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Grayton Seafood Co.: Local loyalty is no tall tale.
May 23, 2021
By Sarah Murphy Robertson
GRAYTON BEACH – When reading about a restaurant established in the fall of 2015, you might not expect extreme customer and community loyalty and a well-cultivated, committed staff culture. But in five short years, owner Kenny Griner has created exactly that at Grayton Seafood Co.
Griner spent 25 years in the restaurant business in Pensacola and could set his watch to his customers. So transitioning to our resort economy on 30A was a leap of faith. “My goal from the very start was not to be the biggest, but to be everyone’s favorite,” he shared. Kenny is quick to credit many factors in their success including his partner, Tabitha Miller. “She’s taken to this business like a duck to water and I credit a tremendous amount to her – especially over this last year,” he emphasized.
The rest of the team is, in Griner’s words, “the best staff on 30-A.” The entire group takes pride in a job well done and Griner and Miller want them to learn and grow in their roles. Often appreciative guests will ask to come back and thank the kitchen for their meal. “I can’t tell you how much satisfaction they get after working so hard on a dish to hear it was enjoyed, Griner revealed.
Supporting the local economy through trusted long-held relationships with local fishermen and purveyors has also been a big part of running this restaurant. But it goes even deeper than that. Griner firmly enjoys being an ambassador of local species and educating his guests about lesser-know fish.
“I am very proud that customers who only visit 30A a few times a year, come here for the Sheepshead for example,” he mused.
By creating a menu around what is running, they can ensure they offer the freshest and best dishes.
“Every morning I wake up and find out what is available based on the season, the weather, and the regulations,” Griner explained.
Grayton Seafood built down their current menu on customers’ favorites. They center regular offerings around the most popular dishes, but daily specials are well-crafted and often sell out. If you want to hear the favorites of the owner himself, Griner says it changes day-to-day. Sometimes he craves the comforting Creole Linguine Alfredo and sometimes the mood just calls for fresh oysters, ice cold and straight from the half shell.
Griner shares there is nothing romantic about a restaurant business – lots of hard work and prep goes into each service. The loyalty this spot has created comes from the service they provide, but also from the quality of their food and attention to detail. When asked about the prep work involved, Griner commented on the 21-ingredient homemade remoulade. It took him years to perfect their version of this punchy sauce.
“There’s nothing that annoys me more than being served ketchup and mayonnaise as remoulade,” he disclosed.
With all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into running a restaurant, it is opening time Griner enjoys most. “When I ring the bell I know we have worked hard all day and are more than ready to serve some good food,” he explained.
In a small town you’ll hear a lot about shopping local, loving locals, or sourcing local. But ask any year-round South Walton local, Grayton Seafood Co. is absolutely “Serving Grayt Food” and that is no tall tale.
Grayton Seafood Co. is located at 50 Uptown Grayton Circle, Grayton Beach. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 4 to 9 p.m. Reservations only. Text 850-714-2155 to get on the reservation list, or check out www.graytonseafood.com for more information.
Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House: Read my lips
May 6, 2021
By Liesel Schmidt
SANDESTIN – Combining his years of experience as the captain of a boat with an expertise in restaurant management and menu development, long-time Destin native Gary Jarvis and his like-minded son Bryce have the seafood game well in their grasp. And while they could easily have rested on the success they’d created at Sunset Bay Café in Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, the father-son duo chose to launch a restaurant in Baytowne Wharf in 2018, capitalizing on the amazing views of their location to bring their guests a dining experience that truly celebrates freshly caught seafood and Southern comfort dishes at their best.
Creatively called Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster Bar, the restaurant invokes an oft-used nickname for Amberjack, a reef fish with no large, sharp teeth whose “slick lips” make them slip easily off the line. Aptly named for a fish common to local waters, the word “local” is at the very heart of this restaurant, as the fish and seafood so beautifully showcased on the menu is locally caught and brought in fresh off the docks in Destin each day.
As one might imagine from the name, the dishes at Slick Lips are largely focused on fresh seafood and oysters, utilizing each in a way that truly lets the taste and quality speak for themselves. Starting things off, a full oyster bar menu offers both raw and chargrilled oysters on the half-shell, presented in their purest form or adorned with house made toppings bursting with the flavor of rich and fatty chorizo cream with smoked gouda or garlic herb parmesan.
