To prep for his new job as head chef at Junkanoo Island Kitchen & Rum Bar, Timothy Riley went on vacation.
How better to research island cooking than to visit the Caribbean?
He returned from St. John and St. Thomas inspired, ready to add island flair to Port Canaveral’s newest dining venue.
Junkanoo, which opened April 1 next to Rusty’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, features a compact, but well-curated menu that’s packed with flavor. Main dishes include roasted jerk chicken, grilled or blackened wahoo, churrusco steak and banana leaf fish.
Gary Foreman said he and his Junkanoo partner, Rich Hensel, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to open a place on the water. Both already have interests at the port — Foreman is a partner at nearby Rising Tide Tap & Table and Hensel is an owner of Fishlips Waterfront Bar & Grill.
The portside restaurant, former home to Baja Chowder, had been empty for several months before the partners decided to dive in.
The name Junkanoo comes from a Bahamian celebration held the day after Christmas that includes a parade, music and homemade costumes.
Foreman wants every day to feel like Junkanoo at the restaurant. Before they even walk through the front door, guests can climb onto a over-sized yellow chair for a photo opp. Inside the “junk” theme continues. Giant sea creatures created by Cocoa Beach artist Jessie Saum out of old car parts, power tools, kitchen utensils and bike helmets swim across the walls.
Furniture and light fixtures were rescued from an old TGI Fridays, Foreman said. Two walls of glass encase the kitchen, giving guests a view of the action as their meals are prepared.
Saum’s colorful touch spills out onto the spacious, covered Daiquiri Deck, bright splotches paint splashed across formerly drab tabletops.
Locals and tourists alike are discovering this new hangout, with its views of cruise ships and fishing boats and outdoor bar with an extensive rum collection.
Sure, you’ll find Bacardi, but you can also discover Bumbu, made in a distillery owned by Lil’ Wayne, La Hechichera from Colombia and Pusser’s, a tradition with the Royal British Navy that dates back to the 1700s.
Sip the rum straight, or in a tropical cocktail, like the ubiquitous-in-the-islands Painkiller ($7.25) made with Pusser’s rum, pineapple and orange juice and coconut cream.
The foundation of Riley’s menu is island comfort food. The Thursday special is pork-etta ($13.99), a rolled pork loin slow-roasted in orange, lemon and lime juices.
It’s prepared like Italian pork-etta, only with Cuban seasonings.
“We slice it like a pinwheel and serve it with pigeon peas and coconut rice,” Riley said.
“The other dish that I’m really proud of is the banana leaf corvina,” he said. The mild, sweet fish is steamed in a banana leaf with fresh poblano, mango, garlic, green onion, jerk butter and lemon.
The banana leaf gives it a grassy flavor, Riley said. When the fish is done, he uses a culinary torch to burn part of the leaf away, which adds a smokiness to the final product. It’s served with a banana rum sauce.
For appetizers, tomatillos give the guacamole a fresh kick, and crispy hush puppies get an extra bite from jalapenos. And if you order nothing else here, get the mac ‘n’ cheese. It’s a Bahamian-style baked macaroni pie with cheddar cheese and habanero.
Riley started his restaurant career as a dishwasher at La Parisienne in St. Augustine, spent a few years at Ashville, North Carolina, restaurants and cooked at the Fat Snook in Cocoa Beach, and most recently, Rising Tide.
And, after island hopping for inspiration, he said he is exciting to bring all that experience the Space Coast’s burgeoning culinary scene.
Suzy Fleming Leonard, Florida Today