Coastal Gourmet

Dining and Drinking at the Edge of the Continent

Mary Mahoney’s Fried Soft Shell Crabs. Biloxi, Miss.

Eugenia Uhl Photographs

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Beach bumming is a perfectly fine pastime, but sometimes there’s the urge to spiff up a bit, even within the range of sea breeze. Coastal getaways can also include fine dining and exploring the elegant life along Florida Highway 30-A. Just so you don’t lose perspective, we offer a guide to fishing, adventures along Okaloosa Island and some medical tips in case you go too far. Our tip to you: Eat well but be careful of the sun.

The end of winter around the Gulf Coast is of little importance in a region where winters are often non-existent – or at least offer only token amounts of cool weather. Here, long strolls on white sandy beaches can be done in just about any month that has more than 25 days.  

The Central Gulf Coast, particularly the states of Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle area of Florida, are the beach playgrounds of New Orleanians and South Louisianians. And being that we’re a people who travel on our collective stomachs, pleasurable destinations are often defined not just by pretty scenery and recreation opportunities but also by fine cuisine.

Fortunately, great beaches are very close, and the dining possibilities near these sand-into-surf communities are pretty darn good.   

When dining along the Gulf Coast, keep in mind that you’re next to one of the greatest fisheries in the world. Marine life abounds, and sometimes, as far as we’re concerned, for no other reason than to please us on a plate, provide a good fight when being caught, or both.

You will always eat fresh and local. Sure there are other diversions, most chefs along the coast know their way around a piece of beef but, as the old saying goes, when in Pensacola, Fla., gravitate to the grouper. You have heard that one, right?

Here are a few restaurant and drinking suggestions, alongside some local joints. This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a good start.
 

 

Destin, Fla.

What was once a sleepy little fishing village composed of a few cinder block-style motels, complete with linoleum floors, fit only for a bunch of guys anxious to head to open water for a bit of beer and fishing, is now a world-class resort community in every sense of the term. High-rise luxury complexes offering vacation amenities such as go-cart tracks and rum bars with dueling pianos (sound familiar?) are neighbors to restaurants that can compete for cuisine excellence in any community anywhere. (Ed. Note: When not marked otherwise, the city is Destin.)
 


Stinky’s Fish Camp.

Yes, I agree with you, it’s a crazy name for a fine-dining restaurant, but make no mistake about it: This place rocks! Proprietor Jim Richard (he’s from Lafayette so it’s pronounced REE-shard) knows his way around fresh fish, Cajun cuisine and Creole specialties. The fish stew is sublime, the oysters are prepared many ways and the crawfish tamales are like nothing anyone else is doing outside of South Louisiana.
 

5994 W. Highway 30-A, Santa Rosa Beach, FL, (850) 267-3053; 8651 Navarre Parkway, Navarre, FL, (850) 396-7799; StinkysFishCamp.com
 


Marina Cafe

It is the place you remember from years ago – and it’s better. This upscale dining restaurant is worth it for the harbor views alone. The cuisine and the contemporary décor add to the experience. Steaks, duck, lamb and short ribs are worthy of your attention, no small feat in a seafood-centric area. Then there are the redfish, grouper, tuna, scallops and even lobster to make your decisions even tougher. Just reading the menu is a problem because your eyes keep wandering to the long views of Destin Harbor.
 

404 Harbor Blvd., (850) 837-7960, MarinaCafe.com
 


Cuvee Bistro

This spot has been revamped in the last few years after chef Tim Creehan became involved. There is still an emphasis on wine, but the retail operation has been removed in favor of an expanded bar and casual dining area. The cuisine is local, of course, with an Italian and Asian direction. Definitely low-key and easy-going, Cuvee Bistro has always been comfortable, but now even more so. Happy Hour is crowded so come early.
 

36120 Emerald Coast Parkway, (850) 650-8900, CuveeBistroDestin.com
 


Another Broken Egg Cafe

This restaurant started in Mandeville as Broken Egg; when expansion became desired, the new name seemed obvious. Specializing in breakfast and brunch, Another Broken Egg has found gold in morning and midday meals.

Omelets – the selection is dizzying – are loaded with ingredients, or not, depending on your preferences. The side items, including salads, are quite large and generous. There are healthy items, as well as Eggs Benedict. Or you could have it all and feel both good about yourself and enjoy a dose of cholesterol. Most locations serve alcohol, and the Bloody Marys will open those sleepy eyes. We tend to forget that once you leave our city, the presence of alcohol isn’t something taken for granted – don’t even ask about go-cups.
 

Locations along the Gulf Coast in Destin, Grayton Beach, Panama City, Sandestin and Pensacola; as well as Mandeville, Baton Rouge and Lafayette, La. AnotherBrokenEgg.com
 


Harbor Docks

Ya either love it or you leave it. The building is a bit ramshackle, even by fishing village standards. All day long, breakfast through late-night, this established, sturdy restaurant delivers great seafood, harbor views in an open-air setting and casual taken to a high level – almost as if they’d loan you some flip-flops if you aren’t wearing any – a sort of anti-Galatoire’s. Sushi is a mainstay here. Those who don’t care for this place usually point to the eclectic menu, but I have never heard a New Orleanian downgrade the joint.
 

538 Harbor Blvd., (850) 837-2506, HarborDocks.com
 


Boathouse Oyster Bar

Go for the drinks. Make it a PBR. Sometimes the oysters are good. But drinks are the deal here. Great sunsets and fun crowds, assuming you want to have fun. Service is bad. It is on the water so the place is a bit dirty. It offers a good jukebox, local bands and redneck good times.
 

288 Harbor Blvd., (850) 837-3645, BoathouseOysterBar.com
 

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