Wednesday, February 25, 2009

More Fun Playing With Food in Destin FL 2009, P. 2

Welcome back to More Fun Playing With Food in Destin FL 2009. I was coming down with a cold Tuesday night, as I completed Part 1 of this blog. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. You see, the last meal I showed you was from Sunday night (not Monday), at Kenny D's, for which I forgot to include a link (remedied here). We were not quite done with our Mensa friends yet, however, until Monday. I also lied about resuming the blog with the Fabrice Croissant - we didn't acquire that until Monday. Mea Rhinovirus Culpa.

We actually started Monday morning, our first at SunDestin, with delicious Honeybell oranges from the truck farmers:

For our first meal of the day, we made our last visit to the soon-to-be-closed D&K's Cafe. We have grown tremendously fond of Kat, Doug and their beautiful restaurant, and are sad to see them go, as Kat explained here.

As we entered the Cafe, we saw fresh Sun Tea being brewed; I enjoyed this as my beverage.

Since all of our previous visits to D&K were at night, we'd never been able to appreciate the beautiful views before.

But D&K, to the last, is all about the food. Fresh, tasty, original, masterfully prepared food.

House-Smoked Tuna Dip

Lettuce-eating, plate licking good.

Bob's Lunch - Grilled Grouper Po Boy, Cole Slaw, Fruit (Not pictured)

Nancy's Lunch: Grilled Grouper over Salad, 2,000 Island Dressing, Blueberry Mini-Muffin

The wonderfully smoky smell and flavor of the fish enhanced this tasty dish. We will miss you, D&K!

And this year - we remembered to use the yummy house-made cocktail sauce before we finished our fish!

So - finally getting back to where I tried to leave you Tuesday night - a few of our Mensa friends remained available for dinner Monday night. We ventured to one of our new favorites, Stinky's Fish Camp, with four friends.

The six of us started out at the bar, as we waited for a table. Niki and Rob got some oysters, which they kindly shared with us:

True to its New Orleans roots, Stinky's uses the authentic horseradish on its oysters:

Once we got a table, Bob started with the Chowder of the Day:

Oyster Chowder

Panné Chicken Pappardelle Pasta

Mary Ann was once again a happy landlubber.

Stinky's Stew

I do not exaggerate when I say I had waited almost a full year to sink my teeth into this dish! I was not disappointed. Shrimp, Mussels, Gulf Fish, Crab Legs, Wine, Tomato, Lemon, Garlic Broth, Roast Potato and Corn (and where do they get such sweet corn this time of year??).

Pressed Crab Po'Boy Wedge (comes with Stinky's Stew)

This was the only thing I tasted all evening that wasn't perfect - the crab seemed a little old. But with all of the other wonderful food on the table, this was not a big problem.

Too much time has elapsed for me to remember exactly what this was or who ordered it - but he or she (I think it was Niki) was very happy with it.

Frog Leg Basket

Rob was kind enough to share a frog leg with us - and you know, I hate to say it, but it did evoke fried chicken. And it was yummy!

Fried Seafood Platter

Bob happily cleaned his plate. Love Stinky's and looking forward to The Lake Place.

And now, we return to the blog post-Mensa party, where I had intended to leave you Tuesday night:

Tuesday morning and a shared Fabrice croissant.

For lunch, we returned to another favorite: Dewey Destin's. I've featured photos of this unassuming fish and seafood shack here. On this sunny morning, we placed our orders, sat at a table, and enjoyed the scenery.

This gathering of Cormorants reminded me of China, where these birds are used to fish for people!

Fried Grouper Basket

Bob's lunch included the best hush puppies of this year's trip.

Crab Claws

Not a bit greasy and positively delicious!

I got the crab claws, in part, to hedge my bets - last year, my grilled fish had tasted a bit fishy, and I'd ordered grilled grouper for my main this time.

Turned out, I was wise to hedge my bets - the fish again tasted fishy - and this didn't make sense, because Bob's fried grouper was delicious. Oh well - I was well fed and happy.

