966 E. Jefferson Street
The Florida Cracker Lifestyle is to be relished. We have our own YouTube channel to help you understand, which can be found by clicking here.
The Cracker Kitchen serves southern comfort food. Next door, the Tap Room offers craft beers from local brewers, occasional music with indoor and outdoor seating and a limited menu. One more over is the Cracker Store where you can find all types of merchandise to show your Cracker style.
Who’s up for a gastronomic field trip to Brooksville? Don’t be slinking away so quickly…you may change your mind by the time I’m finished here.
Florida Cracker Kitchen is the product of a 20-year-old mini family dining dynasty on Jefferson Street in Brooksville. This collaboration of brothers Ethan (a formally trained chef) and Blair (silver-tongued southern charmer and veritable one-man PR firm) Hensley is worth the drive from wherever you may be situated in the Tampa Bay area. Their mother, Larie Dewitt Hensley, owns the nearby acclaimed Mallie Kyla’s Café. The restaurant opened two years ago serving breakfast and lunch only and recently expanded service to include dinner hours on Friday and Saturday.
The vibe at Florida Cracker Kitchen is kitschy, old-school-Florida at its finest and service is both attentive and small town friendly. But don’t let the down-home decor, Christmas lights, vintage advertising signs and requisite Adirondack chairs and rockers out front fool you…this is no Cracker Barrel.
Our dining group of three was presented with an amuse-bouche of “Cracker Caviar” to stimulate our taste buds upon being seated. This addictive combo of marinated artichoke hearts, assorted olives, chickpeas, pearl-sized mozzarella balls and other goodies served as a perfect prelude to the bountiful offerings to come.
Portions of everything are huge at Florida Cracker Kitchen, so be prepared to take a to-go box home with you because you will want to sample it all. For starters, the house-smoked fresh mullet spread could be a meal in and of itself and is one of the finest renditions to be found in the Greater Tampa Bay area for my money…and I can be extremely judgmental when it comes to fish spread. Creamy slices of avocado were an unexpected garnish, but made a surprisingly delightful foil for this nicely spicy pescetarian’s delight.
Likewise, you don’t want to pass on FCK’s escalated riff on crab rangoon. These flaky, sherry-laced lump crab and Gruyere stuffed phyllo purses are a study in luxurious decadence.
The term “shrimp” is something of a misnomer here, as Florida Cracker Kitchen’s shrimp cocktail features some of the largest specimens of said crustaceans I’ve ever laid eyes on, served chilled and nicely spiced.
Entrees were equally impressive, reasonably priced (all but the Filet of Beef are under $20) and served with a starch, a fresh veggie and choice of soup or salad. While house dinner salads rarely do much to ratchet my heart rate up, this one did. UD’s gorgeous bowl of fresh greens with red onion slivers, heirloom grape tomatoes, carrot strands and toasted walnuts was drizzled in a light, house vinaigrette and heartily snarfed.
The soup of the day was crab and corn chowder (which I can almost never pass up), so I had to admire the salad from afar. This was an excellent rendition and I appreciated that fact that no one was skimping on either the crab morsels or the trough size.
The bone of the spousal unit’s 1 lb. grilled porterhouse pork chop with apple rum glaze looked like it had been bleaching in the sun for a month after he had his way with it.
I have no idea where she put it all, but little remained of our petite dining companion’s fat and meaty Chassahowitzka river crab cakes after she tucked into them.
Lastly, I enjoyed perfectly pan-seared grouper cheeks with beurre noisette sauce with fluffy jasmine rice and some outstanding Brussels sprouts with sautéed onion that I daresay would be sweet enough to convert even the most hardcore cruciferous veggie haters.
Creamy, mile-high kumquat pie is a must-order for citrus junkies. When this shell-pink cloud arrives at the table atop its cinnamon graham cracker crust, you won’t know whether to eat it or snuggle up in it. But go ahead and dive in (with your fork!)…the tangy and refreshing key-lime-meets-grapefruit flavor is quite remarkable.
The wine and craft beer list is short but thoughtful and most will find something on it to satisfy their taste. For the bona fide “Crackers”, there are tall boy cans of Miller Lite, PBR and Old Milwaukee on hand.
Final Word: This was an extremely pleasing experience in all respects. The place is fun, it’s friendly, the food is excellent and nicely presented, and (bonus points!) it’s quite affordable. Be aware that this is a cash-only business, but there is an ATM onsite for diners’ convenience (if you’re lucky, you might get some of your change back in whimsical $2 bills).