Stepping Outside Disney's Vero Beach Resort to Explore Dining Options

by Donna Fesel, contributing writer

As members of Disney's Vacation Club (Disney's timeshare program), we discovered one of the most beautiful and relaxing places to vacation, Disney's Vero Beach Resort. Located on Florida's Treasure Coast, and a short drive from Walt Disney World, Disney's Vero Beach Resort is a family resort that is chock a block full of all-ages activities, oceanfront views, and wonderful dining this is kissed by that little bit of Disney magic. We discovered Disney's Vero Beach Resort when our son (who is now 11) was four, and we've visited nearly every year since, typically for a week.

Every visit to Disney's Vero Beach Resort is a little bit different. This past summer, for example, my son was finally old enough to take surfing lessons. He's learned to fish, played flag football with new friends, and made tee shirts with Mickey on them. As a family, we've lounged poolside, boogie boarded, watched outdoor movies (sadly these are no longer featured), and gotten up at the crack of dawn to see wee baby sea turtles set free in the ocean.

For the first few years, we stuck exclusively around the Disney Vero Beach Resort compound. It is really quite large, and there are plenty of things to do. We also dined exclusively at the Resort's locations. The cast members at Disney's Vero Beach Resort are absolutely wonderful, talkative, and enthusiastic about sharing their favorite things to do, and places to eat nearby. Two years ago we did the unthinkable… we ventured off the Resort's property to check out some of the places recommended by cast members. In this column I'm going to share two of our new favorite must-visit dining destinations in the Vero Beach area.

A kitschy sign welcomes you to the Kilted Mermaid. Photo by Donna Fesel.

First up, beginning in Vero Beach itself, Kilted Mermaid (1937 Old Dixie Highway, Vero Beach, 772-569-5533) is a mere 11 miles from Disney's Vero Beach Resort—about a twenty minute drive. Kilted Mermaid is a neighborhood craft beer and wine bar featuring 25 wines by the glass and over 80 beers. It is casual, funky, cozy, features a bunch of outdoor dining, and is absolutely kid-friendly during dinner hours (it may be kid friendly later as well, we just haven't stayed later than dinner). Later in the evening, Kilted Mermaid features trivia, open mic nights, and stand-up comedy. It's open every day of the week for dinner, and stays open fairly late for those looking to make an evening of things.

A fun, colorful dragon on Kilted Mermaid's ceiling adds to the eclectic decor. Photo by Donna Fesel.

More interesting ceiling fixtures delight at Kilted Mermaid. Photo by Donna Fesel.

Kilted Mermaid was heavily recommended by Disney cast members, and mentioned by a friend of mine who also visits the Vero Beach area regularly. Kilted Mermaid offers a variety of smaller plates for sharing, as well as flatbreads, sandwiches and salads. We've been to Kilted Mermaid two summers in a row. Our must eat regular favorites include the tuna crudo, which is raw tuna chopped finely and served with some wasabi sauce on fried wontons; it is so fresh and tasty—sort of like a poke (a Hawaiian recipe for raw tuna).

The tuna crudo served on a crisp wonton at Kilted Mermaid. Photo by Donna Fesel.

We always have to get a cheese fondue as well; this time we had the spicy sausage fondue—made with pepper jack and smoked gouda cheese, sausage, chopped tomatoes, and peppers—served with assorted breads, fruit, and vegetables for dipping. It was the perfect size for sharing, and tasted fabulous. It had a little bit of kick and smoke from the cheeses and was unbelievably creamy. Lastly, we always order some empanadas—a type of miniature savory hand pie. There are usually a few empanada choices on the menu; this time we had the mushroom. The empanada was also stuffed with red peppers and goat cheese; they were sublime, delicate, flaky and full of exploding flavors.

Mushroom empanadas were a big hit at Kilted Mermaid. Photo by Donna Fesel.

Spicy sausage fondue is one of the many fondue options. Photo by Donna Fesel.

Last year at Kilted Mermaid we had a wonderful flatbread, and shared a terrific salad. We have so much fun as a family ordering a handful of choices and having the communal experience of sharing these wonderful treats. You can't go wrong (except if you over-order because everything looks awesome—guilty as charged); there is really something for everyone, whether your tastes are adventurous or more timid.

Our other favorite place to dine when we stay at Disney's Vero Beach Resort is a bit further afield, about 24 miles from the Resort (about a half-hour's drive) in the lovely and low-key coastal town of Fort Pierce. 12A Buoy (22 Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Pierce, 772-672-4524) came to us heavily recommended, both by cast members, and by folks reviewing it online who regard it to be one of the very best places for seafood in the area.

A view of the wharf from 12A Buoy. Photo by Donna Fesel.

Family owned and operated, this tiny little place right on the waterfront in Fort Pierce serves up seafood so fresh, delicious, and presented so beautifully, their motto is “when the fish won't bite.” The first thing you notice when you pull of up to 12A Buoy is that it looks very laid back. In fact, you are first greeted by a ring toss game on the outside wall that patrons spend hours trying to beat, my son included.

My son plays the ring toss game that welcomes guests to 12A Buoy in Fort Pierce, Photo by Donna Fesel.

My husband and son kick back on the 12A patio. Photo by Donna Fesel.

The night we visited was lovely, mild, and balmy and we were quickly seated on the expansive, tropically decorated patio. Service was fast and friendly. We began with clams on the half-shell and some mini crab cakes. I am a raw bar freak, and these clams did not disappoint; they were clearly very fresh, and were set off perfectly by the accompanying cocktail sauce. The crab cakes were tasty too, full of blue crab with a tart remoulade. My husband enjoyed a Caesar salad, with crisp romaine and large shards of Parmesan; he loved it.

The tropically decorated patio at 12A Buoy. Photo by Donna Fesel.

Fresh and delicious clams on the half shell at 12A Buoy. Photo by Donna Fesel.

Tasty mini blue crab cakes whetted our appetites. Photo by Donna Fesel.

Large Parmesan shards decorate the salad at 12A Buoy. Photo by Donna Fesel.

For entrees, we enjoyed the crab stuffed shrimp and a mixed seafood grill. The seafood on both was of the highest quality and was expertly prepared. One thing that struck me when we got our entrees is how lovely they were, thoughtfully presented with edible flowers and fresh herbs. The kitchen seems to take a lot of pride in a plate that is tasty as well as beautifully presented.

The gorgeous mixed seafood grill at 12A Buoy. Photo by Donna Fesel.

Shrimp stuffed with crab, and served with fresh veggies at 12A Buoy. Photo by Donna Fesel.

12A Buoy is open every day but Tuesday, for lunch and dinner; check for specific times during your visit, because their Facebook page offers that they opened some Tuesdays over the winter holidays. Live entertainment is featured some nights as well. If you want a place that is laid back, with excellent seafood, and service with a smile, 12A Buoy is for you. It is definitely on our list for our visit to Disney's Vero Beach Resort.

It's been well worth it for my family to venture off the property at Disney's Vero Beach Resort to explore the wonderful food options in this amazing part of Florida. We're visiting again next summer, and I can't wait to find another wonderful place to eat and share it with all of you. Have you dined somewhere wonderful in or around Vero Beach? Is it the best ice cream you've had? A place to get terrific grilled cheese? The best sushi? Please share.