For decades before there was anything called the Space Coast, long before the U.S. had a space program, there was Bernard’s Surf, a fine dining seafood restaurant at 2 S. Atlantic Ave. in Cocoa Beach.
Bernard Fischer, whose family owned a fleet of fishing boats that operated out of Port Canaveral, opened the restaurant on Oct. 31, 1948, a full decade before Dwight Eisenhower established NASA, but its legacy was tied to the space program and America’s fascination with astronauts, both real and fictitious.
Fictionally, the astronauts and space officials in the television series “I Dream of Jeannie” referred to having dinner at The Surf. The series, starring Larry Hagman as an astronaut who finds a bottle on a beach after being marooned on an island following a failed launch and releases a two thousand year old genie, played by Barbara Eden. The sitcom had the characters living in Cocoa Beach, though the real astronauts lived in Houston. (And in fact the tv show was filmed in California.) Still, it wasn’t unusual for astronauts visiting the Cape to be seen at the Surf – there were few other fine dining options available.
Bernard Fischer died in 1965 and his nephew Rusty took over the operation of the Surf. He also added Rusty’s Raw Bar next door on Minutemen Causeway.
I first visited Bernard’s Surf 30 years ago, which is when I picked up the matchbox pictured above, and reviewed it on June 30, 1991, in the Orlando Sentinel’s Florida magazine. It was generally a good review, though I remember it was experimenting with exotic meats, including black bear. (I received a phone call from some state wildlife officials wanting more information on the meats because serving bear was illegal. I suggested perhaps they should call the restaurant instead of the restaurant critic.)
I last visited the Surf in 2007. By then, the Fischer family had sold the business and Bernard’s name was removed. It was finally officially known just as The Surf Bar & Grill. The food was still good but the decor was showing its age.
It closed in 2010 and remained vacant until it was demolished in 2017. The lot is still empty.
Rusty’s Seafood & Oyster Bar relocated to Glen Cheek Drive, Cape Canaveral, overlooking the port.