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Head to the parking lot of the Cocoa Beach Fish Camp Grill and try not to smile. Go ahead, I challenge you.
A 70-foot flyrod – the longest in the world, according to co-owner Drew Bunin – runs the length of the building. (He started at 65 feet, until Bounin found he was 3 feet from the record.)
An honest airboat takes a seat next to the front door. Colorful canopies shade the weathered-look corrugated metal cladding. It’s an old clichÃ© of Florida, and it’s absolutely perfect.
The restaurant on North Atlantic Avenue just before the Cocoa Beach Pier has had several past lives, including Durango’s Steakhouse, Backwoods Steakhouse, and Mouse Trap, an iconic beachfront spot in the ’60s and’ 70s.
âOne of our goals was to change the place,â Bunin said.
Goal achieved. The 225-seat restaurant bears little resemblance to its predecessors.
A reservoir near the front door will eventually house baby alligators, thanks to a partnership with Gatorland. A large U-shaped bar fills the front room. Stroll around the bar to discover that it is designed to resemble the stern of a boat, the bow of which juts out into a cafe behind.
âWe call our boat Turnkey,â Bounine said, underlining the stenciled name. When he and his business partner Mark Phelps purchased the building in September 2019, Phelps assured him it was a turnkey operation that could be up and running by spring break 2020.
The vast makeover and work stoppages linked to the pandemic have extended this period by one year.
The result is a tribute to all things old Florida, from the menu to the decor.
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âWe just wanted to come up with something we thought Cocoa Beach needed,â said Bunin, who also co-owns Sandbar Sports Grill, a sports bar just steps from the beach known for its fish tacos, and Flavor Kitchen, an upscale restaurant with an urban vibe in downtown Cocoa Beach. âYou have beach food, premium food. We wanted to appeal to locals and tourists.â
Bunin said he combed thrift and antique stores across Florida to decorate the restaurant. The place is filled with kitschy touches like taxidermy deer heads, antlers, and fish, along with driftwood, sails, and various boat parts large and small.
A second bar occupies the long front wall of the main dining room, which still sports some elegant touches from the mousetrap, such as stained glass windows and an ornately carved mirror behind the bar and the old pewter ceiling.
There’s a stage in the corner of the room, and Bunin has said he hopes to eventually host country music parties and concerts.
The building also includes a games room with a pool table and shuffleboard; a âsweet spotâ cafÃ© that will offer soft ice cream; and a large back patio and bar.
The menu includes a Fried Gator Bites ($ 13), Gator Tail Sliders ($ 15), and Swamp Hoppers (frog legs, $ 13).
Beer Can Chicken ($ 24) is a 2.5-pound whole chicken served upright on the can of PBR it was roasted on.
There are also a few scattered Cajun and Creole specialties, such as okra ($ 18), jambalaya ($ 21), and po’boys ($ 18), as well as salads, steaks, burgers, and basic options. of plants, as well as children’s meals.
The drinks menu includes a slate of moonlight cocktails, as well as Swamp Water (coconut rum, spiced rum, pineapple juice, and blue caracao) and a Florida Panhandle favorite, the Bushwacker (silver rum , dark rum, Kahlua, chocolate and ice cream).
Bunin and Phelps met in 1994 while working at a restaurant in San Diego.
âWe worked for two guys who were a lot like us,â Bunin said.
Eventually the two moved to Florida and formed a partnership. They bought the old Castaways in Cocoa Beach in 2005 and turned it into a Sandbar. In 2015, they opened a Sandbar in Key West. Flavor Kitchen, which they own in partnership with Bunin’s brother, Chef Jason Bunin, arrived in 2018.
Some of Fish Camp’s employees originally worked at the Sandbar, including general manager Nick Stricklin, who co-owns the new location.
The response from guests so far has been excellent, said Bounine. The Fish Camp has a real “wow effect when they see the place”.
As more people get their COVID-19 vaccine and start traveling, he can’t wait for the Cocoa Beach Fish Camp Grill to become a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike.
Cocoa Beach Fish Camp Grill is at 5602 N. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach. Call 321-613-4020. Visit facebook.com/cbfishcampgrill or cbfishcampgrill.com. Hours are 11:00 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday, 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Outdoor seating is available. The waiters wear masks.
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