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.
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.
One of the most popular events of the year, the Sandestin Wine Festival, will take place April 15 to 18. Hosted by the Village of Baytowne, this festival offers something for wine lovers of every level, from the novice to the aficionado.
Two grand wine tastings are scheduled for Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.
“We’ll have more than 500 different types of domestic and international wines,” noted Leighann Elliott, event manager for the Village of Baytowne Wharf at Sandestin. “And the village is kind of transformed for the festival. There are white tents, the wine is flowing, and there’s food and music. And a lot of the vineyard owners and winemakers are available, so attendees will get a chance to talk to them and learn about their wines.”
Sampling so many different types of wines and getting to learn more about the process that goes into making them often gives people an entirely new perspective.
“You might think you like chardonnay or cabernet,” Elliott said, “but then you try all of these different wines and you’re like, ‘Wow, I think I like all of them!’”
And where there is fine wine, there is also exceptional food to pair with it.
“We do what we call our ‘Taste of South Walton’ food events,” Elliot explained. “We have chefs from local restaurants who take part, so we’ll have different culinary tents.”
In addition to food and wine tastings, festival-goers can look forward to special VIP events, wine dinners, seminars, and Yoga on the Beach.
“That’s one of my favorite events,” Elliott said. “We have a yoga instructor, we offer mimosas, and everyone gets a mat that says 34th Annual Sandestin Wine Festival. It’s a great way to kick off the morning on Saturday.”
The festival, which draws people from across the country, helps benefit the community. The Village of Baytowne works with local non-profits to bring everything together.
“We work with Fisher House of the Emerald Coast and the Sandestin Foundation for Kids,” said Elliott. “They provide the volunteers for the festival. They’re the hands of the festival; they’re the ones running around, pouring the wine, and serving the food. Then we donate proceeds back to the charity.”
With last year’s festival forced to cancel due to the pandemic, organizers are thrilled to be able to host it this year. To ensure safety, most events will be held outside, some of the tents will be spaced farther apart, and hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout the festival.
“This event brings in such a wide range of experiences for all of our guests. They really do get to meet wine experts from across the country. They get an opportunity to taste all of these unique, hand-selected wines. And then they have an opportunity to buy the wines at a discounted cost at the festival. So, it’s a really neat way for them to try what they like and take it home with them. We’re excited to get to see people smiling and enjoying all the festival has to offer.”
For the full schedule and to purchase tickets, visit the website.
The Sandestin Wine Festival will be held at April 15 to 18, 2021 at The Village of Baytowne Wharf in Miramar Beach. Tickets are required to participate, but the festival grounds are open to the public. Visit www.sandestinwinefestival.com or email [email protected].
For the people of Spain, food is an important part of the culture. They savor it, celebrate it, and linger over it. It’s a point of passion, and that passion is evident in its bold flavors. Naturally, Spanish cuisine is inspirational to a great many chefs who have come away from its kitchens forever in the thrall of its charms, bringing with them dishes that capture its unique essence.
It was with that vision in mind that La Crema Tapas & Chocolate originally opened in Rosemary Beach in 2009. Building on the concept of tapas and chocolate shops that have become such a popular part of the food scene in Barcelona and Madrid, the menu features an array of small plates, decadent chocolate desserts and drinks, as well as a carefully curated selection of fine wines.
Under the talent of chefs Eric Bartholomew, Alex Gomez, and Ricky Voelz, the kitchen at La Crema creates beautiful dishes that honor the spirit and traditions of Spanish cuisine, taking their guests on an epicurean journey with every item on the menu. A chef for 17 years, Chef Eric serves as a consultant at La Crema while also holding the title of executive chef at La Cocina.
The lead position, however, it taken by Chef Alex, whose five years at the restaurant have proven his chops and his ability to run point. Possessing a keen eye for detail, he ensures that everyone is set up for a successful service and checks each dish before it leaves the kitchen. Chef Ricky is a more recent addition, having joined the team two years ago; but his drive and determined work ethic have made him invaluable.
Together, the three execute the menus designed by Chef Eric and regularly create entrée and dessert features using fresh seasonal ingredients.
