I love the Spanish River Grill (737 E. 3rd Ave., 386/424-6991, 5–10 p.m. Tues.–Thurs., 5–10:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat., main courses from $18) and have frequently driven the hour from my home to New Smyrna just to dine here. Why? It’s actually hard to say. It’s located in a strip mall, the prices are a little steep, and the menu is not all that unusual for the region.
But there’s a distinctly convivial atmosphere at the Spanish River Grill—one that encourages guests to relax and actually savor their meals; that in itself probably makes the food taste that much better. That isn’t to dismiss the prowess on display in the kitchen here: The rustic Spanish and Portuguese dishes prepared by Chef Henry Salgado are exceptional and inventive, with an emphasis on strong earthy flavors and no unnecessary filigree. An extensive wine list is perfectly complementary to the menu.
While seafood joints are about as easy to find as a T-shirt shop in the New Smyrna area, it’s worth noting that the best casual dining experience in town is actually a couple of miles away from the beach.
PJ’s Sea Shack (491 E. 3rd Ave., 386/428-8850, 4:30–10 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Sat.–Sun., main courses from $9) offers a large outdoor dining area overlooking the marsh and an equally substantive indoor dining room. The brightly painted and playful environment—look up and you’ll see goldfish swimming around a see-through tube that circumnavigates the outdoor dining area—disguises a kitchen that is far less lazy than it needs to be. In addition to the expected fried seafood platters, PJ’s also has excellent calamari, steamed clams, crab cakes, pizza fresh from their wood-fired oven, and if you show up for happy hour (4–7 p.m.), free hot wings.
Offering a somewhat more sophisticated seafood environment, Norwood’s (400 E. 2nd Ave., 386/428-4621, 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, main courses from $15) is right across the street from PJ’s, and its 60-year history has afforded it iconic status in the area. The restaurant, however, doesn’t have the feel of an institution resting on its laurels; the menu here is kept current, and the adjacent wine shop ensures that an excellent selection of interesting wines and beers are available. (Norwood’s is one of very few restaurants in this part of the state that offers wine and beer flights with meals.) Of course, fresh fish and seafood is the main draw—Norwood’s specializes in crab legs and fresh wild-caught fish—but corn-fed Black Angus steak is also a substantial part of the menu. Pasta dishes and salads are also available.
Blue crabs, oysters, and clams are the specialties at J.B.’s Fish Camp (859 Pompano, 386/427-5747, www.jbsfishcamp.com, 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. daily, main courses from $6), a rustic and raucous seafood joint located just a few miles south of the main action in New Smyrna. J.B.’s offers up dozens of variations of those, as well as pretty much any other edible swimming thing you can think of, along with beef and poultry dishes, and somewhat incongruously, a bit of German fare. Sandwiches, ice-cold beer, and a great view of the Intracoastal Waterway make it a fine place to while away an afternoon. On the weekends, there’s live music outside, but be warned: If there’s a band playing, beer prices go up.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition