By Cynthia McFarland • Photos By John Jernigan
With its scenic golf course setting, it’s no surprise that on any given night, players who have taken in an afternoon on the fairways are among the patrons at Nancy Lopez Legacy Country Club. But you needn’t know your “birdies” from your “bogeys” to enjoy dining at this graciously appointed restaurant south of Ocala.
The words “country club” and “class” seem to go hand in hand, and that is certainly true at Nancy Lopez Legacy. However, the beauty of this dining spot is that you only need dress up if the mood strikes. Thanks to the welcoming Florida casual atmosphere, patrons in golf attire feel just as at home as those in a tux. Whether it’s an elegant celebration or simply a gathering of good friends after hours on the course, the coup de maitre is that high-caliber service and excellent food are always part of the deal.
Don’t expect a stuffy club setting. Instead, you settle into your booth or table in a building that feels like a gracious, sprawling southern home. Our table was situated in one of the large-end dining rooms that offer a friendly, porch-like setting although totally enclosed. The floral carpeting, bay window, and blue shutters add to the garden feel, as did the serene garden view from our windowside table. The white wooden furniture and linen tablecloths are complemented by fresh flowers on each table.
In the three years since Nancy Lopez Legacy opened, the restaurant has made a name for itself with outstanding service combined with a varied and satisfying menu. General Manager John McDonough and Executive Chef Chris Lipa work with an efficient staff to create a tantalizing array of options from the kitchen.
The chance to unwind after a hectic week beckoned us to make the short drive to The Villages recently. Happily, it turned out that all of the promising things we had heard about dinner at Nancy Lopez Legacy were true. Our server, Thomas, was enthusiastic and helpful, explaining any menu items we questioned. He was also right on target with suggestions for wine and entrée pairings. By the end of the evening, I had no doubt we were in good hands with all of his recommendations.
After perusing the wine list, I chose a light, fruity Riesling and my companion, following Thomas’ advice, went with one of their specialty drinks, the Legacy Colada. This festive, colorful creation swirls together both strawberry daiquiri and pina colada and the frosty goblet is topped with whipped cream, a cherry, and a wedge of fresh pineapple. It tastes like Florida summer in a glass.
After dining here, we strongly endorse having an appetizer before dinner. Good for you if you’re dining with friends because you can justify trying several different appetizers and not just one!
From a wide assortment, we chose the Pot Stickers (steamed dumplings filled with pork and served with Oriental vegetables in a plum ponzu sauce), Oysters Rockefeller (perfectly baked fresh oysters topped with creamed spinach and Parmesan), and Crab Cakes (hearty lump crab cakes sautéed golden brown and presented with mango-butter sauce). Thomas says his favorite appetizer is the Escargot.
“It’s the best I’ve ever had anywhere!” he proclaims.
Other choices include Crab and Spinach Dip Al Forno, Grilled Chicken Wings, Shrimp Cocktail, Shrimp and Chorizo, and Lavosh, a thin, cracker-style crust baked with slices of Danish Havarti cheese and served with dill salsa and guacamole. There are also several appetizer pizzas that would make a great start or even a light meal.
Choosing only one starter presents a challenge, but if you find yourself in this predicament, the Lobster Al Forno is a most worthy selection. We deemed this delectable number our hands-down favorite. Tender morsels of lobster are bathed in Gorgonzola garlic butter and sprinkled with Italian bread crumbs. I was trying to figure out a polite way to lick the dish, but decided our corner of the restaurant was too busy for such activity! Fortunately, it is served with breadsticks, perfect for soaking up every last drop of the rich garlicky butter.
Before you get down to the business of ordering entrees, your server will be sure to describe the evening’s specials. There are usually two or three seafood specials each night, in addition to the menu offerings.
Most entrees come with vegetable and a starch. They vary nearly every night. On the evening we dined, baby carrots and savory parmesan mashed potatoes were featured. The house salad is additional, which gives you the option of pacing yourself and opting for an appetizer and/or dessert instead.
Suitable for entrée status are the Warm Lobster Salad, Oriental Chicken Salad, and Salad Mediterraneo, which featured grilled shrimp and veggies. There is a Classic Caesar Salad and you can top this or any salad with grilled portions of chicken, salmon, tuna, New York strip, or Portobello mushroom.
Among the salads on the menu is the Tomato Salad Napolitana, my absolute favorite. Slices of ripe tomato are layered with mild, soft Buffalo Mozzarella and drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar and dollops of fresh pesto. Although determined to save room for the rest of my meal, I couldn’t resist eating every bite of this perfectly flavored dish, which would also make an ideal appetizer.
Management has done a masterful job of gathering a variety of entrees, while not overwhelming guests with too many choices. Among the signature items is the Legacy Chop, a 12-ounce bone-in rib cut pork chop, marinated with fresh herbs, then grilled and served with apple cobbler. Another popular choice is the Herb-Crusted Chicken Breast, which is topped with smoky-fresh Mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and lemon sauce.
Pasta fans will find several options, including Pine Nut-Crusted Chicken over fettuccine with a pesto cream sauce; penne paste with hand-crushed whole plum tomato and grilled chicken; lobster-stuffed pasta; and grilled shrimp sautéed with zucchini, yellow squash, and sun-dried tomatoes in an herb Chardonnay sauce over fettuccine.
Lobster lovers will want to reserve Monday nights when they can feast on a meal of succulent twin tails for just $19.95. Dinner includes vegetable and potato.
Grilled salmon, rainbow trout, stuffed chicken mahi-mahi, veal, rib eye, New York strip, lamp chops, and roast duck also make tempting appearances. Many items are prepared over oak wood on the grill for added flavor. After listening to Thomas’ mouthwatering description of the tilapia fish special and his hearty recommendation of the Filet Blanco y Negro, we placed our order.
“If you’re fond of each other, I’m sure he won’t mind sharing some of his steak with you,” Thomas remarked, freeing me of the tough choice of deciding between beef or seafood.
A mild white fish, the tilapia was sautéed until golden brown with a delicate crunch on the edges. It was crowned with lump crab, lobster, and shrimp and smothered in a light cream sauce.
The Filet Blanco y Negro put to rest any concerns about ordering a filet outside a steakhouse. Perfectly flavored and tender enough to cut with a butter knife, this grilled eight-ounce cut was served with a brandied peppercorn cream sauce and a peppercorn demi-glace, neither of which overpowered the meat itself. (Ever gracious, my companion did indeed share his filet, much to my delight.)
Save room for dessert! is always my mantra when dining out. Sometimes this is easier said than done. At Nancy Lopez Legacy, we barely managed to accomplish this task, but several items on the dessert menu demanded sampling. After-dinner coffee drinks are also available to round out your meal.
As on the dinner menu, there is a good variety sure to please a wide range of appetites. An array of choices tempted us, including Cinnamon Streusel Bread Pudding, Madagascar Crème Brulee, and Profiterole Au Chocolate, to name only a few. We finally narrowed it down to the Chilled Key Lime Soufflé and the Chocolate Lava Cake.
Anyone expecting typical key lime pie will be pleasantly surprised by this unusual twist on the traditional. A frosty, chilled soufflé with tropical flavors, this sweet creation is highlighted by meringue, graham cracker crumbs, and a colorful drizzle of sauces.
The Chocolate Lava Cake should come with a warning that this dessert will lead to spontaneous sighs and moans of chocolate-induced ecstasy. The small, but lethal, chocolate bunt cake is filled with a molten Godiva chocolate center, and is presented on an island of Bailey’s Irish Cream sauce and accompanied by vanilla bean ice cream resting on a bed of toasted almonds. John McDonough isn’t exaggerating when he describes it as “chocolate decadence at its best.” All I can say is a heart-felt “Amen!”
A number of patrons found their way into the adjacent lounge after dining to work off a few calories dancing to the duo performing that evening. Live music can be enjoyed there every Friday evening from 7 to 11pm.
The country club is also open for lunch and guests will find many of the same appetizer and salad options as on the dinner menu, in addition to a host of substantial sandwiches, burgers, and more.
From Florida casual to black tie, this is one dining destination that caters to both, and does so quite masterfully.
Nancy Lopez Legacy Country Club
8455 SE 172nd Legacy Lane
The Villages, Fla. 32161
Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11am-3pm
Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 4-9pm
Friday & Saturday, 4-9:30pm
Dinner menu served on Sunday from 12-9pm
Also, the Nancy Lopez Legacy Country Club is an ideal location for seminars and special events. Four private rooms are available and each holds from 15 to 65 persons. Contact Banquet Director Dorothy Beck to reserve the best spot for your next event.