New event highlights craft beverages, culinary, artistry, workmanship
June 22, 2021 Special to 30A Food and Wine
ALYS BEACH – Alys Beach Crafted is the newest of signature event to be hosted by The Alys Foundation. Sprung from the successful debut of Firkin Fête in 2019, Crafted celebrates the collaboration of talents, pooled from throughout the Southeast, that come together to enrich the 30A experience.
Crafted tells the stories behind a refined collection of craft beverages, culinary experiences, artistry, and workmanship. Crafted will be a weekend of events in Alys Beach, a gathering of renowned craftspeople from around the region sharing the process, the inspiration, and the product of their craft at the Maker’s Market, Cocktail Seminars, the Spirited Soirée and Firkin Fête. Alys Beach Crafted is pleased to announce that all proceeds will benefit a local non-profit focused on serving the food insecure in Walton County, Food for Thought Outreach.
Tickets for the event will go on sale to the public Aug. 1, 2021.
The second annual Firkin Fête will be Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, featuring a unique tasting experience as we tap firkins of beer created by local and regional breweries. The fete includes live music performances and the culinary creations of chefs from throughout the Southeast.
The Spirited Seminars feature four opportunities to learn from some of the best mixologists in the industry, exploring the art of the cocktail: preparations, pairings, new craft ingredients and products.
Spirited Soirée features craft cocktails from regional mixologists paired with designated distilleries, to create the perfect cocktail. Guests will have the opportunity taste the spirits both neat and in the cocktail, and will hear from the distillers and mixologists on the process behind each unique pairing.
The Alys Beach Crafted Maker’s Market will be held in the Alys Beach Amphitheater on Friday, Oct. 1 from 3 to 6 p.m. and on Saturday, Oct. 2 from noon to 4 p.m. These artisans will present their products, representing the best in regional workmanship, available for purchase. Enjoy live music while perusing the Maker’s Market and explore the tastings, treats and refreshments available for purchase. This event is free and open to the public.
SEACREST BEACH – La Cocina, the Latin coastal restaurant serving up ceviche, tacos, burritos and achiote fried wings along 30A, has reopened its doors as LaCo, a shortened moniker for both “La Cocina” and “Latin Coastal.”
Over the winter, the eatery also underwent a top-to-bottom remodel of the dining room and bar, and has debuted a new brunch menu from Executive Chef Eric Bartholomew. From the floors to wall colors, lighting, even the chairs are new, all the work of Z-Space Design out of Atlanta.
“We’ve been transitioning from Tex-Mex to more Latin Coastal over the past couple years, so we wanted to reflect those menu changes in the name and the ambiance of the restaurant,” explained Manager Sarah Hampton. “It’s the same owners, the same great staff, and the same menu we’ve used for the past three years.”
To the left of the entryway is the revamped main dining space, which includes fresh tile work in muted beachy tones that add to the coastal feel. New booths offer fun, comfortable seating options to the space. To the right of the front door is the remodeled bar area with seating, including the gorgeous white bar top, accented by handsome dark woodwork.
“The remodel definitely lightens up the dining room and the new bar is a great hangout place,” Bartholomew said.
The newly debuted brunch is served 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week, while the regular menu is offered 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, including takeout, according to Christy Spell Terry, who co-owns LaCo with her father, Rick.
“We wanted to give locals and tourists alike a dining option they could enjoy earlier in the day,” Spell Terry said. “LaCo’s culinary team created an exceptional menu brunch-goers can enjoy as early as 10 a.m. daily – and that includes kid-friendly dishes, too! It makes for a great start to a day at the beach.”
The Breakfast Burrito, Tacos Desayuno and Chilaquiles Rojo come with the guest’s choice of grilled steak, bacon, chorizo or grilled veggies.
