Villages restauranteur Fred Karimipour was all smiles recently as he walked through the active construction zone that soon will be home to his latest culinary venture.
Karimipour, owner of Fresh Made Kitchen Restaurant Group, said he’s very excited about the planned mid-September opening of Bluefin Grill & Bar in Brownwood, a restaurant that will specialize in a variety of fresh seafood dishes but also make steaks, burgers, pork chops and pasta dishes a priority.
“I think it’s real exciting to be able to offer this to our residents,” Karimipour said this past Thursday as the building at 2738 Brownwood Blvd. that formerly housed Bavarian Brewhaus and Las Tapas continued to morph into the newest restaurant in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. “Fresh fish is the big thing around here and we’re going to source it locally.”
Bluefin marks Karimipour’s sixth restaurant in The Villages. He also owns Evans Prairie Country Club, Belle Glade Country Club, Bonifay Country Club, Orange Blossom Hills Country Club and Scooples Ice Cream Parlor, which is a few doors down from Bluefin.
“We’ve seen the growth of Brownwood and it’s an exciting place to be,” Karimipour said.
General Manager Michael Dillenburg agreed.
“This is great,” he said. “They say this is the friendliest place in Florida. I can definitely see that.”
Dillenburg said he thinks a restaurant like Bluefin that offers high-quality seafood and other popular dishes is needed in The Villages.
“The biggest thing is we want to make sure that the service level is really there,” he said. “It’s about the experience that you can provide. Without dollar amounts or anything like that, you want to create an experience that people keep talking about and they’re excited to come back for.”
Dillenburg added that as he watches the restaurant come together – patrons who have eaten in the building in the past won’t recognize it – he already is seeing a high anticipation level among Villagers.
“We have people coming in and they are all excited, peeking through the windows and knocking on the door,” he said. “I’ll chat them up as much as possible without giving away too much, because we want it to be a little bit of a surprise. But I just love the fact that folks are just as excited about it as I am.”
Excited doesn’t do justice to the way Jason Sofka is feeling these days. That’s because the director of culinary for Fresh Made Kitchen Restaurant Group has been busy doing everything from hiring chefs and the kitchen staff to working closely with his team to bring Bluefin’s menu to life.
“It’s fun,” said Sofka, who is celebrating 20 years of working with Karimipour. “It’s what I love to do and it’s a real passion.”
Sofka clearly knows the dishes Bluefin will serve like the back of his hand. He said a great amount of thought went into the menu and it was important to offer a variety of seafood but to also include other dishes customers will desire. He added that the restaurant will get fresh seafood delivered four to five times a week and fresh produce six days a week.
As for the dishes he’s excited about, Sofka said he’s sure customers will want to sample the Tuna Poke, which is made with fresh bluefin tuna.
“It has an in-house poke sauce made with sesame oil, soy, a little ginger, a little garlic and a couple of other secret ingredients,” he said. “We toss the tartare (raw tuna) in there and we put it over a little bit of an Asian mix and it tastes fantastic. It’s nice and fresh.”
Sofka also said he’s expecting an appetizer named Coquille St. Jacques to be highly popular with customers who like fresh sea scallops.
“We put them in a cream sherry sauce that we made up and we put a little spin on it. It’s topped with Swiss cheese instead of Gruyere,” he said. “We do a butter panko on top of that and a little bit of Old Bay. It’s an appetizer but it’s very filling and it’s a cool little spin on the dish.”
Sofka was quick to point out that those who aren’t in the mood for seafood also will be quite pleased with the menu choices. He said items like the New York strip, filet mignon and a double-bone pork chop with a Dijon chef sauce will get patrons’ attention. And he predicted an appetizer named Sweet Sticky Ribs will quickly become popular among Villagers.
“We slow-cook St. Louis-style ribs and then we flash-fry them and toss them in a ginger-soy sauce, which is absolutely to die for,” Sofka said.
Burger lovers also will be happy at Bluefin, Sofka said, because there’s a dish coming with a wagyu-blend that he labeled spectacular.
“It’s got seven-day pickled onions that we pickle in-house, tomato jam and blue cheese crumbles,” he said. “It comes on a potato bun and it is out of this world. And the French fries that come with it, we call them Bay Fries. It’s our little secret ingredient, so those are fantastic as well.”
Needless to say, both Sofka and Dillenburg already are anticipating an exciting opening night.
“Everybody’s emotions will be a little higher and nobody wants to mess up at all,” Sofka said. “But everybody’s geared up and ready to go. We’ve been practicing for months now on the dishes.”
Dillenburg agreed, adding that he will be doing his best to anticipate and head off any issues before they arise.
“As long as we have momentum, we can crush through any walls,” he said. “The biggest thing is making sure that everybody has that high energy and they’re ready to rock and roll. I think it’s going to be amazing. There’s going to be a lot of smiles and you’re going to hear a lot of chatter. It will be something they talk about for days afterwards.”
As for Karimipour, he’s been through many opening nights over the years, having even gone so far as to resurrect Orange Blossom Hills Country Club in 2014 after it sat dormant for some time. But he said the opening of Bluefin should prove to be a special night as Villagers learn more about the unique restaurant.
“It’s such an honor to be able to serve our residents here in The Villages and to build a relationship with so many of them,” he said, “and to be able to offer them additional dining choices here in Brownwood.”