Casa Marina Hotel - Chef Aaron Webb - Jacksonville Biz Journal
Today the Penthouse Lounge offers an ever-changing menu of fresh Southern and local cuisine in a space overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. But a little more than a decade ago, the same space was the laundry room and storage area of the Casa Marina, a historic beachfront hotel in Jacksonville Beach.
Under the leadership of Executive Chef Aaron Webb, the Casa Marina has established itself over 12 years as a popular dining venue, Sunday buffet brunch location and, most recently, a beachfront lunch and dinner spot.
The hotel, at 691 N. First St., has a long history that began in the 1920s. Although it began as a hotel, the building has also been military housing during World War II, apartments, a tearoom and a clothing store. It was also closed for a number of years before being reopened as an historic hotel.
Webb graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 1999 and spent time learning the catering and restaurant business there before relocating to Jacksonville to take a position at Sterlings in Avondale. He joined the Casa Marina in 2001.
He describes the style of cuisine at the Casa Marina as “new beach,” which includes a mix of local and Southern tastes.
The menus for banquets are catered to each individual event, and the Casa Marina hosts about 130 events per year. The restaurant’s buffet, served in the dining hall on the first floor, is a local mainstay each Sunday. The hotel’s newest addition, The Penthouse Lounge, opened in 2005 and changes constantly.
The Lounge, located on the third floor of the hotel, serves lunch and dinner. The lunch menu includes items such as the duck confit taco, burgers, mahi sandwiches and salads. The dinner menu, which is served beginning at 5 p.m., is tapas style. Tapas plates are small plates of food that are meant to be shared. Some of the tapas menu items include homemade chips with blue cheese crumbles and rosemary balsamic reduction, Kobe sliders and baked brie en croute.
The Casa Marina is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and is also a member of the group Historic Hotels of America. Mark Vanderloo, the general manager of the hotel and the restaurant, said it isn’t always easy keeping up with an historic building, but it is always worth it.
Being a small business that provides such an array of services for large crowds isn’t always easy either, and requires a lot of teamwork for the small 11-person kitchen, he said.
“The team has built this business from the ground up and understands it from the inside out,” Vanderloo said.
Through it all, he said, the quality of the food is always the top priority.
“We just try to remain flexible,” Vanderloo said. “We don’t sacrifice the food quality.”