“When I think coastal, it’s certain ingredients we use, some seafood, but also being a little bit lighter,” the chef said. “This is not your typical bacon-eggs-potato type place. It’s a different option for someone, and a lot of these are gluten-free or can be vegetarian, so they’re good for people with alternative diets.”
Chef’s Sweet Potato Breakfast Hash is not to be missed, with its roasted Brussels sprouts, whipped avocado, lime vinaigrette and a sunny side up egg.
“The sweet potato is a little bit of a healthier option, while the Chilaquiles Rojo is a real traditional Mexican breakfast dish,” Bartholomew explained. “It’s kind of a hangover meal! It’s a very homey dish that we can offer to guests that they might not have been exposed to before.”
Younger diners can chose between French Toast Sticks with fresh berries, or the S’mores Waffle with chocolate mousse.
Hampton admitted the Lobster Avocado Toast was her favorite new brunch item.
“It’s sourdough bread, avocado, and delicious lobster,” she said. “It has a sweetness and also a little heat, too. The flavors are just awesome.”
Brunch also includes new drinks, like the Sunrise Smoothie (banana, blueberry, vanilla yogurt, almond milk) and the Blood Orange Mimosa, to complement the food.
“Guests love the new brunch dishes and drinks!” exclaimed Spell Terry. “Our culinary team works hard to create Latin-inspired, coastal cuisine with fresh seafood and local ingredients, and guests really appreciate it.”
The regular menu that debuted three seasons ago is still in use, continuing to use fresh, local purveyors. Chef rotates out his very popular Pescado Del Dia special every week or so. Other highlights include the Ribeye Asado plate with red chimichurri, as well as the 10 taco options featuring everything from achiote fried pork belly to chili butter-poached lobster.
LaCo is located at 10343 E. Co. Hwy. 30A in Seacrest Beach. They are open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and do not accept reservations. Reach them at 850-231-4021 or view the full menu at www.laco30a.com.
BLUE MOUNTAIN BEACH – Anyone who has sampled the mouthwatering fares of Cowgirl Kitchen rejoiced at the creation of the latest Nikki Nickerson spot on 30A: Blue Mabel, a restaurant named for a famous rodeo cowgirl and loved for its funky atmosphere and comforting, savory cuisine.
“We treat our customers the way we would want when we go out for the evening: like family when you walk in the door.” – Michael McIntosh, general manager
Mabel Strickland was queen of the rodeo circuit for more than two decades starting in 1916. Known for being gentle and kind with those she loved, she was also known for her steer-roping, calf-pinning, and trick-riding skills. Blue Mabel’s menu is just as unexpected and exciting. And Blue Mountain Beach (the restaurant’s beloved home community) may be known as the quieter side of 30A, but the flavors leaping off the plate at Blue Mabel are anything but.
“What I really love about Blue Mabel is our concept,” explained Executive Chef David Cunningham. “We are a smokehouse – not a BBQ restaurant – and we really want to feature wood-fired seafood and meats, as well as vegetables, in a unique way that brings flavor and something new to our customers. We do some classic barbecue items and we are very well known for our brisket sandwiches, but we also try to incorporate those smokehouse flavors into everything we do.”
Cunningham’s culinary roots are Cajun, growing up in Louisiana and developing his cooking style in New Orleans. “I draw a lot of my inspiration from that period in my life. I am also pretty passionate about BBQ. It started as a hobby, then I won some competitions. Now I just love it. With both of these influences I try to come up with interesting ways to prepare new dishes.”
Spices he finds himself reaching for most? “Fresh ground black pepper, Kosher salt and fresh garlic. All food needs seasoning of some sort , but it should be balanced. Most quality products just need to be cooked properly to bring out the flavor.”
And flavor is the operative word when considering the Blue Mabel menu. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and offers such sumptuous flavors, it makes the meal feel like a true occasion.
