You may go to Crystal River, Fla., to swim with the manatees, walk its newly opened King’s Bay Riverwalk or see Florida’s native wildlife at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, but the food scene, too, is turning this part of Florida into a dining destination.
Here’s a taste of what you can experience around Crystal River, a town that takes its food as seriously as it does its outdoor adventures.
The Plantation on Crystal River
9301 West Fort Island Trail, Crystal River
Hours: 6-10:30 a.m. and 5-9 p.m. seven days a week.
This magnificent resort on the banks of Crystal River comes complete with spa, an Adventure Center offering scalloping, diving, fishing, manatee tours, paddling — a whole slew of things to do in the water and on land. It also has a restaurant popular with locals and resort guests, West 82 Bar & Grill, overlooking the pool and serving breakfast and dinner seven days a week.
West 82 She-Crab Soup, left, is a deliciously rich and creamy blend of blue crab, sherry and heavy cream with cornbread croutons; the Ahi Tuna Tower, center, has layers of ahi tuna, avocado, cucumber and tomato drizzled with poke sauce and is served with crispy wontons — an appetizer meant for sharing; and breakfast doesn’t get much better than Crab Cakes Benedict with housemade hollandaise, at right.
Vintage on 5th
114 Northeast Fifth St., Crystal River
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 5-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.
Expect the unexpected when you enter here. Walk through the door of Vintage on 5th and you’ll find a restaurant full of charm. It’s the kind of place that puts a smile on your face.
It’s not often that I take a first bite of food, put my fork down and wait as the flavors play a game of ping-pong in my mouth, going back and forth between sweet and savory, in this case, Chilean sea bass seared and topped with sweet pepper hollandaise and served on a bed of creamy risotto with sundried tomatoes and capers. It was a culinary adventure I’ll not soon forget. Thanks for the experience and the memories Chef Aaron Davidson.
Chilean sea bass with sweet pepper hollandaise over sundried tomato-caper risotto.
Wallace’s at the Greenhouse
2420 South Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa, Fla.
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
I wasn’t quite sure I’d find as I turned into the gravel parking lot off of a busy highway under some kind of construction and across from a huge car dealership. But what a surprise when I walked inside and found a peaceful, charming restaurant with about a dozen tables inside and a screened porch where you can dine overlooking a lake. The menu offers weekly food specials in addition to a set menu featuring big steaks and pork chops, ribs, shrimp and grits, pasta dishes, burgers, sandwiches, salads and more. It’s a lovely dining experience that brings a new way of dining to Homosassa with its fresh, made-from-scratch menu.
The JPD Grilled Cheese at Wallace’s at the Greenhouse with jerk-braised pork, caramelized bacon-onion jam, arugula and smoked gouda is a house favorite for lunch or dinner.
11210 Halls River Road, Homosassa
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-midnight.
Crump’s has the catbird’s seat on the Homosassa River, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a table right on the water — and maybe a visit from a manatee. It’s got a tiki-village vibe with tables shaded with grass umbrellas on a sandy beach and other tables with colorful umbrellas on the deck. There’s lots of covered seating, too, but its mostly all open-air to catch warm breezes off the water. The menu offers a little bit of everything — fish tacos, chicken wings, burgers, clam chowder, seafood baskets. It’s touristy kind of place, but good food and friendly servers. Cold beer, too, to sip on a hot Florida afternoon.
Moe’s Mahi Tacos are seasoned with Crump’s own dry rub and served with cilantro lime slaw and a side of chips.
The Crab Plant
201 Northwest Fifth St., Crystal River
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
This place is where Crystal River gets baskets of fried or steamed seafood, shrimp and grits, jambalaya, Buffalo shrimp burgers and other feasts from the sea. Eat inside or out. Most all seafood is plucked from nearby waters and brought in daily. There’s a fish market next door, too, where you can buy the day’s catch and take it home.
This is a no-frills place. Wine comes in little bottles and plastic cups. But you’re not here for fancy. You’re here for fresh fish and a dynamic view of King’s Bay. The restaurant works on a cash-only basis, so come prepared.
Wine is served in plastic cups at The Crab Plant, a no-frills restaurant/seafood market along Crystal River’s King’s Bay Riverwalk.