For something a little more decadent, the Oysters Baytowne features golden fried oysters on charred French bread, topped with Rockefeller cream sauce, crispy bacon, and parmesan cheese. It’s a deft display of creativity, as are all of their starter dishes, like the crab cakes topped by fresh mango papaya salsa and Cajun remoulade. The Smoked Cheddar Bacon Bombs – an unapologetic display of down-home Southern decadence – is crafted with scratch-made pimento cheese studded with bacon lardons that have been hand-breaded and deep fried, served with a sweet-hot chili aioli.
“We take pride in all that we do, from using the freshest seafood to making our premium custom cocktails,” said Executive Chef Jay Ammons, who has been at the helm since before the restaurant’s doors even opened. “We do it all from scratch here and take absolutely no shortcuts.”
That element of pride is evident on every plate, and the Jarvises’ passion and respect for ingredients is a vision shared by Ammons, who brings his creativity and expertise to bear each day as he leads his kitchen staff to execute perfection on a plate.
“We create a unique experience for our guests here, with our open kitchen where they can watch oysters being shucked and prepared and our attention to detail, which dictates that we do everything with excellence,” said Ammons, a largely self-taught chef who has trained under some of the best in the Gulf South.
At its core, Slick Lips is a restaurant created by true lovers of the sea, men who hold high regard for the beauty teaming in the local waters and wish to feed back into the area that they have long called home.
“This is a place created for families, with Southern hospitality and that feeling of being welcome served up right along with the food,” said Ammons. And that’s definitely something that’s sure to keep anyone on the line.
Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House is located at 140 Fisherman’s Cove, Miramar Beach. Open Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. No reservations. For more information, call 850-347-5060 or visit www.slicklipsseafood.com.
Cinco de Mayo all-day fiesta at North Beach Social
Special to 30A Food and Wine
Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood: Bringing elegance back to fine dining
By Laura Holloway
May 1, 2021
SANDESTIN – It’s rare to find a restaurant in a hotel or resort that can stand alone in experience and style, but Seagar’s Prime Steaks and Seafood, a AAA Four-Diamond Restaurant at Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, achieves just that. Its award-winning menu and drink lineup create a memorable dining experience that makes every meal feel like a special occasion.
Seagar’s is consistently recognized as one of the top steakhouses in Florida and top restaurants in Destin, named to the Diner’s Choice, Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America, and Top 100 Steakhouses in America.
And it’s no wonder; the restaurant brings traditional elegance back to the fine-dining experience, providing guests with the option of private dining and offering every diner captain and sommelier service and special tableside preparation of such sumptuous items as steak Diane, Dover sole, and Seagar’s signature dessert, bananas foster.
The restaurant is also loved and revered by wine lovers around the country, with a private-reserve wine list of more than 600 labels. An intimate lounge and live piano entertainment round out the classic, elegant feel, providing a unique and unforgettable dining occasion for everyone who finds a seat at a Seagar’s table.
What makes Seagar’s a must-visit for area guests and a favorite of seasoned locals?
“In my personal experience, the main difference is our shared commitment to excellence,” said Executive Chef Lee Guidry. “Being a AAA Four-Diamond Restaurant, we are deeply committed to consistently delivering exceptional service and premium dining. I find this adds another level of attentiveness to the kitchen atmosphere and how we execute our dishes.”
Ingredients make the meal
Where does he draw inspiration for the beautiful dishes that come out of the Seagar’s kitchen?
“The regionality of the Gulf and local farms that provide our produce are very inspiring. With roughly 99% of our items coming in from nearby farms and fishing boats, each day I walk into the kitchen, I’m inspired to learn, create and teach those around me, creating dishes with the freshest, most beautiful ingredients,” Guidry said.
General Manager Gary Brielmayer, who has been with Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa for almost 20 years, described the reason for the restaurant’s longevity.
“From the moment guests walk in the door, we want them to have a unique and unforgettable experience.” – Gary Brielmayer, general manager
“We focus on the best quality ingredients that money can buy,” Brielmayer said. “From the moment guests walk in the door, we want them to have a unique and unforgettable experience. Chef Guidry creates several new flavorful dishes each season to showcase the highest quality ingredients available and also to give guests the opportunity to try something new every visit.”
Seagar’s impressive menu includes a selection of appetizing starters, including Crisp Calamari (with buttermilk, seasoned flour, house-made pickle, and grain mustard rouille); Berkwood’s Farm Pork Bell Cassoulet en Croute (with cannellini bean, tomato, fine herb, pork jus, mirepoix, and puff pastry); and a decadent French Onion Soup, a blend of five onions simmered in a hearty beef stock and finished with crouton and melted Jarlsberg and Gruyere cheeses).
