Traveling backroads by car—or creeks by boat—can yield good eats off the beaten path. Not always known to tourists, Florida’s fish camps keep locals coming back for tasty meals.
There is no formula for how to spot them. Some fish camps with weathered buildings and sand parking lots look like they have been around for 100 years. Others are in contemporary buildings.
There are a few things you can count on with genuine fish camps: Come as you are, in shorts, flip-flops and T-shirts, right off the water. Come hungry because the portions are generous, and 99 percent of the time, meals include hush puppies. Don’t expect cloth napkins or white tablecloths. A roll of paper towels on the table provides an unlimited supply of wipes. You may get plastic utensils. If you get real silverware, it won’t match, and most of the time food is served in paper-lined baskets or on paper plates.
On Florida’s East Coast are three locations of Hidden Treasure restaurants (www.hiddentreasurerestaurants.com). The menus at Flagler Beach, Ponce Inlet and Port Orange include oysters, shrimp, mussels, crab legs and plenty of fresh fish. The signature seafood boil in foil is like a low-country boil on steroids. The Port Orange location has an antique outboard motor collection.
In Santa Rosa Beach, Stinky’s Fish Camp (www.stinkysfishcamp.com) serves oysters more than a dozen ways, housemade gumbo, seafood and corn chowder, Gulf grouper and crawfish. With a bait shop and fishing charters, Santa Rosa is the original, but the Stinky’s folks have opened stand-alone restaurants in Auburn, Alabama, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
My sister and fisherman brother-in-law often take their motorcycle to the more down-home fish camps in Central Florida and the nearby coast.
JB’s Fish Camp (www.jbsfishcamp.com) in New Smyrna Beach off A1A on the Canaveral National Seashore looks the part, with a rustic setting, hush puppies voted best in Florida by Fodor’s, Cajun onion strings, and fresh seafood fried, blackened or broiled. Catch your own and JB’s will cook it for you with a side of fries and coleslaw.
The Black Hammock (www.theblackhammock.com) on Lake Jesup north of Oviedo is old Florida with live gators, airboat rides and a small zoo.Lone Cabbage Fish Camp (www.twisterairboatrides.com/fishcamp) is off Highway 520 between Orlando and Cocoa on the St. Johns River. Both serve fried gator, frog legs, catfish and other fish-camp fare.
More Fish Stories
Lovefood (www.lovefood.com), which tracks all things culinary, declared Sarasota’s family-owned Fresh Catch Fish Market & Grill (www.freshcatchfishmarketandgrill.com) one of the best new restaurants in Florida.
Check out the lump crab cakes, baked oysters, stone crabs, fish stew and fresh- catch fish tacos. The menu offers a brisket burger for non-seafood eaters.
Don’t expect to see anything fried on the menu.
“We don’t own a microwave or a fryer,” says owner Devon Provost. “We want people to actually taste the fish.”
Affordable Florida Vacays
U.S. News & World Report ranked Jacksonville 11th and Daytona Beach 14th in affordable vacation destinations, based on the number of free and affordable things to do.
Jacksonville has beaches at Amelia Island, Ponte Vedra and Atlantic Beach, along with the Riverside Arts market, Kinglsey Plantation and the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
Daytona Beach has 20 miles of public beaches and the Museum of Arts and Sciences, which features a kids’ museum, planetarium and international art exhibits.
Florida native and travel enthusiast Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist who specializes in travel, gardening, personality and feature writing. She is also a photographer and accomplished sailor. Her website is www.pamelakeene.com.