“Smalls” selections include Corn Fried Calamari (with charred tomato agrodolce, local greens, smoked garlic aioli, and crisp shishito pickles), Elote Corn Dip (with grilled sweet corn, hatch chiles, cotija, pico de gallo, and house tortilla chips), and Ahi Tuna Tacos (made with citrus caper marinade, smoked paprika crema, napa slaw, and chile oil).
Even the “Greens” are savory and filling, like the Fried Chicken Salad (with onion-crusted chicken tenders, butter lettuce, wood fired peppers, tiny tomatoes, sweet grass Asher blue, pickled sweet onions, and cucumber buttermilk dressing). You can even upgrade any greens to include pulled pork, smoked brisket, grilled shrimp, grilled ribeye, house made crab cake, or the grilled fish of the day.
“Finger Foods” selections include burgers and sandwiches with a Blue Mabel twist, like the Mabel Burger, made with two short rib/brisket patties, sharp cheddar, fresh jalapeño, bacon, hatch chile aioli, and Mabel BBQ sauce on a toasted brioche bun. Make it a full meal at lunch with the Shrimp and Grits (with jumbo Gulf shrimp and house smoked andouille sausage), or the BLT, made with pork butt (hand cooked and slow pulled), fried green tomato, kale-green apple cole slaw, and vinegar sauce on a brioche bun.
Blue Mabel’s dinner menu tempts and delights, with “Snacks” such as the Wood Grilled Ribeye Nachos (queso, charro beans, salsa verde, and sliced jalapeño peppers) and the Smoked Seafood Crudo (with blood orange, charred lime, and achiote oil).
In addition to all lunch offerings, dinner diners can also choose from such sumptuous offerings as Herb Grilled Gulf Fish (with scorched pepper and citrus relish, barbecued onions, toasted pecan “dirty” rice, and pineapple scotch bonnet beurre blanc) and the Flame Roasted Snow Crab (with house made seafood spice, herbed drawn butter, crisp crab boiled potatoes, and basil corn salad). Diners can polish off the experience with a sweet selection such as Chocolate Praline Bread Pudding or Lemongrass Thyme Crème Brulee.
A full bar and drink menu are available, with wines by bottle and glass, and a selection of signature cocktails that have quickly established Blue Mabel’s happy hour and evening place on 30A. (Rose Hound, anyone? Made with Absolute Citron, Rosemary Simple Syrup, and Grapefruit Juice). Unlike many area restaurants, Blue Mabel accepts reservations (even allowing you to select your time and book online).
Maybe it’s the comforting, soulful feel of the food, or the funky vibe of the building, or maybe it’s the happy hour that welcomes all. Or maybe it’s that whether tourist or local you just feel welcome. General Manager Michael McIntosh describes it best, saying, “At the end of the day, we are all locals and we treat our customers the way we would want when we go out for the evening: like family when you walk in the door.”
Blue Mabel can be found at 2260 W. Scenic Hwy. 30A in Blue Mountain Beach, and reservations can be made online or by calling 850-744-0040. Full menus and more information can be found at www.bluemabel.com.
SEAGROVE BEACH – When it comes to local favorites, Angelina’s Pizzeria & Pasta ranks high on the list.
The family-style Italian restaurant featuring homemade pizza and specialty pasta dishes first opened its doors in February of 1994. Owners Brian and Jan Ethridge got the idea for Angelina’s after reading an article in Entrepreneur Magazine about another husband and wife that opened a successful pizzeria in California.
“I thought, we can do this!” Brian recalls. “So, we started looking at different locations.”
They had already decided on South Walton as a great place to live and raise their daughter, and with only one pizza restaurant in the area at the time, it seemed the perfect spot to open their new business. They also had unique backgrounds that Brian says prepared them well for this type of restaurant.
“Jan went to Johnson & Wales University (for culinary arts and restaurant management), and I worked in pizzerias and restaurants growing up. In fact, I lived behind a pizzeria in New Jersey and that’s where I learned to make pizza.”