“Their leadership and experience keep the kitchen running smoothly, even on the busiest summer nights,” said Christy Spell-Terry, who co-owns the restaurant with her father, Rick Terry, under the Spell Restaurant Group.
Sweets and savories
The reason for those busy summer nights is, of course, the food being created by those three talented minds. Featuring yellowfin tuna, hibiscus, fresh avocado, and serrano pepper marinated in citrus, the Ceviche may well be considered Chef Eric’s signature dish and has been an incredibly popular part of the menu. The fresh spin on the Peruvian classic is a “must try” dish and is in good company with some of their other guest favorites – among them, the Brussels Sprouts, Serrano Wrapped Figs, Enfuego Chicken, Chocolate Fondue, Classic Cookies served with milk, and Hot Chocolate Molten Cake. Unlike many restaurants, they put as much emphasis on creating magic with their sweets as they do with their savories.
Naturally, that translates into success – as does their use of the best ingredients available.
“Serving small plates means that there is no room to hide mistakes. Each plate must come out perfect!” – Christy Spell-Terry, co-owner
“All of our dishes are made from scratch, using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible,” said Spell-Terry. “Serving small plates means that there is no room to hide mistakes. Each plate must come out perfect!”
Equal attention is paid to the wine selection, offering guests an impressive list that has been chosen to pair perfectly with the flavors on the menu.
“The wine and the chocolate would probably tie for what people love most,” said Spell-Terry. “However, none of it would be possible without the attentive service our staff provides. The goal of everyone in the restaurant, both front- and back-of-house, is to make each guest’s meal memorable.”
La Crema Tapas & Chocolate is located at 38 Main Street, Rosemary Beach. Open daily 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; no reservations accepted. For more information, call 850-534-3004 or visit www.lacrematapas.com.
ROSEMARY BEACH – Todd Rogers, executive chef of Havana Beach Bar & Grill, had worked in five-star resorts and restaurants all across the country when he packed up his family and moved to South Walton over six years ago.
It wasn’t hard for him to leave behind the bustle of big cities.
“I always say you should work where you love to live,” the 60-year-old Rogers said recently. “The 30A area is just such a beautiful place, it’s so unique. All the beaches and quaint little towns. I have lived in big cities like Atlanta and Houston, but really I prefer this.”
The attraction of a place with a small-town feel likely comes from Rogers’ formative years, growing up on a small farm in West Virginia, farming and gardening and above all cooking alongside his grandmother. They gathered fruits and vegetables for jams and jellies. They baked biscuits and gravy, collected eggs from the chicken coop.
“It took all day, but you didn’t have phones and televisions and everything that took all your time,” Rogers recalled. “You made food, you lived to eat.”
When he was 16 a chef at a nearby country club took him under his wing. He went to college and studied business at his dad’s request, but shortly after he was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America in New York City. He was the first of his family to move away from home — to one of the biggest cities in the country, no less.
“It was a little bit of a culture shock,” Rogers recalled.
His cooking journey has taken him all across the U.S., but the passion his grandmother helped stoke at such a young age has never waned.
He brought it to Havana Beach where they cook, as he says, the “old-fashioned” way. Everything is made by hand.
Sauces begin with roasting bones and caramelizing vegetables.
“People say, ‘Why would you spend three days making demi-glace?’ Because it’s how you should do it.” – Todd Rogers, executive chef
“There are just so many things you can buy this day and age so people say, ‘Why would you spend three days making demi-glace?’ Because it’s how you should do it,” Rogers said. “It’s not just a TV show where you make four courses in 30 minutes. It takes a lot of care and pride and passion to create great food.”
It also takes consistency, a strive for perfection and a tight-knit staff who share the same the values.
Rogers and his staff practice and perfect all their recipes from the shrimp and grits or Delmonico filet mignon to their expertly crafted avocado BLT.
Rogers enjoys teaching new cooks, sharing classical cooking techniques and tips he’s learned along the way.
“A lot of the older chefs kind of hold their recipes and techniques close to their chests,” Rogers said. “I believe in the other way: teaching everyone around you what you know and helping the young people who want to move up and learn something new.”
