Food as a culinary experience: It’s not a concept usually associated with a boat show. That has been the reality for decades at the Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show, with “lousy food” long showing up as the No. 1 or No. 2 gripe (alongside lack of parking).
With the show’s move this year, organizers had a chance to rewrite the menu. They brought in Specialty Restaurants Corporation to create everything from new dining options to restaurant-quality seating. SRC runs, among other things, the Rusty Pelican and Whiskey Joe’s restaurants on Virginia Key.
“We pride ourselves on being destination restaurants,” says SRC managing director Ryan Smith. “You come, and that’s your night.”
For the boat show, Smith looked at historical data for SRC events everywhere from Las Vegas to Manhattan. He attended other boat shows to check out the competition. He thought about meat lovers and vegans and seniors and toddlers. He sought ideas from craft food and beer companies throughout Miami.
And he came up with a plan to build several on-site, 24-hour kitchens. They’ll provision every night and offer fresh food by day. Options will include a Wine Down Lounge with cheeses, charcuterie and small plates; a Havana Club & Cigar Bar with sample Cuban cuisine; a Roasted Pig barbecue spot; a Beer Garden with classic pub fare, salad and sushi; and a Kids Corner with build-your-own pizza and fro-yo.
“I’m really pumped about the barbecue,” Smith says. “We’re braising stuff for 48 hours ahead of time. The St. Louis ribs are going to be amazing, and the roasted pig is going to be cool. Our other big thing is seafood. We fly in seafood every day from all around the world.”
And this year, the food will be available in a place where you can sit and relax. SRC is building on-water dining for 300 to 400 guests apiece, with views.
“We’ll have the Biscayne Bay Cafe sitting right in the middle of the docks in the show, and that menu will be similar to the one I do at the Rusty Pelican with a lot of fresh seafood,” he says.
Smith has also teamed with Voli Vodka for an on-water lounge, and he’s adding a VIP space near Miami Marine Stadium. Whiskey Joe’s and the Rusty Pelican will be open (as will the separately owned Atlantica Seafood & Market), and delivery will be available to exhibitors and boats in the show.
And yes, anyone who wants to skip the new $15 brisket sandwich in favor of the traditional $5 hot dog will still be able to get it — but with an upgrade.
“One of my really hard days at work was that I went to test 35 different hot dogs,” Smith says. “Even with that kind of food, we’re picking the best of the best. We want that hot dog to be different than what you pull out of your refrigerator. It should be a level above.”
In Good Company: Specialty Restaurants Corporation, which is handling food at the boat show, is known for dining experiences at HS Lordships in Berkeley, California, and Brady’s Landing in Houston.
Dining at the Show: The newly built Biscayne Bay Cafe will have a menu similar to the Rusty Pelican’s, which includes lobster and mango salad, a blackened-grouper wrap and coconut shrimp.