By Michelle Farnham
May 21, 2022
SANDESTIN – Since opening nearly five years ago, Chef Emeril Lagasse’s Sandestin restaurant has rolled with the tide, you might say. When the world-famous chef made the decision to temporarily close the doors to all his restaurants during the thick of the pandemic, he and his staff used that time to rework and re-imagine. The former Emeril’s Coastal Italian became Emeril’s Coastal, they switched to a dinner service with Sunday brunch, and the tastes of the sea became the kitchen’s main focus.
“We have always wanted to be seafood-centric at Coastal,” Lagasse explained. “The pandemic gave us an opportunity to regroup and rethink the menu, dropping the ‘Italian’ and focusing more on the advantages of being on the coast with the Gulf of Mexico in our backyard.”
With Lagasse and his chef de cuisine Frank Szymanski both being coastal kids by birth, and with a gulf full of fresh seafood at their disposal, the transition was a natural one.
“We have the opportunity to create dishes with the freshest seafood available and Chef Frank has done an incredible job with the seafood concept and seafood specials. When you dine at Emeril’s Coastal, you are going to have ‘a seafood experience,’ enjoying the freshest and most creative seafood dishes,” he said. “The guests have given very positive feedback.”
Both chefs are proud of their whole fish preparations, which are as much a feast for the eyes as the palate. Lagasse also pointed to the nightly special blackboard – which features a fresh catch like snapper, grouper or swordfish – and Bob Doyle’s Maryland Style Crab Cake, served with lemon butter and shoestring potatoes.
“We try to keep our menu pretty seasonal and our menu constantly evolves from one week to another,” explained Szymanski. “We print menus in-house so if mussels aren’t available, for example, we’ll do a dish with clams instead. We have so many repeat customers and they don’t want to eat the same thing every time, so we’ve got to keep it moving.”
Although there is a fine dining vibe at Coastal, they don’t take themselves too seriously. Halloween saw the waitstaff dressed in costumes, and special occasions are celebrated with freshly spun cotton candy and a festive flair.
Platters of oysters are celebrated three ways: raw with mignonette, chargrilled with Parmesan or baked with brie and bacon, or enjoy them over house-made spaghetti with garlic and cream.
“My team and I work hard every day to be the best restaurant with the freshest product,” Lagasse said. “We have some amazing local purveyors who provide us with the best seafood to provide our customers an experience that we are proud of.”
Those with a hearty appetite can tuck into the 22-ounce bone-in prime ribeye, or for lighter fare, EJ’s Chop Salad with avocado, sweet corn and bacon is named for the famed chef’s son, EJ, currently studying to be a chef himself.
The party continues behind the bar, featuring house-made extracts and specialty cocktails. The staff is poppin’ bottles during Sunday brunch, including bottomless mimosas, frozen Lushies, alongside midday nosh favorites like Meril’s Eggs Benedict, lobster Benedict or the fried oyster omelet.
A special take-out menu allows diners to enjoy the tastes of Coastal on the go, including apps, entrees, sides, a kid’s menu and desserts.
Life outside the kitchen
Lagasse is certainly known for more than the plates of food he produces; he’s a philanthropist at heart.
“This year, we are celebrating 20 years of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation,” he added. “We are looking forward to continuing to provide capital and programmatic support to organizations across the nation through our Community Grants Program and our signature program, Emeril’s Culinary Garden and Teaching Kitchen.”
After missing out on several of their live events last year, Lagasse and his wife Alden were thrilled to be able to get back to the business of charity. The Carnivale du Vin returned in November in New Orleans; the Line, Vine & Dine in Fort Lauderdale in February; with more events populating the famous chef’s upcoming calendar.
“Alden and I are looking forward to coming back together in person for the Emeril Lagasse Foundation’s Spring fundraising events like the Chi Chi Miguel Fundraising Weekend here in Santa Rosa Beach,” he said. “Line, Vine & Dine and Chi Chi Miguel support incredible local charities in the Florida communities and we are so grateful for the continued generosity of the donors, sponsors and friends who make them possible.”
In between events and trips to check in on his eight other restaurants, look for Lagasse, Szymanski and their team on the line at Coastal, serving up that fresh coastal fare!
Emeril’s Coastal is located at 435 Grand Boulevard in Miramar Beach. Open 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 4 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and for Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations are accepted; visit them online at www.emerilsrestaurants.com or call 850-608-7040.