Florida Roundups / Funky / Unique Eats

Florida’s best seafood restaurants: No frills fish shacks

Bucket of blue crabs at Peace River Seafood in Punta Gorda

Bucket of blue crabs at Peace River Seafood in Punta Gorda. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Florida fish shacks represent just about everything we love about Florida – fresh air, funky style and fun.

For a seafood restaurant to qualify as a fish shack, it has to be open to the air. We may use air conditioning, but we know authentic Florida involves sun and breeze and salt air.

To fit our definition, you’d be well-dressed at a fish shack if you’re wearing a T-shirt (and a fashion plate if it’s a Guy Harvey T-shirt.)

Our last criteria seems pretty obvious: You have to serve good fresh fish, and to do that, a fish shack needs a real connection to Florida fishermen; the closer to the source, the better.

We’re still discovering new Florida fish shacks, and we hope we always will. Here, though, are a few of our favorites. What did we miss? Please use our comments field at the bottom to tell us about the place we need to discover next.

Star Fish Company, Cortez

Star Fish has perhaps 15 tables overlooking a beautiful expanse of water and mangrove islands in the northern end of Sarasota Bay.

Star Fish has perhaps 15 tables overlooking a beautiful expanse of water and mangrove islands in the northern end of Sarasota Bay.

The Star Fish restaurant is an outgrowth of and is adjacent to the large seafood wholesale company that was founded in the 1920s. Its current owner opened the small waterfront restaurant in 1996 and its fame has grown. Star Fish has perhaps 15 tables overlooking a beautiful expanse of water and  mangrove islands in the northern end of Sarasota Bay. The view includes an iconic fish shack on stilts that appears on all the Cortez marketing materials. At Star Fish you stand in line to order your meal at the counter and it gets delivered to you in a to-go box  with plastic utensils at your table. At peak times during the winter season, the line can take an hour. We waited about 30 minutes to order, with one member of our group holding down a table, sipping a beer and enjoying the scene.

Florida Rambler story about visiting Cortez and its seafood restaurants.

Star Fish Company Restaurant
12306 46th Ave W,
Cortez

Triad Seafood, Everglades City

Stone crabs on the waterfront in Everglades City

Stone crabs on the waterfront at Triad Seafood, a Florida fish shack in Everglades City

With a location right on the Barron River, Triad is located on the docks through which Florida’s best and freshest stone crabs pass, including those destined for Joe’s Stone Crab on Miami Beach.  Triad, however, has a few advantages over Joe’s. First, you won’t have to hunt for a parking space! Beyond that, you’ll find even fresher stone crabs at lower prices (though you should expect stone crabs to be among your priciest seafood choice.)

Being a Florida fish shack, Triad puts on no airs. You dine in a screened patio overlooking the water on picnic tables. “Doesn’t look like much from the outside” is an over-statement. We like the conch fritters and sweet potato fries and the key lime pie gets excellent marks.

Florida Rambler story about stone crabs in Everglades City.

Triad Seafood
401 School Drive West
Everglades City

Peace River Seafood, Punta Gorda

Folks who love crabs have fun at Peace River Seafood, a Florida fish shack in Punta Gorda.

You may think the best blue crabs come from Chesapeake Bay, but Jimmy Beall, co-owner of Peace River Seafood and a long-time area crabber, knows better. And he proves it five days a week with a crab shack that looks like it could be the prototype of a Florida crab shack. Located in a 1927 Cracker cabin, Peace River Seafood is shaded by a big old live oak tree. Even in the summer, it’s all open air, with newspapers on the tables, a parrot squawking on the porch and customers using mallets to crack open their delicious crabs.

Peace River Seafood serves fresh local shrimp, stone crabs, crab cakes, clams, grouper and mahi mahi as well as fresh fish from outside the area, such as salmon and lobster. But crabs are king here. The fresh seafood here is sourced from local Punta Gorda fishermen, and it is also a wholesale market.