The farm-to-table food Rogers grew up with is also present at Havana Beach.
Almost everything Rogers serves comes from along the Gulf Coast: oysters, shrimp, grouper, snapper and flounder from Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico; organic chickens from Bonifay, Florida; peppery, farm-fresh arugula, micro-radishes, micro-sorrel and other micro greens from a hydroponic farm about an hour north of the restaurant.
A truck from New Orleans stops at small family-run farms in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida along the way.
“It’s kind of like a market on a truck coming right to your back door,” he said.
Havana Beach Bar & Grill features a main dining area, a veranda with outdoor seating, a roof deck patio with views of the Gulf and a large, hand-carved mahogany bar with one of the largest bottle collections in South Walton.
Rogers says he doesn’t plan to stop working anytime soon.
“I always like to say I’m self-employed. I just find someone to pay me to do what I love.”
Havana Beach Bar & Grill is located at The Pearl Hotel, 63 Main Street in Rosemary Beach. The restaurant is open daily from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, and 5 to 9 p.m. for dinner. The bar is open from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Call 850-588-2882 for more information.
SANTA ROSA BEACH – The Bay and North Beach Social together are ready to host the annual North Beach St. Paddy’s Day party on Wednesday, March 17, from noon to 9:30 p.m. Make sure to arrive wearing green! The party kicks off with live music at both venues. The Bay welcomes Luke Langford Band from 1 to 4 p.m. and Forrest Williams Band 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Across the street at North Beach Social, you can enjoy the musical stylings of Krissa & Mark from noon to 3 p.m. and The Rhino Jockeys from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Both restaurants will feature Irish specialties like corned beef and cabbage all day long. Plus, guests can enjoy cold beer and drink specials throughout the day as well. Since it’s an all-day party, there is time for everyone to swing by and enjoy the festivities. Both The Bay and North Beach Social have amazing open spaces with plenty of room to spread out and stay safe. The staff all wear masks and frequently clean and sanitize to ensure a safe environment.
North Beach Social is open Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and located at 24200 Hwy. 331, Santa Rosa Beach, at the foot of the 331 bridge. The Bay is located across the street at 24215 Hwy. 331 South, Santa Rosa Beach; open daily from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
SANTA ROSA BEACH – North Beach Social is officially open underneath Farm & Fire Southern Pizzeria at the foot of the 331 Bridge in Santa Rosa Beach. Formerly the North Beach Tortilla Company, the space has been brightened up and outside seating is aplenty at the bar and deck.
“Grits have paid for everything!” Chef Jim Shirley exclaimed while explaining the spirit of the newly revised concept of North Beach Social. “Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, we want to showcase some menu favorites across all of our restaurants. Our guests will be able to order our famous Grits a Ya Ya and the Bay Bomber Burger along with fresh raw oysters and poké bowls under the same roof.”
The restaurant design is not the only thing to receive a facelift; the way you get your food has changed, too.
“We thought that the best way to get folks in the door and in a beach mindset is to offer counter service ordering,” says Shirley. “As a group comes in, someone can go grab a table while another member of the party places the food order at the counter.They’ll be given a number to display on their table and an attendant will bring their food to them. Orders will come out faster this way and our customers can order a drink at the bar and start enjoying the beach and the view. It’s laid back, and low stress.”
North Beach Social will also feature daily drink specials and ongoing events and music including beach bocce tournaments and dockside family movies. Currently, NBS is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday with plans to open seven days in early summer.
North Beach Social is located at 24200 US-331, Santa Rosa Beach, at the foot of the 331 bridge on the Choctawhatchee Bay.
SANDESTIN – As the weather warms and the days get longer, visitors and locals alike welcome not just the spring season, but the spring menu at Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood.
Executive Chef Lee Guidry always looks forward to the debut of mushroom season, as is evident in his newest seasonal menu.
At a special luncheon held March 10 at the AAA Four Diamond steakhouse, Guidry started with an off-menu special featuring wagyu, caviar, shaved winter truffle and the first morels of the season.
Next he brought out the prime filet tartar with grilled bone marrow, served right in the bone. Quail egg adds richness while the diced fennel and apple add a brightness that match the season. The house-made focaccia reminds diners that everything served at Seagar’s is made in-house by Guidry and his team.
