Big Ray’s Fish Camp heads to Tampa Riverwalk

Nothing says “Florida” like a waterfront seafood shack, which is why Nick Cruz, owner and operator of Big Ray’s Fish Camp, is thrilled to see his restaurant expand to the Tampa Convention Center, right next to The Sail (formerly the Sail Pavilion).

Cruz recently signed a licensing agreement with Aramark, the food and beverage supplier to the Tampa Convention Center, after representatives of the concessionaire company came to eat at his Ballast Point location in south Tampa. As part of the deal, Cruz will take a percentage of the sales.

Opened in July 2015, Big Ray’s quickly became a favorite haunt for locals looking for a delicious, no-frills seafood experience. Serving up some of Tampa’s best grouper sandwiches in an unpretentious location on Interbay Boulevard, Big Ray’s was built in the Florida fishhouse tradition of yesteryear. Its menu is halfway between traditional and daring, from conch fritters and peeled and eaten shrimp to succulent grouper cheeks and decadent lobster corndogs.

“What we do is what people did with fish houses in the 1950s and 1960s,” says Cruz. “This is what we saw that was missing in Florida. We buy fresh fish when it’s available and have a lobster corndog, which no one has seen before. We created this.

The Cruz family has a long history in Tampa, stretching back several generations. Cruz himself cut his teeth in the kitchens before going out alone.

“I am a fifth generation Tampanian,” says Cruz. “I started cooking in some kitchens here in South Tampa and opened a restaurant business about eight years ago. I just decided to open a good seafood and grouper sandwich restaurant.

The convention center menu will reflect that of the original location. That means plenty of sandwiches – including a grouper, Cuban, burger, and shrimp po ‘boy – and desserts like lime pie, fried lime pie, and fried oreos.

“At the Sail Pavilion, we’re going to try to bring that Florida feeling back to the ’70s and’ 60s,” says Cruz. “That feeling of what it was like going for a nice grouper sandwich on the water.”

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