Specialties found elsewhere in the area rarely include a Raines Farm Wagyu Beef Tataki (with cucumber, foie gras emulsion, fried garlic, yuzu, ginger, and cilantro); Crisp Bobwhite Quail (with butternut squash and foie gras ravioli, brown butter, sage, consume, buttermilk, oolong, and walnut); and Osetra Caviar (served with toast points, egg yolks, egg whites, sour cream, chives, and chilled vodka). A Caesar Salad for Two is prepared tableside and is a treat not to be missed, and a Custom Seafood Tower will be the delight of the party, created from large Gulf shrimp, Maine Lobster, live oysters, and Alaskan King Crab legs, three-tiered and served with cocktail sauce and drawn butter.
Steakhouse with style
A true New York steakhouse in style and offerings, the appetite is satisfied with Seagar’s main selections, USDA Prime Steaks and Lamb Chops that are certified 100% USDA Prime and available in a variety of cuts such as the Steak Diane, NY Strip, Bone-In Ribeye, Porterhouse, Bone-In Filet, Lamb Chop, Rôtisseur’s Special, and the Chateaubriand, a 22-ounce steak for two.
Custom cuts of the filet mignon are offered, and a wonderful assortment of entrée additions can customize the diner’s choice, including Maitre D’ Butter, Au Poivre, Maytag/Bacon, Mushroom & Madeira, Foie Gras Butter, Oscar, Grilled Shrimp, Pork Belly, Foie Gras, pan seared diver scallops, fried South African lobster tail, or a half pound of King Crab Legs.
For those wanting to stick closer to the coast with their selections, seafood entrees include Seared Snapper (with new potato galette, wilted spinach, Alaskan King Crab, lemongrass, and fume), Crisp Potato Wrapped Gulf Shrimp (with Yukon gold potato threads, artichoke fondue, cherry tomato, artichoke heart, and pea tendril), and South African Cold-Water Lobster Tails, lightly battered and fried and served with honey mustard.
Put a cherry on top of a perfect meal with something sweet, such as Cherries Jubilee or Bananas (or Peaches) Foster for Two, both prepared tableside and served over vanilla ice cream. A Double Irish Coffee or Mocha Espresso Martini can complete the evening or move the party to Seagar’s intimate lounge area for conversation and storytelling, or live piano music on select nights.
For guests new to the Seagar’s experience, Brielmayer says, “Expect the best quality food, expertly and simply prepared, and served with authentic, attentive service.”
Seagar’s Prime Steaks and Seafood is located at 4000 Sandestin Boulevard South in Miramar Beach, and a full menu and more information can be found by visiting seagars.com or calling 850-622-1500. Reservations can be made online or by calling, and a dress code is required.
Photos by Michelle Farnham
Chef Jim Shirley Enterprises: Yes, Chef!
By Liesel Schmidt
April 19, 2021
SOUTH WALTON – Born and raised in Pensacola, Jim Shirley has the South in his blood – right along with cooking. Since the age of 14 when he was flipping burgers, he’s had his hand in restaurants, and it became a passion that he couldn’t ignore. Even during a stint in college that had his life pointed in the direction of becoming a doctor, he heard the call of the kitchen. It was then that he knew his life’s path.
What a ride it’s been
A self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur,” Shirley’s first restaurant was named after his daughter, Madison. Madison’s Diner opened in 1995 and was followed two years later by the Screaming Coyote, an eatery whose specialty was giant burritos. Next came the Fish House in 1998, with The Great Southern Café making its debut in 2006 and Meltdown on 30A heating things up soon after. In 2014, Shirley opened The Bay, while 2015 brought 45 Central. The most recent of his restaurants, Farm & Fire Southern Pizzeria, opened in 2019, and North Beach Social in 2021.
“I’d always wanted my own restaurant, and each venture has been the culmination of my dream, built with a team of people who have all shared in my vision,” said Shirley. “I always had a lot of recipes and ideas, and all of these places have given me a chance to use them.”
Obviously, those ideas were good ones, as he’s met a great deal of success with his restaurants, filling the gaps in the food scene to bring something unexpected to diners who wanted more than the standards they had grown so used to. Even without any official training, he had an inherent talent that gave him a baseline, using it as a foundation for everything that he learned at the hands of other chefs.
“I trained at the school of hard knocks,” said Shirley. “I didn’t really have the chance to go to school because I already had a position in the kitchen as a chef, and you can’t really break away from that to go train somewhere. I worked my way up with some really great chefs.”
