Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fun Playing With Food on the Panhandle 2011

When last I left you, Bob and I had just arrived at Unit 1207 of the Sundestin Resort. It was late Thursday night, and so we basically threw our bags in the living room and went to sleep. We awoke on Friday, February 11, to this perfect view:

Since we were up early enough for breakfast, we headed to the Silver Sands Breakfast at Harbor Docks. I stretched my new super zoom out on the lovely harbor as we waited for our food.

Is there any doubt what breakfast would consist of? First, Bob:

And a plate of two biscuits also. Then my usual:

Biscuits, Gravy and Cheese Grits

Breakfast at Silver Sands never fails to please - from Mr. Shipp's biscuits and other culinary delights, to the friendly service, to the lovely atmosphere and view.

It was clear from wake-up that I was going to suffer a cold, and that all of the voodoo medicine in the cabinet wouldn't stop it. Fortunately, the cold proved annoying but not too severe. Unfortunately, it left me with a secondary bronchitis that would literally knock the wind out of me after the weekend. But we are at the beginning of the weekend, and spending much of our time after breakfast with our friends from Northwest Florida Mensa (and Mensa chapters from other parts of the country too!) at the Holiday Inn on the Beach. Usually, we would eat Friday dinner at the gathering, but since our time in Destin would be so short (1 week), we didn't want to miss an opportunity to enjoy the local fish and seafood.

We decided to dine close to our gathering, and so with a recommendation from a local, headed for Dewey Destin's Harborside, which opened sometime in the last two years. Soup was the first order of business!

Seafood Gumbo

Yes, Bob noticed and removed the bay leaf before digging into this zippy gumbo. The seafood tasted fresh and lovely.

Crab and Shrimp Chowder

Another bowl of goodness, served a little too tepid for my taste, but so delicious (and service so slow) that we both finished before we could address it.

For those of you accustomed to cheap eats on the pier off Calhoun Street - be prepared - entrees at the harbor-side Dewey's are priced up there with Harbor Docks and other local fish restaurants in the mid to high $20s per plate. What do you get for your $27-28 at the new Dewey's?

An overall bland and disappointing plate that would have been saved by an exquisite piece of fish. We both ordered the same grilled snapper, based on the recommendation of the server (this year's theme with servers was them telling us either what they like or what they sell a lot of, rather than directly answering the question: which fish/seafood item on your menu tonight pops with freshness and flavor and will wow me?). We both had the same issue with the fish - it seemed very fresh, but yet there was a fishy taste in parts of it. Also, it was not butchered expertly and therefore the thin end was overcooked while the thicker part was perfectly cooked. I didn't take a photo of it, but I wondered if the dark line running through part if it was a bloodline, which might explain an otherwise fresh piece of fish tasting fishy.  As for the rest of the plate - boiled potatoes, frozen corn and food service cole slaw on a $27 dollar plate? You gotta be kidding me.

Moving along to Saturday, we could not resist the siren call of our old faithful, Harbor Docks. Our last meal there with a group in 2010 turned into a clusterf*ck in just about every way imaginable, and other recent meals there had been poor, so we weren't sure if we'd be back. But back we went, and I'm glad we did.

Fresh Jalapeno Corn Muffins

These never fail to please. While munching and waiting for our lunch plates, I snapped this view of the Destin harbor:

It was delightful to sit outside in the sun. And then, lunch was served!

Fried Amberjack Finger Plate

As you can see, the portion of fish was rather small. Still, for $10, the fish smelled and tasted beautiful, and the plate satisfied Bob.

Bronzed Grouper with Lemon Cream Sauce, Black Eyed Peas, Ginger Rice and Salsa

At a slightly higher price point ($14) I would have liked to see a little more fish, but this was a lovely lunch. I especially liked the fresh salsa with all of the other components on the plate. And what I especially especially liked was the great service that came with our meal - among other things, the server fessed up that the shrimps in the Thai Noodle Soup bowl were frozen shrimp. I'd have been very unhappy if I ordered that dish expecting fresh, local shrimp. (To be fair, at a $10 price point, I shouldn't have expected local shrimp, but I might have ordered it on Harbor Docks's reputation of catching their own fish and seafood had the server not answered my question honestly.)  I think I'm ready to believe in Harbor Docks again!

