For several years in the early 2000s, my extended family enjoyed the annual Thanksgiving buffet at the Ramada Beach Resort on Okaloosa Island.

Now the Ramada is The Island, by Hotel RL, and the dining area that was home to the buffet has been remodeled and renamed Nineteen66.

My husband and I spent a quiet afternoon experiencing the new décor and cuisine.

 

THE FOOD

Nineteen66 manages to pack a good variety of choices into its concise menu.

Appetizers include fried pickles served with dill sauce, smoked fish dip, jumbo chicken wings, peel-n-eat gulf shrimp, calamari and zucchini, and raw oysters on the half-shell.

We went with the fried pickles, which the menu promised would be crispy. And, you know what? They were. They also had a little unexpected heat that proved a perfect complement to the cool dill sauce.

I didn’t order a salad or soup, but my husband chose the Southern Caesar, which was composed with Romaine lettuce, smoked gouda, garlic croutons and buttermilk Caesar dressing. I tried a bite that was refreshingly cold and full of flavor.

Other choices from that part of the menu are gulf gumbo, Nineteen66 Salad and tuna nicoise salad.

I was surprised to see pizza on the menu. Five are offered: classic Margherita, vegetarian lovers, pepperoni, meat lover and chicken bacon pizza.

As our meal progressed, we kept seeing boxed pizzas being carried away to an unknown destination. So I finally asked and learned they were a popular snack at the hotel’s tiki bar out by the pool and beach areas.

My husband selected his entrée from the section called From the Grill. The Ultimate Nineteen66 Burger is 8 ounces of USDA prime beef topped with fried onion rings, melted brie, bacon and jalapeno aioli on a sourdough bun. French fries are served along side.

It made an impressive plate full of food that my husband thoroughly enjoyed.

Also from the grill are the taco station, the blackened Denise burger, grilled chicken sandwich, Wagyu beef frank and mahi mahi sandwich.

My entrée came from the Large Plates menu, which includes jumbo lump crab cakes, glazed spicy salmon, mojo barbecue chicken and New York strip steak.

My first instinct was to go for the salmon, which I love. But I was wary of the word “spicy” in the description and diverted to the steak instead. I never looked back.

The steak, marinated in a bourbon, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, was perfectly grilled to my medium specification. Every bite was a delight. It came with roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables that I also enjoyed.

To finish our meals, we ordered the Key lime pie and the flourless chocolate cake. They were delicious and so beautifully plated, my husband even commented on it.

A tropical seasonal fruit plate and New York style cheesecake are other choices.

We had iced tea to drink, but Nineteen66 offers cocktails, white and red wines, draft beers, porter and stout, lagers, ales, IPAs, ciders and beertails.

They also have a special menu for diners 12 and under with crispy chicken tenders, grilled burger, macaroni & cheese, grilled cheese, PB&J and a cookie chip sundae.

 

ATMOSPHERE

Nineteen66 has a spacious main dining area, a bar and an outdoor seating area. We were asked our preference when we arrived and stayed inside where it was cool.

The décor is a mix of modern urban – metal, wood, stone surfaces, exposed ductwork, etc. — softened by touches of traditional — greenery, artwork, knickknacks.

Also, it’s not every day you see a mermaid being wheeled from Point A to Point B on a luggage cart, but we did that day, and it was a lark.

 

SERVICE

For most of our meal, we were the only diners inside although a few chose to eat outside. We were greeted warmly and seated promptly.

Our server, Erik, couldn’t have been nicer. Our meal was leisurely, with each course timed well. We were never kept waiting for anything.

Everyone did their best to accommodate our questions. The only one we never got an answer to was where were they taking the mermaid? To be fair, we asked the person manning the gift shop, who did not know. Maybe one of our servers might have known.

 

A FINAL TASTE

Nineteen66 is open to the public. In other words, you don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to eat there. We were told a full breakfast menu is in the works and, in fact, it turned up online just as I finished this article. I'd love to go back and try it.