I felt like doing a dance in my seat during my first visit to New England Seafood Shack, a quaint, cozy family-owned Leesburg restaurant serving authentic coastal cuisine featuring fresh, bright flavors in every dish.
Owners Dawn and Joe Machado met in a restaurant where she was a waitress and he worked as a cook over 30 years ago.
After moving to Central Florida from Rhode Island, Dawn noticed that there weren’t many local options for relocated northerners to dine on New England-style seafood. The couple decided to use their passion for the service industry to build a business in a vacant space available near their home.
“When this spot became available, it was the right time, and it was the perfect size,” Dawn says. “Everything just fell into place and it made sense.”
The couple have devoted themselves to keeping up with the needs of their restaurant since its March 2023 grand opening. They enjoy a great dynamic between them — Dawn focuses on front-of-house management and bookkeeping, while Joe runs the kitchen creating recipes for their menu. They also love giving their staff the opportunity to be creative in helping come up with daily specials.
“We’re really blessed to have such a great kitchen staff and they all come from a culinary background,” Dawn says. “So we like to have their input.”
It’s a family affair, too. Their daughter, Tayla, also lends a helping hand by marketing and addressing any technical needs for the restaurant.
I was impressed by the casual and relaxed dining atmosphere the minute I entered the restaurant in the Winn Dixie Plaza on US Highway 27 in South Leesburg.
The Machados succeeded in creating a cozy and quaint beachy vibe with aqua blue walls, checkered tablecloths and basket-woven and fish-shaped light fixtures. I felt transported to a local gem that one might find near the shores of Cape Cod.
Dawn spent summers going to the beach and stopping at one of the casual, nondescript beach shacks that served a variety of always fresh and delicious clam cakes, chowder, lobsters and steamers. These fond memories inspired the Machados to create a family-friendly space for fresh seafood enthusiasts.
A seafood lover myself, I checked out the menu prior and knew what I was ordering the second I stepped up to the counter. I decided to start my meal with the loaded “JoJo” potatoes; JoJo being the childhood nickname of the Machados’ late son. These tasty, wedged spuds were topped with plump, seasoned shrimp, bacon, cheese, sour cream and chives, then drizzled with a tangy sauce. The appetizer was a pretty large portion, and I certainly took home the leftovers.
I was thrilled to see that they offered lobster rolls. Though it was on my must-try list, I’ve never had one and boy was I pleased by my first experience. You can choose from Maine or Connecticut style. Maine-style is served chilled, dressed in mayo and celery. I went with Connecticut-style, served with warm lobster, and coated in melted butter.
Shortly after ordering, the server arrived at my table with a basket full of pure deliciousness — a lightly toasted bun packed with sweet, large pieces of lobster claw meat garnished with parsley and served with a side of french fries. I savored each flavorful bite that was perfectly tossed in butter. The fries were also salted to perfection, and I think we can all agree that a well salted batch of fries should not go unnoticed.
The wait staff was very attentive throughout my entire experience. The waitress, Madison Rowland, delivered my meal and even told me what her favorite dish is.
“It’s without a doubt our lobster mac and cheese. I’m a mac and cheese snob so I can say we have the best lobster mac and cheese here!” says Madison, a Leesburg resident.
After devouring the entire roll, I ended up chatting with a couple in the booth behind me who were raving about how much they loved their meal.
“The New England clam chowder had so much flavor,” says Dave Lines, a resident of The Villages. “My shrimp scampi was excellent and had a nice garlic butter sauce.”
Dave’s wife Angele mentioned that they were already talking about what they’ll have for their next visit.