For dinner, I wanted to try a newer place that has been getting a lot of buzz on the www.sowal.com food forum: Shoo Mamas. It seemed strange to enter the restaurant around 6pm on a Saturday and be the only customers in either of the two dining rooms, though the bar had some patrons. A few other tables filled in while we ate, but not nearly enough business for a Saturday - and right before Valentine's Day! Our young server did a fabulous job and they had Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum - my favorite!  Bob and I opted for the same meal:

Skipper’s Delight

Grilled Gulf fish (amberjack tonight), shrimp, fried oysters, sautéed scallops, and a crab cake served with loaded baked potato, slaw, and corn fritters. This was a serious plate of good eats, and $10 less than our blah plates at Dewey Destin's had been.

The only small complaint I could make would be that the scallops weren't local (and were probably frozen) and the shrimp seemed texturally off - it might also have been frozen (our server had told us that every item was fresh and local). But there wasn't a bad flavor or smell anywhere in that mass of food, and the crab cake was the best crab of the trip! The fried oysters were small, but pristine and not suffocated in breading. We both thought the freshly made corn cakes added a great touch to the plate, and the loaded potato was filled with good quality bacon and cheeses, so it popped with flavor as much as the fish and seafood. Co-owner Lucas formerly worked at Stinky's Fish Camp, among other places - he knows his fish and he knows food. We'll definitely be back!

As per usual at the conclusion of the gathering on Sunday, a group of us went for lunch. Though I was actually willing to return to Harbor Docks based on our Saturday lunch, others who had been at the disaster last year wanted to go someplace else. We wound up at Dewey Destin's Harborside again, where things went from bad to worse. Due to the size of our group (I think we were 12), we were led upstairs to a cozy terrace overlooking the patio of the restaurant with a lovely view of the harbor.

The problems began with service - we were the only party up there, and since downstairs was pretty busy, servers were a rare commodity on our level. Beverages were finally delivered and orders taken almost a half hour after we'd been seated. And then we sat some more. After another 20 or so minutes, elapsed the server re-appeared to tell us that they'd run out flounder (which several of us had ordered), so we had to re-order. I was going to have a sandwich, then decided on a basket. My mistake, apparently, was just asking for "Grouper" and not "Grouper Fingers" - it made an almost $15 difference in the cost of the lunch. Once you see it, you will understand why I will never patronize this restaurant again.

But first, the soup course, which several people ordered. My cold in full bloom, I couldn't wait for a piping hot cup of that Shrimp and Crab chowder. Too bad I didn't get one - it was ice cold by the time it arrived.

This time, after taking a bite, I was determined to wait and send it back. Everyone's soup was cold, but no one else complained except Bob, who'd already eaten his. Of course, it was quite a while before anyone appeared to whom we could complain - 10-15 minutes I'd guess. The server took Bob's soup off our check and mine off the table. I will give them credit for this - the steaming hot replacement cup that arrived 10 or 15 minutes later was clearly a fresh cup and not the same cup microwaved.

Here is my $24 Fried Grouper Basket:

The fries were hard and inedible as were the hushpuppies. The fish was good, but had too much breading.

Fried Snapper Basket

I don't know why Bob ordered snapper again - it again had a strange fishy taste to it, even though it was very fresh by every sensory measure I know. His basket, which had the same horrible fries and hushpuppies as mine, was $28.

