I recently visited two Brevard County restaurants, both on the same evening. The first was River Rocks, on the western shore of the Indian River Lagoon in Rockledge. The second was back over the causeway and south a bit to Indian Harbour Beach. It's a trendy little place called Tonic. It would have been a perfect restaurant experience if I could have combined the two into one.
I loved the setting for River Rocks. The name is perfect, for that's the view for those who choose to sit on the wood deck. And why wouldn't you? The view is lovely, and the breeze is as salty as the ocean. It was a wonderful place to sit and relax and sip some nice wine.
It would have been a lovely place to have some good food, too, but that wasn't to be.
We ordered a few starters, including baby conch ($9), black garlic pesto flatbread ($7) and seafood bisque ($5). The baby conch were just plain silly. There were four of the little shells with virtually no way of extracting whatever might have been inside. After a while trying to make the little cocktail fork bend around into the shell, I finally was able to coax a minuscule amount of conch meat out. Wasn't worth the effort.
The flatbread was too doughy and lifeless, as though it had been purchased, pre-fab, in a grocery store aisle. The fontina cheese and arugula were imperceptible. And sadly, the seafood bisque was also a disappointment. Nothing particularly seafoody or bisquelike.
I wasn't the only one who thought this. As we were leaving the restaurant to head for Tonic, we chatted with some others who had just dined there. One of them said to me, "Isn't that a beautiful place? Too bad the food wasn't any good."
The food at Tonic was completely the opposite, and, no, I don't think Tonic merely had the advantage of having been visited after River Rocks. This place serves seriously good food.
Here my companion and I had the grilled flank steak ($13 for a tapas portion) and vanilla butter poached sea bass ($14).
Consider that phrase with me: vanilla butter poached. Oh, what cooking the tender-fleshed sea bass in rich butter did to the already delicate texture. It fairly melted. It was accompanied by wilted seasonal greens and fingerling potato hash.
The flank steak was nearly as tender as the sea bass with a buttery texture all its own. It was accompanied by spring onion brulee and fresh seasonal vegetables.
We ought to have stopped before dessert. The bread pudding ($3) was dry and disappointing.
I liked the staff at Tonic, too. They were exuberant and welcoming.
Now, when I say it would have been nice to have the food from Tonic in the River Rocks setting that isn't to say that Tonic's decor wasn't nice. It was sufficiently toney to match the food. It just would have been killer to have that food on the waterfront.
Tonic's setting is not its draw. The strip mall locale is mundane, and the facade makes the place look like an erstwhile California Pizza Kitchen franchise.But none of that detracts from the overall enjoyment of the food.
If you're reading this in the Orlando area and wonder whether the food at Tonic is worth a drive over to Indian Harbour Beach, yes, I think it is. And if you find the drive is a bit too long, you could always stop off in South Rockledge for a sip of wine on the deck before going on.
River Rocks is at 6485 S. U.S. Highway 1, Rockledge. It's open for lunch and dinner daily and serves brunch on Sunday. Phone number is 321-757-7200. The Web site is riverrocksrestaurant.com.
Tonic is at 1906 Highway A1A, Indian Harbour Beach. It's open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 321-622-8909. The Web site is tonicstateofmind.com