Are you coming down to Central Florida for a visit? Take one day out of your Theme Park huddled vacation and go see the real Florida. Do you live here but never ventured beyond the national chains or high end independent destination restaurants? Take a drive to DeBary.
We are very fortunate to live so close to nature and yet we seldom take advantage to live that experience. However you are getting there, whether driving which will take you to the dead end of W. Highbanks Rd. or by boat which puts you on the marina, this is certainly a connection with nature. Regular car parking is in an unpaved lot. Get ready to track around in sand.
The restaurant itself sits in the Highbanks Marina and Camp Resort. The Marina is also the starting point for the St. Johns River Eco Tours. If you want to take the tour, which is in a flat bottom pontoon boat, call ahead and make sure they are operational. During times of high winds they will not go out on the river. The camp resort houses RV. The marina acts as a parking lot for boats.
The building that houses the restaurant also houses a convenient store. There is a huge open dining room upstairs, a bar at one end, and a Tiki Bar on the ground floor along the marina. Food is served from the same menu either upstairs or downstairs. The upstairs has a private room that can be reserved for small gatherings of about 25 people. Being a Swamp House it goes without saying what adorns the walls. Alligators. There is a huge preserved Gator that kind of separates the bar area from the dining room. His headstone is proudly displayed.
Being literally on the St. Johns River, this menu showcases catfish, alligator, shrimp, and other fish varieties. Most fish can be grilled, blackened, or fried. There are Louisiana style dishes such as gumbo, crab cakes, and jambalaya. The menu has a little bit for everyone. Not feeling too adventurous, don’t know why you shouldn’t, there are safe bet items.
Fried Gator Tail – 1/4 pound hand prepared citrus marinated nuggets, corn meal battered. The batter is lightly seasoned with a delicate underlying bite. A crisp crunch to the bite just crumbles to reveal succulent tender alligator meat. This is by far one of the best tasting battered alligator tail I’ve tasted. 1/4 pound is not enough!
Grilled Grouper Sandwich – A generous portion of lightly seasoned grouper, tomato, onion, lettuce, on a bun. The fish was cooked to tender flaky perfection, seasoning was just enough to let the fish shine. Sweet potato fries lightly seasoned and fried to crispy goodness, served with Mud Sauce. Mud Sauce is whipped cream, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Mud never tasted any better.
Big Catfish B.L.T. – Fried Catfish with Applewood Bacon, Lettuce, & Tomato served with Sweet Potato Fries and that now famous Mud Sauce. The bacon was a little too crisp and hard for my liking. But the catfish stood out like a swamp star. Perfectly seasoned and cooked. I would like another piece of fish please.
This is not the kind of place to go and have a nice quiet meal. This is where you walk in and let loose. The live music attracts and allows for loud conversations. The staff encourages lively interactions and are not afraid to pass a few witty remarks at just about anything. The cold libations flow freely. From the upstairs I am sure there are enough taunting on the lower Tiki bar deck to encourage more swampy raucousness. The food is great, the atmosphere is lively, and the St. Johns River flows right along at it’s leisure. Next trip I am getting in one of those boats and float around the river. This is what Florida living is all about. Go out and live it!
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