Twisted Birch in Rockledge isn’t closing; owner plans seafood restaurant in Cocoa

Thomas Bird wants to put the rumors to rest.

No, Twisted Birch Sports Bar & Grill, the restaurant he and wife Jenn own in Rockledge, isn’t going anywhere. And no, Turtle Creek Golf Club, where Twisted Birch resides, hasn’t been sold.

Yes, the Birds have a new project in the works. They’re up to their elbows in renovation dust at the Cocoa Village restaurant formerly known as El Charro. By this fall, Thomas Bird said they plan to have Oyster Shooters Raw Bar & Grill up and running.

“There’s no casual seafood place in the Village,” he said. “I like the idea of ​​oysters without the river-view prices. I don’t want a stuffy place. I don’t want it to be an occasional place. I don’t want you to feel like you have to wear a collared shirt to come inside.”

But more on Oyster Shooters in a minute.

First, let’s cover that Twisted Birch situation.

The future of Twisted Birch and Turtle Creek

In early July, gossip about the sale of Turtle Creek Golf Club lit up Rockledge community social media groups.

A notice on the Turtle Creek website addressed the rumor:

“As of July 6th, 2023, Turtle Creek Golf Club has not been sold. We are still open to play and plan to be for the foreseeable future,” the post reads.

The notice goes on to say the family that has owned the course for more than 30 years plans “to begin the process of looking for a buyer.” Once sold, the new owner will decide if the property will remain a golf course or if the land will be developed for other purposes.

“None of these will happen overnight and we will update our customers and keep the community informed if anything is made official,” the post reads.

Bird said he has talked with his Twisted Birch landlord.

“He was mostly concerned with making sure I wasn’t going anywhere,” Bird said. “He’s said pretty much we have at least two years.”

The course isn’t even listed for sale yet, he said. When it does sell, the new owners should decide they don’t want the restaurant there, Bird said, Twisted Birch will be relocated, not closed.

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Oyster Shooters Raw Bar & Grill

Oyster Shooters Raw Bar &  Grill is set to open in the El Charro Plaza in Cocoa Village this fall.

Oyster Shooters Raw Bar & Grill is set to open in the El Charro Plaza in Cocoa Village this fall.

Now on to the new venture.

Bird said he’s always looking for new opportunities.

“My wife and I have been wanting to expand,” he said. “I always wanted to do a seafood restaurant. Coming from Jersey, I like the atmosphere of seafood restaurants. I wanted to do it my way.”

When El Charro Mexican Restaurant on Florida Avenue in Cocoa closed in December 2019, Bird was reluctant to take over the space. El Charro had been a part of Central Brevard dining for 34 years. He wasn’t ready to replace an institution.

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Four years later, after another Mexican restaurant and an Irish pub opened and closed in the building, Bird felt the timing was right.

For the past few weeks, he and a crew of workers have been busy making cosmetic changes to the space. The colorful tables are being removed. The terracotta tile floors are being covered with driftwood-gray planks. The walls are getting fresh paint.

The facelift includes iridescent tiles that evoke mermaid scales along the front of the bar and clean, white tiles behind it.

The décor will hint at water without being overly nautical and cutesy.

The building’s past won’t be completely erased. The brick flooring that cuts a path through the main dining room will stay, as will the big, arched wooden doors.

Some restaurants might have been intimidated by the size of the building, but Bird used to work in a big space. Twisted Birch holds just more than 200 people. Oyster Shooters will hold about 175 in the main dining room, bar, oyster bar, private banquet room and patio that will open off the bar.

Unlike Twisted Birch, which is large and open, the distinct spaces at Oyster Shooters will give the place a cozier feel.

“I think atmosphere is everything,” Bird said.

What’s on the menu?

Bird is still working out the complete menu, but he already knows the restaurant’s signature items: New Orleans-style charbroiled oysters and oyster shooters.

For the charbroiled version, oysters on the half shell will be topped with butter, garlic, Parmesan cheese and other seasonings, then run under a broiler until they’re lightly charred and the briny, buttery flavors mix to perfection.

Oyster Shooters are made with Bloody Mary mix, vodka, cocktail sauce and horseradish with an oyster floating on top.

“We’re working on our own Oyster Shooters Bloody Mary mix,” Bird said.

There will also be a fresh catch, crab legs and a lobster tank. Digital screens at the entrance will display the day’s market price, taking the guesswork out of how much certain dishes cost.

While the menu will primarily be seafood, it will also include a charbroiled steak and a house-made burger cooked to the diner’s preferred temperature.

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When will it open?

Bird hopes to open by September, but he adds an “ish” to that. It’s difficult to predict how long it will take to get everything up and running. Oyster Shooters should be welcoming customers sometime this fall, though.

He’ll post regular updates on Facebook. He may have dispelled the rumors, but he wants the buzz to continue.

“I like to keep people’s excitement up,” he said.

He’s confident enough time has passed since El Charro closed that Oyster Shooters will expunge its ghost. The cacti and sombreros outside the building will be removed, and he’s working to get signs on both Brevard and Florida avenues so people can find the restaurant.

“We’re just going to go for a calm, casual vibe. We don’t want it to feel stuffy,” he said. “We want to become the Village oyster house. We want people to crave the stuff we do.”

Suzy Fleming Leonard is a features journalist with more than three decades of experience. Reach her at [email protected]. Find her on Facebook: @SuzyFlemingLeonard or on Instagram: @SuzyLeonard.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: What’s happening at Twisted Birch, and what’s coming to El Charro?