Seafood Lover’s Florida takes readers throughout the Sunshine State, from the Keys to the Panhandle, in a search for off-the-beaten-path (and even some fancy) eateries. / J.D. Vivian
Thanks to Bruce Hunt, who wrote Seafood Lover’s Florida: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions, you won’t have to spend, as he did, “the better part of the year crisscrossing the state” to search out great places to sup on seafood.
Pay close attention to the full title, because this 250-page, easy-to-carry, glossy-paperback covers several genres of writing. In addition to restaurant descriptions (many of which read like restaurant reviews), this work features recipes, as well as a list of seafood festivals. (Check out the Sopchoppy Worm Gruntin’ Festival, held the second weekend in April.)
Hunt describes/reviews 180 restaurants out of the more than 250 he visited.
Seafood Lover’s Florida also serves as a biography of sorts, describing various characters – and our state’s past is full of them – who helped to make us what we are … for better or worse.
Among those characters is one of my favorites, Waldo Sexton, who built the Driftwood Inn directly on the Atlantic Ocean in 1935 in Vero Beach. Hunt describes it as a “rambling driftwood residence,” which doesn’t quite do this funky edifice justice.
Seafood Lover’s Florida takes you to a historic, rustic inn
In the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma, when I was homeless due to the storm (my town’s police wouldn’t allow us to return to our condos), two clients put me up for two days in the Driftwood Inn, in an odd-shaped room that seemed to serve as a metaphor for Sexton’s unusual life. I liked the inn so much, I stayed one more day, even though I could have returned home by then.
I also dined at the nearby beachfront Ocean Grill, which Sexton built in 1941 “in the same driftwood style as the inn,” Hunt notes. This and other such passages in Seafood Lover’s Florida made me realize that this is also a history book, and a travelogue.
(Note: Among the Ocean Grill’s specialty cocktails is Pusser’s Pain Killer: “pineapple, coconut and a splash of fresh Indian River orange juice that will make you forget it’s loaded with rum!”, according to its menu. At $11, it isn’t bargain-priced. But drink two of these libations and, by the time the bill arrives, you won’t feel the pain of paying. Trust me …)
What’s in a name? Increased sales
Hunt also serves up a bit of exposé. For instance, on page 58, he details how certain fish underwent a “rebrand.” The “slimehead” became “orange roughy”; the “Patagonia toothfish” became “Chilean sea bass” (“and it’s not even a bass!”, Hunt grouses. It’s actually a cod); and “dolphin” became “mahi-mahi” because “Nobody wants to think they’re eating Flipper.”
This book also serves as a reminder. Too often, we forget that this state has plenty of roads besides Florida’s Turnpike; Interstates 4, 10, 75 and 95; and regional thoroughfares such as Orlando’s Beachline Expressway.
We need to remember that there is still plenty of Old Florida – but we have to make the effort to look for it. Thankfully, Seafood Lover’s Florida will steer its readers in the right direction.
Seafood Lover’s Florida: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions, $19.95, is published by Globe Pequot.
J.D. Vivian serves as a writer, photographer and editor for Florida Food & Farm. He has written, and shot photos for, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post and other publications during his more than four decades in South Florida.