MIRAMAR BEACH – Whether you’re on vacation at Seascape Resort or just want to spend your day pretending you are, Seascape Towne Centre is a great destination for fun, unique shops and great restaurants and nightly live entertainment, all in one convenient locale just steps away from the beach. Offering everything from hearty breakfast items worth rolling out of bed for to comfort food and decadent desserts as well as great entertainment, this picturesque little resort enclave is one you’ll love to escape to, time and again.
2 Birds Coffee + Café
For anyone who loves fantastic coffee and great food that focuses on flavor and freshness, 2 Birds Coffee + Café has the perfect way to perk you up and chase away your hunger. From freshly made pastries and sweet treats to breakfast bowls and their signature “Fancy Toasts” and creative “Sammies,” this fun eatery definitely knows how to satisfy. And whether your drink of choice is a strong cup of joe, a fruity Chardonnay, a refreshing IPA, or a classic cocktail, they have the perfect solution for slaking your thirst. Located at 80 Seascape Drive, Suite 103, Miramar Beach. Open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Does not accept reservations. For more information, call 850-279-3375 or visit www.2birdscafe.com.
Acme Oyster House
Specializing in exactly what their name would imply, Acme Oyster House offers a wide variety of oyster and seafood dishes with a decidedly New Orleans flair, showcasing the bold flavors and spice that have made the city such a beloved food destination. From a massive menu of po’ boys and fried seafood selections to classics like jambalaya, gumbo, etoufee, and – of course – oysters, the cooks in the kitchen at Acme are serving up great food filled with soul. Located at 90 Seascape Drive, Suite 101, Miramar Beach. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Does not accept reservations. For more information, call 850-460-7773 or visit www.acmeoyster.com.
Mezcal Mexican Grill
While most people don’t necessarily picture an upscale atmosphere when they think of Mexican food, Mezcal Mexican Grill takes authentic Mexican cuisine and elevates it, using the quality of their ingredients and their attention to detail and beautiful presentation to take the dining experience to a new level. Pairing their inspired menu of unique tapas, burritos, tacos, and fajitas along with juicy burgers and fresh soups and salads, each plate is a sensory trip across the border that you’ll want to take again. Naturally, no Mexican meal would be complete without a refreshing margarita, and Mezcal offers a wide variety of top-shelf margaritas as well as signature cocktails, wines, and beers. Located at 80 Seascape Drive, Suite 101, Miramar Beach. Open Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Does not accept reservations. For more information, call 850-837-8350 or visit www.mezcalmexicangrill.com.
Mezcal Seascape Towne Centre Tiki Bar
Serving the same cuisine that has made them such a destination for foodies, Mezcal Mexican Grill has expanded their vision to create the Seascape Towne Centre Tiki Bar, offering a more casual atmosphere in their outdoor dining space and full-service bar. Perfectly situated on a large deck that overlooks the water and the outdoor events plaza, the shaded area of the tiki bar is an ideal spot to watch live entertainment while enjoying delicious Mexican food and sipping margaritas as the sun goes down. Located at 80 Seascape Drive, Suite 101, Miramar Beach. Open Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Does not accept reservations. For more information, call 850-837-8350 or visit www.mezcalmexicangrill.com.
Moo La La Ice Cream & Desserts
I scream, you scream… With 24 decadent flavors of smooth, creamy ice cream on their menu in addition to freshly made pastries and desserts, Moo La La Ice Cream & Desserts is a dessert lover’s dream come true. From ice cream sandwiches made with their fresh-baked cookies to shakes, sundaes, splits, cups, and cones, you can fulfill all your sweetest wishes, complete with whipped cream, sprinkles, and the cherry on top. For those in search of a different kind of sugar rush, try out one of Moo La La’s other indulgent confections, or get a hit of caffeine from their café menu. With all the sweetness on offer in this fun, barn-inspired shop, there’s nothing you won’t love. Located at 90 Seascape Drive, Suite 106, Miramar Beach. Open Monday to Friday 3 to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Does not accept reservations. For more information, call 850-654-3333 or visit www.seascape-resort.com/towne-centre/moo-la-la.
