Nothing fancy: That could be the motto of the classic Florida fish shack.
You know the kind of place we mean: fresh air, funky style, a bit weathered, full of folks “dressed up” in Guy Harvey T-shirts and flip-flops.
Every city across America has seafood restaurants that try to suggest the ambiance of Florida fish shacks. They get the weathered wood, the battered-license-plate décor, but, of course, they’re not the real deal.
An authentic fish shack has a real connection to fishermen; the closer to the source, the better. And, of course, the fish and all the fixings have to be fresh, local and delicious.
The good news is, despite Florida’s tendency to tear down the old and bring in the bland, there are many great fish shacks with fanatic followings around the state. As a result, we’re still discovering new ones — and we hope we always will.
Here are seven of our favorites that are worth a stop on your travels.
• Triad Seafood, Everglades City: With a location right on the Barron River, Triad is located on the docks through which Florida’s best and freshest stone crabs pass, including those destined for Joe’s Stone Crab on Miami Beach.
Triad, however, has a few advantages over Joe’s. First, you won’t have to hunt for a parking space. Beyond that, you’ll find even fresher stone crabs at lower prices (though you should expect stone crabs to be among your priciest seafood choices.)
Being a fish shack, Triad puts on no airs. You dine on a screened patio overlooking the water on picnic tables. “Doesn’t look like much from the outside” is an overstatement.
Stone crabs are only in season from Oct. 15 to May 15, but Triad is worth a stop at other times for its fresh local fish, conch fritters, sweet potato fries and the key lime pie.
Triad Seafood, 401 School Dr., W., Everglades City; 239-695-0722, http://triadseafoodmarketcafe.com/. Entrees $8 to $15, except for stone crabs, which are market prices.
• Peace River Seafood, Punta Gorda: You may think the best blue crabs come from Chesapeake Bay, but Jimmy Beall, co-owner of Peace River Seafood and a long-time area crabber, knows better. And he proves it five days a week with a shack that looks like it could be the prototype of a Florida fish shack.
Located in a 1927 Cracker cabin, Peace River Seafood is shaded by a big old live oak tree. Even in the summer, it’s all open air, with newspapers on the tables, a parrot squawking on the porch and customers using mallets to crack open their delicious crabs.
Peace River Seafood serves fresh local shrimp, stone crabs, crab cakes, clams, grouper and mahi mahi as well as fresh fish from outside the area, such as salmon and lobster. But crabs are king here. The fresh seafood here is sourced from local Punta Gorda fishermen, and it is also a wholesale market.
Peace River Seafood, 5337 Duncan Rd., Punta Gorda; 941-505-8440. Entrees from $7 to $37.
• JB’s Fish Camp, New Smyrna Beach: At JB’s Fish Camp, you know the crabs are fresh because tomorrow’s dinner is crawling around behind the restaurant. Live crabs are kept alive in double-decker “runs,” where they are nurtured until they meet their maker — you — courtesy of JB’s chefs. These crabs are local, when available, and the restaurant has its own leased oyster beds, although the oysters served here may also come from Apalachicola Bay or Louisiana. The clams are equally fresh and often harvested from the lagoon.