Dewey's had a lunch specials menu, which included a "Grouper Finger Basket" for $9.95. I can't imagine that my portion, which the server explained was a "dinner" portion when I questioned the $24 on the check, was much more than what would have been served in a finger basket - but the server should have warned us when we ordered. Bob had originally ordered a snapper sandwich, then asked if he could have a basket - again, something should have been said about the considerable difference in the price points. Yes, the portion of snapper in his basket was larger than my grouper, and did resemble the dinner size we'd had on Friday night.  But it didn't taste good. And the sides were inedible. And considering that we'd been sitting on that deck for over 2 hours waiting to be served some pretty mediocre food - I wouldn't have minded a chat with the manager. But no one seemed interested in talking to us (nor was anyone interested in whether we'd enjoyed our dining experience), so we paid our bill and trundled out. I try to keep this blog focused on the positive, but Dewey's Harborside left a bad taste in our mouths in more ways than one - they are off our list.

Not even having a cold or a lousy overpriced lunch can keep the fun down for long - sunset from the terrace put everything back into perspective!

For dinner, we decided to return to Bayou Bill's Crab House, where we had enjoyed a lovely meal in 2010. Our server Chelsea was fabulous. She answered my questions about the various menu items, and had the bartender mix up a rum-amaretto-lime drink for me.  Bob opted for the Blackened Grouper Platter:

Bob enjoyed his fresh Grouper rolled in a blend of cajun spices, topped with lemon butter sauce and green onions. My bite was delish. Served with a baked potato, coleslaw and hushpuppies, this plate was $8 less than Bob's lunch basket had been.

I did not fare as well.

Stuffed Shrimp - Broiled shrimp stuffed with crab meat dressing

Chelsea had told me that the shrimp were local and the stuffing made from local blue crab. And perhaps they were. However, one sniff of this plate told me everything I needed to know. The shrimp was ammoniated and the crab simply old-tasting, though palatable. Unlike the server at Dewey's, Chelsea did everything she could to help the situation. The offending entree was removed from the table and our check, and I was offered a replacement. Still feeling poorly from the cold, I decided to just pack it in. A manager visited the table and expressed some unnecessary amazement about the quality of his seafood, but overall, he handled the situation in a professional and friendly manner. I would return to Bayou Bill's for these reasons.

Most of Monday was spent hugging my newly fractured cell phone waiting for the doctor to call me. Though my cold had almost run its course, it had left a wicked bronchitis behind. I was out of bed before the sun came up. Since we were up early, we decided to hit Silver Sands for breakfast again. Bob decided to change things up a little bit:

Pancakes and Bacon

First time we ever ordered anything from the sweet side of the menu. Luscious, fluffy pancakes - wish they offered real maple syrup, but who does?

I cannot eat at Silver Sand's without having an order of Mr. Shipp's biscuits! The man is about 86 years old and still works seven days a week - and makes the best freaking biscuits on the planet.

"Fisherman's Special"

2 eggs to order (scrambled), choice of meat (bacon) choice of grits or potatoes (cheese grits) and biscuits. Plus lots of hot beverage (tea). I felt a little bit better.

We returned to the Sundestin terrace and continued waiting for that all important call. Unfortunately, this didn't happen until well into the afternoon. As I anticipated, a prescription would be called into the closest CVS and I made a beeline for medical relief. Package in hand, I needed to take the pills with food - something quick and easy, because we had plans to enjoy the sunset with friends and then go out for Valentine's Day dinner with them.

In the nine years we've been visiting Destin, I'd never had a Whataburger, though the chain is ubiquitous in the Panhandle and indeed, throughout the South. Seemed the perfect item to accompany drugs, and there was a drive-through a short distance from the CVS. I ordered the Whataburger, asking them to hold the pickles and mustard (explanation: #1 I hate pickles, and #2 this New York Jewish girl doesn't put mustard on hamburgers - hotdogs yes, hamburgers, no). I was asked if I wanted ketchup and mayo instead  of the mustard (the Whataburger usually only has mustard), and I said yes (ok - New York Jewish girls don't usually put mayo on their burgers either, but I like it that way).