“I’d say that’s pretty much the key: making your own ingredients. And we hand-toss all of our pizzas to order.” – Brian Ethridge, co-owner
At Angelina’s, the pizza – and just about everything – is made in-house.
“We make our own dough, we grate our own cheese, and we make our own sauce,” Brian says. “I’d say that’s pretty much the key: making your own ingredients. And we hand-toss all of our pizzas to order.”
While Angelina’s is well-known for pizza, there are many specialty pasta dishes that also keep customers coming back. Like the chicken piccata.
“It’s not like most chicken piccatas,” Brian explains. “We marinate the chicken in Italian dressing and when you do that, and you put it into the flour, it almost creates a batter on the chicken. And when you finish that off with butter and lemon and capers, how can it not be good?”
Lasagna is another popular dish, made here with beef and sausage. Then, there is the Stromboli.
“The Stromboli is to die for,” says Brian with a laugh. “We use a pizza dough, then add provolone cheese, salami, ham, pepperoni, and mozzarella. Then we roll it off, bake it in the oven, and serve that with marinara. It’s really good!”
Along with the expansive food menu, guests can choose from a variety of beverages like Coca Cola, Dr. Pepper, iced tea, lemonade, coffee, and more. Beer and wine are also available, and for a little something special, the white sangria comes highly recommended.
Desserts include the classic tiramisu, along with French silk, key lime pie, and others. Specialty coffees are also available.
While carryout is always available, guests choosing to dine-in can enjoy a warm, cozy atmosphere.
“We have the checkered tablecloths, and my wife has an Italian background, so she has her Italian family pictures on the wall. It’s a very home-like environment.”
Nearly three decades after opening its doors, Brian, Jan, and the entire staff at Angelina’s Pizzeria & Pasta remain dedicated to serving exceptional food and offering a memorable dining experience, every single day.
Angelina’s Pizzeria & Pasta is located at 4005 E. Co. Hwy. 30A in Santa Rosa Beach. No reservations needed; reach them by phone at 850-231-2500 or online at www.angelinas30a.com. Open seven days a week, Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
SOUTH WALTON – As the impact of 2018’s Hurricane Michael was finally settling down here on the Emerald Coast, a new storm rolled in, one no meteorologist could have predicted: the Covid-19 pandemic.
With safety concerns for both patrons and employees at an all-time high, many restaurants were shuttered and beaches were closed just as the spring break rush was beginning. In an industry that relies on swift business in the warmest months, and rental homes ordered closed by the governor, the South Walton restaurant industry had some scrambling to do.
But as the old saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
All together now!
Restaurants that long-prided themselves on beachfront views, elegant dining rooms, live music, and fun experiences, suddenly had to shift gears. Takeout menus were quickly developed, offering the best of the kitchen, to-go. Eateries that previously enjoyed lines out the door during the season scrambled to implement delivery service and curbside pickup.
In the spirit of togetherness, locals and the few visitors in town encouraged an #EatLocal attitude like never before. Some restaurants pledged proceeds would be earmarked for the employees, while programs like the Save Florida Business Initiative sold special gift cards that worked like bonds, usable when businesses resumed operation.
With several restaurants in the area, Spell Restaurant Group approached the pandemic in different ways. Edward’s Fine Food & Wine and the former Grits & Grind were fully closed from March 20 to May 3, due to the state’s temporary closure of indoor dining. Sister restaurants George’s at Alys Beach, La Cocina (now LaCo) and La Crema Tapas & Chocolate switched gears and were able to operate by offering takeout, according to co-owner Christy Spell Terry.
Famed Chef Emeril Lagasse shut down operation of all his restaurants from March to August, including Emeril’s Coastal Italian in the Grand Boulevard complex of Sandestin.
“It was the only decision available to ensure the safety of our teams and guests,” Lagasse said, after his local eatery reopened as “Emeril’s Coastal,” with an increased focus on seafood.