The coleslaw is delicious and tastes house-made.

The cocktail sauce was also a tasty treat.

When evening time rolled around, we decided to do a little food crawl, rather than single out one dinner venue. Our first stop: early Happy Hour at La Botana in Seagrove. I was struck by the unique bar stools - which are very comfortable to sit in.

La Botana features a menu of tapas and an outstanding wine list. Our host, Andy, suggested a fabulous 2007 Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir. The Happy Hour special was either half priced glass, or a whole bottle for the regular price of two glasses. Since this was our first stop, we opted for glasses - but Andy kept giving us additional tastes! The couple sitting next to us, celebrating a birthday, enjoyed a complimentary bottle of bubbles, then moved on to the Meiomi. We struck up a conversation and learned that the gentleman was Thomas Finch, Sous Chef at the newly opened Commander's Palace in Destin. We had a delightful chat.

We each decided to try the Combo Platter, Happy Hour priced at $10. We each also took Andy's suggestion to add a dish of red snapper ceviche to the platter - a perfect choice!

House-Made Salsa (with a nice Serrano Pepper kick), Cheese Dip, Ceviche, Guacamole

Another angle, featuring that lovely ceviche.

Tom and his date ordered a couple of other items, but we resisted the temptation and headed West on 30A.

Next stop - a place I've read about on for years but never tried: Bud & Alley's. This turned into a wierd stop - we intended to enjoy a drink and a bite at the Roof Deck Bar. But the bartender advised us that the kitchen had closed just a few minutes before (and it wasn't even 8pm yet), so we'd have to go downstairs to the main restaurant if we wanted food.

I told the host that we just wanted a drink and a nosh - but there was no one at the bar (not even a bartender), so he seated us at a table. The server brought us water and bread, and given that only two other tables were occupied, must have been disappointed that all we ordered were two glasses of wine and the Peppered Seared Tuna appetizer.

Bread Service

The bread was piping hot!

Peppered Seared Tuna, Wakame, Ginger Citrus Ponzu and Wasabi Mayo

This was enjoyable.

As we continued West on 30A, we considered our many options, and decided to stop at Hurricane Oyster Bar & Grill. We were feeling pretty full by then.

Fried Oyster Nachos: Fresh Oysters Lightly Battered & Fried, Chips, Chipotle Creme & Pico de Gallo

I had enjoyed this dish last year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it again.

Grilled Oysters Chimichurri

Bob also indulged in a re-run from last year, and he enjoyed.

I really had wanted to stop at Goatfeathers and taste something - but we were full by the time we finished our oysters, and so we headed back to SunDestin.

Wednesday morning - Bob squeezed me some orange juice from our lovely oranges - but didn't remove the pits before turning on the blender. Oh well.

A shame, too, because I had run out to The Donut Hole and picked up a few goodies for us to sample. We had last visited the Donut Hole in 2007, for breakfast. But we'd never tried the donuts. Our friends Niki and Rob had told us that the donuts (and the breakfast, for that matter) were not to be missed.

L to R: Chocolate-Frosted Cake, Original Glazed Cake, Apple Filled Cake, Key Lime Filled, Pumpkin (they gave me two because they were stuck together)

Niki was right about the Key Lime Donut - simply exquisite! And I made another glass of juice, sans pits:

The weather, which was so beautiful for our Tuesday lunch at Dewey Destin's, had turned sour that afternoon, and we suffered with clouds, rain and wind through Wednesday. Remembering the dark mess a trip to Nick's turned into last year in bad weather, we decided to go there for lunch. A wise choice, for several reasons.

Nick's is one of those old places that refuses to change itself as the times march on - to the great gratitude of its patrons! This is a shot out the back from our table:

Yes, there were chickens (or more accurately, roosters) roaming around out there, but I couldn't get a photo of them.

Bob ordered a fried fish sandwich, but didn't ask what type of fish it was:

Turned out that even though they had better fish, this was Tilapia. It tasted good, but Bob could have done better. I saved him!

