Plenty of roux and Bloody Marys, too!

By Michelle Farnham
Feb. 21, 2021

SANDESTIN – The 32nd annual Sandestin Gumbo & Bloody Mary Festival made its triumphant return to the Village of Baytowne Wharf Feb. 19 and 20.


Hotel Effie
Sandestin newcomer Hotel Effie got in the game with their gumbo and Bloody Marys.

Once again guests were welcomed not just to sample gumbo and cocktails from the 24 tents, but to vote for their favorites, asking, what makes a good gumbo? Plenty of seafood? A healthy serving of sausage? Just the right amount of heat?

Certified food judge Matthew Ray of Mossy Head, who was enjoying his first festival, was looking for a good roux.

“The roux is kind of like your bread and butter,” Ray said. “And okra; okra is a really fundamental element of a good gumbo. You have to have a good consistency; can’t be too watery or too think like a gravy.”

The Bloody Mary competition had vendors vying for the most intriguing garnishes, like the bleu cheese-stuffed olive, green bean, and bacon combo at The Beach House tent; or the beets, gherkin-stuffed olive, celery and green bean topper from Sandestin newcomer Hotel Effie. 

The festival enjoyed 24 competitors this year, vying for the titles of Best Gumbo and Best Bloody Mary!

The 2020 festival was one of the last South Walton culinary events to take place before the pandemic led to widespread cancellations, and vendors and attendees alike were thrilled the 2021 fest got off the ground, selling out all 1,600 tickets.

Gumbofest judge and NewsChannel 7 anchor Paris Janos was pleased to see the event plaza full of people again.

“It’s good to see people out; people are looking for stuff to do out in the open that is safe with a good family atmosphere,” he said. “Humanity needs to take a step forward again.”

A veteran judge, Janos said he has figured out the secret to surviving the task of sampling 24 gumbos.

“The first year I judged, I ate every one. Now I just take a few of the primary ingredients of each bowl, get a good taste and smell, because that’s what you judge on. So I’ve had maybe 24 spoonfuls,” he admitted with a laugh.

Slick Lips Award
The team from Slick Lips celebrated its fourth straight People’s Choice Award.

Chef Jay Ammons of Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House had his gumbo pot going out front of the Baytowne eatery. He admitted he tweaked his recipe a bit this year, while chasing his fourth-consecutive People’s Choice award. Ammons kept the new recipe to himself, but admitted a great roux, fresh seafood and a lot of love are his keys to success.

“For us to overcome what we’ve gone through this year and be able to put on a function like this, it’s really humbling,” Ammons said. “It’s great for the community, it’s great for Baytowne, and it’s great for the restaurants.”

Festival newcomer Matthew Sparks of The Beach House proudly showed off the heartiness of his seafood gumbo, so thick the stirring paddle would stand straight up on its own in the giant pot.

“It’s all love, and I make everything from scratch,” Sparks shared. “In here I’ve got grouper, redfish, mahi, snapper, crawfish, shrimp, crab meat, andouille, okra and love.”

Gumbofest judges included Ray, Janos, WJHG’s Scott Rossman, Phil Heppding of 30A Food & Wine, Chef Christopher Holbrook, Daron Walters of Coastal Luxury, and Susan Benton of 30A Eats.

Other participants included Jag Boilers, Graffiti & The Funky Blues Shack, Carlito’s Amazing Products, Cannery Lane Cantina, Local Life, Drunken Goat Saloon, Roberto’s Pizzeria, Village Door Dockside, Sunset Bay Café, Royal Palm Grill, Hurricane Oyster Bar, Marlin Grill, Cabana Café, 790 on the Gulf, Café Nola, Marina Bar & Grill, Emerald Coast Art, Lucy Buffett’s Lulu’s Destin, Boathouse Oyster Bar, Old Florida Fish House, and Harry T’s.

While accepting the award for Best Bloody Mary, the team from Carlito’s Amazing Products announced the Tequila & Taco Festival will be coming to Baytowne May 1.

2021 Sandestin Gumbo & Bloody Mary Festival winners

People’s Choice

1. Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House, Sandestin

2. The Beach House, Sandestin

3. The Village Door, Sandestin

Veteran Restaurants

1. Marlin Grill, Sandestin

2. Harry T’s, Destin 

3. The Village Door, Sandestin

4. Marina Bar & Grill, Sandestin

5 Years & Under Restaurants

1. Old Florida Fish House, Seagrove Beach

2. The Beach House, Sandestin

3. Hurricane Oyster Bar, Grayton Beach

4. Drunken Goat Saloon, Sandestin

Honorable Mention: Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House, Sandestin

Non-Restaurant Category

Jag Boilers, Orange Park, Fla. 

Best Bloody Mary

1. Carlito’s Amazing Products, Destin

2. Sunset Bay Café, Sandestin

3. Café Nola, DeFuniak Springs

Best New Participant

The Beach House, Sandestin

Best Display

Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House, Sandestin

Community Broadcasts Award

Old Florida Fish House