Daytona Beach is not just for gear-heads although it remains the premier stock-car racing Mecca in the world.
There's a lot more to do on Daytona Beach than watch world-class drivers make left turns, though, particularly if you know where to go. Destinations such as The Shores Resort & Spa - the only AAA four-diamond oceanfront resort in central Florida -provide luxury treatment for guests at pedestrian prices and top-notch food at its fine-dining Azure restaurant experience.
No matter how busy this hot spot gets, its staff keeps cool and never lets guests sweat.
A perfect medium-rare ribeye came sitting on tasty garlic mashed and topped with crispy ribbon potatoes.
It's truly an amazing value. An oceanfront room with balcony can be had for roughly $200 per night, which is exceptional given the resort's offerings and services, including the continental fusion cuisine from 13-year veteran Executive Chef Michael Bartsch, who is renowned for his steaks, seafood and desserts.
He serves many other signature dishes in a revolving menu that never grows stale.
"I do lots of New Orleans flavors," the 32-year-old Bartsch said.
What: The Shores Resort & Spa
Where: Daytona Beach, 2637 South Atlantic Ave.
Cost: Roughly $200 per night but specials run regularly
Reservations: Not required but recommended
Why go besides the beach and resort: Azure restaurant in the resort is a meal not to be missed.
Directions: Interstate 75 north to Interstate 4 in Tampa. East on I-4 to Daytona Beach where it turns into
Contact: (866) 934-Shores or go to ShoresResort.com.
We started our dinner with two appetizers: the mussels Pomodoro ($10) with tasty Prince Edward Island mussels, fresh basil, and garlic crostini along with the coriander-seared tuna tataki ($12) buried under a diakon and seaweed tangle with wasabi-yuzu dressing and hot sirache wonton chips.
The main event involved an entre of cast-iron seared Florida grouper ($32) with smoked corn maque choux and watercress was a crispy delight and a hefty serving.
The star of the entre show for my money was the house-aged ribeye ($28) done medium rare with whipped potato, grilled asparagus, pink peppercorn and horseradish cream sauce.
Desserts, not really necessary at this point but undeniable given the meal that preceded, consisted of a tart mango ice cream ($5) and an extraordinary brownie mudslide ($9) bathed in Kahla and Bailey's ice cream, toasted pecans and caramel sauce.
At less than $100 before tip, the meal was like arriving in the French Quarter and paying half-price. Had we indulged in a world-class wine list, that economic equation would have changed considerably.
Aside from the incredible food, which is worth the visit alone, The Shores Resort & Spa is an extraordinary 212-room beachfront retreat with private balconies overlooking views of the blue-green Atlantic. Child and pet-friendly, The Shores Resort & Spa is a certified Florida Green Lodging resort on a quiet 5.5-mile stretch of Atlantic Ocean shoreline.
Amenities include private poolside cabanas, oceanside fire pits and an intimate spa. We liked the discreet brick-lined walkway from the pool that helped wet swim-suit-clad guests transition from the sand and surf to their room without running past the fully clothed.
Rooms have 300-count linens atop pillow-top four-poster beds, 42-inch HDTVs, free Wi-Fi, I-Pod docks and cordless phones. The beds are so comfy you might find yourself sleeping in.
Amenities also include a stretch limousine and two 14-passenger vans running guests to and from the Daytona International Airport, and attractions such as the LPGA golf courses, Daytona International Speedway and Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. Guests can arrange transportation to restaurants, entertainment and shopping districts.
"The complimentary transportation is a valuable amenity for our resort guests," said David Rijos, general manager for The Shores Resort & Spa. "Guests can enjoy the destination, without the hassle of getting themselves to and from various locations."
Prices can be extremely low if you watch for specials. A recent $119 per-night two-night special package included a round of golf and roundtrip transportation to Oceans Golf Club, a bucket of beer poolside and a meal at Azure restaurant, complete with a house-aged ribeye steak dinner. It also included a private stand-up paddle-board lesson - a value of $50 - from Three Brothers Paddle Boards, along the Intracoastal Waterway.
Its 12,000 square feet of meeting space is endorsed by the Stock Car Drivers Hall of Fame, which the Oceanside Rotary Club has honored with plaques for the past 50 years.
The Shores Resort & Spa is really a remarkable destination for leisure and work. It's well worth enduring the drive past The Mouse in Orlando for those of us on Gasparilla Island.