Tiki Bar and Grill: Caribbean twist in a laid-back atmosphere

News-DemocratMay 19, 2013 

Owners Debbie DeLassus and Bob Middleton want people to feel like they're on vacation at Tropical Escape Tiki Bar and Grill in Edwardsville.

Murals of beach scenes cover the walls. A thatched roof tops the bamboo hostess stand. Props range from tropical flowers to surfboards, palm trees to pink flamingos.

"We love the atmosphere," said customer Sue McCormick, 67, of Hamel, who had just finished dinner with her husband, Don, on a recent weeknight.

"It's comfortable. It's friendly, and it's just so different. We feel like we're somewhere else besides Illinois."

The McCormicks eat at the restaurant two or three times a week. It reminds them of their many trips to the beach.

"They make the prettiest tropical drinks, and they're delicious," said Sue, a retired English teacher. "I usually drink wine, but I've had a couple of tastes. And they have wonderful entertainment."

Tropical Escape opened last September in Club Centre, off Illinois 157. It's much different than Neruda, a fine-dining restaurant that occupied the space for 14 years.

"It's bright and fun," said Debbie, 47, of Brighton. "It's laid-back. It's casual. We want people to have a good time."

Debbie is president of Parrot Heads of the Riverbend, the local chapter of Parrot Heads in Paradise, an international organization of Jimmy Buffet fans who raise money for charity through social events.

"Our motto is, 'Party with a Purpose,'" said Bob, 71, of Godfrey, who also is a board member.

The restaurant serves American food with a Caribbean twist, including appetizers such as Ja'makin' Me Crazy Wings with sweet and spicy sauce; salads such as the Tropic Cobb with pineapple relish; sandwiches such as the Turkey, Lettuce and Cucumber (TLC) with avocado mayo; and entrees such as the Island Spiced Pork Chop with papaya salsa.

"Caribbean Kebobs is our top seller, and the Jerk Chicken is right behind it," Debbie said. The sauce has "a little kick to it, but it's not bad. If you want it spicier, you can get it that way."

A trip to Mexico in 2006 turned Debbie on to all things tropical. Two years later, she went to a Jimmy Buffet concert in Chicago.

"I fell in love with the people," she said. "They're just so friendly and fun."

Debbie and Bob met through her former job as manager of a chiropractic office and got to know each other at Parrot Head conventions in Florida. He's a retired teacher and principal in Alton School District.

The friends always had wanted to own a restaurant, so they did research, took classes and opened Tropical Escape.

"It's pretty relaxing after wearing a suit and tie for 31 years," said Bob, who now reports for work in a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and tennis shoes.

The restaurant hosts a variety of live music from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Parrot Heads Todd and Jane Alexander drive about twice a month from Hazelwood, Mo.

"I always get the Mac 'n' Cheese as a side dish, no matter what else I get," said Todd, 52. "It's excellent. Tonight, they added seafood, and that makes it more of a meal."

At a glance

What: Tropical Escape Tiki Bar & Grill

Where: 4 Club Centre Court in Edwardsville, off Illinois 157

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays

Music: 7 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Seating: 150

Handicap-accessible: Yes

Party room: Yes

Information: (618) 659-9997 or www.tropicalescape-il.com

On the menu

Ja'makin Me Crazy Wings -- Eight wings marinated, fried and smothered in sweet and spicy sauce, $7.25

Tropic Cobb Salad -- Loads of bacon, ham, shrimp, eggs, avocado and pineapple relish over mixed greens, $9.50

BALT Sandwich -- Bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato on white or wheat bread or bun, served with chips and pickle spear, $6.95

Big Jerk Burger -- Eight-ounce burger seasoned with house jerk, grilled and topped with goat cheese, bacon, tomato and sauce in a crispy shell, served with chips and pickle spear, $7.95

Island Spiced Pork Chop -- Lightly spiced with house seasoning, grilled and topped with papaya sauce, served with two sides, $10.95

Seafood Curry -- Sauteed white fish, shrimp and mussels with spicy mango curry sauce and coconut rice, $10.95

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