It’s all about the food: Dishes that wowed the crowd at the 37th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival

The Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival celebrates the past, present and future of the historic fishing village of Cortez in Manatee County.

At the heart of it all is food.

Seafood has provided industry for decades in Cortez, and the fishing village is now one of the last of its kind in Florida.

Proceeds of the annual event aid in the maintenance and expansion of F.I.S.H. Preserve. The preserve is a rare piece of undeveloped coastline that serves as a sanctuary for marine life.

This year, vendors came from around the state to sell fresh seafood (and more) for the cause.

Business was booming on the final day of the festival. Here are some of the dishes that wowed the crowd in Cortez.

Fresh-shucked shellfish was a popular offering at the 37th annual Cortez Fishing Festival. Ryan Ballogg

Clams and oysters

Clams and oysters were shucked fresh and plated up for lines of eager buyers.

Fresh grouper was on the menu at multiple vendors at the fishing festival. Ryan Ballogg


Grouper was a hit dish at the festival. It could be ordered fried and draped over rice and coleslaw or lovingly placed on a bun for the ultimate grouper sandwich.

Jumbo crab cakes were thrown down on the griddle at the 37th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. Ryan Ballogg

Crab cakes

Jumbo crab cakes topped with lemon slices sizzled on the griddle at the Coastal Crab booth.

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Jambalya, the Louisiana specialty, was served up Florida-style and loaded with shrimp at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. Ryan Ballogg


Shrimp flew by the pound on Sunday. It was served as a fried, coconut fried and in tasty jambalayas.

Ice cream was hand-churned before guests’ eyes at the 37th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. Ryan Ballogg

Homemade ice cream

Homemade ice cream was hand-churned and served by the cup or the cone.

“Master Popologist” Reuben Cardonick has provided kettle corn at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival for five years straight. Ryan Ballogg

Kettle corn

Many folks toted large bags of fresh kettle corn around the festival grounds.

Reuben Cardonick is the “master popologist” behind Calypso Concessions of Beverly Hills.

Cardonick and his his assistant Joe Pope whip up kettle corn using a special recipe that includes vanilla and maple syrup. Cardonick also uses a special variety of kernel to create popcorn that’s fluffy and melts in the mouth.

Didn’t make it to the festival?

There’s some good news. Even though the celebration is over, you can get fresh seafood all year round in the village of Cortez.

If you want to learn more about the historic village and its culture, visit the Florida Maritime Museum.

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Ryan Ballogg covers arts, entertainment, dining, breaking and local news for the Bradenton Herald. He won first place for feature writing in the Florida Press Club’s 2018 Excellence in Journalism Competition. Ryan is a Florida native and graduated from University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
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