By Sara Reese
AJ’s Grayton Beach brings with it a history of hospitality and great food set in a space that invites the whole family or a night out with friends.
A successful restaurant is simple, according to owner Alan Laird. “Say hello, say thank you for coming in, say I hope you enjoyed it, and please come back … and in between, you build your staff,” he explained. Laird has successfully built on this philosophy since opening the now-iconic AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar in Destin in 1987.
The newest AJ’s in Grayton Beach replaces the popular Pandora’s Steakhouse & Lounge. When business partner Sam Montalto passed in 2016, Laird decided the building needed to be remodeled and the brand needed to be refreshed. AJ’s Grayton Beach opened in March 2017, honoring what Montalto’s Pandora’s brought to the corner in Grayton, but with the AJ’s brand success.
AJ’s Grayton Beach is open for lunch, dinner, and late night. A casual and fun vibe permeates the five dining areas. Live music can be found in the main dining room, and there are three large, busy bars. Enjoy the beauty of Grayton Beach with outdoor seating, or have your meal in the inviting sushi bar.
The menu also provides quite a variety. AJ’s serves Gulf Coast favorites like the award-winning seafood gumbo: scallops, shrimp, fish, and okra in a savory roux served over rice highlight the dish. The popular Run of the Kitchen serves what it promises: a southern fried platter of Mahi-Mahi, shrimp, oysters, clam strips, a stuffed deviled crab, fries, and hush puppies.
Steaks feature prominently on the menu, with prime cuts of filet, top sirloin, and ribeye, all prepared on an oak wood burning grill. The Cowboy Bone-In Ribeye weighs in at 16 ounces – grilled to your preference – and is the largest cut you’ll find on 30A!
Laird and “Sushi Steve” launched sushi at AJ’s Destin in 2014 at a captain’s party, leading to the more creative rolls being named after popular Destin Harbor fishing vessels. Sushi at AJ’s Grayton can be simple, creative, or made to order.
The American Spirit Roll combines filet, avocado, jicama, and spicy lump crab, wrapped in prosciutto. The Relentless Roll serves up lump crab, spicy aioli, sweet soy, sriracha, wrapped in freshwater eel.
Simpler options are offered, as well as the chance to build your own roll to your specifications. Sushi can be enjoyed anywhere in the building, including right in front of the sushi chefs. Sushi Steve may share how he got his start while playing music in Arizona. His mentor was in an all-Japanese Led Zeppelin cover band as well as a popular sushi chef.
AJ’s Grayton Beach serves a wide selection of beverages at their many bars. The wine list was created with the 30A and South Walton clientele in mind and offers variety and quality. Mainstream and imported beers are available on draft or bottled, along with local brews from Idyll Hounds, Grayton Beer Co., and Oyster City Brewing Co. Join AJ’s for Sunday brunch and enjoy their Bloody Mary Bar!
Some of the South’s favorite bands and performers are drawn to the stage at AJ’s Grayton. Musical lineups have included Heritage, The Prickled Pickers, and Luke Langford. The schedule at AJ’s also includes Trivia Night and Karaoke.
With multiple options for dining, cocktails, and entertainment, AJ’s falls in line with Laird’s philosophy that his businesses will always provide enough for guests “to want to go there, be there, stay there, wish (they) were there and can’t wait to get back there.”
Plans to beautify the 15-inch thick sound barrier wall enclosing the back deck include a koi pond and waterfall that will feed an aquaponic garden. Hopes are that as the environment is stabilized, the cucumber in your sushi roll will be grown there. Intentions are also underway to bring more farm-to-table offerings into the AJ’s stores by utilizing the company’s 55-acre farm not far from South Walton.
AJ’s Grayton Beach is located at 63 Defuniak Street, Santa Rosa Beach, just south of the intersection of County Hwy. 30A and County Hwy. 283. AJ’s can be reached at 850-231-4102, www.ajsgrayton.com or www.facebook.com/AJsGraytonBeach.