SPRING HILL — Even before they leave home, diners might do well to peruse online the voluminous menu offered at Gator's Dockside, one of the newest and most spacious restaurants to tempt Spring Hill's palate.
Among 18 "gatorizers," 14 entrees, 23 burgers and sandwiches, seven salads with 11 dressings, and 14 sides, franchisee Jerry Roberts said, "We do a lot of wings."
Chicken wings are served up with a choice of 20 sauces, from Gator's Own Scooter, the most popular, to 4-Alarm Suicide. Many are concocted on the premises.
But the differences begin before it's time to choose a sauce.
"Our wings are fresh, one of the unique things about us," said Roberts, who has opened five Gator's restaurants over 13 years, from his hometown of Gainesville, south to Tampa.
Among other wing places, 99 percent serve poultry's No. 1 portion straight from the fryer, Roberts said.
"Ours are first deep fried, then tossed in sauce, then grilled," he said. "It sears in the flavor, and these are not sloppy."
The scooter sauce is a mix of honey and garlic — "very smooth," he said. Roberts' own favorite is Parmesan garlic. The newest, peanut butter and jelly, gives him pause, he admitted, but it's a kid pleaser.
Roberts added, "People consider us a wing place, but we sell a ton of burgers, sell a lot of entree salads, also steaks. The ahi tuna is really, really great. The last couple of years, we've had a rib promotion."
The restaurant's namesake only appears as one dish on the menu — hand-battered gator tail gatorizer, generous enough for sharing. The restaurant's gator is farm raised, but is limited in supply and thus pricey, the owner explained.
Otherwise, customer remarks for the "Wings, Ribs, Seafood & Sports" emporium have been highly positive since it opened Feb. 3, with social media calculating 4.8 stars out of 5, Roberts said.
Outdoor dining adds to the restaurant's allure, with seating for 50 on a 1,500-square-foot covered patio built onto the southern end of Lakewood Plaza. Smoking is permitted outdoors. The 4,800-square-foot indoor portion of the restaurant seats 180.
High-mounted big-screen TVs mean diners can catch sports broadcasts with nary a turn of the head.
Catching the eye of a server is no problem either.
"The service here is very good," diner Mary Trinosky said on a recent Friday evening, explaining that she and her husband, Tom, had left a nearby restaurant after failing to get waited on after 15 minutes. They were eating big burgers at Gator's in less than 15 minutes.
"We brought in a number of trainers," for the more than 50 new hires, Roberts said. "Also, advance hires we sent to other restaurants (for training). We relocated four managers here from other cities and hired a couple managers here."
Lunch specials and happy hour with a full liquor bar are offered daily. Almost every evening has a special. Monday is all-you-can-eat wings day. On Tuesday children eat free and watch kids' videos. Takeout is available.
As for competition in the area, Roberts said, "Any casual dining restaurant is probably a direct competitor, but we're our own worst competition because we have to be good every day.
"We love what we do and plan to be in the community a long time."
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]