Article Category: Features, Restaurant Review 1 Comment
Port Canaveral’s Cove
Living here comes with many benefits, among them being so close to Port Canaveral, which is much more than just a working port thanks to a vibrant dining and entertainment scene.
At the Cove, which is situated at the southern side of this busy, deep water harbor, a number of popular restaurants, bars, and shops draws visitors and locals year-round in search of sunshine and good times. And with the highly anticipated July 2013 opening of the Port’s Welcome Center, the area is bound to get even busier.
This month, with the weather being particularly agreeable, we here at The Resident thought we’d head out on a day-long excursion around the Cove to avail ourselves of all it has to offer.
We began our day at one of the Cove’s best-kept secrets, Auddino’s (523 Glen Cheek Dr.; 205-1210), run by Marco and Cinta Auddino. Here at this spacious bakery-cum-café, Marco and Cinta have the ability to produce over 1,000 dozen pieces of dough an hour and bake 100 dozen loaves every 10 minutes. They deliver their creations, which cover everything from Italian loaves, cookies, and pastries to Kaiser rolls, onion buns, and focaccia, to a number of local restaurants, but the really interesting thing about Auddino’s is the way they wed the efficiency of mass production with the relaxed atmosphere of a small-town café. In the morning, at the long counter and tables within, locals enjoy authentic espresso and cappuccino, excellent fresh-baked doughnuts and pastries (including fried croissants, a Columbus, Ohio specialty), and come back later for fresh subs and sandwiches, pizza, and Cinta’s baked pasta. They also recently began serving breakfast sandwiches, but it was hard to leave without sampling a few of the beautiful treats in their dessert case, a collection that covers a whole range of influences and styles. If you’re not drawn to several flavors of authentic gelato and granita, choose from staples like cookies, brownies, cream puff and horns, fritters, turnovers, and cheesecake to hard-to-find traditional items like delicate sfogliatelle, amaretti, biscotti, pizzelles, Napoleons, tiramisu, and cassata cake. You shouldn’t let any visit to the Cove go by without paying them a visit.
Nearby is Wild Ocean Seafood Market (710 Scallop Dr.; 783-2300), and though it has been known for years as a seafood wholesaler specializing in shrimp, they recently began retail operations and can prepare shrimp platters to go. For over four generations, Wild Ocean has provided local, wild-caught seafood to the area after having started out as the premier provider of Florida rock shrimp. In 1969, Titusville boat builder Rodney Thompson crafted the first fiberglass shrimp boat in the western hemisphere in order to pursue his dream of becoming a leading shrimp fisherman in the area. It was slow going for Thompson until a chance meeting with a NOAA research vessel turned fortune in his favor. Following the instructions of one Captain Barrett of the Oregon II, Thompson and his crew dropped their nets about 20 miles east of Melbourne as dusk settled in, pulling in over 1,000 pounds of rock shrimp after an hour’s worth of trawling. Referred to variously as “peanuts” and “hardheads” for their stubbornly solid shells, the shrimp couldn’t even be given away. Cleaning them of their large sand vein was simply too difficult and time consuming, but Thompson eventually fashioned a modified mechanical peeler/deveiner to solve the problem. Today, Thompson’s daughter, Sherri McCoy, runs Wild Ocean with similar perseverance and dedication to quality. Their retail market is open Monday through Thursday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. retail opens at 11 a.m. They also serve Titusville at their 688 S. Park Ave. location and can ship anywhere in the U.S. On December 1, they’ll be hosting a tasting and author Bob Jones, who’ll be signing copies of his book, “A Culture Worth Saving” before the Port’s Holiday Boat Parade from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Yet another of the Cove’s secrets can be found dockside at Seafood Atlantic (520 Glen Cheek Dr.; 784-1963). Owned by Rian Busse, this charming, family-owned retailer/eatery owes its success to a group of dedicated local commercial fisherman, and they’re committed to preserving that industry and way of life. They were incorporated in 1984 and made this location their center of operations in 1994 before opening for retail five years later and casual dining in 2009. Most of their seafood finds it way across their docks, but they also carry seafood from locations throughout the southeast, from waterways such as the Indian, St. Johns, and Banana Rivers. In addition, they carry the finest seafood from across the nation, including Alaskan king crab, Maine lobster, and wild salmon. They also carry a variety of shellfish, shrimp, and fin fish, and are a one-stop shop for your seafood needs, with items like seasonings and prepared food items. Their passion and commitment to providing quality, wild-caught seafood (as well as only the very best in organic farm-raised items) has been their trademark, and their diverse offerings make their market a destination for Floridians and tourists alike. If that weren’t enough, they serve meals on their shaded, outdoor patio — things like their “Native Bucket” (comprised of Indian River blue crab, Canaveral white shrimp, and Sebastian hard clams with corn, red potatoes, and garlic bread), fresh fish sandwiches (snapper, grouper, or mahi served on a locally-baked pretzel baguette), a delicious tuna melt, and swordfish baked in their own special marinade. Retail hours are Wednesday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Thursday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Restaurant hours are Wednesday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Closed Monday and Tuesday for both retail and dining.)