Village Door Music Hall
For fans of great music and live entertainment, Village Door Music Hall is the place to be; but they don’t just stop at being the it venue for a good time. Featuring five bars that shake things up with an impressive array of handcrafted cocktails, beer, and wine as well as a restaurant space offering a menu of satisfying sandwiches, wood smoked barbecue, burgers, and seafood that makes your tastebuds sing, Village Door has food deserving of its own stage, and every bite is definitely headliner material. Focusing on comfort food and Southern-inspired dishes, they don’t miss a beat when it comes to flavor. Whether you’re in the mood for a platter of tender ribs or have a hankering for chicken and waffles, they have your perfect tune and a drink to match. Located at 80 Seascape Drive, Suite 101, Miramar Beach. Open daily 11 a.m. to midnight, until 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturday. Does not accept reservations. For more information, call 850-502-4590 or www.villagedoormusichall.com.
Famed chef opens 14th eatery; focuses attention on locals instead of “the season”
Story by Michelle Farnham
MIRAMAR BEACH – When news broke this spring that world-renowned chef and local resident Emeril Lagasse was going to open a restaurant in town, he said he wanted to keep things as local as possible. Fast forward a few months, and Lagasse has kept his promise at his 14th restaurant, Emeril’s Coastal Italian. The James Beard Award-winner has hired 120 local people, is serving locally sourced product as often as possible, and is really trying to cater to local residents.
Making his own trends
In an area like the Emerald Coast, where so much emphasis is placed on “the season” (serving tourists from spring break until Labor Day) Lagasse said he wants “Coastal” – as he affectionately calls the eatery – to be a great restaurant year-round.
“I purposely pushed not opening until the end of the season to not only do the construction right, but I didn’t want my staff to get in that mindset,” he said. “That’s the mindset out there in the community, you know, we’re going to make a lot of money between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and then we coast. That’s not how I operate.”
Lagasse said they’re already looking forward to specials for Thanksgiving, possibly something for the Italian-American Feast of the Seven Fishes around Christmas, New Year’s Eve events and beyond.
“We’re just going to be a great restaurant for locals, for them to come and enjoy and have fun, order multiple dishes, and talk,” he said.
Lagasse is also bucking the trend of stodgy, structured meals, eaten during fixed times, and costing a pretty penny. In a market where many of his competitors rate four dollar signs on Yelp, you’ll only find one entrée over $25 on the menu at Coastal. The staff opens the doors at 11:30, and won’t close them until 10 p.m. (10:30 on Fridays and Saturdays).
“That’s an Emeril Lagasse trend. I think that’s how people want to eat,” Lagasse explained. “I just feel today that these rules that we’re open from 11:30 to 2, and then we’re closed, then we reopen at 5:30 – people are tired of that. People are tired of being dictated what to do, what to eat, how to order. They’re over that. Now, if you want to go to Daniel, The French Laundry, you want to go to Del Posto, that’s a different story. I want people to come here more than once a week.”
There he goes again
Chef admitted that although this is his 14th restaurant, the task of opening doesn’t get any easier, especially when customers walk in the door with such high expectations on Week 1.
“It’s been a little overwhelming,” the chef admitted, after closing up the restaurant at 1 a.m. the night before. “It’s like having a baby. I’m getting ready to have a 1-year-old with Meril (his contemporary American restaurant in New Orleans) in a couple weeks. Here at Coastal, it’s like giving birth and we’ve had the whole process all over again.
“We have a brand new staff we trained for three weeks. They’re trying to adjust to how we do business, our system. Overall, we’re very, very happy. Most people are happy and we’re trying to move that percentage up more and more every day.”
Speaking of the staff, Lagasse has brought a few heavy hitters from Emeril’s Homebase in New Orleans for the opening, including his director of culinary and right-hand-man, Chris Wilson. Local chef Shane Quinlan was hired to fill the roll of chef de cuisine and will lead the kitchen when the proverbial dust settles.
Bringing the tastes of Italy – all of them
Lagasse said his culinary team drew inspiration from the Amalfi Coast of southern Italy when crafting Coastal’s menu, but in the Italian tradition, they were open to neighboring flavors, too.
“Amalfi plays a big part in the gulf they’re on with their seafood, and so when I was there last year shooting my show ‘Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse,’ for Amazon, I got super inspired,” he said. “But there’s a little influence of Tuscany, of Sicily, so there are little accents. It’s not just straight-on.
“That’s the way it is in Italy, you know? You can be in Tuscany but you’re still getting great seafood from the North. They’re like that with their wines as well. There are certain things like the sweet and sour, the lemon and the orange – those kinds of accents that we’ve incorporated in the menu.”
Don’t come to Coastal expecting Ye Olde Italian fare, though. Lagasse’s team has left off many of the more “traditional Italian” dishes many Americans may expect.
“Chicken Parmesan, veal Parmesan, that stuff hasn’t quite made the menu,” he said. “Maybe we’ll do that stuff as a special – pork Milanese, veal chop Milanese, you know.”
