The good times roll at Gumbo Fest
30th annual event sells out at Baytowne Wharf
By Michelle Farnham
MIRAMAR BEACH – A sold-out crowd filled Baytowne Wharf Feb. 16 for the 30 th
annual Sandestin Gumbo & Bloody Mary Festival. Tasting up to 19 samples, ticket-
holders everywhere employed The Gumbo Hunch: shoulders rounded and necks
extended, while blowing on the piping hot Creole stew.
Chef Jay Ammons of Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House tweaked his recipe from last
year, a move that earned his restaurant the top prize in the newcomer category.
“This is a gumbo with shrimp, fresh lump crabmeat, chopped scallops, crawfish, and
Andouille sausage. I think this year we’re going to bring it all home,” he said
prophetically from behind his Mardi Gras mask.
To attract the taste buds of voters, some entrants added a little something extra to
their gumbo offering. Herbert’s Specialty Meats doled out their fresh-sliced boudin
sausage, Dewey Destin’s plated jalapeño hush puppies, and Crab Island Cantina
dished up signature Spanish rice with their stew.
A few entrants really threw the Yankees for a loop, serving their gumbo atop potato
salad, rather than the more widely known rice base.
Native Louisiana Chef Lisa Carline with The Hunting Hookers booth scratch-made
her duck and oyster gumbo with potato salad – a 50-plus-year-old family recipe. She
said using potato salad is a Louisiana tradition born of necessity.
“Rice was so expensive back in the day, and Louisiana families didn’t have access to
rice. But everyone grew potatoes and had chickens, so potato salad was more of a
staple,” Carline explained. “This is what I grew up on; this is the only gumbo I know.”
New this year was a Bloody Mary competition, with 11 booths passing out this most
spicy of cocktails. The wharf became a veritable sea of crudité, and some
competitors got creative with the garnish. Hartell’s Village Diner used their Krispy
Krunchy Chicken and pickled okra, while Boathouse Oyster Bar used freshly
shucked raw oysters!
Representing Village Door Music Hall, Alvah Brooks shook up their dry rub
seasoning, honey, and house tomato juice blend, all garnished with a green bean, for
one of the day’s more unique offerings.
“Does this have cinnamon or ginger?” one curious patron asked, but Brooks only
smiled and shrugged, unwilling to give up the secret recipe.
Robin Evans of Colorado Springs, Colo., was impressed with the festival’s vibe and
seafood offerings – something she doesn’t get much of in the mountains.
“It’s absolutely amazing!” she said. “I’m so full already and we haven’t even done
half!” She pointed out Steamboat Grill’s gumbo as her early favorite.
Evans admitted her strategy for making it to every booth was to ditch the garnish.
“I just stopped eating the olives and stuff because that’s what was filling me up!” she
said. “The Bloody Mary is so thick, it just fills around all the gumbo in your stomach.”
A panel of judges – WJHG reporters Scott Rossman and Paris Janos, Phil Heppding of
30A Food & Wine, Jennifer Fitzgerald of Imperium Blue, and Bo Reynolds of
Highway 98 Country Radio – did a blind taste-testing to determine winners in
several categories, along with the people’s choice division.
Planning is already underway for the 31 st annual Sandestin Gumbo & Bloody Mary
Festival, Feb. 15, 2020. Money raised benefits the Sandestin Foundation for Kids.
Best Gumbo: Non-Restaurant Participants
1 – ($300) Hunting Hookers
2 – ($250) Herbert’s Specialty Meats – Destin
Best Gumbo: 5 Years & Under Participants
1 – ($750) Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House – Baytowne Wharf
2 – ($500) Hartell’s Village Diner – Baytowne Wharf
3 – (tie) Cabana Café (Miramar Beach), Hurricane Oyster Bar – Grayton Beach
5 – ($250) Boathouse Oyster Bar – Destin
Honorable Mention – ($100) SteamBoat Grill 30A – Seagrove Beach
Best Gumbo: Veteran Participants
1 – ($750) Harry T’s – Destin
2 – ($500) Marina Bar & Grill – Baytowne Wharf
3 – ($300) Crab Island Cantina – Destin
4 – ($250) Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. – Destin
Best Gumbo: People’s Choice
1 – ($400) Crab Island Cantina – Destin)
2 – ($300) Dewey Destin’s Harborside Restaurant – Destin
3 – ($200) Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House – Baytowne Wharf
Best Gumbo: Community Broadcasters Award – ($1,000 advertising package)
Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House – Baytowne Wharf
Best New Participant – ($100) Hartell’s Village Diner – Baytowne Wharf
Best Bloody Mary – People’s Choice
1 – ($400) Crab Island Cantina – Destin
2 – ($300) Sunset Bay Café – Sandestin
3 – ($200) AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar – Destin
Best Display – ($50) Hurricane Oyster Bar – Grayton Beach