Eating Well at the Beach
Eating is one of my favorite parts of vacation. Growing up, my family embraced the philosophy that food is the solution for nearly any problem in life. Sick? Have a nice, warm bowl of soup. Happy? Celebrate with a big steak. Depressed? Have some mashed potatoes and gravy. Somebody died? Fix a lovely casserole dish for the family. Truthfully, a really good meal can make me happy for a couple of days. When on vacation, I can’t wait to find new places to eat and new foods to try. I’m not one of those sorry individuals who search for a Ruby Tuesday or Red Slobster because it is the safe choice; or someone who looks at a menu with unique dishes and decides to stick with chicken fingers or a burger because they are afraid to take a chance. I want to find the good stuff. I want to try something new. If you are too scared to taste what is out there, then just go to Pizza Slut or whatever.
It’s Saturday and, after a nasty lightning storm, we all decided leave the beach and head for Cape Canaveral to grab a bite of fresh seafood. When you grow up in West Virginia, seafood isn’t much of an option, so when I visit Cocoa Beach, I try to cram as many marine creatures into my mouth as possible. But I don’t merely settle for any old place that claims to have fresh fish, I’m looking for the place where the locals go. I always make it a point to check out the parking lots. If the lot is full, and if the cars all have local license plates, then you know you have found a good spot. One of several such places in this area is Rusty’s.
There are several reasons why I like Rusty’s. This restaurant has character. The chairs have scratches on them and need to be polished. The windows in the back of the place look out on a port and there are a couple of guys hacking up fish brought in by the latest boat. Then they take the good parts right inside to the kitchen. The menu changes slightly with the docking of each new fishing boat. When we arrived, the fish of the day was grouper. When we left, it was red snapper. The bar was crowded with Floridians. I watched a couple of old fisherman with thick beards hop off their boats and enter through a side door. The bartender had two mugs of beer waiting for them by the time they reached the bar. Everyone sitting in that vicinity seemed to know each other and all of them said hello to the two old fishermen. The young hostess wore a skimpy shirt and when I followed her to our table I couldn’t help but notice the tattoo on the small of her back…. I think it was the ancient Chinese symbol for “daddy was never around.” Okay, maybe I’m being overly cynical, but nearly all of the young girls I know who come from divorced homes end up getting a tattoo on their back. I don’t know why, but it seems to be a trend. Somebody should do a study.
At any rate, Rusty’s has character and it is my kind of place. It’s not kind of the restaurant you go to with your sweetheart and hold her hand across the table while gazing longingly into her eyes as the candlelight flickers and the soft music plays. You go to Rusty’s to chow down. And chow I did. Fresh grilled shrimp, scallops, and gator (yes, gator – reptiles are underrated as food items in my opinion) with a side of pasta and garlic sauce. Good stuff. I wasn’t going to be able to kiss anyone for a while after this meal, but I didn’t care. I also tried a bite of really wonderful grouper. By the time I rose from the table I felt about as swift and agile as a manatee.
My only criticism of Rusty’s is that they had a cover band playing. The band played outside on a patio surrounded by the tourist faction of the restaurant. Personally, I have nothing against cover bands – I’ve even been in one – but it seems as though beaches and resorts are teaming with them. This one had a woman singer who was probably in her forties and I think she and the lead guitar player were married. Long, grey hair dangled down the face of the guitar dude (what is it with long grey-haired hippy guys in Cocoa Beach?) and there was this depressing, dead look in his eyes, like he had been playing “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Margaritaville” every weekend for the last fifteen years. At least he hadn’t given into “the man” and taken an office job.
Aside from the band, it was a great evening. Nice atmosphere doesn’t always equal nice food, but places with character usually have what you really need. As always, a good meal makes everything better… even vacation.
Taken from my personal journal - July 25, 2009