Locals welcome at Starlite restaurant in renovated Hilton Garden Inn Cocoa Beach

Former 3 Wishes restaurant became Starlite after property transitioned from a DoubleTree in April

The grilled stuffed pineapple at Starlite Restaurant and Pool Bar in Cocoa Beach is half a pineapple stuffed with zucchini, roasted red peppers, onions and broccolini tossed in pineapple teriyaki and served over coconut rice. (Malcom Denmark/Florida Today)

COCOA BEACH, Fla. – Executive chef Kati Marosites knows hotel restaurants in Brevard County aren’t front-of-mind when locals want a night out, but she’s hoping the Starlite Restaurant and Pool Bar can help change that.

Located in the newly renovated and rebranded Hilton Garden Inn Cocoa Beach Oceanfront (formerly the DoubleTree), the Starlite has a fresh, Floribbean menu, ocean views and a beachy-elegant vibe, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.

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The Cocoa Beach DoubleTree closed for renovations in 2017, said Amy McGrew, director of sales for the hotel. It reopened in June 2021, and the property was sold to South Carolina-based OTO Development in September. The property transitioned to a Hilton Garden Inn on April 20, and the former 3 Wishes restaurant became the Starlite, a nod to the old Starlite Motel that hosted Cocoa Beach guests during the early days of the space race.

Marosites and McGrew both grew up in Brevard and are eager to show off the new restaurant. Yes, it’s a hotel and caters to guests, but it’s also a great hangout for locals.

The pool bar features music on weekends, and boozy brunch is served from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. Starlight Margaritas and 321 Lift-Off Lemonade are perfect for sipping while watching launches from the beach.

Wine dinners are being planned for the future.

The menu includes a lollipop lambchop appetizer ($18), a braised beef short rib entrée ($26), and a grilled stuffed pineapple ($18), which is a filling, flavorful mixture of zucchini, roasted red peppers, onions and broccolini served with coconut rice inside a pineapple.

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There’s also Kelita’s Award-Winning Clam Chowder ($16), a hearty entrée with clams, shrimp and lobster created by longtime 3 Wishes cook Kelita Williams, who now works at the Starlite. The chowder has earned multiple People’s Choice awards at the annual Chowder Cook-Off, sponsored by the Convention and Visitors Bureau of the Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Marosites said the catering business at the hotel is picking up, with weddings, sports banquets, military gatherings, celebrations of life and rocket receptions.

Space Coast diners are also starting to discover the restaurant, making reservations on Open Table, she said.

Marosites is a Melbourne High graduate. Her first job was at Creative Candies Cakes Characters & Magic on New Haven Avenue in Melbourne. She went on to work at Arby’s before being hired in food and beverage services at Melbourne Orlando International Airport.

She got her first taste of catering when pilots from the Netherlands were in Florida training to fly F-16s, she said.

“I loved catering,” she said. “I fell in love with cooking.”

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While working at the airport, she realized it was time to commit to a career or find something else to do. While on a tour of the Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, her mother warned that restaurant life meant working weekends and holidays.

The dean recommended she get a sauté job to make sure she could take the heat in the kitchen.

“I ended up being an all-star at the Olive Garden and decided to pursue my culinary school adventures at that point in south Florida,” she said.

She earned a degree in culinary arts from the Florida Culinary Institute and a certificate in hospitality and tourism management from Florida Atlantic University.

She had the chance to work with award-winning chef Mark Militello, and was moving up through the ranks at restaurants in South Florida when the pandemic hit.

She came back to Brevard and worked in catering at Time Out Sports Bar Plus in Cocoa Village, then decided it was time to head to the beach.

Like Marosites, McGrew worked at the former DoubleTree, starting in 2003, before leaving the area for a bit. The Palm Bay High graduate is excited to be back at the hotel.

Business has been brisk, with lots of leisure travelers staying on weekends and business travelers filling rooms during the week.

Some nights, the kitchen has been so busy they’ve almost run out of plates.

Both women are excited about what’s happening at the hotel, and they hope it’s something Space Coast residents, as well as visitors, will enjoy.

“Come by and try us out,” McGrew said. “Experience us again.”

Hilton Garden Inn Cocoa Beach Oceanfront is at 2080 N. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach. Hours: 7 a.m.-10 a.m. and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; boozy brunch is 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. Call 321-783-9222 or visit thestarlitecocoabeach.com.