Instead, look for Fettuccine Nero, featuring Calabrian chiles, almond, crabmeat and some very distinctive black pasta, compliments of squid ink. There’s a Parmesan-Crusted Snapper in a red sauce; a Tuscan Steak with arugula, garlic, lemon and olive oil; and the Kurobuta Pork Porterhouse Chop with Cubanelle pepper and an onion salad.
Two dishes on the pasta menu bear the name of two of Lagasse’s children. Meril’s Linguine & Clams features guanciale, blistered tomato and oregano; while E.J.’s Rigatoni is topped with shrimp, broccoli and a house-made Italian sausage ragout.
Again, Lagasse is hoping diners will order several things to share, and there is an entire small plates menu to do just that. The Upside-Down Cornbread with pineapple and pancetta is an interesting mix of sweet and savory. The Stuffed Fried Olives come with pork rillettes and garlic aioli, while the Steamed Mussels give you a taste of the sea, prepared with white wine, tomato, garlic and arugula. Off the bruschetta menu, Lagasse’s Cajun Caviar Bruschetta tops a baguette with Cajun caviar, egg salad and crème fraîche.
Even as early as Week 1, Quinlan and the kitchen were turning out specials, like the lion fish, fried Italian-style with smoked tomato sauce, olive relish, and a yellow pepper coulis. Using this unique yet notoriously invasive protein, Lagasse hopes to improve the community one plate at a time.
“We’re helping out as much as we can with the reefs,” he said. “I spend time in south Florida in the winter fishing, and that’s when I learned lion fish are a nuisance. They have no predators and they’re really attacking. All of a sudden, the migration in the past couple years, now they’re here in Destin. We’re doing our part, and it’s delicious!”
Time for something sweet – and different
In addition to house-made gelatos, sorbetos, cookies and biscotti, Lagasse worked with his pastry chefs Jeremy Fogg and Amy Lemon to “Emerilize” traditional Italian desserts for the Dolce Tazzas – or sweet cups.
“I don’t want to just do just banana cream pie, coconut cream pie and key lime pie. I want to break it up,” Lagasse explained. “We took every dessert and deconstructed it, and then we rebuilt it in the style of the Italian way. All of the components are there.”
As an example, the pastry program has turned out its own take on banana cream pie, all layered in a glass.
“You have the graham cracker crust, you have the banana, you have the pastry cream, the whipped cream, the caramel and the chocolate, so when you go in with the spoon, you get every one of those sensations, but it’s completely different,” the chef said with a sparkle in his eye.
Setting the scene
Also sparkling is the Mediterranean, coastal-themed interior, courtesy of Lagasse’s wife Alden with local design house Lovelace Interiors, and architects Geoff Chick and Jeff Margaretten. Soft, beachy grays mix with light and dark wood and modern light fixtures to set the tone for the meal. The kitchen is open, allowing guests to watch their meals being prepared. The chef’s counter is especially exciting when Lagasse himself is on the line. You may even spot his teenage son E.J. in the kitchen, when he’s not in school.
The north wall features original sea life “street graffiti” with a fine art twist, created by Savannah College of Art and Design alum Landon Lott. Lott got his foot in the door, so to speak, after doing black and white murals at Meril last year. The pieces created such a buzz, Lagasse and Alden asked Lott to work his magic at Coastal.
Additional artwork includes a massive antique Italian piece in the private dining room from the Lagasses’ personal collection, as well as work from Watersound-based artist Allison Wickey.
Onward and upward
With two restaurants under a year old, television programs and all the other pots that Lagasse is currently stirring, you might expect him to stop and take a breath. Instead, he’s planning the massive Boudin, Bourbon and Beer event Nov. 3 in New Orleans. He’s in the middle of completely renovating his French Quarter restaurant NOLA after 20 years, with plans to reopen later this month, and he hinted at plans to change up one of his Vegas concepts in the near future.
Lagasse senses the winds of change may be coming to the South Walton dining scene, too. Fellow James Beard winner John Currence also opened a restaurant this year: Big Bad Breakfast in Inlet Beach. Could that be the sign of things to come? Lagasse thinks it might.
“I have a lot of respect for all the chefs here – don’t misunderstand me – but I think that the area is getting ready to change,” Lagasse admitted. “I think the whole dining scene is going to begin to evolve – and it needs to.”
Emeril’s Coastal Italian, located at 435 Grand Boulevard, Miramar Beach, is open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner.