Old Florida Fish House: A lakeside oasis and getaway in the middle of it all
By Lauren Sage Reinlie
June 19, 2022
SEAGROVE BEACH – In addition to high-caliber sushi, fresh fish, and coastal farm-to-table fare, Old Florida Fish House has one of the most stunning outdoor dining areas around.
The restaurant’s new owners, Keith O’Leary and his family, took over the entire three-acre property on the shores of Eastern Lake over three years ago. They have transformed it into a beautiful oasis, nestled in the longleaf pine forests, decorated gorgeously with flowers, greenery, and twinkling lights.
“Once the vibe is set with the lights, the fire pit, the tiki torches, and the music, it’s magical,” said Mick Wilson, the restaurant’s general manager. “Everybody just wants to be out here.”
Almost every seat in the house has a sunset view over the lake every night.
This is 30A dining as it should be, Wilson said. Reservations are accepted, and with seating for 850 (over half of it outside), walk-ins are also welcome. Free valet parking gets you in the door, and once a visitor is there, they could stay for hours.
“We are unique on 30A for what we offer as a destination venue,” Wilson said.
The outdoor lawn and dining area is expansive with cornhole, ping pong, and astroturf areas where kids can play, a dock stretching over the lake, and an area for large parties where long tables can seat up to 20 guests.
Indoors, the restaurant has four main areas: the dining room, an oyster bar, the sushi bar, and the dueling piano bar, where a late-night crowd joins in boisterous singalongs and can even be found dancing on tables.
But that’s not all. On the property, the O’Leary family also has a wine and beer bar, a coffee shop, a daiquiri shack, a gelato and snow-ball stand, a food truck for to-go offerings, and a spot to rent paddleboards and kayaks to launch on the lake behind the restaurant. Oh, and also, Nana’s garden, a beautiful herb and vegetable garden.
The restaurant is versatile for whatever type of outing patrons seek. Not just in the array of offerings, but also in the dress, food, and vibe.
“We are kind of casual and upscale,” Wilson said. “You will feel relaxed and comfortable here whether dressed to the nines or in a t-shirt and baseball cap.”
DJ McCracken, the restaurant’s longstanding sushi chef, has stepped up his sushi game over the past two years, Wilson said, expanding their menu to include specialty fish flown in daily from as far away as Japan, Barcelona, and Hawaii. Offerings include aged bluefin and uni (the edible part of a sea urchin). While more traditional sushi rolls are available, the high-end Land and Sea roll includes king crab, wagyu beef, and Kaluga caviar.
Other menu highlights include the Grouper Fish House, which is grouper served with crab, shrimp, green beans, and garlic smashed potatoes with a lemon beurre blanc; braised wagyu short rib; shrimp and grits; and their award-winning seafood gumbo.
Specialty cocktails, with produce and herbs sourced from Nana’s garden, include the Rosemary Beach lemonade made with fresh rosemary-infused vodka and the Mexico Beach margarita made with jalapeño-infused tequila. They offer some premium bourbon selections with a menu running from $18 a pour to $800 a pour. Wine, champagne, and sparkling options run from $40 a bottle to $1,400 (for Jay-Z’s Ace of Spades).
Wilson said he loves his job. It’s challenging because of how multifaceted the operation is and just the sheer number of employees required to keep it all running smoothly. But, what fuels him the most, he said, is the passion the people who work there have for their jobs.
“You get to be a part of that magical vibe that the customer is experiencing,” he said. “What we are working so hard to give to the customers, we get to feel that and enjoy it. The team is all really passionate about making it all come together. It’s a great place to work.”
Old Florida Fish House is located at 33 Heron’s Watch Way in Santa Rosa Beach. They are open seven days a week. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner begins at 4:30 with sushi service starting at 5. The restaurant closes at 10, but the piano bar remains open until 11 p.m. Reservations can be made online at oldfloridafishhouse.com or by phone at 850-534-3045.