Q&A with John and Lisa Ciulla, Owners of West Palm's Bahama Mama's

Nicole Danna

John and Lisa Ciulla, owners of Bahama Mama's in West Palm Beach
​A trip to the islands may only be an hour or two boat ride from the coast of West Palm Beach, but if that's still too far away, Charlie's got an idea for you:

Head on over to Bahama Mama's, the new Caribbean-style restaurant off Clematis St. Everything from the white and blue-washed walls, to the fresh-catch fare, will bring you -- or, more precisely, your taste buds -- there in an instant.

With a fish-focused, island-style menu and easy-breezy atmosphere, the three-month-old restaurant is the brainchild of owner John Ciulla, a lifelong Florida fisherman and restaurant industry veteran who also just so happens to love vacationing in the Bahamas. 

Eleuthera, to be exact, where he and wife, Lisa, enjoy sampling the island's local delicacies -- a passion that has now become the basis of their extensive and creative menu.

Recently, the couple was happy to sit down and share the story and vision behind their new venture. Here's what they had to say:

​Clean Plate Charlie: So, John, you spearfish. Is it true that you also serve some of what you catch here at the restaurant?

Bahama Mama's: Well, I've been spearfishing for more than 20 years, and was lucky to grow up on the water [with a] boat. I go out [fishing] at least two times a week, less now that I own a restaurant, but some of what I catch does make its way back to the restaurant. Mostly, it's just spiny lobster. A majority of the fish is brought in three to four times a week from local, licensed seafood suppliers. And nothing is farm raised here except for the vegetables. [John holds a wholesale fishing license that allows him to legally sell some of what he catches at the restaurant].

You've been in over 200 tournaments. What's your biggest catch?

A 100-pound grouper this past July, during the Palm Beach Open Spearfishing Tournament. That was a great day.

You and Lisa love Eleuthera. Tell me how it's influenced your menu.

Our chef, Randy McCartney, is actually from Eleuthera, too. His recipes are the authentic island and Bahamian-style dishes, [appetizers] like the conch fritters, chowder and salad. For entrees, his Cupid's Cay Fish Fry is amazing. It's a whole snapper fried island style with julienned peppers in a white wine butter sauce. But t
he fisherman's recipes and special creations are my doing, like our Grouper Eleutheran.

I hear there's a story behind that dish...

When I was vacationing [in Eleuthera] I speared a grouper and went to cook it. It's a quiet island -- there aren't any Publix there. I only had a few ingredients: some mango, pineapple and Captain Morgan rum. That's the same way I prepare it here, in a mango-pineapple chutney with just a hint of island heat.

What are some other house specialties?

We really tried to think outside the box with this menu. We'll try anything, so you'll see that in a lot of our dishes, but mostly we focus on authentic, Bahamian recipes. My favorites are the Briland Snapper (snapper served over house made crab cakes with a lime bearnaise sauce), and our signature Minced Lobster (minced, sauteed lobster with peppers, thyme, onions and tomatoes stuffed back into its own shell). We also have a large "land lubbers" list, with dishes like our House Filet (10-ounce filet mignon with merlot-caramalized onions). We like to call it candy steak.

I heard you say you'll be adding to the menu. What's new?

Starting [Thursday, Jan. 27] we will have a full raw bar. And rock shrimp. Fresh, local caught rock shrimp from up the coast.

Last, but certainly not least, tell me about your cocktails. You've got standards like the "Bahama Mama" and daiquiris, but what are your most popular?

First of all, we use all fresh fruit purees in our frozen drinks -- no mixes here. We spent several months coming up with this menu, researching the drink recipes to get as close to the authentic island drinks as we could.

Our Goombay Smash (spiced and coconut rums with apricot brandy, pineapple orange juices) is one. It's the national drink of the Bahamas. And the Nipper (a "secret" blend of juices with rum and Nassau Royal). Both are as close to the authentic, original recipe you'll find in the islands. It isn't exact, but we've been told [by the creator's daughter] that we're pretty darn close.

The Rum Bubba (fruit punch with island rums) is our strongest drink, by far. We say "bring a driver" on the menu for a reason. 

What's this mystery drink I see in your frozen drink machine?

It's our Tijiuana Mama. There are four different types of fruit purees mixed with tequila. It was actually an accident. I had run out of the ingredients to make another drink, and put the last of what we had together. It was a hit, and has been outselling all our other drinks ever since.

A trip to the Bahamas with no boat required? This is one taste vacation we can't wait to plan. Bahama Mama's, here we come!

340 Clematis St.
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
(561) 659-2912

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.

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Bahamian in Boynton
Bahamian in Boynton

I was there with my son yesterday for lunch and it was perfect. Great food and service. I am from the Bahamas and I spoke to the chef who is the "real deal".Check it out!!!!!


The food is fresh and the atmosphere is great ! I love this place ! Can't wait to do the all you can eat rock shrimp ;)

Joey the Torch
Joey the Torch

This place is brillant. I have been there many times and everything that was said is absolutely true. The food is delicious but one word consistantly comes to mind, fresh. You can not find fresher seafood and you can taste the difference immediatly. The Briland snapper is delicious and the minced lobster simply can not be beat. I cant wait to go back. They should have named it Heaven.

Briland Percente
Briland Percente

Ahhh am I dreamin..an authentic fish shack in WPB that emulates the flavors of Briland...Living on the island nothing is better than the fresh catch prepared with the minimilist of ingredients...Now I've got Sheila's and Momma's..Best of luck to u mon, I am thinking a clematis Junkanoo next Boxing day!!!

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