Thirsty Turtle Seagrill a seafood oasis in West Palm Beach


Sal Zambito doesn’t need anyone telling him why his new sports bar, the Thirsty Turtle Seagrill, fills a gaping restaurant void in the sawgrass-tipped marshlands of west Palm Beach County.

Zambito lives across the street. He knows.

Still, avid customers were eager to show him: “They were like, ‘When do you open?! When do you open?!’ and just about ripping the front doors off the hinges,” he says, in the months before the Thirsty Turtle’s grand opening on Aug. 31.

The Thirsty Turtle, at 10130 Northlake Blvd., West Palm Beach, occupies a tiny plaza way out near unincorporated Loxahatchee and The Acreage and the manicured new city of Westlake, past the 24-square-mile wetlands of the Grassy Waters Preserve, which supply the county’s drinking water.

There’s a Publix supermarket and one Chinese takeout eatery nearby, and so is a Dunkin’, but the vast majority of diners must trek about 6 miles east to North Military Trail to find the nearest cluster of restaurants, Zambito says.

“There’s been no good food in our community,” Zambito says. “There’s nothing west but sawgrass. Like 75 percent of our customers come from The Acreage and Loxahatchee.”

Which makes his 3,000-square-foot sports grill a seafood oasis in a restaurant desert. The menu features Firecracker Shrimp Tacos, Steamed Littleneck Clams and fresh fish such as blackened dolphin, along with burgers, salads, skirt steaks and baby back ribs. Eleven flat-screen TV sets play live sports over the dining room, adorned with wood-paneled walls and a long counter bar with buoys, anchors and fish motifs mounted overhead. (“We wanted it to not look like SpongeBob [SquarePants], but with pleasing nautical themes,” Zambito says.)

Fast-talking and affable, the Brooklyn-accented owner quit his job as a banker to open the Thirsty Turtle with business partner Michael Newman. They franchised the grill from Karen and Joe Paranzino, who operate four other Thirsty Turtles in Port St. Lucie, Fort Pierce and the flagship in Juno Beach.

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“I always made the joke as a banker: I want to make a million dollars so I could lose it all as a restaurant owner,” he says. “But it was all those people banging on the windows and screaming about how much the grill was needed here, that’s why I busted my butt to open.”

What excites Zambito more is the area’s growth potential. He points to an “explosion of housing” in nearby Avenir, a sprawling community now in its construction infancy, set to add 3,900 single-family homes on wetlands thick with wood storks, pink roseate spoonbills and great blue herons.

Already, he says, 10 to 15 customers queue up daily outside the 150-seat Thirsty Turtle before it opens for lunch — and dinner is far more hectic with hourlong wait times. This weekend, the restaurant will begin accepting takeout orders, which he had skipped until now to avoid overwhelming the kitchen.

Zambito takes zero credit for the seagrill’s menu, which is identical to its sister locations. Chef Rafael Reyes-Guzman, who worked at the Thirsty Turtle’s Juno Beach outpost for a decade, created the honey-garlic sauce recipe for the popular chicken wings ($15.95 for 10; $31.50 for 20) and its desserts ($4.95-$6.50), such as the Coca-Cola Cake and the Turtle Egg (caramel surrounded by peanut butter gelato coated in milk chocolate).

The Thirsty Turtle sources its fish from 18 Florida suppliers. Fish & Chips ($15.95) are typically haddock (sometimes cod), and the menu also includes pasta ($12.95-$19.95) and handhelds ($6.95-$11.95) such as Philly Cheese Steak and Hot Corned Beef.

Happy hours are from 2 to 7 p.m. daily, when a dozen steamed clams cost $6 (normally $8.95), and drafts, bottles and well drinks get a 10-percent- to 20-percent-off discount. Live music acts are expected to follow later this fall.

Thirsty Turtle Seagrill is at 10130 Northlake Blvd., West Palm Beach. Call 561-660-8911 or visit

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