Fish camps: A taste of Old Florida

Why are fish camps so al-lure-ing? Because they’re not afraid to get fresh. Go ahead and take the bait at these four restaurants in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Dunedin and Sarasota.

A tire swing hangs in the backyard of Owen's Fish Camp restaurant in Sarasota.

The laid-back backyard at Owen’s Fish Camp, complete with tire swing.

Photo by TBAY City Editor David Warner

When a restaurant calls itself a “fish camp,” what’s that mean?

Some say the term harks back to the makeshift eateries constructed in the 1920s near popular fishing spots, where proprietors would clean and cook your catch. Another theory suggests that the term derives from evangelical movements of the early 1800s, when the faithful would gather for “camp meetings” and prepare their food together.

Whatever their predecessors, the fish camps in Tampa Bay and Sarasota (many of which land regularly on lists of Best Seafood Restaurants) aim for that Old Florida vibe: rustic, relaxed and fresh.

Big Ray’s Fish Camp, 6116 Interbay Blvd. + 333 S. Franklin St. | $9+ | Chef/owner Nick Cruz drew on memories of fishing with his grandfather to open his tiny, self-described “box” in Ballast Point. Known for its blackened grouper sandwich, it now has an outpost on the Tampa Riverwalk and will be featured on The Food Network in October.

Hog Island Fish Camp, 900 Broadway Ave., Dunedin | $9+ | Hog Island is situated on busy Broadway, not by the water, but it captures the fish-camp spirit with locally sourced seafood like “Fish Camp Shrimp” in a laid-back, indoor-outdoor setting.

Mullet’s Fish Camp & Market, 3901 6th St. S., St. Petersburg | $11-$30 | The newest spot on this list has rapidly become a South St. Pete favorite. Like the haircut (but not the fish) for which it’s named, there’s business up front and a party in the back, with live music and picnic tables.

Customer Gloria Richardson kisses the cheek of the old-fisherman statue in front of Owen's Fish Camp in Sarasota.

Gloria Richardson, visiting Owen’s Fish Camp from Ohio, plants a kiss on the cheek of the “old salt” statue in front of the Sarasota restaurant.

Photo by TBAYtoday City Editor David Warner

Owen’s Fish Camp, 516 Burns Court, Sarasota | $6.99+ | Owen’s is a gem, tucked away behind a banyan tree gifted to Sarasota developer Owen Burns by Thomas Edison. Listen to live bluegrass in the backyard before heading inside for fresh-caught fish and “Deviled Eggs with Redneck ‘Caviar.’”

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