By Tonya West
For Hometown News
The Original First Turn Steakhouse and Sports Lounge in Port Orange is 10 miles from Daytona International Speedway, but the distance is no deterrent for fans of the racing themed restaurant.
First Turn was actually at the first turn of the Speedway in the early days, but has enjoyed its expansive corner lot location on U.S. 1 for 25 years now. Just like the Speedway, the First Turn is a destination unto itself.
Owners Rick and Denise Hilliard grew up in the restaurant business and their family is known throughout the area for their landmark establishments. While renovating one such landmark, Mr. Hilliard found a Hav-a-Tampa cigar box of negatives, which revealed images of the early days of racing on Daytona Beach and of the track being built.
The cigar box was lodged inside a kitchen wall of what was to become First Turn, Too, in an old NASCAR inspection station on Ballough Road.
The Hilliards had prints made and those images are among the many fascinating items of racing memorabilia that surround you as you dine inside with 100 of your closet friends and race fans. The indoor dining room features a few special nights, too: Movie Night with free popcorn on Tuesdays and karoake on Fridays.
Outside, there's a pet friendly 3,000-square-foot tiki and raw bar, which features live music on the deck six nights a week and seating for 200 underneath beautiful sky-high mossy oaks. Pay no mind to the occasional rooster crow or to any chicken sightings. Dropped off years ago, they've been adopted into the family.
"It's a family here. Our customers are our family. Everybody even knows the chickens' names," Mrs. Hilliard said.
Known for their burgers and wings, the First Turn has built its reputation around sizzling charcoal-grilled 16-ounce ribeyes. Equally impressive is the seafood platter that is best enjoyed while sitting outside on any beautiful day or night, within range of the steamer. That way you can hear it seal in the flavor of crab clusters, shrimp, corn and a filet of fish. Once the steamer's industrial-sized door opens, if you ordered your platter spicy, then clouds of Old Bay steam waft through the air. The anticipation is worth every second it takes to draw the butter.
Mrs. Hilliard credits their neighborhood locale for their longevity in the business.
"We definitely cater to the locals. We have always been a neighborhood place," she said. "Everyone feels comfortable here. The staff gets to know people on a personal level. They're not just order takers. It's more of a family feel."
The same people come back to see the Hilliards year after year for race weeks and Bike Week. Personal friends of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress who now owns Dale's car, Mrs. Hilliard said most of the racing memorabilia was given to them. It's an enjoyable experience walking around the place and taking in all the history, autographed prints, old black and whites, and seeing the dings and dents of Earnhardt's car hoods mounted on the ceiling.
Pretty much everything is made from scratch and the hamburger is ground fresh daily, hand pattied and never frozen. The soups are all homemade and a couple have become so popular they're served daily: the Clam Chowder and the Brunswick Stew, a southern dish to which Mrs. Hilliard added her flair. It's a combination of chicken and pork simmered in stewed tomatoes long enough that they break down into a nice gravy-thick sauce with an assortment of vegetables.
But be sure to save room for the Key Lime pie. It's the only dessert they carry, so you know it has to be good.
First Turn opens at 11 a.m. every day and stays open until 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. For more information, you can visit firstturnsteakhouse.com, and don't forget they deliver.