The Cove at Port Canaveral: Local Flavor

Just when I thought I knew every location in Florida to find fresh seafood and the flavor of the local culture, someone tells me I should try the Cove at Port Canaveral.

Blackened grouper sandwich a la Rusty's

Blackened grouper sandwich a la Rusty’s

I was stunned: I could not believe that I had missed this spot for not just one waterside seafood house, but an entire school of them! As the name reveals, this cluster of restaurants lines the waterfront at Cape Canaveral’s cruise ship port on Florida’s Space Coast. Fishing charters and other tour boats depart from the docks; seafood markets and restaurants sell what commercial fishermen bring in that-day fresh.

So Many Restaurants, Only One Lunch

It’s a little tricky to find; the web site doesn’t give any clear directions, but by using my iPhone’s GPS for one of the restaurants on Glen Cheek Drive, I found my way to Terminal B and seafood row. About a dozen places to have lunch confounded my decision making.

I typically look for the shackiest looking seafood shack when I’m in the salty mood. Fishlips Waterfront Bar & Grill looked a little too gimmicky. Milliken’s Reef, a little too stylish; but now I see a tiki bar and sand beach out back on its web site, so perhaps I was too quick to judge on that one.

An Italian place, a Mexican spot didn’t suit my mood. I settled on Rusty’s Seafood & Oyster Bar. It had the right casual character and a number of cars parked outside already at 11:30 a.m. Smack on the water, it offers outdoor seating and a bar that looks like it gets vivacious at night with live entertainment.

Real at Rusty’s

I took a table with a view of cruise ships and fishing boats. The regulars come in for the $8.99 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, which looked and smelled like a good deal – chicken wings, a mahi dish, pork, and various side dishes – but I ordered off the menu.

Like any Southern-style seafood house worth its weight in fish, Rusty’s sells raw and steamed oysters, mussels, and clams. There are the requisite fried seafood baskets, plus seafood pasta dishes, grilled crab cakes, seafood platters fried or steamed, crab legs, and sandwiches.

The fish sandwich du jour featured grouper, so that quickly made up my mind. I ordered mine blackened, which was only slightly spicy. From the dill pickle spear and cole slaw to the moist, perfectly done filet atop its bun – everything shouted “excellence.”

The tartar sauce tasted homemade, with some sour cream in there. The slaw had a pinkish tint suggesting  the addition of a tomato product that gave it a flavor boost. The fries were lightly coated before meeting the deep fryer, providing them an extra crunch. It all came in a plastic red basket – an icon of seafood shacks everywhere.

Rusty’s touts its Colee’s key lime pie from a Key West company and white chocolate cheesecake, both profoundly tempting. I couldn’t make it work, but that’s okay. I will be visiting the Cove at Port Canaveral again soon –never mind it’s almost six hours from my house.