|Shrimp and grits from the local Long Doggers in Palm Bay.
Amidst a plethora of chain restaurants, supermarkets and big box stores, Space Coast Florida can claim some local culinary treasures. Given my impending departure from the Sunshine State for who knows how long, I decided it was high time to treat myself to this area’s unique eats and tell the tale.
|Countdown – less than one month to moving! Image pilfered from www.maxpixel.net.
While not strictly Floridian, I ate my first shrimp and grits in Marathon, Florida, served up for brunch by the talented Patty Hamilton aboard her spacious catamaran sailboat with several other couples. Best of all, Patty let me help her cook them. They were phenomenal — not just IMHO — everyone who indulged whole-heartedly agreed!
Patty joked about the grits being a heart attack about to happen. Thus, while I know how to make them incredible, I would not consider using that many irresistible artery-hardening ingredients — specifically mass quantities of butter and cream — much less keeping them around, taunting me to put them to good use.
Eating them out, however enables me to minimize the damage and by design enforce some portion control while I la-la-la ignore what makes them soooo velvety-smooth-melt-in-your-mouth-delicious.
A generous gift certificate gave me first taste of shrimp and grits locally, at The Nomad Cafe. It needed to be generous – as while the serving was generous and the Cafe prides itself on sustainable, locally-sourced food (one of the few restaurants awarded with Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean-Friendly Restaurants designation), at $24.99 they weren’t cheap. A pretty high price for low-country cuisine.
Yet they were superb. To steal Nomad’s description, they were “Creole Shrimp ‘n Grits,spicy sausage, creole tomato ragout of local vegetables.” My tongue stood up a took notice and the vibrant flavors danced across its pleased surface, and while I arrived quite hungry, I left quite full of grits and nothing else but one drink.
|The Nomad Cafe grits. Spectacular. Inspired. Not traditional. Located in “downtown” Melbourne Florida.
Good as they were, I would not describe them as classic, but in a class of their own. In that sense, though, they were not the real deal.
Okay, maybe I’m just justifying my excuse to eat shrimp and grits again. It had been about five years since I last indulged, when my best friend and fellow foodie Anna visited me in Jacksonville, Florida. I ordered up them up on our jaunt into St. Mary’s, just over the border into Georgia. Ahem, yeah, I am making excuses for my indulgence!
|Classic shrimp and grits in St. Mary’s Georgia.
Regardless, I polled NextDoor to ask where to find the best classic shrimp and grits nearby. My helpful neighbors responded with great enthusiasm. I picked one of the closest spots, Long Doggers, which was recommended more than once. Long Doggers is a Brevard County institution, spun up by a couple local surf-bums who exploit the surf-theme in both decor with open-air seating and surf kitch. They’ve done well; there’s six Long Doggers in the county.
After a walk at Viera Wetlands for their annual festival, I was hungry and figured I’d pre-burned at least a fraction of the calories I was about to ingest.
Long Doggers delivered. They were not Patty Hamilton good, but at $12.99 plus tax and tip, they satisfied. The shrimp was spicy. The serving, with classic cheesy, buttery, creamy grits, was enough were enough to fill me up but not weigh we down.
“That must not have been a very big serving,” Wayne commented when he saw my Long Doggers shrimp and grits photo. “It was a big bowl,” I told him.
It’s hard to believe that the first time I ate grits, making the sojourn from California to Florida as a twelve-year-old, I declared my dislike for them, describing them as buttered cream-of-wheat with sand added. It probably didn’t help that despite the elegance of the a classic Georgian restaurant, surrounded by massive oak draped in Spanish moss, that I was disgusted to notice cockroaches clambering over the coffee cup tray. It was an unpleasant early introduction to the bug-infested South.
Taste changes with time. This is what grits tasted like to me the first time I tried them as a kid — sand! (Without conjuring up lovely beach images like this one in the Bahamas Jumentos)
Tried another shrimp and grits on multiple neighbor’s recommendations — Seafood Station across from Nomad in downtown Melbourne off A1A. It’s one of three; the other is in the same center as the Walmart near me in Palm Bay/West Melbourne, their newest is in IndiaAtlantic. Seafood Station touts its low-country Florida boil. Their crab legs, which were not what I was there for, were definitely drool-worthy.
However, I was on a mission, and stayed true to it. I ordered a side of grits and a side of shrimp; together they were $12.99. There was still plenty.
|Seafood Station is the turquoise building in the background, off Harbour Boulevard
at the fringe of downtown Melbourne.
Like Long Doggers Palm Bay, downtown Seafood Station offers the pleasure of al fresco dining in a climate that lends itself to it, but both do so perched alongside six lanes of car traffic. Seafood Station is more the exhaust exposed of the two, though their rustic faded picnic tables, plastic baskets and paper underlay and speedy service lends itself better to watching the world roar past.
|Seafood Station’s shrimp and grits. It’s more garlicky than spicy
Seafood Station’s grits are coarse, were even a little lumpy. They swam in garlicky, parsley accented drawn butter, topped with my choice of shrimp. I chose Florida Keys pink shrimp, still in their shell and very fresh- tasting. Unlike Long Diggers, the shrimp were not not spicy, though you could douse them or the grits in the Louisiana hot sauce if desired.
For me, these grits came with an “Aha.” Mabe like James Bond’s “Shaken, not stirred” martini preference, mine is “Blended, not topped” when it comes to butter. I like my grits smooth. That means the cheese and butter and if they use it, cream, mixed in before serving. And I like my shrimp spicy.
|Seafood Station’s self serve. Those plain brown paper towels are much needed, as are the fresh wipes, I needed two.
And while I don’t mind getting down and dirty with my food, I made the mistake of accepting a phone call. Not wise with a meal that requires full contact eating and messy fingers. I’m much more willing to do that with crab, out, than shrimp.
But my real “Aha” was talking to someone else about my quest for good grits. I admitted I like mine soooo much better with “a touch” of butter and and cheese — and — while I’d never add it at home — cream. “Yeah,” he said. “it’s not the grits you like, it’s the fat.” Maybe he’s right. Maybe that’s why I don’t like Seafood Station’s drawn butter topping — there’s no mistaking how much is there.
So if you’re a coarse grits, low-country purist, Seafood Station’s probably the ticket. Though they should be lump-free. And don’t take any phone calls while eating. But to me, they do harken back that childhood memory of Cream of Wheat with sand.
And if it’s all about the decadence and you’re more into spice and cheese and who knows what all else is wrapped in a silky fokd, then Long Dogger is more your speed.
Do you want a post on another local low-brow Brevard institution, Steak and Shake?
And do I dare indulge and share again on another must-try locally adopted classic, chicken and waffles?
Palm Bay,Florida, home for me until May 12, 2019.
|Canoe deck, at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. My favorite go-to place in Palm Bay for and evening walk near home.