Diners at Dolphin View Restaurant often sense that they are being watched. The feeling is far from paranoid or unwelcome, however, as the prying eyes belong to seabirds and jumping dolphins. These creatures are common sights in the waters that border the eatery, where open-air seating affords views of their play. Wooden tables stand on the slats of a dock or the sandy expanse of the beach, framed by cloth canopies and hanging plants. In these environs, guests feast on plates of grilled fish, shrimp, and signature sandwiches, such as the Dolphin burger. The menu also features less ocean-centric options, including burgers, chicken entrees, and glasses of salt-free water.
For an even more immersive mix of food and scenery, guests can reserve spots on one of Dolphin View Restaurant's dinner and river cruises. Each experience begins with an all-you-can-eat buffet at the open-air pavilion. After dinner, passengers embark by boat through the waterway, marveling at the coastal scenery and wildlife as they sip beer or wine.
Although the 12-ounce Delmonico steak is the house specialty at The Blue Grotto, the baked stuffed flounder is the owner's favorite dish on the menu. Guests have their choice of sitting in the azure dining room, where the decor is inspired by the Blue Grotto sea cave on the island of Capri, or the dog-friendly outdoor deck that overlooks the marina. The venue turns into a nightclub in the late-night hours, with DJs, dancing, and free drinks for manatees.
Ocean waves swirl steps from The Beach Bucket's umbrella-littered patio, where white tables groan beneath fried-shrimp baskets and plates of burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Blenders churn frozen libations to the pulse of weekly live music performances, and mixologists also stir sea-inspired drinks such as shipwreck, bay breeze, and water on the rocks. Personable staff and a selection of 28 bottled beers leave sippers grinning as broadly as the exultant shark on The Beach Bucket's souvenir T-shirts.
At Fresh on the Fly, chefs elevate classic comfort-food recipes with top-tier ingredients. They stuff po’ boys with wild-caught shrimp and creole rémoulade, for instance, and serve corn-flake-crusted, hormone-free chicken atop homemade waffles. Though seafood is Fresh on the Fly’s specialty, its chefs also serve up thick burgers made with grass-fed beef locally sourced from De Leon Springs. The emphasis on sustainability extends to the dishware, which swaps out plastic and coal-powered forks in favor of reusable china and plant-based utensils.
Diners can devour entrees in the cool-toned, streamlined dining room, which features corrugated-tin wainscoting that echoes the grays and silvers of sharks and swordfish painted on its walls.
Merritt's Table welcomes diners into a converted historic home, built in 1926 and offering ideal acoustics for clinking glasses brimming with boutique wine. Seated around white-linen-capped tables set across multiple small dining rooms, patrons savor selections from the day's small plates, which in the past have included hon-shimeji mushrooms—sautéed in butter, shallots, and porcini-mushroom stock—and roasted chicken and black-eyed-pea stew imbued with toscano kale. Among previous farm-fresh entrees, highlights include a braised osso buco ragout with buttermilk turnip puree, grilled flat iron steak with smoky paprika pasta and cheese, and Canaveral white shrimp drizzled with a Monterey mushroom and heirloom-tomato pan sauce and paired with Anson Mills cheese grits, one of chef Bolton's signature sides. To accompany entrees, owner Laura Farrelly scours the globe to stock Merritt's sprawling wine list with such selections as a flowery Alois Lageder pinot grigio and rich Cartlidge & Browne cabernet sauvignon.