Maybe I was just in a hurry to get the medicine into me, but it seemed to take a long time for my order to come up. Their website says that everything is cooked to order, which might explain it.

I appreciated the whimsy on the bag.

Here we go. Smells good!

As you can see, the bun was a little soft. But the burger was hot and juicy - not bad at all. The toppings were fresh and the meat tasted like meat. I shared it with Bob and got the medicine down.

It wound up being a good thing we'd had an afternoon snack. Given the number of our friends who stayed on in Destin after the gathering, it had been impossible to plan ahead or make reservations for Valentine's Day. We ended up being a party of four, and right after the sun went down (around 5:45pm), we decided to go to The Bay Cafe. The Bay Cafe is a small, locals kind of place a little off the beaten path  where we'd had a nice lunch in 2010. Even though it was Valentine's Day, I didn't think they'd be fully booked. Well, I was wrong. But they said they could seat us if we'd return at 7:30 - we said sure!

The Bay Cafe, 233 Alconese Avenue Southeast, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548-5832, (850) 244-3550 (no website) is tucked beneath the Brooks Bridge; coming from Okaloosa Island, you actually have to detour through what is now a shopping center parking lot to get to it. The Bay Cafe is described by those who write about it as a French Restaurant, and I suspect that at one time, it was. Though there is still a French influence in the menu, there are just a few inconsistencies that make me think the French chef no longer cooks here. For example, this food-service bread:

We were also served this bread last year, which I found so incongruous with a French restaurant.

Or the commercial base of this very delicious clam chowder that two of our party ordered.

Crab Cake Appetizer

The crab cakes were very good, but lacked the ethereal fresh lightness of the crab cake served at Shoo Mamas. The food service greens had a nice creamy dressing that also paired well with the crab cakes. The version of this dish I had last year also had grapes on the plate.

House Made Smoked Trout

My taste of this appetizer was delicious.

Two of us ordered the above special: Grouper With Artichoke Sauce. It was for the most part a very tasty plate and the most important part of that plate - the fish - was fresh and well prepared. But for $26 ($4 more than the Grouper Wellington, a regular menu item where the fish is wrapped in pastry and topped with lobster sauce and lobster), I would have expected fresh, not frozen vegetables on the side, and not canned artichoke on the fish.

Shrimp Provenále, with tomatoes and garlic

Bob's shrimp was also accompanied by frozen veg and the same scoop of potatoes. Though the shrimp were purported to be local, they had the taste and texture of  frozen. No off smells or tastes, but texturally, you can't hide it. Our server told Bob the shrimp was fresh/local when he asked, but there is no way that it was. 

Duck with cherry brandy sauce

Virginia enjoyed her dinner, which also came with the same sides. Since Phil and Virginia love dessert, we picked two to share:

Coupe Romanoff

Fresh fruit, brandy, ice cream, and whipped cream all combined for a tasty treat.

Creme Brulee

This dessert was flawless.

So, what's the deal at Bay Cafe? We actually spent some time at the FOH while waiting for our table - I got the impression that this is a family business (all of the FOH folks seemed related). All had the same distinctive accent, which I learned was Serbian. I'm guessing that the original chef sold it to them and they are using his recipes. This is strictly a guess; I could be completely wrong. But I can't imagine any French Chef worth his salt using frozen and canned veg, and food service bread among other things. Given the price points, the good service (much improved over last year), the beautiful views (more useful during the day) and the overall good quality of the fish - Bay Cafe can be a fun place to play with food. Just don't expect too much and stick to the fish versus the seafood.

By Tuesday, the meds had kicked in and I was feeling much better. We began our culinary journey at Basmati's Asian Cuisine, where we'd enjoyed a lovely lunch last year.

Crab Asparagus Eggdrop Soup

This soup was as good as we'd remembered it from last year - fresh crab, subtle spiciness and warming broth.

