Graeme McDowell is many things to many people: father, son, husband, brother, tour pro, major winner, Ryder Cup star, owner of the world’s finest mid-Atlantic accent. He fits a lot of bills.
He’s also a restaurateur, courtesy of his two Nona Blue eateries: one in Orlando and another in Ponte Vedra Beach.
The former opened in 2013 and is a collaboration between the 2010 US Open champion and veteran restaurateurs Joe Davi and Bill Bona. The trio were introduced in 2011. Davi and Bona’s vision for a new ‘modern tavern’ resonated with McDowell, who came on board and, in 2013, the first restaurant opened in the developing (and swish) Orlando district of Lake Nona.
It proved so successful it was followed by a sister restaurant in Ponte Vedra Beach in 2016.
During a recent visit to the Orlando area, I checked out the original.
Nona Blue gets so many things right, chief amongst them being its total lack of ostentation. Its exterior is neither brash, nor bright, nor lit by bright neon signs that scream “This Is The Place That G-Mac Owns”. Instead, it’s classy and understated, the sort of place you could easily drive past without realising it’s there.
It manages to achieve something that is actually pretty difficult: unforced sophistication.
Food & Drink
The menu is huge and hearty, so you’ll struggle to find something you don’t like.
Also, if you’re wondering what G-Mac likes to eat, a ‘Nona Blue’ logo is handily displayed next to his favourite items on the menu. There’s plenty of variety, from Lemon Chicken to Traditional English Fish & Chips to Mac & Cheese. And not just any old Mac & Cheese… G-Mac & Cheese, served with Maine lobster or Applewood smoked bacon and a rich cheese sauce.
The Paneed North Atlantic scallops, served with grilled asparagus and couscous sounded good, too, but, in the end, I went with the Nona Blue Burger. The burger industry has been booming over the last few years but (at least in my opinion) the extravagant descriptions on the menu seldom match what you ultimately get.
So, it’s fair to say I was a bit sceptical at the promise of a ‘three-meat blend’ burger, even if it is a two-time winner of the Orlando Sentinel’s ‘Best Burger In Orlando’ award.
I was very pleasantly surprised.
It was sensational. Genuinely. I could have eaten it twice.
Even better, it all came on one plate. Not a slate. Not a chopping board. Not any of the other obscure domestic items that double as alternative serving options in this hipster-riddled world of ‘upcycling’ and repurposing. Just a single white plate. No brass pots for the chips either. Excellent stuff.
This was washed down with a pint (okay, two pints) of Harp Lager. There are around 16 craft beers on the menu but, in the end, it had to be a drop of Irish nectar. Anything else would have felt a bit wrong.
Nona Blue is a bricks and mortar embodiment of G-Mac: chilled out, fun, ‘here for a good time’.
The staff are courteous, efficient and clearly love the restaurant’s USP. Even so, they don’t over-egg it. If you want to know where G-Mac likes to sit, ask and they’ll gladly tell you – but they won’t force unsolicited info about their famous owner on you. I quite like that.
The dim lighting creates a cool ambiance, whilst the centrally located bar (complete with multiple TV screens above it showing wall-to-wall sport) gives off the ‘sports bar’ vibe that I absolutely love. You just don’t get enough of that anymore in this age of swanky cocktail bars and ‘artisan’ pretentiousness.
Meanwhile, the largely exposed-brick walls have all kinds of memorabilia that doff a cap to McDowell’s heritage, from classic seaside-style posters of Portrush to black and white framed photos of U2.
It’s a bit like a good old Dublin boozer has had a romp in the sack with Cheers and procreated this.
Value for money
Surprisingly good. My main cost $13, which, for Orlando, is exceptionally good. Obviously, you need to whack a service charge on top of that but, even with an extra 20% on the tab, Nona Blue is more than reasonable. The beer was a bit pricey but that’s hardly unique to Nona Blue. Plus, Harp is imported. It stands to reason it’s going to be a little more expensive in the US than it is back home.
There’s really nothing to dislike about Nona Blue. It’s a cool place, with great staff, that serves fantastic food and excellent drink, with zero affectation. Would I go back? I absolutely would – and I absolutely will.
WATCH: Welcome to golf geek heaven!
Graeme McDowell's Nona Blue restaurant isn't the only great golf attraction in Orlando. Every January, the city hosts the PGA Merchandise Show, where companies show off their latest clubs, apparel, shows, accessories and more. Check out our behind-the-scenes video from the opening day of the event... Demo Day!