Fish Shack Chic

By: Chelle Koster Walton

Laid back and beachy, fish shacks are perfect for when you want fresh seafood without the fuss.

We call them, endearingly, fish shacks – plain, sometimes rustic throwbacks to simpler times when seafood went straight from bait to plate, and the linen thread-count was zero. Almost every Florida beach town has one. Some have gone a little dressier as the years have passed and their popularity has grown. Others remain chic in their own willfully shabby way. Here are some favorites and secrets – served up like raw oysters – by the dozen:

Crabby Joe’s, Daytona Beach
Restaurants perched upon fishing piers practically guarantee seafood and character. Caribbean style accents and airbrushed sea scenes prettify the inside at Sunglow Pier’s popular Calypso Bar and Crabby Joe’s restaurant. Get crabby breakfast, lunch or dinner.

What’s chic? Grilled fish, eggs and grits with a Bloody Mary.
Contact: 386-788-3364,

Flora-Bama, Perdido Key, Pensacola
You’ve gotta love a place known for flying mullet. Host of an annual Interstate Mullet Toss in April, it straddles the Florida-Alabama line beachfront, looking like a good wind could send it over to either side. Although it started mostly as a drinking bar, its oyster bar serves well-appreciated Cajun-accented sandwiches and munchies, including its signature baked Oysters Perdido with chipotle, jalapenos and pepper jack.

What’s chic? Its annual Songwriters Festival in November.

Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, Clearwater Beach
Sailboats and pirate ships (okay, faux excursion pirate ships) sail through your live beach-cam view of wide white sands and slappy gulf waves. Could there be any doubt the fish is fresh? Frenchy’s is the first name in seafood in the Clearwater area. Try the fish tacos or a grouper sandwich in Cajun or Caribbean jerk..

What’s chic? The entertainment: live music, volleyball on the beach and gorgeous sunsets
Contact: 727-446-4844,

High Tide at Snack Jack, Flagler Beach
Dude! Look what washed up on the beach! A prototype for classic flotsam-and-jetsam surf bum shacks, this place has fed surfers since the 1950s. License plates, surfboards and beach paraphernalia decorate (perhaps actually hold together?) the walls while fish tacos, Ahi tuna and local shrimp fill stomachs.

What’s chic? Uh, well, the view?

Marlins Good Time Bar & Grill, Cocoa Beach
Another pier, another fishy joint: This one affords grand views of surfers, fishermen, volleyball players, and sundry other beach types. Seafood splatters the menu, heavy on typical fried fish fare.

What’s chic? Order the Pain in the... (your bartender will remind you why it’s called that) and score a pina colada and rumrunner in one – poured in layers.

Morada Bay, Islamorada
Didn’t you dream this just the other night? With live music, tiki torches and tables planted in the sand, it epitomizes Florida dining fantasy. Food comes a bit fancier than in many Keys’ fish houses – tapas, spiny lobster and whole fried snapper, for instance.

What’s chic? Adirondack chairs for sipping and toe-sand digging.

Salute Ristorante on the Beach, Key West
Do not be fooled by its crayon box-explosion color scheme and squatty beach stance. This is serious seafood, Italian-style, so close to the sea that on windy days you won’t need to salt your food. How about some sautéed yellowtail snapper with lemon cream sauce and spinach?
What’s chic? Caribbean takes on Italian classics.

Sandbar Restaurant, Anna Maria
At what exact moment will the sun drop from view? It’s everybody’s guess each night at The Sandbar, and the most accurate guesser scores a bottle of champagne. The original bareboard shanty dining room spills onto the popular beach deck recently updated with a gazebo-like cover. Lunch and dinner mean everything from crab-crusted scallops to Szechuan tilapia.

What’s chic? The daily specials – orange sesame salmon, for instance.

Siesta Key Oyster Bar, Sarasota
The sands are whitest and oysters cheapest on Siesta Key. Get a dozen for six bucks during happy hour, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily, at SKOB in Siesta Village. Stay for seafood dinners and lively times in this classic good-time shanty.

What’s chic? Listening to live music on the streetside deck.

South Beach Bar and Grill, Boca Grande
Proof conclusive that even the wealthiest cherish a good ol’ down-to-sand beach bar: Here’s where the locals celebrate the end of a work day and visitors join them for wow-worthy seafood chowder, pan-seared jumbo sea scallops, signature Grouper Gaspar piccata-style and sunset.

What’s chic? Arriving by golf cart, rentable on the island.

Toucan’s, Mexico Beach
Colorful as its namesake bird, it nestles right into the sand. Folks come for the day to sun, play volleyball and bite big juicy burgers, local Apalachicola oysters and pasta.

What’s chic? Serving fresh Florida lobster tails.

Woody’s Waterfront, St. Pete Beach
It started as a bait house selling burgers and dogs to fishermen at Blind Pass in the 1940s. Today it bills itself as “an authentic 1960s beach bar.” Not actually on a beach (though I remember a time when it had one), it still does burgers and dogs but more famously fish dinners and sandwiches, grilled crab cakes, and spicy crawfish spread.

What’s chic? The chilled coconut mango sauce with the crab cakes.

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