What he’s learned over the years has been instrumental in creating each of the restaurants that bear his name. A mixture of cultures have influenced him, the result of growing up the son of a Navy pilot who was stationed all over the world. At the heart of it all, however, is that Southern flair that’s become such a signature of his cuisine.
Dubbed “Modern Southern Cuisine,” Shirley’s style has been highly praised and widely celebrated, with his signature dish, Grits a Ya Ya, having been named “The best Southern dish in the state of Florida” by Florida Travel and Life magazine. The dish was also taken to Washington, D.C., for “A Taste of the South” on Capitol Hill. Even 2020 was a notable year for Shirley, as he received the 17th annual Van Ness Butler Jr. Hospitality Award in recognition of Walton County’s excellence in hospitality. Shirley was also recognized in Arkansas with the 2020 Shining Example Award – Epicurean Partner from the Southeast Tourism Society. The greatest point of pride, however, came in January of 2020, when his culinary team was chosen to represent South Walton and Seaside at the James Beard House, where they had the honor of cooking once again.
There’s something special about of his restaurants, something that makes each of them unique and unforgettable. One underlining thread that connects all of them, however, is that they are all chef-driven.
“By having restaurants that are chef-driven, you can change the way they feel, and it creates a certain effect,” Shirley explained. “That’s the secret to our success, I think.”
Whatever the secret truly is, his success is undeniable. And while some of the restaurants have run their course, Shirley maintains his own little empire on the food scene in South Walton. Now 15 years old, The Great Southern Café is still a favorite, offering his signature take on Southern cuisine in dishes that are familiar yet perfectly re-imagined to make them seem new and exciting. Featuring his famous Grits a Ya Ya, the menu also includes a wide variety of delicious dishes that make breakfast a reason to get out of bed, while lunch and dinner are a celebration of Southern comfort and soul food.
45 Central Wine & Sushi Bar offers a curation of sharable small plates and sushi, set in a sophisticated atmosphere in the heart of Seaside. Pairing perfectly with the menu, the wine list offers rare and hard-to-find bottles that speak to Shirley’s discriminating taste and his understanding of flavors.
For those who go weak in the knees over a good grilled cheese, Meltdown on 30A is not to be missed, with a menu of traditional and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, house made soups, and chips all served in an old Airstream trailer. It’s casual dining at its best, with food that warms the heart and shows Shirley’s fun side.
Offering waterfront dining and a breathtaking view overlooking Choctawhatchee Bay, The Bay is Southern Gulf Coast dining at its best. Featuring a menu that has something for everyone, you’ll find creative small plates, unique seafood dishes, steaks and burgers, and a limited sushi menu. Sundays get even better with their delicious brunch menu, and the desserts are something to die for.
Taking pizza to an artisanal level, Farm & Fire Southern Pizzeria offers anything but your ordinary pie. Locally sourced, seasonal ingredients are the foundation for everything on the menu, with hand-made pizzas that come fresh from the coal ovens that cook everything in this unique gem of a restaurant. Created with an atmosphere that gives it a “speakeasy feel,” Farm & Fire also features wine and spirits that add the perfect complement to any meal.
North Beach Social is a beach restaurant and bar located at the foot of the 331 bridge in Santa Rosa Beach on the Choctawhatchee Bay. Guests order from the counter and bar and enjoy beach games, toys and seating in a very laid back atmosphere. On the menu are some of Chef Jim Shirley’s most famous dishes, like Grits á Ya Ya, The Bomber Burger, fresh oysters and Tuna Poké Bowls.
The Great Southern Café is located at 83 Central Square, Santa Rosa Beach (Seaside). Open daily for breakfast from 8 to 10 a.m.; lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. For more information, call 850-231-7327 or www.thegreatsoutherncafe.com
45 Central Wine & Sushi Bar is located at 45 Central Square, Santa Rosa Beach (Seaside). Open Monday to Friday 3 to 9:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. For more information, call 850-231-4545 or visit www.fortyfivecentral.com
Meltdown on 30A is located at 2235 E. Co. Hwy 30A, Santa Rosa Beach (Seaside). Open daily 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call 850-231-0952 or visit www.meltdownon30a.com
The Bay is located at 24215 U.S. Hwy. 331 South, Santa Rosa Beach. Open Monday to Thursday 4 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. For more information, call 850-622-2291 or visit www.baysouthwalton.com
Farm & Fire Southern Pizzeria is located at 24200 U.S. Hwy. 331 S., Santa Rosa Beach. Open Wednesday to Sunday 5 to 10 p.m. For more information, call 850-622-3871 or visit www.farmandfirepizza.com.
