Sandestin fires up the gumbo pots
Baytowne Wharf is packed as diners ‘Pursue the Roux’
By Michelle Farnham
The sunshine was hot, but the gumbo was hotter, as the Village of Baytowne Wharf broke out the purple, green and gold décor for the Sandestin Gumbo Festival, Feb. 16 and 17.
Things got underway Friday night with the Seafood Boil Kick-Off Party at Hammerhead’s Bar and Grill, but the sold-out featured event – affectionately dubbed “Pursue the Roux” – filled the village Saturday.
In its 29th year, the Sandestin Gumbo Festival is one of the longest-running culinary events on the coast and kicks off the 2018 festival season. A lineup of 17 local eateries presented their take on the Cajun stew, including South Walton locations Chiringo, The Village Door Restaurant, Slick Lips Seafood and Oyster House, Marlin Grill, Cabana Café, Sunset Bay Café, Marina Bar & Grill, and Burnt Pine Golf Club.
Eight-time participant Marina Bar & Grill captured first place in the Veteran Restaurant category of the annual contest. Heather Cleveland, director of event management at Sandestin Gulf and Beach Resort, said Marina Chef Brandon Noletto draws on his heritage when creating his crawfish, shrimp and sausage gumbo.
“Chef Brandon is from backwoods Alabama and he has developed a really special recipe with just the right amount of spice,” Cleveland said. “He’s blended it really well and perfected that recipe over the years.”
Festival newcomer Slick Lips Seafood and Oyster House won’t officially open its doors to the public until next month, but staff was dishing up tasters in front of their Baytowne Wharf location, the former site of Acme Oyster House. Executive Chef Jay Ammons was stirring a giant pot of his traditional crawfish, smoked sausage, scallops, crab and shrimp gumbo, which will be on the regular menu.
“This seafood gumbo is done by the best restaurant in the Wharf and we put in a lot of love and a little bit of amber beer,” Ammons said, hinting at the secret ingredient.
Grayton Beach hotspot Chiringo brought its Andouille sausage, smoked sausage, and blackened chicken recipe for the first time. Head Chef Chris Rye used a bacon roux to start his gumbo, giving it a rich, deep flavor, and even offered a homemade hot sauce for those looking for more heat.
“I’ve always loved cooking gumbo; it’s one of my favorite dishes to cook,” Rye admitted, as the crowd was lined up 50-deep for a sample.
2018 contest winners
• 1st – Marina Bar and Grill
• 2nd – TIE Harry T’s and Bubba Gump’s
• 4th Place – The Village Door
1-5 Years Participants
• 1st – Slick Lips Seafood and Oyster House
• 2nd – TIE Crab Island Cantina & Sunset Bay Café
• 4th – Dewey Destin
• Honorable Mention – Cabana Cafe
• 1st – Gibson Catering
• 2nd – Happy Hookers
Best Display – Crab Island Cantina
• 1st – Dewey Destin
• 2nd – Crab Island Cantina
• 3rd – Slick Lips Seafood and Oyster House
Best New Restaurant – Slick Lips Seafood and Oyster House
Community Broadcasters Ad Package – Slick Lips Seafood and Oyster House
Additional Scenes from the 2018 Sandestin Gumbo Festival
Photos by Michelle Farnham