Just across the way is Smokehouse Foods (525 Glen Cheek Dr.; 784-9300). The Port might seem an odd location for an authentic barbecue joint, but regulars are happy the Smokehouse is somewhat concealed. Because here, hidden in plain sight amid a huddle of seafood grills and tiki bars, you’ll find some of the best barbecue in the county. When you learn that the Meadlocks also smoke hundreds of pounds of locally caught fish daily, the location starts to make a lot more sense. Charters regularly bring in large catches to be smoked and vacuum packed here for safe travel. Customers get to keep half the catch, and the other half is kept by the Meadlocks and either sealed and sold individually, or turned into some of their excellent smoked spreads. In their large refrigerator case, you’ll find shrimp, conch, and salmon spreads, mussels, and golden brown filets of smoked yellowfin, mahi, tilapia, wahoo, amberjack, and kingfish. All seafood is slow-smoked on the Meadlock’s 500-lb. outdoor smoker; a 600-pounder inside is reserved for succulent chicken, beef, and pork, different cuts of which are also stocked in the take-home case. Originally from North Carolina, owner Wes Meadlock lived in Alabama for 13 years, so the Smokehouse barbecue style reflects a mixture of both those states’ traditions, in particular those formed in Eastern Carolina and Northern Alabama. As such, Wes uses vinegar-based barbecue sauces (used only after the smoking stage is complete) and tops many of his sandwiches with homemade coleslaw. The Smokehouse also offers smoked sausage, pork, beef, chicken, or turkey tacos, and wide selection of wraps — from smoked fish, tuna salad, and a Costa Rican veggie style with Lizano to ham, chicken caesar, tri-tip, and pulled pork. All meats and seafood can be served as traditional sandwiches as well. Also on the menu are five special platters, including things like half chicken, pork loin, wings, and ribs. They also sell all of their own bottled sauces, as well as several other brands, and a range of deli sundries.
One of our all-time favorites is Rusty’s Seafood & Oyster Bar (628 Glen Cheek Dr.; 783-2033), the story of which began in 1948, when Bernard Fischer opened Bernard’s Surf, one of the first restaurants in Cocoa Beach. Bernard was a member of the Fischer family, which owned and operated a fleet in Port Canaveral when it was nothing more than a small fishing village. From the very beginning, to their continued success more than 60 years later, the Fischer family has not only served their community, but has hosted astronauts, movie stars, and celebrity journalists. When Bernard Fischer passed away in 1965, the family asked his nephew, Rusty Fischer to take over the restaurant. Though Rusty was in college at Florida State University, he knew his family needed him and he came home. By 1988, Rusty had opened the first Rusty’s Seafood & Oyster Bar, which became an instant success, and in 1993 he opened Rusty’s at the Port. Today, Rusty and his son Rhett (a fourth generation restaurateur) continue the family tradition in Port Canaveral where it all began. Thanks to their newly-built shaded, outdoor patio, Rusty’s is better than ever. They serve excellent seafood dishes, great turf entrees, and a wide range of generous baskets, sandwiches, salads, and appetizers. Rusty’s also offers a great nightlife scene, with top-notch entertainment and one of the friendliest bars around. Sit at their full-service bar and with fresh-shucked oysters. Rusty’s is open seven days a week, Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Check their calendar in this issue for December’s entertainment lineup.
