By WARREN RESEN, International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association
TITUSVILLE, FL — Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant & More in Titusville, Florida has a reputation that transcends the boundaries of earth, literally. The business was built on the back of a little crustacean, known as the “peanut shrimp,” at one time considered practically inedible. Today known as a “rock shrimp” its taste, according to fans, is similar to lobster (not chicken). It has become a delicacy because of a technique to clean and prepare it that Rodney Thompson and his family perfected one weekend at home in their kitchen.
For the Thompsons, it has always been about the ocean and its bounty. Rodney, founder of Dixie Crossroads, built pleasure and commercial fishing boats in the 1950’s and 60’s in Port Canaveral and is credited with building the first commercial fiberglass shrimp boat.
Laurilee Thompson, Rodney’s daughter and current owner of Dixie Crossroads, was at one time possibly the only crewman (there was no political correctness back then) in the Atlantic long-line fleet. Then when her father gifted her with the last boat from his commercial production line, she gathered a crew and went off on her own, fishing the Gulf and Atlantic.
In January 1983 Rodney bought a small orange grove in Titusville, Florida and opened a restaurant using fiberglass coolers made in his ship building facility to keep the shrimp fresh. Customers used plastic forks, spoons and knifes. It was definitely not a white table cloth operation.
In the years since its opening as a small 30 seat neighborhood restaurant, Dixie Crossroads has outgrown its humble beginnings and today can accommodate more than 450 people. Fresh caught seafood is the reason for its continued success, and then there are those sinfully delicious baskets of corn fritters, each one shaped like a golf ball. Laurilee estimates more than a million are consumed by patrons yearly. When you try a basket, you’ll know why.
In the beginning Dixie Crossroads was the place to go for rock shrimp. Today it is more than that. Rock shrimp is just one of five species of domestic shrimp that are featured and every one of these five varieties has a different flavor profile. According to Laurilee, “Rock shrimp just happens to be the most unusual. The selection of shrimp on our menu also features Royal Reds, Key West Pinks, Canaveral Whites, Florida Browns and Hoppers.”
“ALL of the shrimp we serve at Dixie Crossroads are wild caught not farm raised. Approximately 90% of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. are farm raised, usually in foreign countries where growing conditions are often unregulated. Wild caught shrimp are firm and sweet and have a distinctive taste. They are not soft and tasteless like the farm raised variety that needs hot sauce for flavor,” Ms. Thompson said.
But then there is even more to the Dixie Crossroads menu then its famous shrimp. Alaskan King Crab, Maine Lobster, and Wild Salmon as well as many varieties of fish are offered. For meat eaters there is organically raised beef and poultry.
Dixie Crossroads’ original reputation was founded on serving Rock shrimp which looks like a miniature rock lobster tail. It was difficult and time consuming to clean. They were considered a by-product of a catch, used for bait or tossed back, except for the few brought home for personal consumption.
While hand cleaning a batch of rock shrimp in their family kitchen that Rodney had bought for home consumption, the Thompsons discovered an easier way to clean these delicious little crustaceans, making it economical to serve in a restaurant. The rest is history.
The motto of Dixie Crossroads is “Buy American.” The Thompson family promotes the interests of American fishing fleets, American fishermen and American products. However, they occasionally have to buy products from other sources when a particular variety is not available in local waters. Their horizon has grown beyond the boundaries of Florida’s waters and today reaches to all corners of North America. But the seafood they serve is always wild caught.
Dixie Crossroads was named, not as many think for the South, but for the nearby roadway with a similar name, Dixie Highway. It was NASA and the Space Shuttle program at nearby Cape Canaveral that helped the restaurant take off and earn an international and “out-of-this-world” reputation.
In its heyday, NASA’s visitors and employees were regular patrons of Dixie Crossroads in nearby Titusville. Engineers, scientists, politicians, foreign dignitaries, reporters, personalities and of course astronauts came to what was undeniably the best place to eat in the area and big enough to accommodate large groups. NASA would literally take over the restaurant, exposing it to a world-wide audience.
When America’s astronauts landed on the moon would it be unrealistic to think that they might have carried with them thoughts of the restaurant’s corn fritters? Was it really a golf ball that was whacked on the Moon or a golf ball sized corn fritter from Dixie Crossroads?
The Dixie Crossroads Restaurant in Titusville, Florida, has an out-of-this-world reputation and continues to attract patrons from far and wide.