“It’s a 2- to 3-month process to come up with each menu,” Guidry admitted. “There’s a lot of love that goes in each dish.”
His Heureux Farms pork belly first course incorporates kimchi-style Napa cabbage with sweet soy, ginger, carrot and scallion, and topped with crisp pork skin for added texture. The kitchen cures the pork belly for three days, then braises it for six hours to ensure the texture is wonderfully melty.
Guidry’s crisp bobwhite quail with foie gras and gruyere ravioli is rich in the best way possible, accented with truffled honey butter, Swiss chard and foie gras “snow” which Chef deep freezes and grates as the finishing touch.
Getting into the entrees menu, the skin-on seared snapper is served atop a Yukon gold potato cake cooked in duck fat with zucchini, artichoke mousse, trout roe, and of course, beech mushrooms.
“We have Gulf snapper – American red when it’s in season. It’s been good this year, they keep extending the season a little bit so we’ve been fortunate to keep getting it,” Guidry explained.
Chef’s pan-roasted diver scallops are legendary, and for the spring season he pairs them with a lump blue crab cannelloni and grilled king trumpet mushroom, served with pureed “smooth” gumbo.
“These are U-10 diver scallops that are hand-picked, so there’s no byproduct,” he said, noting that he only buys dry-packed scallops to ensure the best taste and texture.
His blackened Gulf grouper comes with a roasted corn and tasso, which he serves risotto-style, finished with Asiago and rock shrimp.
For dessert, he’s serving a celebration of the classic French opera cake, incorporating delicate layers of chocolate mousse, hazelnut dacquoise, espresso syrup, and ganache, aside a latte gelato and cocoa nibs.
Seagar’s will also host at least one more wine dinner before the season really gets underway, always held the first Sunday of the month. He hinted his next evening might include a caviar and vodka tasting.
Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood is located 4000 Sandestin Blvd. South, Miramar Beach, within the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa. Reservations can be made online at seagars.com or by calling 850-622-1500.
Photos by Michelle Farnham
Chef’s prime filet tartar is served in the bone with a sherry vinaigrette and house-made focaccia.
Featuring Napa cabbage, ginger, carrot and pork cracklins, the pork belly first course is finished with a sweet soy sauce.
The flash-fried quail is paired with foie gras and gruyere ravioli.
Chef serves his snapper atop a Yukon gold potato cake.
Diver scallops meet lump blue crab cannelloni.
Grouper is plated with roasted corn and Tasso risotto.
Chef layers chocolate mousse with espresso syrup, hazelnut dacquoise, ganache and buttercream.
Chef Lee Guidry plates his pork belly first course.
INLET BEACH – Shaka Sushi and Noodle Bar has expanded into the space next door to bring guests a Grab n’ Go market featuring build-your-own poke bowls, classic sushi rolls, salads, house made dressings and sauces, Asian market style snacks, and a full bar. Guests are invited to come in and put together a bowl to go or simply grab a roll or salad to go. Shoppers are welcome to use the outside tables as well. The market is open daily at 11 a.m. until the freshly prepared food runs out.
Shaka Sushi and Noodle Bar is located in the Shoppes @ Inlet, 13625 U.S. Hwy. 98 East, Suite 5, Inlet Beach.
ROSEMARY BEACH – The Courtyard at Pescado is hosting a boozy soiree this St. Patrick’s Day, Wednesday, March 17, from 2 to 10:30 p.m. Patrons can order Irish-inspired food and drinks off the menu. Enjoy the musical stylings of The O’Mericans from 2 to 5 p.m. and then Gilleran’s Island Band from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Additionally, The Courtyard at Pescado will also hold an Irish whiskey tasting from 6 to 8 p.m. in a private area separate from the soiree. Led by Marc Engel from Breakthru Beverage, tickets are $90 (+tax and gratuity) and include a welcome cocktail, an array of whiskeys for tasting, and Irish-inspired appetizers.
The Courtyard at Pescado is located at 74 Town Hall Road, Suite 4B in Rosemary Beach.