We were a little disappointed to learn that most of the fish on the lunch menu isn't local - neither the tuna nor the shrimp sushi would be made with local product, so we decided to skip it. We began instead sharing a starter we'd also enjoyed last year: Fish Cake Salad.

The fish cakes are made from whatever fresh fish is in the house (local and not) - and this year's version definitely had a bit of salmon in it. This is noteworthy, because I've never seen so much salmon being offered (usually as a "special") in Florida as I saw this year. Basmati's had a salmon special on the lunch menu that day, so it is no surprise that some salmon made it's way into the fish cakes. There must be a flood of cheap salmon in the Florida market right now, because salmon is not a warm water fish and  Florida's waters are warm! Anyway, as a component in the fish cake, the salmon was not objectionable and the dish was most enjoyable.

Blackened Fresh Gulf Fish of the Day

Bob and I each ordered the Mahi, served with jasmine rice and a shredded vegetable stir-fry.

Beautiful fish, perfectly cooked. The vegetables had a zippy flavor that paired well against the bold blackening spices and the white rice. Another fun time playing with Asian-inspired food at Basmati's!

We enjoyed our lunch, but saved room for dessert. Continuing east on 30A, we made our way to the House of Klaus, 14 Clayton Lane, (850) 231-2865 (no website).

Since our visit last year, Klaus has doubled the size of the restaurant, adding a "game room" with pool tables and electronic amusements. He's also doubled (or maybe even tripled) the size of his menu (while losing his "Santa Claus" beard; I almost didn't recognize him). I wish I had known about the larger menu - we'd have probably lunched there! Since Klaus hasn't got a website yet, here is the current menu:

Since we had just eaten lunch, we limited our consumption to dessert - one scoop of each flavor of Klaus's amazing made-from-scratch-in-house ice cream:

Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry. The premium ingredients shined through each scoop - the rich chocolate was at it's best with just a bit of the crisp strawberry, and the vanilla contained very good quality vanilla  flavor that stood on it's own quite nicely. We will do our best to consume a complete meal at Klaus's next year.

We were closing in on the end of our visit to Destin, which was much shorter this year than the last two. We had already committed to Louis Louis for our final dinner Wednesday night. Nick's on the Beach hoped to open for business on Wednesday; if they did, we'd lunch there. That left Tuesday dinner and possibly Wednesday lunch as our last open slots. And there were so many places we wanted to try! Once Nick's confirmed that their opening would be delayed a week, we decided to dine at The Smiling Fish Cafe Tuesday night. We hadn't been there in a couple of years, and the locals were saying great things about it. It turned out to be a great choice!

Andouille Crusted Grouper with Corn Relish and Sweet Potato Ribbon

Bob and I each enjoyed this special. We enjoyed even more meeting a lovely local couple at the next table and chatting South Walton food with them!

On our way east on 98 towards dinner, we had stopped at Santa Rosa Beach outlet of The Donut Hole for a modest donut fix.

After we returned to the condo, we popped open the box.

Top left to right: Iced Cake, Chocolate Covered Cake, Chocolate Chocolate Cake, Red Velvet Cake, Key Lime, Apple-Stuffed Dutch Crumb

This is my favorite donut in the whole wide world.

This one channeled that fabulous slice of Key Lime Pie we'd shared in Delray Beach the week before.

This one had it all - Dutch Crumb on the outside, fresh apple filling on the inside.

From donuts to diner (or Bistro, actually). I had been delighted to learn that the new Marie's Bistro is now open for lunch - we'd stopped by midday on Tuesday when considering our dinner options but didn't want to risk a dinner on an unknown. As it turned out, there was no reason to fear. Marie and her husband Hanie Nasri have teamed up with Asian cuisine specialist Chef Mike Tran and his wife in FOH to provide the ultimate in a fresh, wholesome, "from the heart" dining experience. The former Ken's Bistro and Blue Orleans has been turned into a bright and comfy space.

It was such a beautiful day that we decided to sit outside, on the small patio. Perfect.

