Where, Exactly, Did Jimmy Buffett Eat A Cheeseburger In Paradise?

There are many famous songs that reference food and drink, including Hank Williams' "Jambalaya," Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti," and UB40's "Red Red Wine," but Jimmy Buffett's food world legacy is notable in that his oeuvre includes two such hits: "Margaritaville" and "Cheeseburger in Paradise." While the former refers more to a state of mind (or intoxication), the latter may have been inspired by a particular menu item at a Florida restaurant.

According to one story, Buffett was particularly fond of the cheeseburger served up at the Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant in Pineland, Florida. This may well be true, since he was known to have frequented the place, at least long enough to sign one of the dollar bills that adorn its walls. (Other celeb signatures include JFK and Jimmy Carter.) What we don't know, however, is whether this particular cheeseburger was the one he immortalized in song. The restaurant's menu doesn't make any particular claims about Buffet's endorsement, however, and there's also the pesky little fact that a one-time tour guide has 'fessed up to starting the Cabbage Key Inn rumor themself.

A more plausible story takes place in the Caribbean

As is the case with many legends, there's a variant version of Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" backstory. Some say he was inspired by the first cheeseburger he ate when he docked his boat at a Caribbean port after a long period of eating ship's rations (although it's hardly likely that weevil-ridden hardtack was on the menu). Several restaurants have been put forth as the alleged inspiration for Buffett's burger homage, including Ma Ruby's in the Bahamas, Le Select in St. Barts, and Stanley's Welcome Bar and Restaurant in Tortola.

Buffett himself, however, disclosed in a 2002 interview with American Airlines' "American Way" magazine that the burgers came from a restaurant at the Village Cay Marina, also in Tortola. That restaurant's menu still features a burger with lettuce, tomato, and French fried potatoes, but there's no big kosher pickle and cheese is a $2 upcharge. (That cold glass of beer will probably set you back more than a few bucks, too, resort prices being what they are.)

Whether Buffett returned to the Village Cay Marina, we do not know, but he did tell American Airlines that in later years he liked to dine at the Margaritaville restaurants he once owned, along with another chain called Cheeseburger in Paradise. Although the latter is no longer with us (and neither is Buffett, alas), the former's still hanging in there under new ownership, and yes, the menu does feature a "Cheeseburger in Paradise."