Juana's Pagodas & Sailor's Grill turns 30 this year. This is Navarre's oldest family owned and operated business. Although I have been coming here for years, I never quite saw the "big picture" of all that is Juana's until last week while performing maintenance on the rental property. I was determined to return home to blog about it. Visitors, you won't Juana miss it.
I traveled over the Navarre Beach bridge, and although it was dark, their six beach volleyball courts were lit and full with players. Parking is along the road, outside Sailor's Grill, or a good-size lot toward the beach, and there is plenty of space.
The hostess greets you at the entrance of the Juana Shop where you can purchase all manner of beach attire, koozies, and gift items. And Skeeter Juice. More on that later.
On this day, I sat inside and recognized the couples across from me from a past visit. Last time I met this group at the adjoining Schooner Bar where they were enjoying a wine tasting. I couldn't help overhear their vibrant and interesting conversation. After recognizing me, they warmly allowed me into their conversation.
The foursome is the collective ownership of Juana's and I got the inside scoop on how it got its name by co-owner, Steve Rudski, the husband of Juana. Born Janet, at the age of three she lived in Mexico where she was called Juana, the Spanish equivalent. Juana is the name that endured. Steve started the business as a site for a boat rental business and then opened a bar, while his brother, Ken established Sailor's Grill next door offering food. Food, drink, and outdoor entertainment have merged into a sizable collection of decks and pagodas all offering good family fun to enjoy this ideal spot on the Santa Rosa Sound.
Now properly part of the group, I hoped I might be able to get some answers to an important question. What the heck can you do about the no-seeums (midges)? My body is covered in bites as a result of staining a porch until dusk. Co-owners Ken Rudski (or who I like to refer to as Indiana Jones with his signature hat) and his wife, Cheryl, signaled a young woman over from the Juana Shop. She returned with a small spray bottle that read, Skeeter Juice. From the smell, it appears to be an effective concoction of eucalyptus and other ingredients which would naturally make sense in keeping the pesky mosquitoes or no seeums away. I will surely remember that next time. I should advertise that we do spray for mosquitoes and treat fire ants - only the mosquito treatment came after my staining project.
A number of things struck me as new or changed. The kitchen and bathrooms have been relocated and the wall separating the old kitchen from the dining area is set to be removed, which in a way is nostalgic since water level markings showed how high water reached during past hurricanes Erin, Opal, Ivan and Dennis. As my new pal, Steve, explained to me, with each hurricane Juana's has really come back bigger and better each time. A proud but true statement from resilient owners.
Looking over the menu, it appears much of it is new as well. They still have my favorite Pagoda Fish Sandwich. I like the fish grilled with a Yuengling on draft served in a mason jar. I should have asked the owners why is it that beer tastes better served in a mason jar? Some new items I will highlight: Guacamole Bacon Burger was served with cotija cheese, crispy onions and a lime crema sauce. It was outstanding! Items I haven't tried yet are Smoked Tuna Melt Sandwich, Fried Green Tomato and Pimento Cheese Sandwich, Pulled Pork and Mac & Cheese Sandwich, Fish Tacos, and Avocado Chicken Salad, to name a few. They have an assortment of Galley Grub items, and their desserts should not be missed. And on this note, I apologize to co-owner Cheryl for not ordering "Cheryl's Famous Key Lime Pie." It is authentic and delicious. I've had it many times before! I also recommend a triple chocolate chip brownie. In a past trip bets were placed on how close to Atlanta I could drive before it got devoured. The answer is Montgomery, AL, approximately 170 miles from Navarre. I won! Bet was I couldn't make it to Brewton, AL (60 miles away). Win or lose, it wasn't easy staring at the container.
After dinner I moved up a flight of stairs and sat outside at Juana's Little Pagoda Bar where Cheryl's son, Nathan, was tending bar. He was outgoing and attentive to all. I paced myself on this energetic Friday night. But after chatting it up with a groomsman (and fellow Missourian) who was at Juana's to celebrate a weekend marriage, one too many attractive drinks passed under my nose. So I stepped up my game from a light beer and ordered a Blue Dolphin, a cocktail mixed with Rum, Blue Curaçao, Vodka, lemonade, and soda. I savored the drink the rest of the evening and looked around to see what else was happening at Juana's.
I stepped in to Club Pagodas, one of the newer structures. It can be rented as a beach wedding hall, but on this evening it was the indoor spot for tech-pounding dance music, laser light show, and a game of pool. Outside around the corner, adjoining Club Pagoda is Juana Bites - another new invention I never noticed before. It is a take-out window for snacks like pizza, wings, gyros, mozzarella sticks, and more. It can be enjoined anywhere on the deck, pagoda or in the club. And if Cheryl had her famous Key Lime Pie on the menu, chances are halfway through my Blue Dolphin I might not have passed it over a second time. Just an idea.
I worked my way back onto the porch toward the Pagoda Bar watching a game of beach volleyball while listening to the live band playing. I decided to enter the bar and pass by a "bouncer," better known at Juana's as an ECT - "Emotion Control Technician." I felt a little awkward walking over the sand floor in closed shoes, but I was undeterred to learn what I had been missing. As it turns out, a lot. Juana's Pagoda Bar was ranked among the top 10 Beach Bars in Florida in 2018. I placed my vote for 2019!
Covered yet open to the outside, the band played their sets, some patrons danced, some drank, while still others played pool or corn hole. On the wall next to me was the "Volley Wall of Fame" plaques that proudly displayed past beach volleyball league champions. Another banner advertised the "Juana Good Time Regatta," a three-day event of multi-hull sailboat racing. Apparently, this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the events at Juana's Pagodas that happen all year long:
New Year's Eve
Juana Be Witched Witches Brew
Annual Charity Chili Cook-Off and Volleyball Tourney
Annual Sunset Stampede
Oktoberfest Beer Tasting
Annual Juana Good Time Regatta
Sunrise Marine Beach Bash
Annual Penguin Plunge'N Paddle