Imagine being able to dip your toes into the crystalline blue waters of the Atlantic, share a smooch with a resident dolphin and lay on an inner tube while drifting along a 1/4-mile lazy river with a frozen concoction in hand–all before noon. Groups visiting Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas can experience the best of the Caribbean without every leaving the resort, as well as the largest conference space in the West Indies.
This November the resort unveils its newest addition, Virgil’s BBQ. Chef Neal Corman, corporate executive chef of the Alicart Restaurant Group, spoke to us about how the new restaurant plans to add to Atlantis’s already diverse food offerings.
Prevue: What makes Virgil’s BBQ different than the other restaurants in the resort?
Chef Neal Corman: It’s the only barbecue restaurant on the island so I don’t think they’ve ever had that kind of fare there before. There are a lot of famous chefs who have opened up a lot of different concepts but this is a concept that has been around since 1994 in New York City. We’re right off of Times Square and we’ve been doing real American barbecue for a really long time. We actually started the restaurant concept when there was a group of people who went all over the United States and got barbecue ideas and recipes from all the different regions. That’s kind of what made Virgil’s what it is.
We’re not changing pretty much anything from what we did for 17 years. We’re going to bring it right over to the Bahamas and we’re going to give the guests of Atlantis and the people in Paradise Island a taste of what we’ve been doing here in New York.
What are some favorites we can find on the menu?
It’s obviously predominantly classical American barbecue. We’ve got barbecue from all over–Central Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, the Carolinas and Tennessee–So that’s obviously a huge part of what it is, and then there’s a little bit of a southern flair to the other things we prepare. A lot of the side dishes are very indigenous of the south part of the United States. We’ve got grits, collard greens, mac and cheese, hushpuppies and biscuits.
We’ve also got crab cakes on the menu so other than barbecue, there’s also that little bit of southern flair. Our ribs are a signature. Our fried chicken is just incredible. Our Carolina pulled pork is great too. Again, it’s just amazing flavors that we’ve been sharing with everybody in the New York area over the years. We’ve also got train-wreck fries, which is a culmination of a lot of things. It’s almost like a nacho dish with french fries instead of corn chips as a base for it. These are some of our signature dishes.
It is! What’s really nice is that especially this time of year and everything, it’s great comfort food. Now, with everything that’s going on and so many great things going on in our country, people love to get down to something that they just feel accustomed to. They need something they are comfortable with and there’s nothing that is a better example of that than barbecue.
What part of the resort is the restaurant located on?
It is over in the Towers. That’s a little set off from where a lot of the restaurants are. For the past six years we’ve enjoyed the relationship with the Atlantis in having Carmine’s and this is in Coral Tower, which is one of the main towers for the residential properties. What happens is that it’s going to be a lot closer to where people are staying. It’s going to be hugely successful to begin with but I can see people not wanting to go anywhere else on inclimate days, just see it right from their rooms and go down to the restaurant.
It’s going to be open for three meal periods throughout the day, which is also a different swing at how they do things. It’ll be a great opportunity for people to get that flavor not only at dinner, but also during breakfast and lunch.
How big will the restaurant be?
It’s a 650-seat restaurant and it’s going to be huge. There are indoor spaces, outdoor spaces, and they’ll be serving food in the outside bar area so people can just kind of grab-and-go. It’s such an opportunity for people to come by and enjoy that taste of Virgil’s at any time during the day.
Why is this restaurant great for big groups?
We’ve had so much experience with family-style dining, being the proprietors of Carmine’s, that we’ve taken that and what we’ve learned in New York used it at Virgil’s. The breakfast and lunch will be a la carte but the dinner will be served family-style, which means big platters of food will be placed at the table and with a group of people–6, 8, 10, 12, 25 people–you can order trays from the menu in a family-style concept. You could do a dozen ribs per platter or 24 oz of pulled pork coming out, and you just kind of mix and match.
It’s a great environment for people to taste a lot more than just the one thing they would have with a single tray and it perpetuates that family style level of dining. It’s so much more fun and casual. What better way for a group to share a meal at the end of the day? The setting will be a great marriage of not only where it is but the food and the guests coming in.
How will the restaurant’s look match its feel?
We’ve employed an architect, designer Jeffrey Beers, who did an incredible job taking what we already had in New York and kind of transforming it to match the venue in Atlantis. Just like we have done with the menu about going around through the country and picking up different styles of barbecue from different regions, we are also translating that into the space. Along with that food you can have spaces that correspond with those locations so there’ll be a little bit of decor that might be indigenous to Central Texas or to Memphis or Kansas City.
Again, part of the cuisine and the dining experience being family-style, being the barbecue and that coupled with the food gives you that whole experience of Virgil’s, from the time you come in and sit down to the time you leave. I think it’s a good combination of giving people that Virgil’s real barbecue dining experience.