Florida Rambler story on Peace River Seafood

Peace River Seafood
5337 Duncan Road
Punta Gorda
941-505-8440

 JB’s Fish Camp, New Smyrna Beach

JB's Fish Camp, Bethune Beach

The deck at JB’s Fish Camp, a Florida fish shack in New Smyrna Beach

At JB’s Fish Camp, you know the crabs are fresh because tomorrow’s dinner is crawling around behind the restaurant. Live crabs are kept alive in double-decker “runs,” where they are nurtured until they meet JB’s chefs. These crabs are local, when available, and the restaurant has its own leased oyster beds, although the oysters served here may also come from Apalachicola Bay or Louisiana. The clams are equally fresh and often harvested from the lagoon.

JB’s has a pure Florida fish shack ambiance – tablecloths are brown paper rolled out in strips; many visitors arrive by boat or kayak from Mosquito Lagoon. The outdoor deck overlooks the bays and islands of the Halifax River.

While the main attraction is crab, other favorites include rock shrimp and the to-die-for crab balls.

Florida Rambler story on JB Fish Camp

JB’s Fish Camp
859 Pompano Ave.
New Smyrna

Hogfish Grill, Key West

Seating at Hogfish Grill in Key West is under a big chickee hut

Hogfish is as close to the Key West shrimp docks as you can get, and those fresh Key West “pinks” – the local shrimp, which are plump and pinkish-coral color – are one of the two must-haves at the Hogfish. The other, of course, is the hogfish, best experienced in the World Famous Killer Hogfish Sandwich ($14.95.) This signature dish is made with fresh hogfish (a sweet, mild local delicacy caught only via spear-fishing) plus mushrooms and Swiss cheese on Cuban bread.

The Hogfish Grill is located in a hard-to-find working marina on Stock Island, which is located east of Key West and an island through which all Key West traffic must flow.  For years, Hogfish was a locals-only spot, with reasonable prices and Conch Republic attitude. In recent years, however, Hogfish has been discovered, and was recently ranked as one of the 30 best seafood restaurants in America by Travel & Leisure.

Visitors will find Hogfish unchanged so far. It’s a big chickee hut with long tables and benches and sometimes loud live music on weekend nights.

Florida Rambler story on Hogfish Grill

Hogfish Bar and Grill
6810 Front Street
Stock Island, FL 33040
305-293-4041

Lazy Flamingo, Bokeelia

There are four Lazy Flamingo fish shacks: One in Bokeelia, two on Sanibel and one in Fort Myers.

This cozy little Florida fish shack is on the north end of Pine Island, accessible by boat from Sanibel or Captiva via Pine Island Sound and from Boca Grande, Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda by way of Charlotte Harbor.  By car, take US 78 through Cape Coral and Matlacha, then drive north to the Four Winds Marina.

I love this place and visit often when RV camping nearby. You can dine outside on the deck overlooking the marina or at the bar and dining room inside. And your first order should be “The Pot,” a bucket of two-dozen clams and oysters steamed in beer with special spices, celery and onions. The menu also includes a delightful conch chowder and a hearty grouper sandwich, among other seafood specialties.

There are three other Lazy Flamingoes in the area – two on Sanibel and one in Fort Myers – but I’ve never been and cannot attest to their ambience.  If you are staying in the area, you can rent a boat slip at the marina for a straight shot to pristine Cayo Costa Island.

Yelp reviews of Lazy Flamingo

Lazy Flamingo
16501 Stringfellow Road
Bokeelia

DJ’s Deck, Port Orange

DJ's Deck, Port Orange

The deck at DJ’s Deck, a Florida fish shack in Port Orange.

One of my favorite dining destinations when in the Daytona Beach area, DJ’s Deck is your classic Florida fish shack and raw bar, and it’s a favorite of locals. (I know locals that eat there religiously.) You order from the menu at the window and pick it up when it’s ready. Waitresses move through the picnic tables spread across the dock under clusters of tiki huts to refresh your beverages.

The menu is your standard fish shack: fried, grilled or blackened specialties, such as the fish-of-the-day dinner ($12.99), grilled mahi ($13.99) or my mom’s favorite, the fried scallops ($14.99). We never go there without pounding down a bucket of oysters or clams ($19.99) and a bowl of chowder ($4.99).

At times, you have to dodge the line of fisherman who sell their catch at the ice house next door, but that adds to the flavor of DJ’s. If you want a slightly less casual indoor dining experience, visit the “Down Under” on the other side of the parking lot.

Yelp reviews of DJ’s

DJ’s Deck
9 Dunlawton Ave.
Port Orange

 

B.O.s Fish Wagon, Key West

B.O.’s is literally a shack — an open-air assemblage of drift wood, recycled sheets of tin and a 1950s Chevy truck apparently held together by bumper stickers.  B.O.’s is located within sight of Key West’s seaport and it so captures the Keys ambiance that folks like to get their picture in front of it.  Entering its bar, you pass under a sign that says “Fort and Museum Entrance,” and you pretty much know that nearby Fort Zachary Taylor is missing a sign. Besides its funky style, however, B.O.s’ is known for the quality of its fresh fish.  A favorite: The grouper sandwich is fried with a light cornmeal breading and is served on really fresh bread. The fries are hand cut.  Another popular choice is the fried shrimp sandwich made with local Key West pink shrimp.

B.O.’s Fish Wagon
801 Caroline St.
Key West

Alabama Jack’s, Homestead

Alabama Jack's attracts motorcyclists, but this is a family-friendly fish shack.

Alabama Jack’s attracts motorcyclists, but this is a family-friendly fish shack.

You know Alabama Jack’s is an authentic Old Florida fish shack because nobody would open a restaurant on out-of-the-way Card Sound Road today. Card Sound Road is a toll-road through the mangrove swamps where Miami-Dade County meets Monroe County. The signs that say Crocodile Crossing aren’t a joke – this is a wildlife refuge for the shy American Crocodile.  It used to be a fishing community, but the only thing left is the ramshackle collection of shacks, docks and barges that constitute Alabama Jack’s.

Don’t be put off by the row of Harleys you’ll probably see out front. While it’s a popular place for motorcyclists out for a weekend ride, the place is full of all sorts of people, including many families whose kids delight in feeding the fish over the railing. On weekend afternoons, crowds build at Alabama Jack’s and country music is performed live on a small stage.

In addition to the ambiance, what keeps folks coming to Alabama Jack’s are the conch fritters, crab cakes and sweet potato fries. Alabama Jack’s is best known for its fried fare, but its conch salad is also popular. Note: The place closes at dusk, when the mosquitoes would make you the entrée.

Florida Rambler story on Alabama Jack’s.

Alabama Jack’s
58000 Card Sound Road
Homestead
305-248-8741.

 

Singleton’s Seafood Shack, Mayport

Singleton’s has been serving fresh fish for more than 40 years in a weathered building with plywood floors and a view of shrimp boats docked nearby on the St. Johns River. It’s a sprawling place, often crowded as Singleton’s fame has spread. The place was founded by Captain Ray Singleton, a shrimp fisherman who started out serving breakfast to other shrimpers in 1969. But its combination of scenic locale, ambiance and delicious just-off-the-boat seafood has made it famous. A few years ago it was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” and fans of the show’s Guy Fieri have been making pilgrimages ever since. The Minorcan chowder is a must-have and the lightly fried shrimp (available as a po boy or on its own) is another crowd pleaser.  Florida fish shacks shouldn’t be fancy, and Singleton delivers on that promise: Everything comes on Styrofoam plates and with plastic utensils.

Yelp reviews 

Singleton’s Seafood Shack
4728 Ocean St.
Mayport
(904) 246-4442

 

 

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