Looking for the freshest seafood in Florida? If you’re visiting Port Canaveral or Cocoa Beach on your Florida vacation, you’re in for a treat — the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean have been keeping fishermen, chefs, and the diners who love them busy for generations. It’s a haven for seafood lovers, but not every restaurant is really serving up the local catch. There are plenty of worthy Space Coast restaurants, but if you’re looking for a seafood restaurant with a unique local history, Dixie Crossroads is a must-visit.
Dixie Crossroads has been serving up a variety of fresh Florida seafood for decades. When in-season, the menu offers up local mullet from the Indian River, oysters, wild-caught shrimp, scallops, even Maine Lobster — but its real claim to fame is the delicacy that Dixie Crossroads invented all on their own: broiled rock shrimp. You’ve never had rock shrimp, you say? Well then my dears, you haven’t lived.
Rock shrimp live up to their name: hard as rocks and too labor-intensive for conventional preparation. For years, they were regarded as trash by local fishermen. A boat builder from Titusville, Rodney Thompson, set out to make a living shrimping, but he kept hauling in nets full of rock shrimp. Then his daughter had the million-dollar idea: treat the rock shrimp like little lobsters and split them in half. It changed the fishing fortunes of Port Canaveral (all this going down long before cruise ships were the local industry) and became the start of a foodie legend.
In 1983, Thompson opened the first incarnation of his Dixie Crossroads Restaurant, and introduced Titusville (and later, the world) to rock shrimp. People have been raving about them ever since.
Today, rock shrimp still anchors the lengthy menu. You can try it steamed or fried, but they’re at their best broiled, served split atop their hard shells, with melted butter for dipping. Like tiny lobsters, their meat is sweet and firm, with a depth of flavor a regular old pink shrimp can’t compete with.
I recently visited Dixie Crossroads after a long absence, and was happy to find that while the menu and the restaurant has expanded, the rituals and classic dishes remain the same. You’ll find everything from platters of fresh seafood to entrees like shrimp and grits, shrimp alfredo, or surf and turf. There are meat dishes and salads for the non-fish-eaters, plus a kid’s menu, a full bar, and both local and national beers.
One menu item is universal: you start your meal with corn fritters. Baskets of hot, sweet fritters, snowed under with a cap of confectioners’ sugar, are placed on the table with abandon. You want more fritters? You get more fritters. You want to take your leftover fritters home with you? Here’s a box. Go ahead and save some for later. You don’t spoil your appetite with too many fritters — not when there is seafood ahead.
Because we believe a person can never have too many fritters, we ordered conch fritters to start ($6.99, eight). My family is passionate about conch fritters; one of my first forays into food writing was a comprehensive conch fritter guide to Key West. We liked the spicy kick to these fritters, but reactions were mixed to the sauce on the side. Instead of the typical remoulade, this sauce was a creamy horseradish blend that I thought was great, but didn’t fly so well with the others. The fritters themselves were the very soft variety, squashy in the center instead of firmly set all the way through. Personally, I love that there’s no one way to make a conch fritter. These were excellent, full of chewy conch.
For an entree, eleven-year-old Calvin went for the dozen rock shrimp ($15.99) with a side of fries. He has had a deep and abiding love for shrimp ever since we lied to him as a toddler and told him a plate of fried shrimp were actually chicken nuggets. (We have since admitted to the lie, but such is his love for shrimp, he forgave us, knowing it was in his best interest.) Biting the bullet and passing up the regular shrimp might have been a difficult decision — until he bit into his first rock shrimp, and was made a believer.
We adults decided to sample more of the local seafood on offer and split a Cape Canaveral Special ($33.99). A big platter with a dozen Atlantic shrimp, two dozen rock shrimp, and a quarter pound of scallops, plus two sides — we went with french fries and grits, because who needs vegetables? — filled our table-top. We dug in.
Now, here’s where we made a tiny mistake. We usually order the big platters at another local restaurant, Florida’s Seafood, where everything comes out prepared the same way. You want a broiled platter? Here’s three different kinds of broiled seafood. It works that way with blackened or fried, as well.
Rock shrimp, as already mentioned, should be broiled. That’s just How It’s Done. So we ordered our platter broiled, without really realizing that we could have more than one preparation. Broiled Atlantic shrimp are just a little boring.
However, fresh always comes out in the flavor. The plain shrimp, dabbed with a little lemon juice (and a little melted butter, since it was there) had a beautiful taste despite their lack of seasoning. The scallops were positively sweet. It was minimalist local seafood, the sheer fact of its freshness enough to compensate for its plain-jane presentation. The rock shrimp were so good I kept eating them long after I was full.
As for the sides, the french fries were good, thick and crispy, but the grits were really something. Creamy and smooth, patted with butter, I kept going back for the grits again and again.
It was with regret that we turned down dessert. Key Lime Pie ($4.99) would have been the perfect cap to an afternoon of fresh Florida seafood, and Sweet Potato Pecan Pie with Bourbon Sauce ($4.99) would have been the perfect cap to the Key Lime Pie. If Dixie Crossroads were to offer a nice napping room, I could have slept for twenty minutes and come back for all that pie. Maybe next time I’ll pass on the scallops and Atlantic shrimp, and just go for rock shrimp and desserts.
Dixie Crossroads was a weekly institution in my family for a long time. Those Sunday afternoon waits for a table, leaning over the bridge to feed the fish and the blue crabs lurking in the pond beneath, being dragged by my father to meet astronauts in town for shuttle launches, are part of my childhood, and I’ll bet they are for a lot of other Space Coast kids, too. It’s that kind of restaurant, and they haven’t lost that passion for homecooked, fresh, local fare in all these years. If you’re looking for a piece of Florida, something unique you won’t find anywhere else, make the drive to Dixie Crossroads.
Dixie Crossroads is located at 1475 Garden Street, Titusville, FL, just west of U.S. 1. From I-95, take exit 220 (Garden Street), travel about two miles, destination will be on your right. Dixie Crossroads makes a nice addition to a trip to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the Canaveral National Seashore (Playalinda), or the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex. It’s also about thirty minutes from Port Canaveral.
Visit DixieCrossroads.com for menus and more information.