Girlfriends Getaway: Focus on Dining in St. John, USVI

Veggie Reuben at Skinny Legs Bar & Grill
Veggie Reuben at Skinny Legs Bar & Grill

Despite what some people may believe, vegetarians and vegans don’t survive on a diet of nuts and berries alone.  In fact, I would say that I’m a fairly adventurous eater despite what carnivores may perceive as a limitation.  When I’m on the road and traveling, it can be difficult to locate food, especially protein, but instead of focusing on the negative, I plan ahead by researching dining options if possible and try to travel with back up foods like protein powder, Primal Spirit meatless jerky, nuts, and whatever will fit into my bag without weighing me down.  I’m not about to let food or lack of food interrupt a trip, especially if it’s a girlfriend getaway.  Grab your friends after a day at the beach and go grab some great grub. 

If you’re fortunate enough to not have any dietary restrictions, there are many restaurants on St. John to please everyone from fine dining to hole in the wall restaurants and everything in between. Did you know that 60% of the land on St. John is part of Virgin Islands National Park and that only 5,000 people live on St. John?  Whether you choose Cruz Bay, Coral Bay, Mid Island or the North Shore, you’ll find a wide assortment of cuisines and views you absolutely won’t find anywhere else. Be prepared for sticker shock as entree prices can rival those of major metropolitan cities. 

In this post we’ll learn about the three three restaurants I had the opportunity to visit while I stayed on St. John.  

Rhumb: (noun): A line on a sphere that cuts all meridians at the same angle; the path taken by a ship or plane that maintains a constant compass direction [syn: rhumb line, loxodrome].  

Rhumb Lines Restaurant, located in the heart of Cruz Bay, offers residents and visitors “…inspired cuisine in an atmosphere of rustic elegance.”  I have to admit that when I arrived at the restaurant and had to walk through a grocery store to get to the entrance, I thought it was well, a little peculiar. “This is where they kill us,” was my first thought as I walked past the fresh produce and rows of liquor bottles, which made me think I was in some bad B movie.  But then I saw a bamboo fence with the restaurant’s name on it and felt relieved that on this particular night I wouldn’t be murdered at the back of some small grocery store. 

Sparkling raspberry mojito
Sparkling raspberry mojito

As there was a large group of us dining together, we took up a large table near the bar.  From the start I knew we were going to have problems after I started chatting with the pretty blonde server. Turns out she was brand new on the job and it definitely showed.  Although I will give her an A for effort, the manager should’ve know better than to seat a large party with a new and inexperienced server.  At the end of the meal she asked if anyone wanted coffee.   I asked for a cup of tea as I’m going coffee-free these days and she said she didn’t know if they had tea.  Huh?  My drink order was a sparkling raspberry mojito that tasted like seltzer and mint with raspberry syrup and the worst part — no highly anticipated pink color to the drink from what I thought might be muddled raspberries and mint.  

In addition to low lighting and an exhaustive menu, this isn’t the type of restaurant where you can expect to have a romantic meal and a conversation.  It was extremely loud and continued to only grow louder as the night progressed.  

For an appetizer I decided to share a Pupu Portion with someone next to me and we ordered the Coconut Shrimp, Filipino Pork Lumpia, and the Lemongrass and Tofu Cakes.  As I could the eat tofu cakes, they were nothing overly special and I ate them because well, I was damn hungry!  For my entree I ordered the Vegetarian Nirvana which consisted of crisp tempura vegetables, caramelized hot & sour endive, spicy Asian slaw, and curried vegetable cakes with Zahira’s mango chutney.  The vegetable cakes looked suspiciously similar to the tofu cakes, but food is food especially in a primarily carnivorous world. I knew I was going to pass on the fried tempura vegetables as I neither wanted nor needed the extra calories from fried veggies.  The endive was interesting, but again I was hungry.  The Asian slaw was horribly underseasoned and unimpressive.  Here’s my litmus test for eating out.  If I can make a better meal at home than I can get in a restaurant, then the experience is a huge fail.  When an entree consists of vegetables, sells for $22, and I know I could make it better or buy comparable or better quality food at the Whole Foods salad bar, then yes — it’s an epic fail.  

Desserts and coffee were offered at the end of the meal although they didn’t have all of the dessert items on the menu.  While I think Rhumb Lines Restaurant has a great central location in Cruz Bay, I’m completely confused as to why they chose the Caribbean/Pacific Rim fusion cuisine as their concept.   Oh how easy it could have been to serve simple, fresh food from the area that’s uncomplicated, delicious, and not overpriced.  Maybe someday someone will open that restaurant on St. John.  

Rhumb Lines
Meada’s Plaza
PO Box 1302
Cruz Bay, St John USVI 00831
Phone: 340-776-0303

Skinny Legs Bar & Grill is located in Coral Bay on St. John, also known as the quiet side of the island.  It calls itself “A Pretty OK Place,” but I think you’ll find this laid back, easy going restaurant much better than just ok.  The restaurant is frequented not only by tourists, but also those who live on St. John looking for a quick, but tasty meal.  Skinny Legs first opened in 1991 by two friends, Doug Sica of New Jersey and Marice Chabuz of Massachusetts.  Doug Bean and his wife Jaime Elliott purchased the restaurant in 2012 and now run it in the same family friendly way that the original owners intended. 

