HERNANDO BEACH — Although the community of Hernando Beach lacks an authentic beach, its shrimp docks and salty air leave no doubt that seafood is plentiful.
And now it's being served up at Hernando Beach Tropical Grille, a new clam shack and tiki bar.
Alongside Hernando Beach Marina on Shoal Line Boulevard, owner-chef Mark Peloquin has raised a big top-size, palm-thatched roof under which he dishes up his personal creations.
Shrimp, scallops, oysters and fish prevail, alongside Ipswich clams and Maine lobster.
Peloquin, 61, hails from Massachusetts and once owned a restaurant in Ipswich. He knows New England seafood and that its devotees will follow it anywhere. Sit at one of his picnic tables beneath the thatch, listen as a diner intones, "I'll have the lobstah roll," and know that retirees from New England have discovered fare from home along Florida's gulf coast.
"We have a lot of clam shack-type places in New England," Peloquin said. "An opportunity arose, and I jumped on it."
Twelve years ago, Peloquin founded the Armadillo Cafe in Spring Hill. He sold it and has since moved among chef positions at four area restaurants.
"I was looking to do something and seriously considering a food truck," he said.
He found a custom-built kitchen trailer and struck up "a sort of partnership" with the owner of the Hernando Beach Marina.
Peloquin matched that with his clam shack reminiscences and came up with the idea for the grille.
The "e" probably should be disclaimed since the eatery's dining utensils are plastic and the plates heavy-duty picnic paper.
"It's called eating in the rough," the chef said. "Another thing: It enables us to keep our prices low."
The grille has no dishwasher, nor space for one.
"Plus," Peloquin said, "it's casual. It's not for everybody. But people say it's a lot like Key West."
Peloquin himself fits right in, with his bandanna head scarf and tattoos.
The menu is penned on erasable white boards that won't fly away in the open-air dining space.
"I've always been a big fan of seafood," the chef said of the listings on the menu. There are oysters on the half-shell, conch fritters, calamari and "shrimp and scallop something."
When Peloquin devised the latter dish a wait staffer asked how to list it on the menu.
"It's shrimp and scallop . . . something," he said with hesitation.
She wrote it that way.
Actually, the sea critters swim in a sweet tomato sauce with a bite amid sauteed hot and sweet peppers, garlic and black olives.
"We do a lot of local seafood," Peloquin said. "The menu changes frequently. If somebody comes in and wants something not on the board, we'll try to put something together that suits them.
"We do a lot of lobster rolls. Fish tacos are big. Fried clams, seafood baskets."
With a nod to the turf on the menu, Peloquin notes, "We do lots of rib eye steaks."
Appetizers and entrees range from $2.95 to $10.95, except for the lobster roll, which is $14.95.
The seafood is all fresh, not frozen, purchased from a Hudson fresh fish wholesaler and flown in several times a week from New England.
"I use fresh ingredients," Peloquin added. "Pretty much everything, I do from scratch. It's a lot of work, but people appreciate it."
Seating is limited to about 45, mostly at varnished picnic tables and a generous-size horseshoe bar. Three umbrella tables can be augmented by several more that stand ready for quick setup in the parking lot for an overflow crowd.
The business employs seven, including two chefs who assist Peloquin on weekends.
Having opened on July 4, the owner said he has roll-down curtains for cold weather and a couple of gas heaters on standby.
For now, Peloquin said, "A lot of people are enjoying the food and the ambience. The sunsets are really nice."
Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]