Port Canaveral is rapidly becoming one of the state’s most bustling cruise terminals. And that’s been good news for the nearby towns of Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach — at least, where food is concerned.
The chain restaurants are always available — if you really want to eat at Denny’s on the night before your Disney Cruise, you can. But if you’re ready to begin the serious eating before you even roll up to the buffet at Cabanas, new local establishments are setting up shop within just a few miles of the port, and they are ready to feed you well. For an eclectic Cape Canaveral dining experience, try Preacher Bar.
Kelsey’s Pizzeria has long been a local mainstay, serving up pizza and Italian dishes to Brevard County residents for more than 30 years. But with at their new Cape Canaveral restaurant, Preacher Bar, they’re diversifying, with a smart Americana menu that hits all the foodie buzzwords. Start with crisp applewood bacon served with a spicy chili-garlic sauce, then cool the tastebuds with a crispy take on the traditional club sandwich, and finish, of course, with Key Lime Pie. (You’re in Florida, after all.)
We visited Preacher Bar on a quiet happy hour afternoon, too late for lunch, too early for dinner. The dining room is smaller than it looks, but seats plenty, thanks to large high-top tables that could allow for some communal sharing without feeling crowded as the night wears on. The walls, ceilings, and bar are all fair game for the eclectic artwork, which leans toward sparkling jewel-tone stained glass lanterns and Mexican-inspired artwork like painted sugar skulls. You’re definitely not just in a strip mall anymore.
Starting with drinks? You are in a bar, after all. The extensive beer menu features craft and standard beers on draft and in bottle, or you can order a signature cocktail. We went with the Hemingway ($8), a martini of spiced rum, ginger, pineapple, vodka, and fresh lime juice, plus a Raspberry Mojito ($8).
The mojito was crisp and refreshing, a wonderful drink for a hot day. The Hemingway was sweet with a hint of spice from the ginger and the spiced rum — an ideal boat drink if you want to feel that tropical vacation vibe, without tasting too fruity.
Flip the LP-jacket of some classic (or not-so-classic) record and the menu is on the back. Creative starteres range from $4 – $10 and suit every sort of taste, with veggies (Goat Cheese Stuffed Zucchini, $9), nachos (Pulled Pork Nachos, $9), and tempura shrimp (Hell Fire Shrimp, $10).
We went with Bacon in a Basket ($6, premium cuts of marinated applewood and chili garlic bacon); Triple Crab Cakes ($10, crab, shrimp, icelandic cod cake, ginger slaw, and sriracha aioli), and Baked Brie Cheese with Kahlua and Candied Pecans ($10, baked brie cheese with honey, olive oil, Kahlua, and candied pecans garnished with fresh herbs).
Of these three, we’d all be hard-pressed to decide what was best. Every dish did its own little thing. The bacon dipped in the sriracha-tasting sauce was the perfect blend of sweet, salt, and spice (be warned, it was very spicy!). The baked brie came with plenty of butter crackers for spreading. Scooping a section of warm brie, drizzled with honey, olive oil, and just a touch of Kahlua and herbs, then spreading it on the cracker and adding a few pecans, was another great mixture of sweet and salt — choose this if you’re not into burning your mouth.
As for the triple crab cakes — I am a self-designated crab cake connoisseur, and these were the best crab cakes I’d ever had. The table agreed — the blend of fish, shrimp, crab, and crisp slaw, without a bread crumb to be found, made for a light, fresh crab cake with just a touch of creaminess from the slaw. Dipped in the drizzle of sriracha aioli, the flavor combinations were spot-on.
For a main course, diners can go down a few paths. There are house soups and salads, including a Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese salad ($12.50); there are burgers with fries, there are sandwiches with chips, there are entrees, and then there are 10” brick oven pizzas ($10-$15). Since Kelsey’s Pizzeria is a Cape Canaveral institution, and the two restaurants share a kitchen, it’s probably safe to say the pizzas will be delicious.
We went with a few meatier choices: the Preacher Burger ($10.50, with applewood bacon, tillamook cheddar, grilled onions, and bbq sauce), the Clucking Club-Bana ($11, fried chicken cutlet with aged cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, tomato, red onions, pesta, and chipotle mayo, on ciabatta bread), and the Mahi-Mahi Taco ($8.50 for one, blackened mahi mahi, ginger slaw, avocado-cilnatro cream, mango relish, and fries).
The Preacher Burger was ordered medium rare and came out pink in the middle, with a nice char on the outside. The burger itself was a nice thickness–not so thick you couldn’t get a bite of the thing, not so thin it would cook in thirty seconds and leave you with gray nothing in the middle. The meat was seasoned, so that it would have been delicious and flavorful even without the toppings. A big tub of barbecue sauce accompanied the burger and its large helping of fat, crispy fries.
The Clucking Club-Bana is the Preacher Bar’s take on the club sandwich. A pounded flat chicken cutlet, breaded and fried, is the perfect salty center of this club, with a flavor that is lightened with a delicate, spicy mayo and fresh red tomatoes. Addicted to salt and sweet? This is your sandwich. The ciabatta bread is good enough to eat on its own. The crispy chips on the side aren’t as fun as fries, but it makes this a great lunch or lighter choice for supper.
If you’ve ever had a fish taco and it came with fried cod or something in the middle, please stop believing you’ve had a fish taco and come try one like the offering here. The Mahi Mahi Taco is a thick chunk of blackened mahi fillet, nestled in ginger slaw, sweet mango, and creamy avocado dressing, wrapped in a grilled flour tortilla with substantial thickness and crunch. There’s something about wedding those chargrilled flavors in the fish with the tangy slaw, the sweet fruit, and the fresh cream, that just works.
You can finish off with a dessert if you’re not full yet — there is Grand Marnier Chocolate Cake ($5) on the menu alongside flan ($4.50) and tiramisu ($5), or go Floridian and order Key Lime Pie supplied from nearby Florida Key Lime Company ($5).
Preacher Bar is the kind of restaurant that makes me happy to be a local, because I need to come back again and again. (After all, I haven’t tried the Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese yet). The vibe, like most beach establishments, is casual enough that the whole family can enjoy, but it’s definitely an upscale experience in terms of dining and decor. They do offer live music on some evenings, but during our visit, the mix of music was kept low enough that no one had to shout, and was pretty eclectic — think Stevie Wonder followed by Passion Pit.
Preacher Bar is located at 8699 Astronaut Blvd (that’s A1A), about a mile south of Port Canaveral. You’ll see it on the west side of the road in a small strip mall that also houses Kelsey’s Pizzeria and a Subway.
For more information, you can find them on Yelp.