North Beach Social is also located downstairs at 24200 U.S. Hwy. 331 S. and open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Contact them at 850-622-3781 or online at northbeach.social.
April showers, wine devoured
Sandestin Wine Festival makes its triumphant return
By Michelle Farnham
April 17, 2021
BAYTOWNE WHARF – After getting shelved due to the coronavirus in 2020, not even the threat of thunderstorms could keep wine lovers away from the 34 annual 2021 Sandestin Wine Festival, April 15-18. Both Friday and Saturday’s grand tastings sold out, as well as Sunday’s New Orleans Bottomless Brunch, held at Hammerhead’s Bar & Grille.
While the weather held Friday night, the foreboding forecast came to fruition during Saturday afternoon’s grand tasting, as the skies opened up with about an hour to go. That’s the good thing about a wine festival, though, as the party continued under tents, awnings, and even the shuttle back to the parking lot, where a busload of attendees showered one lucky rider with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
Before the downpour, guests sampled their way through 58 tents, plus the Bubbly & Boozy tent and the VIP experience.
Over at the Capp Heritage tent, for example, reps were pouring six different bottles.
“Try the Capp Heritage Barbera (2015, Napa Valley),” encouraged the attendant. “It’s real easy drinking, like a Merlot. It’s a specialty of Italy!”
While there was plenty of Cab Sav, Malbec, and Rieslings, the Sandestin Wine Festival isn’t all wines. Manifest Distilling was on site, offering gins, vodkas and whiskey, while Kombi Keg 30A poured Destin Brewery beers straight from the tap on the side of their vintage VW Bus! Up the hill in the Bubbly & Boozy tent, tasters could find everything from the Hard Truth Peanut Butter Whiskey to the Tarantula Tequila, Torres 10-Year Brandy and Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka.
As always, there was a selection of bites to go with the booze under the Savor South Walton tents, like the Steak Diane from Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, a charcuterie plate from Sandestin Catering, and the very popular churros with Nutella from Cannery Lane Cantina.
Baytowne Wharf newcomer Drunken Goat Saloon dished up tasters of their Hillbilly Chili, which seemed apropos on the unseasonably cool day.
Representing Baytowne neighbor Slick Lips Seafood and Oyster House, Chef Jay Ammons and his crew were slinging street tacos.
“Today we’re doing Mojo Pulled Pork Taco with cotija cheese and fresh salsa verde,” Ammons said as he warmed tortillas. “It’s getting a little damp, but that’s OK!”
The Sandestin Wine Festival is a four-day experience, including the Thursday night kick-off party, a wine and chocolate seminar, tequila dinner, champagne and oysters extravaganza, yoga session and Sunday’s New Orleans brunch at Hammerheads Bar & Grill. Look for information on tickets to the 2022 weekend at www.sandestinwinefestival.com.
Photos by Michelle Farnham
North Beach Social to hold 30A Trails benefit
Special to 30A Food and Wine
April 17, 2021
SANTA ROSA BEACH – On Sunday, May 2, 2021, North Beach Social will welcome friends and families for a community event benefiting 30A Trails. The event, sponsored by Citadel Roofing and Restoration, will feature live music by Wildlife Specials from 5 to 8 p.m. Bring the whole family to dine, enjoy drinks and play on the beach while giving back to a great cause.
30A Trails is a community rich organization on a mission to meaningfully connect people with trails to engage their physical and spiritual lives while organizing resources for the conservation of trail environments.
North Beach Social is located at the foot of the 331 bridge in Santa Rosa Beach on the Choctawhatchee Bay. Guests order from the counter and bar and enjoy beach games, toys and seating in a very laid back atmosphere. Open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Shop the label: Rosemary Beach wine educator publishes book
Rosemary Beach’s Eliason encourages wine enthusiasts to shop bottle labels
ROSEMARY BEACH – Local chef and beverage professional, Sydney Eliason, announced the publication of her new book, Wine Label Shopping: Buy More Than Just a Pretty Label, encouraging wine enthusiasts to select wines based on their labels. Focusing on certain clues on a wine label, Eliason posits that everyone should label shop, contrary to conventional thinking.
“Every label has four things in common: a region, a grape varietal, an age, and an alcohol by volume. All of these impact a wine’s flavor,” Eliason says. “Some of these things – such as the region in reference to a grape’s varietal and climate – require some research. This guide provides a quick and memorable primer to assist the wine-tasting consumer.”
Once one understands how to read a wine label, one will have a better understanding of the product.
“This book is like the CliffsNotes of wine. You may not appreciate every nuance as you would if you read an entire book, but you’ll understand and be conversant about what’s going on in your glass in a very short amount of time,” Eliason says.
About the author
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Eliason worked with some of the best chefs and beverage professionals in Minneapolis prior to relocating to Florida. Based in Rosemary Beach, she launched The Somm Chef, a boutique business offering private chef events and wine classes. Eliason originally wrote Wine Label Shopping as a reference guide for clients but realized that others might benefit from its practical tasting guidance.
Surfing Deer: Global, coastal, cool
By Michelle Farnham
April 1, 2021
SEAGROVE BEACH – Whether you’re on vacation, or just want to act like you are, Surfing Deer is the kind of elegant chic you’d expect along the Emerald Coast, with a menu to back it up.
Nestled at the corner of 30A and County Highway 395, Surfing Deer serves New American cuisine from the kitchen of veteran chef, Gregg Smith. He prides himself on looking all across the world for inspiration, then putting his own spin on his favorite global flavors.
“With our online reservations, people are not having to stand outside for an hour-and-a-half, waiting to get in.” – Chef Gregg Smith
His team is seeing consistent orders for the Seafood Acadiana for the past two seasons, a dish that brings all the Southern seafood to the table: fresh grouper, crawfish tails, lobster, and shrimp, served with andouille sausage and brown rice.
“It’s for the people that travel down here and want to try that Cajun-style dish,” Smith said. “If we took it off the menu, people would be very angry with us.”
Also popular is the Sweet & Spicy Snapper, which Smith said leans more Asian-style with its jasmine rice, sugar snap peas, melon, cashews and miso lemongrass coulis.
“We’ve had a lot of people say that’s the best fish dish they’ve ever eaten,” Smith admitted, adding they will have to keep this one on the menu, too, along with a fresh grouper offering.
But it’s not all seafood, all the time at Surfing Deer. Where many chefs would offer a catch of the day special, Smith has elected instead to do a daily Chef’s Butcher Cut that has proved to be very popular.
“We offer whatever kind of cool butcher’s cut I can come up with, be it a cowboy ribeye, something pork or beef. It gives us chefs something we can play with every day and come up with different ideas,” he explained.
Guests with dietary restrictions will appreciate the menu clearly identifies dishes that are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or have the option to be gluten-free. You’ll notice Smith is big on the concept of shareable plates, too.
Families should not be turned off by the trendiness of the venue or the menu, as Smith also accommodates younger palates with his kids’ choices, Fawn Favorites. From standards like chicken tenders and pasta, to upscale selections like petite filet mignon, and fried or grilled fresh fish bites, parents don’t need to find a sitter for their big night out.
More than the menu
The dining space includes traditional indoor seating, a stunning curved bar, and outdoor patio space highlighted by romantic water features. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow for plenty of light inside, while the covered patio keeps outdoor diners shaded during the warmest months. That al fresco option proved very popular this past year, and Smith said they actually have more outdoor seating than indoor.
The cocktail menu is divided into four sections: Fine Wine, Deer Beer, Martinis, and Deerly Mixed. Sippers can delight in everything from a bottle of the 2017 Nickel & Nickel State Ranch to a local Idyll Hounds Ghost Crab Pilsna, the Bambi Tini (nectarine vodka, strawberries, lavender-lemon syrup, prosecco) to the Cube McGee (bourbon, maple syrup, bitters, orange, lemon, blackberry).
Smith acknowledged that the space is indeed lovely and the menu stellar, but guests especially love that they can place a to-go order or make a reservation – including for a large party.
“With our online reservations, people are not having to stand outside for an hour-and-a-half, waiting to get in,” the chef pointed out. “Knowing that they can make a reservation early in the week for a large group, be it 12, 16 people, and they can be done, I think that’s one of the big appeals of our restaurant. They’re not being rushed, they can take their time, and have a good family time.”
Surfing Deer is located at 2743 E. Co. Hwy 30A, Santa Rosa Beach. Guests are welcome Monday to Saturday from 5 to 9:30 p.m. For more information, including how to make a reservation, reach them by phone at 850-213-4200 or online at surfingdeer.com.