Judging from their blissful, soporific smiles and stacks of leftovers, we passed a satisfied family on our way into Dixie Crossroads in Titusville. "We came all the way from Deltona, and it was worth it," someone said. We drove from Orlando to dine at this established beacon of fish-house cuisine, and we knew it would be worth the trip, too.
Confident that "if you cook it, they will come," management has skipped the Martha Stewart niceties of atmosphere and decorum. They don't waste time mixing tartar sauces; instead they serve the Ken's Steak House brand in disposable cups. Forks and knives are wrapped in wax paper and clunked on top of paper placemats. Hostesses communicate with each other on radio headsets while searching for the next empty table.
Lines are so long outside on weekends that Dixie carved a pond, built a pavilion and hired a band. Most patrons don't seem to mind waiting an hour or more to get seated.
When it was our time, we were led to the Manatee Room, decorated with murals of sea cows and bubbles. We selected entrees and soups. There was hardly time to blink before the waitress returned with a tray of vegetable soup (OK), shrimp chowder (much better), creamy coleslaw (getting warmer) and gloriously golden, crispy corn fritters (hubba! hubba!). Without exaggeration these are the best fritters I have ever had or probably ever will have. Crescents of sweet dough are blended with corn kernels and fried to a light, crisp finish.
The seafood arrived shortly afterward, all a jumble on oversized platters. We chose to have it fried, rather than steamed or broiled. My shellfish combo ($10.95) came with shrimp, scallops and stuffed crab. The traditional shrimp and smaller rock shrimp were fried a dark brown. Both were sweet, fresh and delicious. Scallops were a little mushy and disappointing that day. Stuffed crab was actually breaded crab meat, molded into pucks and fried to crunchy hard shells. Very good. My guest's Indian River combo ($10.95) came with most of this and mullet as well. The fish fillet was fresh and firm, with a thick, flaky batter. Our baked potatoes were not on a par with the rest of the dinner too steamy and heavy.
The lemon cake ($1.50) was a surprisingly good homespun yellow cake topped with a slab of citrus icing, though an unexpected touch came with the check: a cup of vanilla frozen yogurt, to clear the palate.
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