Boiled Blue Crabs with Butter

Six whole Blue Crabs, boiled in Nick's secret-recipe crab boil, and not much else. Nothing else was needed (except, perhaps, a nut pick, which we've found is the best implement for de-meating shellfish). These were the most succulent, delicious, meaty crabs I've ever eaten.

It wasn't until I'd gotten through the first two that I realized that there was so much meat in the bodies, that it wasn't necessary to pick every bit of meat out of each of the legs.

Even with sharing one and one-half of the crabs with Bob - it took me about 2 hours to consume this platter. And I enjoyed every moment of it! Sorry there aren't more photos of it - but my hands got just a little messy!

My Crabshell Dump Bucket's "After" Picture

Nick's, 7585 Hwy 20, Basin Bayou, Freeport, FL (850) 835-2222 (no website).

For our next adventure, we decided to continue east on Hwy 20, and take the 331 Bridge down to Senor Mojito's Cabana Bar & Grill. I had read conflicting posts about this place on, and I wanted to see for myself.

We were warmly greeted and sat at the bar. Bob enjoyed a glass of wine, and I decided to try a "Flaming Pineapple". It just sounded too intriguiging.

The Drink Begins With a Whole Pineapple

The Fruit is Excavated - first in neat rings.

Once the fruit is empty, ice and about 6 or 8 types of rum are poured in

Garnish is freshly excavated pineapple and orange slices

A Delicious Rum-Drinker's Drink!

After chatting a bit with Alex, our bartender, and the other fellow working front of house, we were introduced to Mark Richter who is both an owner and manager of Senor Mojito's. He explained that they have one other unit, in Panama City, and hope their concept takes off. They plan to have a full bar outside, with slips so patrons can visit by boat, and a real party environment. Also outside will be a hardwood smoker for smoked meats. They also have live music several nights a week. But the current Rt. 331 construction is not helping them. The menu is modest in size and price; I hoped we'd get back to try it before the end of the trip, especially when Mark started bragging on their oysters and crab.

Even though we were pretty stuffed from Nick's - Mark insisted we give their Apalachicola Oysters a try:

These were, hands down, the tastiest oysters we had on the trip.

We loved the house made chile vinegar.

We also enjoyed a taste of the pickled beans they serve with Bloody Mary's.

And finally, the house-made salsa - fresh and delicious!

Since we didn't make it back for a meal, and since it was an odd time and pretty empty when we visited, it is hard to draw a lot of conclusions. But we certainly enjoyed everything we tasted, and wish Senor Mojito's good luck!

After enjoying these snacks - we just weren't that hungry for dinner. So, we decided to repeat the prior night's "crawl", but this time in the opposite direction. Tom, Sous Chef at Commander's, had told us of their Happy Hour Specials - glass of wine and two small plates for $20. Sounded good!

We headed West on 98, and stopped first at a place I've driven past a hundred times over the last seven years, but never stopped at: Graffiti. When we said we just wanted a drink and appetizer, we were shown to the bar in the attached Funky Blues Shack. This looks like a fun, local space and we looked forward to what they had to offer. After questioning the bartender, we learned that none of the fish or seafood is local. Nevertheless, we ordered the crab cakes.

Bread service was very nice.

But the glass of Chianti Classico I'd ordered tasted very old and musty.

And the Crab Cakes were even worse - one smell told the tale. So - we left (and they did not charge us, so there is hope for them).

We wound up at HarborWalk Village, looking for Commander's Palace. The massive condo building there is quite ugly, and truthfully, had we not made the acquaintance of Chef Tom, I don't know that we would have sought this out. But our curiosity was piqued.

The restaurant occupies two levels - the lower is the "On the Rocks" Bar, and the upper is the dining room. We entered at the bar level, and decided to continue our noshing there.

I ordered a Dark & Stormy, which was on their drink list. It was a nice try (using a ginger soda imported from New Orleans) - but just couldn't come close to the libation served up at Cleveland's Velvet Tango Room. As we enjoyed our beverages, the kitchen sent a treat to us, and to the other two parties drinking in the bar:

Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé

Served with Bourbon Sauce

This incarnation of this famous dessert was even better than the one we'd had in New Orleans back in 2005!

But we still wanted to sample some savories. We told the bartender that we'd been invited by Chef Tom, and he let Tom know that we were there. Chef Tom served us our appetizers and was clearly pleased that we'd come to visit and sample his wares.

SHRIMP & TASSO CORNDOGS : Five pepper jelly, pickled okra, chicory greens and Crystal hot sauce beurre blanc

Very tasty flavors.

DIRTY DUCK AND FOIE GRAS SLIDERS: Chicory coffee braised duck debris, pickled mirlitons and foie gras mustard with sweet potato chips

I loved this even though it had coffee and pickle flavors - all of the complex flavors came together perfectly.

APALACHICOLA OYSTER BLT: bacon & caramelized onion mousse, winter greens, smoked grape tomatoes and horseradish agave glaze

Another plate of yummy bites!

And as if we hadn't already had our dessert - Chef insisted on bringing us the following:

I cannot remember exactly what kind of cake this was - but the Bruleed Bananas were exquisite and the cake and sauce delicious. I was distracted by Top Chef, the first half of the Season 5 Finale from New Orleans, which was playing on one of the bar's television sets.

You cannot have too much Commander's Bread Pudding Souffle!

Finally, we got to chatting about turtle soup, which we'd tasted at several places in New Orleans. Even though we'd just consumed all of these heavenly sweets - Chef wanted us to try his version - and it was fresh and fabulous.

Turtle Soup

It was about 10:30pm local time when we headed out, completely sated. Destin's Commander's Palace offers all of the wonderful traditions of its parent restaurant - including lunch with 25 cent martini's, and a Sunday jazz brunch. Parking is free and plentiful (though still under construction), and the Happy Hour special runs from 6-7pm. We look forward to trying a full meal there on our next trip.

As we entered the home stretch of our trip, we considered two choices for Thursday's lunch: Wine World Wine Bar and Jasimine Thai Restaurant. The two places are next to one another in the Publix Shopping Center by the Mid-Bay Bridge.

We've been shopping for wine and cheese at Chan's Wine World (which is apparently re-branding itself as "Wine World") for several years. Over the last few years, we've noticed that they opened a cafe inside the store, but we'd never tried it. I realllly wanted to try it - so we did.

These couches form the centerpiece for approximately 10 tables and a fully stocked bar.

A look into the cheese cooler from the Wine Bar.

My first complaint was with the volume of the music - too loud! The server/manager seemed oblivious and uninterested in what was going on - too bad.

My second complaint was that the crab cake tasted old.

Since Bob and I had agreed to "half and half" our lunches, I let it go.

His sauteed grouper was actually pretty darn good, as were the Mango Salsa and Remoulade that came with the crab cakes and the jalepeno tarter that came with the grouper. All in all, though, we were not impressed.

We were much more impressed with our dinner that evening at Enzo's Italian Restaurant in Santa Rosa Beach. We started with a nice bottle of wine and bread service.

Tapenade for Bread

So, of course, I didn't photograph the bread! It was warm and tasty with both dips.

Pasta with House Made Sausage

Bob adored his dinner and cleaned his plate of everything except a bit of spaghetti.

Sauteed Grouper Topped With Ricotta, Fried Eggplant and Mozzerella

Magnifico! The fish was fresh and delicious, and the eggplant and cheese toppings sublime.

I could only eat about half of this huge portion.

Flourless Chocolate "Cake"

This dessert, decorated with fresh fruit, finished us up and then some. We loved the rich, but not overly sweet chocolate and how it paired with the fruits.

For our last lunch on Friday, 2/20, we visited the restaurant I'd eschewed the day before: Jasmine Thai. We had noticed the grandma-aged lady cooking in the kitchen the day before, and eagerly anticipated sampling her wares!

Thai Iced Tea

Salad with Thai Peanut Sauce

This palate teaser is served to all guests as a complimentary first course.