In addition to a modest lunch and full sushi menu, there was a blackboard with several tempting specials.

Seafood and Corn Soup

Drat me for not making a more specific note about the name and contents of this soup.

Loaded with fresh crab and shrimp, sweet corn and I believe local tomatoes, this soup had me sighing with pleasure, though I did share!

The complimentary garlic bread was perfect for cleaning - and I do mean cleaning - every millimeter of that soup bowl.

Fish Tacos with Salad

The tacos contained Mahi, House-made Bistro slaw, and were topped with Cilantro. My taste was lovely and Bob happily cleaned his plate. But I hit the motherload.

Gulf Shrimp with Pasta in Garlic Sauce

At last, this was the shrimp I'd come to Florida to taste. A nice big plateful of it, cooked perfectly, with a generous portion of pasta, garlicky olive oil based sauce, cheese and herbs, for $10 or $11. I am completely in Marie's power - run (do not walk) to Highland Beach and EAT at Marie's - you'll be glad you did!

Our time in Destin winding down, after a last sunset on the terrace, we headed to Louis Louis for dinner. We were joined by several friends, and had a fabulous time. Louis Louis presents challenges to my limited photography skills, mostly because of this:

There's a lotta red lighting! And while my new camera has many more tools to help me address this - I haven't had a chance to learn them yet - so please excuse the quality of these photos. I was sad to learn that there would be no crab cakes tonight - people rave about them and I've never had. But the server explained that they weren't happy with the quality of the crab available so they didn't buy it. That is always the right answer.

Fresh Baked Olive Roll

Seafood Gumbo

Everything good I expect from Louis Louis, in a bowl. Fresh tasting shrimps, crab, and tomato, cooked just right.


Tonight's fish selection was grouper.

That, my friends, is a HONKING hunk of beautiful fish. Over that unique, cheesy, crispy and creamy grit cake. With veggies. And pork fat. Yum.

Sauteed Grouper Over Garlicky Smashed Potatoes Topped With Capers and Brown Butter Sauce

Bob enjoyed another perfect plate.

How did we save room for dessert? We remembered how great the desserts were last year!

Homemade Bread Pudding, Alcohol (forgot to note which kind, but it rocked) and fresh whipped cream

I'm including this less well focused photo because I think it gives you better sense of the size of this huge portion. Eight people could share it and be happy.

Creme Brulee

Phil and Virginia shared their dessert with us - it was as flawless as everything else we were served this evening!

Thursday February 17 we woke early, packed out of Sundestin, and headed for our last Destin 2011 food adventures. Since we'd  be flying out of the brand new Panama City Beach Airport to the east, our plan was to drive further east than usual to enjoy our last local meal, after stopping at Marie's Bistro for sushi to take with us for the trip home. More on that last item shortly.

The locals speak highly of Gravel Road, where we'd sampled a nice lunch a few years ago in their former Grayton Beach location. After moving east, Gravel Road was just off of our compass - until now. I so wish that I could say nicer things about our experience. First, our seater/server made no effort to make our window-front table pleasant - the blinds were down and it was downright dark, even though there was a glorious sun outside. We had to adjust the blinds ourselves to get any of that natural light, and they were a little tricky.

Gravel Road had some customers, but wasn't terribly busy; I can't figure why it took so long to get iced tea or answers to our questions about the menu. The lunch special today was an "all you can eat" fish fry. While I might normally avoid such a thing, the server's answers to my questions made this appealing: local mahi, crab cake and shrimp accompanied by fried catfish fillet (I didn't ask, but I expected farm raised and maybe even frozen for the latter, and heck, I expected it to be the largest item on the plate), and house potato. Since it was "all you can eat," I figured we'd eat most of the first plate, then perhaps order a second plate for the mahi and seafood and leave the second catfish fillet, if we were hungry for more or if the catfish way out-proportioned the local stuff. Plan. Fail.