Don’t expect linen tablecloths here!  Instead at this family friendly bar and grill (dive), the colorful decor is second only to the quality of food.  Doesn’t hurt that they serve some kick ass hot sauces here as well.  On my entire trip it was a struggle to find anything non-meat of interest on a menu at the restaurants we visited so I was ecstatic to find a veggie reuben on the Skinny Legs menu.  It was ridiculously tasty and although completely not what I would eat back at home (bread, cheese, fat laden dressing), it was a-MAZ-ing!  But have no fear you carnivores!  There’s burgers, cheeseburgers, and even a burger of the day on the menu.  All sandwiches and burgers are served with potato chips and not french fries.  In addition to their burger menu, they also serve fish, chicken, salads as well as specials on their specials board.  For beverage choices you’ll can choose from beer, wine, and some extremely creative drink specials from Margaritas to Painkiller to Bushwacker and more.  All drinks are shaken and not blended and they proudly state that they are a “blender–free zone!”  After you finish your meal, head out to the store and pick up a t-shirt, hat, or other souvenir item before you leave.

Without question, Skinny Legs was my favorite dining spot on St. John on this trip because service was fast, the food was excellent, prices weren’t ridiculous, and Skinny Legs is the kind of place I’d go to no matter where it was or how it appears from the outside.  I’ll always take great food and service over pretentiousness any day of the week. 

Skinny Legs Bar & Grill
9901 Estate Emmaus
St. John, USVI
Phone: 340-779-4982

ZoZo's entrance
ZoZo’s entrance

At some point during your vacation, whether with friends or on a romantic getaway, you’re probably destined to get all dressed up and have a nice meal.  If you’re looking for that combined with a beautiful, historic location with impressive views, then you must go to Zozo’s at the Sugar Mill. Located at Caneel Bay Resort, Zozo’s 120 seat restaurant is within the ruins of a sugar mill built in the 1800’s.  You cannot miss the stone walls and the high-timbered ceilings as well as the breathtaking view from the open air restaurant over the Caribbean.  

Chef Michael Fortino offers fresh local fish and produce with an Italian and Caribbean influence.  For his dining creations he imports cheese, meat, spices, and other ingredients from around the world to bring his ideas to life.  It’s always exciting to hear that a restaurant like ZoZo’s makes their own pasta and bread in house along with their own sauces, stocks, desserts, and ice cream.  

From the moment you arrive on property, you know that your night is going to be a memorable one. As you drive up the entrance of the resort, it’s impossible to miss the wildlife, so do look for the deer that will most likely be foraging on the front lawn.  Your heart rate starts to slow down as you begin to breathe in the fresh air and take in the views of the vast green lawn and views of the water.  As you climb the steps to the entrance of the restaurant, you’ll see other buildings that were once part of the sugar mill and you know you’re in a historical place, not one built in the modern age to look rustic.  

Once inside you’ll see the circular bar at the center of the restaurant and you’ll probably observe that all of the seats are taken.  Whether by locals or guests, this place is popular so don’t expect to walk up and get a table. Plan accordingly as you’ll definitely need to make a reservation in advance. Our large party was seated and without thinking I chose a seat with the view to my back.  

Sunset over the Caribbean
Sunset over the Caribbean

TSG Tip:  Don’t do what I did and make sure you have a view looking out instead of in toward the restaurant.  While the restaurant is beautiful, you’ll want to watch the sun as it goes down. 

Our server was thorough with explaining the menu and making suggestions.  I asked what would be his choice of cocktail and he recommended the Sunset, which I tried.  Refreshing, light and sweet, and definitely not heavy on alcohol, it was a perfect dinner accompaniment.  

The table ordered a variety of appetizers including the Black Linguine and the Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli.  Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and my distaste of beets, I tried the ravioli, but ended up giving it away. There wasn’t anything wrong with it other than it really tasted like beets.  Yes, you’ll have to be a beet lover to enjoy that dish.  

For my entree I ordered an appetizer serving of the Fresh Pappardelle, which was rich and decadent and I had to push it away to prevent it from going right to my thighs.  Other items on the menu include a 16 oz. Rib Eye, a 9 oz. Beef Tenderloin, Osso Buco, and Oven Roasted Mahi Mahi.  For dessert our table pretty much ordered every dessert on the menu and they were quickly devoured.  

Lights at the entrance of ZoZo's
Lights at the entrance of ZoZo’s

The atmosphere in ZoZo’s at the Sugar Mill is perfect for a romantic meal as well as a night out with friends. Combine that with the fresh and delicious food and you absolutely can’t go wrong.  Plan to spend a few hours unwinding, dining, and conversing and definitely do not leave St. John without dining here at least once. 

ZoZo’s at the Sugar Mill
Caneel Bay Resort
Caneel Bay, St. John, USVI
Phone: 340-693-9200

These are only three of dozens of restaurants available on St. John.  Maybe you won’t agree with my assessment of these restaurants, but that’s ok.  Don’t delay in planning your next trip to the US Virgin Islands and then we can compare notes.  You need to go and see for yourself the great views, cuisine, culture, and so much more that St. John has to offer!