South Walton restaurateur Jim Shirley closed all six of his businesses for about two months.
“As the chair of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, it’s important to me that our establishments are all shining examples of safety and health,” Shirley explained, adding each staff member is screened daily before work, they all wear masks, and they’ve added multiple layers of sanitation. “Implementing new procedures and changing our business model allowed us to stay in business, serve people safely, and keep our staff employed all year.”
Inventing the new normal
Even as government regulations relaxed, restaurateurs and their staffs continue to do business differently. The popularity of outdoor dining has surged, causing some locations to turn parking lots into seating areas. Orders are frequently taken and prepared from behind face masks, and live music gigs now involve extra extension cords and tents.
“The pandemic forced us to open our business model to things we haven’t previously done or considered doing, because what we were doing had always worked,” Chef Shirley said. “We now take reservations at Great Southern Cafe and The Bay, and offer online ordering at all establishments. We also added a tent in front of Great Southern when Seaside closed Central Square and one at The Bay so people can really spread out.”
Shirley said the response has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
“We are in the hospitality industry, so we do all we can so that people are comfortable, safe and have a good time,” Shirley added. Each of his locations offers outdoor eating space, giving diners a little fresh air and peace of mind. Indoor seating is socially distanced as well, and his Meltdown on 30A food truck and b.f.f. walk-up bar are ideally suited for grab-and-go.
Lagasse said his team strives to meet expectations of a good meal out, while remaining steadfast in following local and state guidelines and best practices.
“We are still driven by the foundation of hospitality,” Lagasse said. “Our passion for bringing people delicious food made with the best ingredients and served in a comfortable and enjoyable setting has not changed.”
“Coastal,” as Lagasse often calls it, has offered an outdoor patio area from day one – complete with fire pits – that are now an even hotter commodity than before.
“The patio has been a great extension of our dining room and guests love it,” he said. “On Sundays, our jazz band guests play out there, which really creates a great energy and vibe. The patio has fans, umbrellas, misters and heaters, so we designed it to be functional in year-round weather. We are so pleased to see the response.”
Over at the Spell locations, they are still seeing a dramatic increase in takeout business.
“While we have always offered to-go orders, we have never experienced the volume we are now,” said Spell Terry. She admitted it was challenging to fill these orders during the busy season, but they added more staff and even began offering online ordering.
The Spells have staff members in masks at all times during their shifts, which Spell Terry said has been well-received by guests, and allows team members to feel safe.
“Locals and tourists alike have been so supportive and understanding during this challenging season,” Spell Terry said. “With many feeling more comfortable spending time outside rather than inside, the beach remains a popular destination, and as a result, our restaurants do too because they all have varying degrees of outdoor seating.”
George’s offers equal amounts of indoor and outdoor space, and this winter they added an overhead covering to the outdoor area, offering protection from weather. More than 50% of La Crema’s seating is outdoors, Edward’s boasts an outdoor patio in the new streetside dining area, and LaCo has a front patio that seats 30.
South Walton is often considered America’s next great culinary destination, and the drive and determination shown over the past year help solidify that title. As we settle into “the new normal,” we’re all hungry to see what 2021 has in store.
Editor’s note: The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many changes in the restaurant industry over the past year, with rapidly evolving guidelines. All information presented was current as of press time.
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.
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 located at 24200 U.S. Hwy. 331 South, Santa Rosa Beach. Open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Phone is 850-622-3781 or online at northbeach.social, however they do not accept reservations.
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.
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.
SANTA ROSA BEACH – North Beach Social will host an all-day Cinco de Mayo Fiesta Wednesday, May 5, with DJ 30A from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., a photo booth, best outfit contest and tons of food and drink specials all day long. Celebrate the fifth of May in the best way, with friends and family on the beach!
North Beach Social is located at the foot of the 331 bridge in Santa Rosa Beach on the Choctawhatchee Bay, open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. More at NorthBeach.Social.
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.