April 28, 2020
By Phil Heppding
SEAGROVE – If you have spent any time in South Walton exploring the culinary scene, inevitably you have experienced fare from one of the area’s top chefs, Greggory Smith. Smith is currently refining the concept and menu at Surfing Deer in Seagrove.
While the restaurant is approaching its third anniversary, Smith has been a staple on the dining scene for over three decades. He brought his experience from restaurant ventures in Oklahoma City, Birmingham and the Dallas area to Bay County where he helped run the family-owned Wheelhouse Restaurant. Locals to 30A may remember him from his days with George and Ann Hartley at George’s at Alys Beach. He has followed them to Surfing Deer, where they continue to elevate the dining experience in South Walton.
We recently caught up with Chef Smith to get his take on the culinary scene in South Walton, and his recommendations for an ideal dining experience for a new guest at Surfing Deer.
30AFW: What has changed in the culinary scene over the three decades you have been in the area and in South Walton?
GS: 30A has got a great food scene. I’ve recently had the opportunity to go to Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, and New Orleans for Chef Emeril’s Boudin, Bourbon & Beer. You see what’s out there and how these areas are changing. It’s really a matter of this great group of chefs out here in South Walton, trying to keep up the pace with what people around the U.S. want. We not only have to be trendsetters down here, but we have to keep our eyes open with what’s going on all over the country.
30AFW: What are some trends in the national or global culinary scene that you are incorporating here at Surfing Deer?
GS: I’m big on shareable plates. Our menu is designed to be real diverse but we also like the idea of families coming down to dine. So the sharable concept is one that we try to use. Three to four of our appetizers are sharable and our salads are sharable as well. People come in and see all these items they want to try and will order a little of everything – especially the big parties – to have a great experience. I love that concept.
30AFW: How important is sustainability and local sourcing to you and your guests?
GS: Very important. The farm-to-table movement is huge and will only get bigger and bigger. As folks have more health issues and dietary needs, they become more focused on local, healthy options. My own family leans towards all the healthier options. Just sourcing local and sustainable food helps that movement.
30AFW: As a new guest to Surfing Deer, what can someone expect on their first experience?
GS: From the moment you come through the front door, you are going to have a fabulous experience. From the time you arrive until the time you leave, you better plan on spending two to two-and-half hours to truly have the best dining experience. It is an experience and you aren’t just popping in for one course and heading out. It’s about the table-side service right down to the timing of the food leaving the kitchen and arriving at your table.
30AFW: How about your locals and regulars? What will they notice that is different this year?
GS: They keep coming back! Kitchen-wise is that we have adapted the menu – not just that there are a lot of offerings but that we have daily changes. We have a vegan dish which leans toward our healthy options and a daily change in our fresh catch. So whatever the fresh fish is I usually try to do something unique so that I can go all over the place with the flavors.
30AFW: How important is the team here at Surfing Deer and what challenges do you face with hiring that maybe restaurants in bigger cities don’t face?
GS: We have a great food scene on 30A but it is hard to find really good kitchen help in this area. I run a really tight ship and the people that we do hire tend to stay with us awhile. We have a really great atmosphere here and we’ll feed 400 to 500 people (per night) during the summer and we communicate really well. We treat them right and they want to stay.
30AFW: Which selections would you recommend to create a fabulous dining experience?
GS: I would suggest starting with the clothesline bacon. It has been huge with guests. We also do a version of a lobster taco that is our number one appetizer. Then try our Caesar salad that we present with fried oysters. Our catch of the day is usually number one because it is a nightly change. We tend to lean Southern on most of it in terms of preparation. The scallops are beautiful and it’s a great dish. We usually have something curry on the menu that is spicy, but not over the top spicy. Our guests really like our Thai red curry with coconut shrimp. That should get them started!
30AFW: And finally, what’s in store for 2020 here at Surfing Deer?
GS: Hopefully bigger and better. We have almost honed it in to what we want it to be as far as concept and service. We have a few tweaks we still need to make, but we are almost there.
Surfing Deer is open daily for dinner starting at 5 p.m. and is closed Sunday. Surfing Deer is located on the corner of 30A and 395 at 2743 Co. Hwy. 30A, Santa Rosa Beach. For more information visit www.surfingdeer.com or call 850-213-4200.