Big Ray's Fish Camp on Interbay Boulevard in South Tampa Katie Rief
Mural on the side of Big Ray's Fish Camp in South Tampa Katie Rief
Signature grouper sandwich and fries at Big Ray's Fish Camp in South Tampa Katie Rief
Nothing says “Florida” quite like a waterfront seafood shack, which is why Nick Cruz, Owner and Operator of Big Ray’s Fish Camp, is excited to see his restaurant expand to the Tampa Convention Center, right next to The Sail (formerly the Sail Pavilion).
Cruz recently signed a licensing agreement with Aramark, the food and beverage provider for the Tampa Convention Center, after the concession company’s representatives came and ate a meal at his Ballast Point establishment in South Tampa. As a part of the deal, Cruz will take a percentage of sales.
Opened in July 2015, Big Ray’s quickly became a favorite for locals in the mood for a delicious, no-frills seafood experience. Serving some of Tampa’s best grouper sandwiches from an unassuming spot on Interbay Boulevard, Big Ray’s was built in a tradition of Florida fish shacks from yesteryear. Its menu walks a fine line between traditional and daring, from conch fritters and peel-and-eat shrimp to succulent grouper cheeks and decadent lobster corndogs.
“What we're doing is what people did with fish shacks in the '50s and '60s,” says Cruz. “It's what we saw was lacking in Florida. We get fresh fish in when it’s available and have a lobster corndog, which nobody has ever seen before. We created that.”
The Cruz family has a long history in Tampa, tracing its roots back generations. Cruz himself cut his teeth in kitchens before stepping out on his own.
“I'm a fifth-generation Tampanian,” says Cruz. “I started cooking throughout some kitchens here in South Tampa and opened a catering business about eight years ago. I just decided to open up a good seafood and grouper sandwich place.”
The menu at the convention center venue will mirror that of the original location. That means plenty of sandwiches -- including a grouper, Cuban, burger, and shrimp po’ boy -- and desserts like key lime pie, fried key lime pie, and fried oreos.
“At the Sail Pavilion, we're going to try to bring that feeling of Florida in the '70s and '60s," Cruz says. "That feeling of what it was like to go get a great grouper sandwich on the water."
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Dyllan Furness is a freelance writer and born-again Floridian based in Tampa. He covers the Tampa Bay Area’s development boom for 83 Degrees
, with an eye out for sustainable and community-driven initiatives.