I asked about the fish and seafood products - I was surprised that none of it was local and little was fresh, though given their modest price points ($10 and up for fish/seafood dishes), I shouldn't have been surprised. Despite my commitment to maxing out my fish and seafood intake - I cannot complain about the lack of profundity in the shrimp in light of the mouth-dazzling flavors in my lunch. We asked for spicy (not Thai spicy - but not wimpy spicy!).

First - Bob's lunch:

Tom Yum Gai

Chicken, mushrooms, tomatoes accented with lemon grass, green chili, fresh line juice and exotic spices. This dish was loaded with tart flavors and sharp spices.

Noodle Curry

Rice noodles with Shrimp, bean sprouts, onion and potato in yellow curry/coconut milk sauce - the most exquisite, complex yellow curry I've ever eaten. The solids were mere foils for the richly seasoned, intensely spiced curry sauce. It was an extraordinary dish, even if the shrimp was ordinary.

For our last evening in Destin, I really wanted to try to get to Senor Mojito's. After the sunset, though, we met a few of the local Mensa group members at their monthly happy hour, which this month was at Hog's Breath Saloon. I was hoping I'd get some takers (and maybe someone to drive) for the hike out to 331. But no such luck.

After a few drinks and passage of some time - we decided to just go across the street to Harbor Docks, since we'd have to pack back at the condo for a very early departure on Saturday. This was to be the first time in seven years of patronizing Harbor Docks that something went really wrong - and I hope they get their act together.

Now knowing that we would not be receiving pre-dinner salads, we decided to split a cup of the Seafood Gumbo, which we've enjoyed before.

It was tasty, and had meat, as you can see. But I couldn't identify any seafood in it at all.

For dinner, Bob ordered the Grilled Snapper (with Baked Potato and Cole Slaw) and I the Grouper Parmadine (with Ginger Rice and Cole Slaw), which I had really enjoyed last year.

Bob's Grilled Snapper

Grouper Parmadine

Sauteed Grouper topped with crabmeat and cheeses, browned, topped with almonds.

Ginger Rice

The rice actually had strands of real ginger in it - and for the first time, didn't need any help to be tasty.

Cole Slaw

But what was that horrible smell from my plate? I took one bite - then handed a bit to Bob - something was bad - not just off or stale, but BAD. We both assumed it was the fish - the crab was hidden below the cheese and not on our radar.

We told the server, who took it back and had it remade with snapper. Since Bob's snapper was good - this should have been, right?

It came to the table hot and steamy - and smelling like poison. We realized immediately that it wasn't the fish - it was the crabmeat that was spoiled - and it was seriously make-you-sick spoiled.

The server took this plate away and got me a grilled snapper for my last dinner in paradise. And they didn't even take it off the check or offer a drink or dessert after all of that. I left with a bad taste still in my mouth (almost threw up over night from it).

We rose early Saturday morning to finish packing, load up, get breakfast, and bring the car back to Enterprise, all before 10:30am. We of course allowed ourselves enough time for a last breakfast at Silver Sands:

Bob's: Eggs over Easy, Cheese Grits, Bacon, Biscuits

Rerun: Cheese Grits and Biscuits and Gravy

And as a parting shot - I finally got a photo of the Magic Biscuit Man! Bless you, fine sir, for the joy you bring with your special food - but I'm not going to post the photo, because I know he doesn't like to have his picture taken.

And so ended another trip to the Panhandle of Florida, and that paradise we call Destin. Overall, we played with some fabulously fresh fish and seafood, and enjoyed some truly amazing preparations of all kinds of food. We look forward to returning and playing with your Southern goodness again next year!


  1. After seeing this I had to go out and get half a dozen oysters.

  2. CFT - where did you get the oysters from? Kate's? Do you know where they are sourced from?

  3. Kate's. Always Kate's. Sourced like "who's the supplier?" or "where are they from?" Not sure on the supplier. As for where they're from, they're labled by location, but all I remember is that some were from WA and some from MA. They've usually got 3 choices if you get there early on Sat.