to its former Sawgrass Village home. The multimillion-dollar project has created a sleek, cosmopolitan dining destination that offers total seating for 200, including the indoor dining room, bar area and the popular outdoor deck. Among the many patrons Hart expects to see Aqua Grill’s new home for the first time this week are groups associated with THE PLAYERS Championship.

“This is my 29th TPC week – we’ve made so many different relationships over the years,” he said. “NBC Sports, the Golf Channel, title sponsors – they all come here.”

On the menu

The new Aqua Grille features expanded kitchen space, including a new back kitchen the previous location didn’t have.

“The new kitchen is more flexible for our chefs,” Hart said. “It’s going to allow them to be more creative and allow us to do more specialty dinners that we couldn’t do before.”

The added flexibility has also enabled Hart and his staff of 50 to offer some new, more upscale menu items.

“We always change it to try to keep up with the trends,” he said. “We want to stay on top of what is happening now – the culinary world is very creative – and bring it to Jacksonville.”

Unlike some restaurants, he added, Aqua Grill has a very eclectic menu that offers something for everyone.

“I was in California recently, and out there (restaurants) have five entrees, five appetizers, four sides and that’s it,” Hart said. “At Aqua Grill, I could order a hamburger and you could get lobster. I could get fish and you could get chicken. And we print our menu in-house so we can change it as often as we need to.”

There are some menu items, however, that patrons won’t let him change. Among them: the Vidalia onion flounder, the whole fish Cantonese style and the ruby red shrimp.

“If we try to take them off the menu, people ask us to bring them back,” he said, noting that Aqua Grill only uses the freshest local seafood, along with beef and poultry products that are free of hormones.

Making memories

While Ponte Vedra has seen many restaurants come and go over the decades, Hart takes pride in Aqua Grill’s longevity.

“We’ve been part of the fabric of Ponte Vedra for 28 years now,” he said, noting that many staff members have worked at Aqua Grill for decades. “We consider ourselves to be an icon in the community: Families have grown up here. People tell me, ‘My son is 40, he’s very successful – and he started working here for you as a busboy!’”

That familial connection is important to Aqua Grill, because ultimately, Hart said, it’s not about the food.

“You could go buy a sandwich at Publix or eat anywhere,” he said. “In this business, you want to create ‘wow’ moments – the moments in people’s lives they’ll never forget.”

Multiple generations of families have been coming to Aqua Grill to celebrate rehearsal dinners, school graduations, retirement parties and other special occasions. It’s a responsibility the staff takes seriously.

“We are the stewards of special moments in people’s lives,” Hart said. “We want to be a place that people can feel proud to bring their family to celebrate those special moments. This business is all about relationships.

“For 28 years, we’ve been the community’s restaurant,” he continued, “and we want people to know we plan to be here for the next 28 years, for their grandchildren.”