We knew we were in trouble when it took almost 20 minutes for a bread basket to appear- after asking our server about it twice and seeing other tables (served by a different person) getting theirs right away. We asked if, as in the old location, Gravel Road made their bread from scratch. Our server said that everything at Gravel Road is made from scratch and that the bread is a signature item. Well, as happened last time we dined at Gravel Road (where at least we saw and smelled the fresh bread proofing) - these were obviously yesterday's product. This time - they didn't even toast them.  Meh.

Our entree plates were accompanied by these condiments, which for reasons to be shortly explained, we didn't even touch.

After a rather long wait, our entree plates appeared:

Yep, the proportions were what we expected. And which would have been fine - had the seafood tasted and smelled good. No such luck.

The shrimp and crab cake were, in a word - inedible. I cut each shrimp in half and smelled, just to be sure it wasn't one bad apple influencing a bunch. Old and smelly. One shrimp wasn't even de-veined. Yuck.

The taters are tucked in there. Nothing there not to like. But that seafood was an atrocity. The server responded to our complaint with a deer in the headlights look, so we asked for the manager. Who got ridiculously defensive and offered to show me his "dated today" receipts for the seafood. Um, excuse me, can you smell that????? No? It can't smell bad because you bought it today? Oh - that kind of shrimp is supposed to have a slightly metallic smell and taste! Excuse me, but that is just bullshit of the worst sort. So, ok - what next.

"May we get you some more mahi?" Yes - that was fresh and tasty - please do. You'd have done better to offer that up without all of the preceding nonsense - because bad seafood happens sometimes. It's how you treat the customer when it happens that determines whether the meal can be salvaged.

Um - we both hated the seafood - so why after all of that did you only fire one fillet for me and not make one for the other diner? Oh you'll do that right now? Ok. Not.

This process consumed a ridiculous amount of time. Both pieces of mahi we each were served were very fresh and tasty (and yes, we nibbled at the catfish/basa fillets on our plates while waiting for the good stuff). But what irked me was the defensive attitude of the manager - your seafood smelled  and tasted old - man up, accept it, and fix it without whining. But no, you had to argue about it. We will not be back to Gravel Road.

Ironically, we had debated lunching at Bud & Alley's, 2236 East County Road 30-A, Seaside Florida tel. 850.231.590, but I had so wanted to get back to Gravel Road! Leaving Gravel Road, we doubled back to Seaside and parked on the oval. We headed up to the patio deck at Bud & Alley's - not really hungry, but with enough time to enjoy a beverage and perhaps get hungry for a pre-flight snack. Except that for the third straight year - the patio was not to be; Lord knows, we have tried. A hostess curtly informed us as we exited the staircase that we could not be seated on the patio if we weren't ordering lunch (though we could sit at the bar). But all of the nylon screens were down (even though it was a gorgeous day) - so the bar was chilly and the view obscured. We wandered down another staircase and pondered our options - we had about 2-3 hours of free time. 

We noticed the close-by Shrimp Shack, which had a dining area right on the beach. We wandered out to the patio via a public beach access, and since it wasn't crowded, took a small table. The most uncomfortable chair I ever put my overly ample ass in - but an amazing view. And more than that - the servers who appeared periodically to help the paying customers never confronted us - they let us enjoy the view in this off-season mode and were downright friendly with us. All of our interactions over the two or so hours we sat there were so positive (and folks who had food at the next table enjoyed it so much) that I regretted we hadn't lunched here. Shrimp Shack - we owe you one, and will pay up next winter, I promise! The table of 20-somethings next to us raved about the peel and eat shrimp and the oysters and it did  all look delicious. If only we weren't full from our Gravel Road debacle.

Here is the view from our perch; thank you again Shrimp Shack:

And then, it was time to drive to Panama City Beach Airport and head home. But we had made provision to play with Destin-area food one last time. As Jim Morrison might say - this was the best part of the trip - the best part.

