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In 2007, Chili's, Fridays, Applebees and Burger Joints dotted the landscape and Pizza Joints filled in the spaces. Although, fast food popularity is hitting an all time nationwide high in 2009, the options for fine dining are expanding at a phenomenal rate (relatively speaking). For a long time, the Chart House (Melbourne), The Yellow Dog Cafe (Palm Bay) and The Mango Tree (in Cocoa) had little competition for "nearly-fine-dining" entries in the area. The hurricanes of 2004 destroyed dining landmarks like the the Phoenix and Matt's Tropical Grill. The good news is that Chef Matt Nugnes has opened a new place, Matt's Casbah, in historic downtown Melbourne.
Matt's Casbah has it all, and really lives up to the 80's song...."Rock the Casbah". While Matt was on hiatus after the 2004 hurricanes, he was able to enhance his culinary skills even more which most of his regular clients would agree, was thought to be exceptional and needed no improvement. Matt's Casbah has a variety of asian, fusion and american foods on the menu, and some of the names of the dishes are quite entertaining. The variety of spices, flavors and aromas are intriguing and devine. Every bite has the taster asking, how does the chef manage to get the flavors and presentation to pop like that? The sushi, six spiced tuna with shrimp and scallops melt away in your mouth, but not before teasing and pleasuring every tastebud in your mouth. The wine list addresses everyone's needs from the casual drinker to the discriminating connoisseur. The atmosphere is pleasant and relaxed with beautiful interior design and artwork. The quality of service is exceptional. Entertainment is standard on the weekends on the outside patio. http:// www.mattscasbah.com
A few other Asian-Fusion places have opened their doors in 2009 including the River Rocks (old Chowder's) on U.S. Hwy 1 , north of Suntree Blvd. and Tonic (A1A in Satellite Beach). River Rocks is great competition for Matt's Casbah. The ambience and the view of the Indian River Lagoon are enchanting. Everyone within earshot was raving about the perfection and flavors of their seafood, meat and poultry. The "wild caught mahi' and the "five spiced ahi" could not have been more perfect. Their Friday night dock party really makes the river come alive especially with their drink specials. The new owner is currently working on reconstruction and expanding the outside deck area with a second casual menu, new bar and lots of entertainment. Reservations are taken for small and large parties. http://www.riverrocksrestaurant.com/. Tonic is on the list of restaurants to visit, and that review will be added shortly.
The Chart House in Melbourne is always on the "A" list because they consistently have an excellent menu with variety and choices of meals that almost always shatter a diner's palate. The Chart House has stood the test of time, and the quality of service has not degraded through the years. The view of the marina and harbor are spectacular, and if you are near a window, "Charlie", the resident blue heron, can be seen fishing for his meal. In the past few years, even with a reservation you often have to wait, especially on Friday nights, as they routinely overbook; however, the last few times on a visit, they've seated guests in a more timely matter (10-15 minutes versus 30 minutes in the past). The wine list is extensive, and the prices range from moderate to very high.
The Yellow Dog Cafe is located on busy Rte 1, but overlooks the Indian River Lagoon. Prices are a little high for the cuisine, and the portions are smaller than you'd expect. Yellow Dog does a good effort to bring grande Cuisine to the area and the place is packed on a Friday night. Wine prices are high. The food is great. Dining is slow and their service is acceptable.
The Mango Tree in Cocoa (worth the drive) is located in a tiny house on Route A1A and it caters to a fine dining clientelle mostly composed of locals. Parking is very tight and scarce. Their menu is brilliant and their delivery is very good. Their prices are a little high, but their service is great. You'll leave there spending over $200 for dinner, wine, dessert and a couple cocktails. Their wines, like everyone else's, are overpriced.