Lobster croissant at Seafood Atlantic — Photo courtesy of Seafood Atlantic
Jim Busse never intended to start a restaurant. The Space Coast man was simply a fisherman who loved what he did. And today, you can taste that passion in every dish at Seafood Atlantic, a restaurant you might say evolved from the ocean up.
The story of this Cape Canaveral port-side restaurant is as unique and colorful as Busse’s office in the back, a quirky and busy room packed from floor to ceiling with treasures from the ocean floor: shark jaws, oars from Cuban migrants, shark fins with unusual growths, a cap covered in barnacles.
It’s one of the most fascinating (yet accidental) “museums” on the Space Coast, regularly drawing groups of travelers and students.
The office is metaphor for the restaurant; it’s like looking into the heart of this beloved local fisherman.
The owner's quirky office behind Seafood Atlantic — Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel
As the story goes, after finishing art school, Busse got aboard a swordfish boat and became a commercial fisherman. Soon, he became captain. Then, he became a father.
When his daughter was five, he sold the boat, so he could spend more time with his family. That led to a successful career as a fishmonger, selling fish wholesale on the water and stationed at the only deepwater port between Jacksonville, Fla., and the Keys.
The seafood in this area was fantastic and included rarities, such as deepwater “royal red” shrimp (a nocturnal shrimp that tastes sweeter than its more common, lighter colored counterpart).
Busse’s business was on fire, and as increasingly more customers began requesting seafood specially prepared or steamed, his refrigerated boat became a retail shop. Eager customers were often seen munching on their tasty treats in the parking lot or perched on the edge of the port and docks. So Busse put up a few chairs and tables.
Five years ago, Seafood Atlantic in its current carnation – one of the most delicious restaurants in Central Florida – was born.
A golden crab at Seafood Atlantic — Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel
Ninety percent of the seafood at Seafood Atlantic is local, says Rian Busse, Jim's daughter and the general manager of the restaurant.
Beyond the tables, Seafood Atlantic is still a first receiver of fresh seafood caught by about 200 local, independent fishermen. Some of the catch is sold to other businesses, and you will find the best of the best on your plate. That’s why Seafood Atlantic is considered home to the freshest and best seafood in Florida and beyond.
Peek in the back, and you’ll see the scales and receiving dock where the seafood arrives, before it is handed to the chef and then presented straight to your table.
You’ve heard of farm-to-table. This is ocean-to-table, with barely a breath of space in between. While you eat, you look out at the very water that was home to your delicious meal!
Fresh oysters at Seafood Atlantic — Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel
No fancy fixings, white table clothes or elaborate preparation here. Tables are patio garden style, and there’s no indoor seating (not that you’d want to leave the Florida sunshine). The seafood’s perfection stands on its own. Many orders come with sauce, which is also expertly prepared. But chances are, you'll be too excited by the stand-alone seafood to remember to touch it.
The menu includes a few must-try staples, such as the fish tacos with tilefish (a plump, meaty fish somehow reminiscent of lobster), paired with the house-made salsa fresca and a glass of Nobilo sauvignon blanc wine. Or order from the catches of the day.
For something unique, try the golden crab. Many fishermen don’t bother with this crab variety because you need a special trap and you have to keep it alive until right before preparing, so it’s a more challenging catch, says Rian. Some patrons are put off by its tan color, too.
But they're missing out. Although the golden crab is a bit harder to crack, the meat inside is sweet and highly flavorful.
Other menu highlights include raw middleneck clams, stuffed mushrooms, the stone claw plate and the sesame scallion salmon salad.
Seafood Atlantic, facing toward the water — Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel
Before you leave, swing by the small market inside, where you can see historical photos hung around the top edges of the shop and pick up some of that delicious fish you just ate to bring home.
You can also find a small selection of paraphernalia (hats, shirts, books); sauces; dry goods like coffee and rice; and, most importantly, containers of tuna salad and smoked fish dip. Don’t leave without them.
Walk off your meal along the edge of the port and bring your camera. This area is home to a handful of friendly dolphins who are known to swim right up to the edge to say hello. The view is beautiful and interesting.
Seafood Atlantic is more than the Space Coast’s hidden gem; it’s a full treasure chest.
The view of the port from a table at Seafood Atlantic — Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel