By Dawn Krebs
PORT ST. LUCIE - If you live in the Morningside area of Port St. Lucie, chances are you have driven past the Saints Golf Course more than a few times.
But what residents might not realize is the restaurant located there has brought back neighborhood dining in an exciting and delicious way.
In fact, from the dining room to the bar to the banquet room, the restaurant has something for diners of every budget.
The 19th Hole at the Saints Restaurant quietly reopened almost a year ago with new owners, Carl Bussett and Rick Aslin.
"We were trying to create a casual, neighborhood place," Mr. Bussett said.
From the crowd that built as I and my dining companion enjoyed our dinner, it looked like they are well on their way to succeeding.
We had arrived earlier than we usually do, and were quickly greeted and shown our seats.
In addition to the regular menu that offers a variety of breakfast, subs, burgers, salads and "sand-wedges," we were also given a separate menu of dinner items they were preparing specifically that evening.
"Everything is made fresh," Mr. Bussett said. "The sauces, the desserts, everything."
With that in mind, I started my dinner with an appetizer of fried golf balls, fresh mozzarella that has been hand-breaded and fried.
It came out hot and steamy with a large side of flavorful, chunky marinara sauce. The glossy cheese had the perfect level of gooeyness, and the large portion had me returning to them throughout the dinner.
My companion ordered one of the dinner specials that evening, the stuffed peppers with vegetables and a side of the evening's soup, clam and corn chowder.
I had the chicken parmesan over penne pasta with a salad.
If we had been there for lunch instead of dinner, I still would have gotten the fried golf balls, because the appetizer menu is available all day. But looking over the sandwich choices, I would have had trouble making a choice between the varieties.
There are sub sandwiches with choices of bread, eight varieties of meat from which I had to choose two, cheese, vegetables and sauce.
There are also hamburgers, grilled Portobello mushroom sandwiches, hot dogs that come plain, with Coney Island sauce, with sauerkraut on a pretzel roll or topped with chili. On Mondays, the burgers are on special for $5.
But I think when I come back I'll probably try one of the many "sand-wedges," which include white fish with homemade tartar sauce, fish tacos, pulled pork, chicken in different ways, or even tuna, egg or chicken salad.
For those watching their waistlines, the restaurant offers numerous salad choices.
The soup and salad had arrived, and I was pleased to see all the extra veggies on the salad. The soup was also delicious, creamy with chunks of clams and potatoes. The fresh corn in the soup gave it an extra bite.
After all that food, I was almost full, and the dinners hadn't even arrived yet. When they came out, I was amazed at the large portions.
My chicken parmesan took up half the plate, and was breaded in the same breading that was used for the mozzarella balls. It was incredibly juicy and tender. The chicken came smothered in marinara sauce and more fresh mozzarella cheese. Along with the chicken was perfectly cooked penne pasta that still had a little bite, and garlic bread.
My companion also had a delicious meal, with not one but two stuffed green peppers. The peppers had a flavorful combination of beef and rice, and were also served with marinara sauce and cheese. The meat stuffing was flavored very well and had a traditional feel.
After all that food, we were too full for dessert, but a quick glance at the menu revealed cannolis, apple pie, chocolate cake and apple crisp, all homemade.
Meanwhile, the crowd who came in was getting ready for a trivia competition that takes place once a week at the restaurant on Wednesday evenings. Mr. Bussett said he was trying to offer different events.
Their banquet room is available for holiday parties, corporate meetings and special events.
On Tuesdays, they offer free line dancing lessons. Friday nights offer music and karaoke.
And the restaurant has recently brought Clapping Monkey, a local entertainment company, on board to offer monthly mystery dinner theaters and improvisational comedy nights.
If that's not enough to bring people in, the restaurant has gift certificates and even a loyalty card that rewards customers in different ways for using it.
"For example, one of the ways we give back is when you first get it and put $50 on it, we will add another 20 percent," Mr. Bussett said. "It's a nice loyalty program."
It really doesn't matter if someone is going for the great food, the many drink specials from the full bar or the great events, the 19th Hole at the Saints Restaurant has something for everyone.
"We just want Port St. Lucie to know we're here," he said.
The 19th Hole at the Saints Restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call (772) 337-0180 or go online to www.19thholeansandpiperroom.com. The Facebook page is 19th Hole and Sandpiper Room.