As we had worked our way east from Destin on Route 98 that morning, we had detoured to Old 30A and our "new restaurant winner" for the trip: Marie's Bistro. When we dined at Marie's on Wednesday, a local at the next table told us how wonderful the sushi was, and actually shared some of her leftovers with us, which is what hatched this nutty idea of getting sushi on our way to the airport and holding it to eat for dinner during our trip back to Cleveland. My Alton Brown-esque plan began the night before, when I cut up and ziplock-bagged several lemons and limes we'd acquired at the end of the Mensa gathering and put the bags in the freezer. This transmuted the citrus fruit into liquid-free ice - not drippy and suitable for TSA inspection.

Back at Marie's - we proceeded to order several sushi items from Chef Tran and asked for each item to be packed in a separate small styrofoam box. Each of the four small boxes was in turn placed into a large styrofoam box, with a bag of the frozen citrus wrapped around it. The styrofoam boxes were stacked two each in take out bags and put on the rear floor of the car, under our coats. The result = guerrilla refrigerator. Dang if it didn't work!

XMas Roll - Shrimp Tempura, Topped with Avocado and Tuna

Mrs. Tran assured us that this contained the same beautiful Gulf Shrimp we'd tasted Wednesday - and it did!

Da Bomb Roll - Spicy Tuna, Crab Salad, Sriracha

Alaskan Roll - House Made Smoked Salmon, Avocado, Shrimp Crunchies

Shrimp Summer Roll - Shrimp, Rice Noodle, Lettuce, Basil - Hold the Cucumber and add Avocado, Please

When we appeared to order our sushi on Thursday morning, it was the first time I'd ever experienced any sushi purveyor who led with "please tell us of any alterations you want to any of the menu items - we are happy to change/substitute ingredients." This was beautiful music to the ears of this cucumber-hater. Thus, the sumer roll, which I'd normally be picking cucumber out of, was delicious to my palate as made, and the photo doesn't do justice to the local, fresh, plump shrimp in the wrapper. Hours later, as Southwest Airlines winged us to Cleveland - it made for a satisfying end to playing with fresh Florida fish and seafood, and beat anything we might have found in the airport where we changed planes. This maneuver also saved us from  having to look for late night eats in cold, snowy Cleveland - we were still full from our last food play from the Gulf Coast when we landed. And Marie had tucked another sweet treat into our bags:

A crappy photo; but I did want to show you the sweet extra. We were so full from our sushi that we didn't taste this until the next day.

This trip, which began with family in Delray and was punctuated by a road trip through Tallahasse, represented another successful round of playing with fish and seafood from one of the best  sources of fish and seafood in the USA. Yes, there were a few off moments that are inevitable when traveling, including illness and off smells/tastes/attitudes. Still - I can't wait to return to Destin's pristine beaches, friendly folks and fabulous fish and seafood. And though Delray Beach isn't my first choice - food and family were likewise well worth the journey. Fun playing with food in Florida - it always leaves me happy!


  1. Love your blog!! I always wait for you to post on Sowal.com and go immediately to read and drool. I visit Sowal/Destin/FWB several times a year and am grateful to be armed with your reviews. I'll be trying Marie's for sure in April!

    Your trip to Whataburger made me smile :-)
    They DO take FOREVER, but totally the best of FF burgers IMHO-especially with extra cheese.

    Thanks for posting. Always a pleasure. Allifunn rocks, huh?


  2. We are so lucky to be able to spend our winters in Santa Rosa Beach right on 30A. I love your posts and have tried many of your rec. spots. We will try Marie's before we leave next week and thank you for letting us know how good it was. We too have noticed that there are very few places featuring local seafood. I have heard people ask if it is local, and that if it is they aren't eating any local seafood because of the oil spill. I think it has had a huge effect on the freshness ( and of course taste) of the fish in local restaurants this year.
    Thanks again for your great post-I look forward to the next one!
    Anytime you'd like to compare notes I'd be happy to. jmausolf@hotmail.com