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Destin/Ft. Walton Restaurants: Recs & Reviews

Susan in FL

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NancyH: WOW! Those photos are amazing. If I wasn't hungry before, I definitely am now.

I know the feeling of returning to a much loved restaurant only to find that it has slipped. I always find it amazing how food can connect us with a perfect moment in time.

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  • 1 year later...

My husband Bob and I are recently returned from our annual pilgrimage to Destin. We spent a full two weeks eating, drinking, carousing and terrace-bumming (which is like beach bumming, without the sand between your toes). I uploaded 299 food photos to Flickr, and even though I winnowed a bunch out when I did my blog entry, there were still a lotta pictures!

So - what follows are some teasers. To see more, and read the full narrative, check out my blog. Also on my blog are links to all the contact and menu information about the places we visited.

We flew down on Valentine's day and went for dinner at our "go to" place, Harbor Docks.


Smoked Tuna App


Snapper Parmadine

I confess - I've gotten so used to the Harbor Docks "specials" board that I never even look at the menu anymore. But our wonderful server, Sunshine, suggested that we go beyond the "grilled, blackened or fried" choices for the daily catch and try some other variations. This hunk of fabulous snapper was broiled, then topped with crabmeat, which was topped with melted cheese, which was then topped with toasted almonds. It was so delicious I had it again two nights later.

For breakfast, we headed for the Silver Sands. Though housed at Harbor Docks, this is an independent company that rents the space every morning, serving the best breakfast in town and the best biscuits in the world. I am told that they used to have their own space, but got burned out of it and didn't want to rebuild. There is probably a condo where that space used to be now, anyway.

We chatted with the gentleman who makes the biscuits - I'm not exaggerating, he's got to be about 90 years old, and so arthritic that he can barely move. Yet, he makes these amazing biscuits! I can't bring myself to ever order pancakes or anything like that - I've got to have them biscuits!


We had two meals at Stinky's Fish Camp. My husband proclaimed this the best gumbo he has ever had:


This was my dinner entree:


Stinky's Stew - Shrimp, Mussels, Grouper, Snow Crab Legs, Oysters, Wine, Tomato, Lemon, Garlic Broth, Roast Potato and Corn

It was amazingly good - every bite of seafood perfectly fresh.

Back at Harbor Docks our third night, and our friend Ed (who originally suggested going to The Back Porch) had too much stuffed shrimp to finish - lucky me!


Shrimp With Crabmeat Stuffing Wrapped In Bacon And Broiled

We enjoyed lunch on the beach on a perfect sunny day at the Beachwalk Cafe.


Bob's Caribbean Fish Taco Lunch

Grilled Lime-marinated yellowfin tuna, soft flour tortillas, shaved cabbage, pico de gallo, and chipotle lime sour cream. And 50 cent Lemondrops.

On Monday night, we tried a wonderful local place I learned about on the The South Walton Forum, Cafe Locanda Italiana and Colosseum Bar, 4942 HWY 98 W, Santa Rosa Beach, (850) 622-1119. Our host, Lorenzo, made us feel right at home, even though the place was pretty darn empty (everyone else's loss!), a pattern we would see over and over again on this trip.


Grouper alla Piazzaiola

Bob's entree was superb! 8 oz of fresh grouper cooked in a light tomato sauce, with oregano, garlic and black olives, and served with a non-breaded Eggplant Parmesan and Puffed Potatoes. I enjoyed my tastes of this dish, and almost felt a little jealous that I hadn't ordered it. Until I dug into my entree:


Spaghetti Del Pescatore

My entree was amazing. Forget everything Anthony Bourdain told you about Monday seafood when you visit Locanda! My bowl was stuffed with exquisitely fresh fish and seafood - shrimp, mussels, tiny scallops, fried grouper, crab, and fabulous fresh squid - tossed gently with cherry tomato, garlic and white wine. No cheese, no heavy sauce - just fresh seafood, seasonings, and good quality, perfectly al dente pasta. I only wished I could have finished it!

Same problem at Gravel Road for lunch - only a fresser could have bitten into this:


Grouper Sandwich with Candied Pecans, House made Tarter Sauce, