EAST MANATEE -- Fresh seafood that's cooked to order is what reels you in to Cedar Reef Fish Camp restaurant, but it's the "mom and pop" feel that completes the experience.
Owner Dean Donnelly opened his Bradenton location in the former Gio's Italian Restaurant space just eight days ago, but he's already building regulars.
"Our clientele will come back," said Donnelly, who's still learning the new faces in Bradenton. He chose to open an eatery in Manatee County because he worked in the area for many years, and many of his customers traveled to Venice to dine at his original restaurant.
The restaurant, 7240 55th Ave E., serves a diverse clientele ranging from professionals to families.
"We have something for everybody," said Donnelly, who said he will cook pretty much whatever his guests want.
He has a client who comes to his Venice location every day, unless he's sick or on vacation. Donnelly aims to have that same rapport with people in Bradenton.
Nadia Soletzky has been to the restaurant three times in the eight days the restaurant has been open.
The affordable prices, portion sizes and delicious food is what she says keeps her coming back.
"I want to try all the different foods," said Soletzky, who usually comes on her lunch break and was having shrimp and fries on Friday. "Everything has been good so far."
She dined Friday with her co-worker, Tracy Hatley.
"This is why I'm here today because it was referred," said Hatley. "It's really nice."
Soletzky says her favorite entrée so far is the Smothered Clucker, which runs her about $11. The meal includes seared chicken breast topped with a homemade Florentine topping over Caribbean rice.
Cooking and hospitality are nothing new to the seasoned Donnelly, who began his career in the restaurant business at age 13. He's worked for major chains including the Rain Forest Café and the popular Anna Maria Oyster Bar.
For Donnelly great food and service is his passion. Even with a staff of more than 25, including his fiancé and co-owner Michele Angell, Connelly still seats guests, cooks and serves food. He loves every part of the restaurant business.
"I've done this my whole life," said Connelly. "I touch these tables. I speak to my people. You can't get that at Applebee's. You can't get that at a chain."
The atmosphere is casual with a fun nautical theme and lends itself to a South Florida feel that you usually find closer to the beach.
With multiple flat screens showing various sports, Donnelly hopes this place will quickly grow to being a favorite among locals.
"Some places go after the older crowd or the snow birds, we go after locals," he said.
Donnelly said the food is the hook, line and sinker that keep guests coming back.
A favorite among guests is the Cedar Plank Salmon, which is $14.50. The dish includes a salmon marinated in bourbon, soy, pineapple and sesame, baked on a cedar plank for a smoky flavor, and served with Caribbean rice and fresh vegetables. Another top choice is the lobster lasagna, which is made with a vodka cream sauce.
"It's my brain child and I write every recipe," he said. "We're casual and it's more fun."
For more information on Cedar Reef Fish Camp visit www.cedarreef.com.