At WaterColor Inn
34 Goldenrod Circle
Santa Rosa Beach
Good taste, good space
By Lauren Sage Reinlie
WATERCOLOR – Diners at FOOW in WaterColor really can’t get much closer to the beach.
“It’s almost right at your fingertips,” said Dustin Parkman, the director of restaurants for WaterColor Inn.
With almost 270 degrees of floor-to-ceiling windows and a third of its seating on an outside patio, FOOW (pronounced ‘foo’) takes full advantage of its location. The view from this second-floor restaurant is of an almost-untouched stretch of beach with natural dunes rolling alongside the blue-green of the Gulf of Mexico.
The longstanding restaurant Fish Out of Water was redesigned and reopened in 2018 as FOOW. Stepping away from the strictly fine dining of the former restaurant, FOOW offers “coastal casual at its finest,” as Parkman described it.
The redesign was on par with changing demographics of WaterColor and the 30A area in general, Parkman said. Diners in years past were primarily older adults, but now they are increasingly families and those looking for a more casual atmosphere.
“We still have a high level of service and refinement but FOOW has a little more laid-back attitude; it’s a little more unbuttoned,” he said.
The concept has worked out amazingly well. Despite all the challenges of 2020, Parkman said it was their best year on record.
“We can handle volume and crowds now,” he said. “It’s more lively. I love the energy that restaurants can have, this sort of hum and this buzz. That’s what we’re working to create here.”
Approachable fine dining
At the new FOOW, everything is designed to be a little more approachable, including the menu, Parkman said.
Price points are more affordable for food and drinks and the menu offers plenty of options to mix and match to please everyone at the table from adults to kids.
But, Parkman noted, while it may be a more casual menu, the staff still strives for that fine dining perfection.
Ninety percent of the menu’s offerings are made in-house.
“We try to stay away from anything that’s not freshly made,” Parkman said.
Local grouper filets are still the most popular item on the menu. But a new item, the FOOW burger, made from privately sourced Wagyu beef, has become their second-most popular.
It’s served on a brioche bun with garlic aioli and comes stacked high with fresh lettuce and just-cut tomatoes, looking like it’s about to fall over, Parkman said.
“As simple as it may be, a cheeseburger or hamburger can be messed up or it can be one of the best things you’ve ever had,” Parkman said. “There’s something to be said for a burger that is perfectly done and perfectly executed. As elementary as it may seem, it’s a lot more difficult than it sounds and it takes a lot of effort to have it just perfect every time.”
Room for your whole party
With about 265 seats available, FOOW is the largest restaurant along Scenic Highway 30A, Parkman said.
It features an open kitchen and a bar that is half inside and half outside. The patio has televisions and plenty of seating. FOOW also has a wine room that can be reserved for private events, groups or those who want to dine with more privacy.
FOOW is located at the WaterColor Inn, which is a four-star Forbes-rated hotel, and Parkman said the staff strives to meet those standards at the restaurant, too.
Even though flip-flops are welcome, the dining experience and service are of utmost importance. Parkman said a lot of that is in the details, from the look of the place to how it sounds, what the glassware and silverware feel like and how staff interact with diners.
“It’s those things you can touch, taste and smell, the tangibles of the experience,” Parkman said. “That’s what helps separate us from a more casual beachside restaurant.”
FOOW is located at 34 Goldenrod Circle and is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are not accepted. Free valet parking is offered at the entrance. More information can be found at foow30a.com or by calling 850-534-5050.