A Clear Focus on the Food
This article originally appeared in the spring issue of the Food & Wine Guide for South Walton.
By Sarah Murphy Robertson
Many essential elements contribute to the popularity and longevity of a restaurant: a great concept, devoted staff, superb location, and inviting ambiance to name a few. The Marlin Grill in Sandestin has all these features. However, owner Tom Rice and his team at the Marlin Grill know one more factor is paramount above all the rest: the food.
“The focus has to be on the food,” Rice said. “For me, it’s the reason why we’re in this business.”
This year marks 15 years since Marlin Grill opened its doors and the staff regularly takes a critical look at the menu to discuss any dishes in need of tweaking. Sharp attention to detail is how they’ve provided diners consistently delicious dinners since July of 2002.
“I would consider lots of our menu to include comfort foods,” Rice explained. Once you’ve eaten here you’ll probably agree. These dishes are skillfully and consistently prepared and many have been on the menu since they opened.
“Probably our number one seller,” Rice announced as he presented the Pan-Sautéed Grouper. This beauty of an entree is cooked with precision. The gulf-fresh fish is lightly dredged in flour, dipped in an airy crepe batter, and then pan-fried. The result is pretty magical – a golden halo of grouper encircles the plate. The preparation keeps the fish flaky and tender, and the dish is served with a silky Bienville sauce crafted from shrimp stock. This sauce adds the essence of the sea itself: a touch of briny flavor perfectly complimenting the fish.
The Seafood Medley is another popular choice with diners. It includes portions of their three best loved seafood entrees: the pepper-crusted sushi grade tuna served rare to mid-rare, the grilled mahi mahi with a lovely champagne and dill cream sauce, and of course that fabulous Pan-Sautéed Grouper. It’s a great way to try three specialties at once.
While many guests come to the Marlin Grill with the sole intention of ordering seafood, this is also an excellent place to enjoy a steak. The X factor is their wood fire grill and the 2-year cured hickory fueling it. The aged wood provides just a kiss of flavor to these premium cuts of beef without being too smoky and needlessly overpowering the taste of the meat. Their Hickory Grilled Filet Mignon is available in 10-ounce or 6-ounce portions and the expertise involved in its cooking is immediately evident. The filet is wrapped in Applewood bacon and served with a peppery red wine demi-glace, lightly battered onion rings and a side of creamy classic béarnaise sauce. Meat lovers will savor and devour every bite.
A great steak calls for a great glass of wine. At any given time, Marlin Grill has up to 700 labels on hand. By anyone’s definition this qualifies as an extensive list. Care is taken to curate these wines with every price point represented.
“We have recognizable and moderately priced bottles all the way up to rare varietals,” General Manager Chris Blumenthal explained.
The menus themselves are a unique feature to the dining experience at the Marlin Grill, as they are tablet-style interactive devices. This is a savvy and useful tool, ensuring the Marlin Grill’s wait staff can help diners make informed decisions. Photos of every dish are provided with the mere tap of a screen. Blumenthal revealed it “slows the pace of the meal down but we actually like that.” Diners browse around the menu a bit longer, deciding what they’d like to try. Suggested wine pairings are noted under the dishes as well.
Remembering that many of their vacationing guests will be eating out with their kids, more discerning petite palates can enjoy smaller portions of the filet mignon, crab cakes, or fried lobster tail. But the faithful standbys of pasta and chicken are offered here, too. They always aim for a win-win experience for the whole family at this upscale yet comfortably casual space.
Often satiated and happy guests aren’t inclined to order dessert, but that would be a mistake at Marlin Grill. Their house made Keylime Pie is some of the best anywhere in the area. The filling’s texture could be described somewhere between a mousse and a cheesecake and its flavor is sweet yet tart, resulting in the most heavenly of choruses. The pie’s crust plays its part flawlessly as well – composed of vanilla wafer cookies – crunchy, buttery, and crisp.
Rice, Blumenthal, and the creative culinary talent in the kitchen are dedicated nightly to providing an excellent dinner service. Drawing upon 15 years of experience and a committment first and foremost to the food, this is acheived time and time again. The Marlin Grill is located inside the Village of Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin, just minutes from the western end of 30A. The warmth and welcoming atmosphere will draw you in and the standout experience will leave you planning your next return.
Photos courtesy of Marlin Grill.