Before arriving in Florida, P’tit Soeur and Sweet Pea were arguing about the best cheap eats for lunch. P’tit Soeur loves Chipotle, a Mexican chain, Sweet Pea dreams of chicken at Pollo Tropical, a chicken chain, and though they could not agree, they claimed that the best place for lunch on Sunny Isles beach was The Thunderbird. This is not a place that you dress up for; you literally walk down the beach in your bikini and head to this outdoor bar and grill connected to a Days Inn motel. If your feet are sandy from the beach they offer a hose to clean yourself off. Pure class. This is a place that you stop for a quick lunch on the beach before returning to lie in the sun all afternoon. You can either sit in the outdoor bar, on plastic terrace tables by the pool or under little tropical straw huts overlooking the beach.
The best part of the Thunderbird is “the bucket,” which is literally a plastic Malibu bucket filled with banana liqueur, pineapple juice, every Malibu flavour, cranberry juice and Meyer’s dark rum. For 10$ you can enjoy a delicious bucket o’ cocktail that does not taste strong at all, but trust us, it isn’t a mild drink. It is inexpensive for the amount of alcohol that you are getting and it immediately puts you in a good mood. There are all sorts of characters that go to the Thunderbird, families, alcoholics, white trash, ethnics, Mexicans, etc. Some are drinking beer, others cocktails and one man ordered a glass of red wine with his lunch…. ummm, do you not see where you are? We really wanted to know if the wine had a year on the bottle, or even a country. At least it didn’t come from a box!
The Thunderbird has charm, old French Canadian Quebec charm, and we instantly felt at home. It is run by some old Montrealers /Lavalers who summered in Florida and never went home. Now they run this bar and grill and only hire their own, more Quebecois/Quebecoise relics. Their skin is over tanned and looks like leather, their faces are overdone with makeup and somehow they manage to squeeze into their gogo shorts and sexy off the shoulder tops. We went there twice when we were in Florida and on one of our visits one waitress was wearing leg warmers and sheer stockings under her scandalous Daisy Duke short shorts. Oh and FYI, the Thunderbird does not have air conditioning; kudos to her for putting up with the Florida heat.
Even though they have lived in Florida for years, their Francophone accents are thick, so thick that when Sweet Pea and Diva #1 had asked for the name of this grill, to review it of course, we heard John the Bird. The restaurant does not even have a sign… It was only after searching the internet for hours, and constant teasing from P’tit Soeur, that we realized that John the Bird was actually the Thunderbird. This led to a fit of giggles and only further exemplified our experience!
When you enter the Thunderbird you enter a twilight zone into a small town in 1960s Northern Quebec, all without ever leaving the beach in Florida. On one of our visits, our waitress/barmaid told us how she used to work for Playboy in the 1960s before settling down as a waitress. As you can see, you go to Thunderbird for the stories; the food is secondary.
On our first lunch we all ordered the bacon cheeseburger with coleslaw and French fries. It was filling and tasted like a typical junky Montreal burger. You could even order a side of poutine, à la Quebec, and it was interesting hearing everyone speak French at the grill, including the musician providing the live music. Apparently many people from Quebec know where to go to feel at home in Florida; many of the customers spoke in Quebec French to the staff and it seemed like we found out where the Montrealers hang out in Florida. We ate our burgers and sluggishly returned to the beach where Diva #1 and P’tit Soeur passed out in the sun until Sweet Pea woke us to go into the water.
On our second lunch at the Thunderbird we could not decide what to order. We were recommended the chicken tenders but when the waitress used the old rotary phone to dial the kitchen, she was told that there were none left. In a conspiratory tone she told us not to get the tuna because it wasn’t fresh and she didn’t know what would happen to us. P’tit Soeur was disturbed and Sweet Pea and Diva #1 could not stop laughing.
Diva #1 and P’tit Soeur decided to share the shrimp salad platter and the chicken basket after seeing the greasy chicken basket go by for someone else. The chicken was so deep fried that Colonel Sanders would have blushed but the chicken pieces were huge and there were 3 pieces per order. Once again fries accompanied our meal, as well as a BBQ sauce and a mayo based dipping sauce. Not the lightest meal for a day at the beach. The chicken was delicious, even though our arteries were clogged and our cholesterol levels were soaring.
Sweet Pea also had the shrimp salad platter. Our waitress assured us that the shrimp was fresh as she readjusted her wig/hair and the flower in it; we were debating if her hair was real the whole time. The shrimp salad platter had potato salad, coleslaw, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes with a few shrimp and pita bread. Olives and lettuce were also tossed in this odd platter and a cocktail sauce was provided for dipping. Definitely a refreshing option for the beach, but still odd and a little tasteless. Clearly we will not be rating the Thunderbird; we are not quite sure where it would fit in but as for the experience, well in that case it was top notch.
As we drank from our bucket and took in our surroundings, we noticed a number of odd things. For one, our waitress was smoking her fifth cigarette since we arrived an hour ago under a giant no smoking sign behind the bar. All the patrons seemed to know her and greeted her, albeit some of the male patrons more affectionately than others. We couldn’t understand where the kitchen was; someone would call the rotary phone and yell in French, the food would also come in bags and to go containers as if the Thunderbird did not have food at all. We were then told an odd story about our waitress/barmaid/playboy bunny leaving Montreal to escape some love conflict and how she never married because of it. At this point, Sweet Pea and Diva #1 seriously contemplated moving to Florida and working at the Thunderbird: a new generation of Montrealers has to keep up the spirit and eventually take over this dive.
You must understand that the Thunderbird is a typical cheap grill on the beach. There are hundreds of them all along Sunny Isles beach in Florida waiting to nab and overcharge unsuspecting tourists. But the Thunderbird is different. It has old Quebecer charm, waitresses that smoke too much, drink too much and generally just overdo it; this is part of its appeal. Finding a small Quebec town in Florida sure made us homesick for Montreal… and a bit bewildered.
Tagged: Bar, Beach, Bucket, Caesar Salad, Cheeseburger, Chicken Basket, Chicken Salad, Chicken Tenders, Chicken Wings, Cocktails, Collins Avenue, Days Inn, Florida, Grill, Hamburger, Malibu, Onion Rings, Pizza, Poutine, Shrimp Salad Platter, Sunny Isles, terrace, Thunderbird, Thunderbird Days Inn, Thunderbird Florida, Thunderbird Sunny Isles, USA