Another highly popular spot is nearby Fishlips Waterfront Bar & Grill (610 Glen Cheek Dr.; 784-4533). Thanks to a solid entertainment roster and stellar waterfront dining, Fishlips enjoys a strong local following. Choose from appetizers like raw or steamed oysters, mussels, clams, peel-and-eat shrimp, crab legs, and fabulous wings, ahi tuna, crab cakes, calamari, and smoked fish dip. They have a great selection of salads, and they’re known for creations like baked potato-crusted cod, snapper Oscar, scallop risotto, and their Caribbean wahoo, a Jamaican jerk-prepared filet topped with asparagus and mango salsa and served over steamed rice with a balsamic teriyaki sauce. Another hit is the Asian corvina, which is topped with sweet Thai chili sauce, and served with slivers of fresh ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce. There are also a range of pasta dishes and sandwiches, as well as turf items like filet mignon, ribeye and sirloin steaks, and their signature chicken Isabella — grilled chicken topped with fresh mozzarella, and served with orzo salad, asparagus, and laced with a sweet balsamic reduction. Fishlips is also well known for their Sunday mimosa brunch menu and their vibrant bar scene. This month, they’re open on Christmas Eve from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., New Year’s Eve from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and New Year’s Day from 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. with a Ladies Night celebration.
One of the newer additions to the Cove is Baja Tavern and Eats (626 Glen Cheek Dr.; 799-1616), run by the venerable Kolsch brothers, who are known locally for their involvement in institutions like The Mousetrap and Chowders. At Baja, the emphasis is on family. Norman is usually behind the scenes counting the nickels and dimes, Hank runs the bar, and Gene takes care of the front of the house. Norm’s children, Lizzy and Stew, bring take care of the service side of things. As for the food, it shouldn’t be missed. Their New Orleans-bred kitchen manager prepares their renowned gumbo, while Hank’s award-winning chowder has earned similar plaudits. They’ve always got a wide array of specials on hand, and take pride in their enormous burritos, of which there are four delicious varieties. There’s a grilled chicken version (topped with their signature Baja sauce), jerked pork, and a “Big Bang” (filled with fried shrimp and vegetables and topped with their special, house-made chipotle sauce), but the best has to be the “Big Fish” burrito — baked white fish with chipotle tartar sauce wrapped in a flour tortilla with lettuce, tomato, onions, and tender beans. Baja Tavern is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday form 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (with brunch served from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.).
At the easternmost corner of the Cove is perennial favorite Grills (505 Glen Cheek Dr.; 868-2226). Owner Joe Penovich built Grills on 15 years of experience in the charter fishing business. Despite having no formal restaurant experience, he nurtured his dream of one day opening an eatery devoted to the flavors he discovered during his many travels. It was while working as a mate during a voyage to Venezuela that the boat’s chef cooked Penovich a freshly caught, 175-lb. swordfish on a dockside grill. It was a defining moment for him. Eventually, through the aid of some loyal charter customers and the enlistment of longtime friend Chris Herrnkind, Penovich was able to bring his dream to fruition in July of 1997. As its name proudly confirms, Grills’ forte is island-style grilled fish; you’ll find nothing fried here. Whether it’s the trademark fish sandwich and fish reuben or one of their seafood specialty entrees, each is informed by Penovich’s broad culinary travels. Along with a selection of tasty kabobs (which can be added to any entrée) and a generous surf and turf combination, Grills offers 7 oz. steak filets, 12 oz. Delmonicos, sirloin, great hamburgers, classic sandwiches, chicken, and phenomenal grilled ribs, defying the old adage that land critters should never be ordered from a reputable seafood restaurant. In fact, Grills reputation as rib and steak experts is solid. You can even book your own fishing trip aboard the nearby Obsession Charters (www.fishobsession.com; 453-3474 or 1-888-FISH-FLA).
Filled to the gills with excellent food, we ended the day at the western end of the Cove at Milliken’s Reef (683 Dave Nisbet Dr.; 783-0100), which is both breathtaking within and without. Featuring three full-service bars and relaxing outdoor dining, Milliken’s is a popular night spot for visitors to the Port. It was also a great way to wind down with a crisp Cuba Libre and gaze at the structure that will make the Cove even more of a draw come this summer. And we can’t wait.