Locals to the southern Brevard beaches know about The Melbourne Beach Market. With fine meats and cheeses, produce, wines and even some hot food to go, it has been a staple to the area for nearly half a century. And what many locals also know of, that you might not, is an addition to the ongoing legend: Ocean 302 Bar and Grill. Owner of both, Charlie Zubi, has taken some of the best the market offered, assembled an amazing staff and put forth one of the hottest, most talked about restaurants around. SpaceCoast Living senior editor, Steven Hicks, took an appetite and a camera down to Melbourne beach a couple of weeks ago, and this is what he discovered.
“First let me say I have an affinity for Mel Beach, I love the quality of life there. The closeness of the community, the ride-your-bike-to-breakfast feel and the variety of locals, and not, who make up the neighborhoods. It is separated by a little distance from Satellite Beach, and even Indialantic, and has its own personality. A personality perfectly suited to Ocean 302. Chef Jeff Kainz says it is an eclectic farmer’s table. Taryn Rockwell, their Marketing Director, says it has a feel perfect for Millennials. Charley says it owes a good bit to the Chicago he loves. I’d say they’re all correct.”
“I met first with Charley, who explained his concept, and offered a brief history of The Market. He then told me about HIS experience opening small neighborhood restaurants, package stores, and groceries at home in Chicago. He was particularly proud of making a success of a Mexican restaurant in an old Polish neighborhood. He found they were preparing more and more of his items at The Market for locals, so this restaurant was a natural extension of that.”
The restaurant definitely has a casual urban feel, but it isn’t cold or too pub-ish. It is spotless and inviting, a beautiful bar on the right, booths and open tables to the left. Yet, it is what lies ahead that is very different, and Ocean 302’s signature… the Chef’s Table. You’ll need a reservation to be seated here, and be prepared to spend your evening engaged, entertained, educated and very well fed. Chef says he knows the basics for each night’s meal, but the specifics develop as the night progresses. The night will be about memorable meals and experiences, and maybe you’ll be in the mood to try new things. Start with appetizers, paired with wine from an extensive list, or a beer pairing if it is more appropriate, and move along the evening at a leisurely, enjoyable pace. There isn’t someone waiting for your seat; this is a once-a-night affair, and you’re his guest.
Steven continued, “I tried many of the items I photographed. That’s one of the perks of being a food photographer! The Pig Eye Tuna was as beautiful a dish as it was tasty. Crusted in pumpkin seed and wrapped in American prosciutto, the plate was presented with a spicy boiled peanut beurre blanc that made the dish. Since we were shooting main plates, next was one of the night’s specials: “Buck & Berries” is a charred and cocoa nib crusted Colorado elk loin, cut into perfect strips. The presentation was adorned with baby carrots, sunburst baby squash and a nice huckleberry jus. This is one of those sublime instances where the quality and preparation of the ingredients, which are mostly local, was every bit as good as the flavor and presentation.”
Restaurants will often over-prepare food for us when we show up to interview and photograph them, and this was no exception. Chef brought out dish after dish, from their “Praise the Lard” burger ground in-house, topped with a farm fresh egg, smoked pork belly AND bourbon bacon, to a (Hello, Chicago!) brick oven “Truffle Love” pizza, to their huge “Shorty’s Pasta” featuring a short-rib Bolognese with pickled peach and roasted tomatoes; there was nothing this night that was short of spectacular.
“I’ve been saving one last surprise for the end of this review. Ocean 302 has their own pastry chef.” This should absolutely push you over the edge to get here. “Not only are Chef’s selections paired with an impressive wine list, but they are often paired with homemade desserts as well.” Witness the tiny strawberry tart in the photograph, topped with a swirl of fresh cotton candy. It was, as was everything else… exquisite.
Ocean 302 has a credo, “Life is sobering, food is intoxicating.” That’s the great cornerstone for this restaurant’s success, and it is backed up by an owner, a chef and staff making it true every day, every plate.
302 Ocean Ave.
Melbourne Beach, FL 32951
Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.- 10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.- 11 p.m.