Norwegian Escape's Restaurants: Pubbelly Boys, Jose Garces, Margaritaville, and More

Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ship — the 164,600-ton Escape — is a massive ship capable of holding more than 4,000 passengers and 1,600 crew members. Pitbull, who was named the Escape's godfather, christened her with a bottle of Voli vodka at PortMiami this week.

The largest of Norwegian's 14-ship fleet, the Escape includes a three-story atrium that boasts a casino, several bars, a coffee shop, and an internet lounge. But for all the pool time, arcade games, and spa sessions, the primary draw of a cruise experience isn't the call of the ocean — it's the siren song of the buffet.

Sure, there's the standard sit-down dining room that serves three meals a day and a large buffet. But allow your hunger to be sated by some of the restaurants on board, including some South Florida favorites. The cruise line has tapped the Pubbelly Boys for their Food Republic restaurant, which features popular dishes from the restaurateurs' South Beach eateries, along with James Beard Award winner Jose Garces. The Escape is also home to the first Margaritaville at Sea. In total, there are 28 dining options, ranging from fast counter-service spots to a dinner theater. Here are some of the tastiest restaurants aboard, including a first look at Pubbelly's Food Republic.

The Supper Club hosts a nightly production of The Brat Pack Live, a cheesy mashup of '80s teen movies like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Pretty in Pink. The show features performers singing everything from "Twist and Shout" to "In Your Eyes" while you chow down on a three-course surf-and-turf dinner.

For people who want a cheeseburger in paradise, Margaritaville at Sea offers LandShark beer, burgers, and margaritas with the ocean as a backdrop.

If you prefer a buffet to Buffett, check out the seafood extravaganza, where you can have your fill of Alaskan king crab, shrimp, fresh oysters, mussels, and freshly caught swordfish and mahi-mahi.

James Beard Award winner Jose Garces takes his Latin-inspired culinary talents to two restaurants on the Escape. The chef, who owns seven restaurants in Philadelphia and several others in metro areas such as Atlantic City, Scottsdale, and D.C., serves a seafood-centric menu at his fine-dining concept, Bayamo. For an informal experience, try his tapas bar, Pincho. Garces is said to be entertaining the idea of opening a restaurant in Miami.

Food Republic is the Pubbelly Restaurant Group's eatery aboard the ship. On the inaugural cruise, the restaurant had a steady wait for diners who wanted to get a taste of the signature small plates. Jose Mendin, Andreas Schreiner, and Sergio Navarro were all at the restaurant making sure guests were happy. Mendin said he and his partners are humbled about being a part of the Escape. "It's very special. It's a good feeling."

Mendin said he spent two weeks training the staff assigned to work at Food Republic. "It's quite an experience working with people from all over the world. We have people from Belgium, Thailand, Nicaragua, Argentina. Everyone is well trained, and we have the flavors down. I'm happy with the way things are going." 

Asked about why the restaurant seemed to be one of the most popular of more than two dozen places to eat on the ship, the chef simply said, "We put a lot of love into this restaurant. There's nothing fancy, but at the end of the day, we want people to be satisfied."

At Food Republic, diners can order on an iPad at their table, and food comes as it leaves the kitchen.

Miami diners will recognize Pubbelly and Pubbelly Sushi favorites such as sliders and pastrami dumplings.

Kimchee fried rice with pineapple was fragrant and savory.

Buffalo rock shrimp had the right amount of heat — a welcome departure from the usual cruise ship offerings that tend to err on the bland side.

A limited menu of Pubbelly favorites is also available at the District Brewhouse, so you can enjoy a lobster roll with a Wynwood Brewing Company La Rubia. It's a slice of Miami's best with a spectacular ocean view.

The Norwegian Escape sails weekly from PortMiami.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss