A funky Old Florida crab shack
The live crabs are crawling out back, kept alive and fresh in double-decker “runs” adjacent to the restaurant, where they are nurtured until they meet their maker, courtesy of JB’s chefs.
JB’s crabs are local, when available, and the restaurant has its own leased oyster beds, although the oysters served here may also come from Apalachicola or Louisiana. The clams are equally fresh and often harvested from the lagoon by local fishermen or brought over from Cedar Key.
I’ve been visiting New Smyrna Beach for many years and rarely skip a visit to JB’s. It has undergone some changes and expansion over time, but it has retained its character as an Old Florida waterfront eatery.
The vintage bar inside remains as it always was, and the long booths in the main dining room are classic with church-pew seating.
The outdoor tiki bar and picnic-table dining deck overlook the bays and islands of Mosquito Lagoon, which should be a hint that it’s not always a good place to sit there around sunset.
The view is soothing coastal wilderness, the beer is cold, the food is good and moderately priced.
When boating or kayaking in the lagoon, I can – and do — slide up to the dock for a beer and steamed rock shrimp (tastes like lobster) or a pile of steamed shrimp spiced with Old Bay.
The menu is fairly typical of a raw bar/crab shack, including a wide variety of fish sandwiches and entrees.
The main attractions are the blue crabs, which cost $2.50 each (as of May 2014). A dozen raw oysters are $8 a dozen, and steamed littleneck clams are also $7.50 a dozen. A variety of fried seafood baskets are available for around $10, and most dinners fall in the under $20.
JB’s “world famous” crab cakes are singularly special, loaded with fresh crabmeat, for $6.50 each.
Here’s a link to the complete menu.
It’s a real fish camp
True to JB’s origins as a fish camp, you can buy bait, rent boats, canoes and kayaks on premises.
The bait shop is open at 6 a.m. and kayak rentals at 7, although the restaurant itself doesn’t open until 11:30 a.m. The kayak rental rates are a wee high ($80 for 8 hours), but if you only want to go out for an hour or so, the $15 hourly rate is competitive. The weekly rate of $150 is also reasonable. (Rates posted as of May 2014.)
Better yet, bring your own kayaks and launch them at nearby Canaveral National Seashore and paddle back to JB’s.
What’s near JB’s?
JB’s is near the heart of Bethune Beach, once an exclusively African-American oceanfront community named after celebrated black educator Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University in nearby Daytona Beach.
Today, this small beach community is a classic with two-story homes on stilts and street names like Flounder Avenue, Grouper Avenue and Halibut. The town has a fishing pier that extends out into the lagoon.
A hop and a skip past JB’s is the entrance to Canaveral National Seashore, where you can bike, hike the Castle Windy Trail, climb Turtle mound, paddle kayaks or canoes in the lagoon, launch a motorboat and visit historic Eldora, a ghost town since 1900, where the only building still standing is now the Statehouse Museum.
This is actually the northern end of Cape Canaveral, home of the Kennedy Space Center, and one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Florida, sprawling and pristine Apollo Beach, where you can camp in designated primitive areas on the beach or on islands that are part of this wondrous national park.
To get to JB’s, you have to travel through New Smyrna Beach, a classic Old Florida beach town that has managed to avoid the oceanfront condos that scar nearby Daytona. Like Daytona, you can drive on the beach in New Smyrna, all the way to Ponce Inlet.
And as you’ve guessed by now, you are also close to Daytona International Speedway. During race weeks and bike weeks, JB’s is packed with colorful NASCAR fans and bikers.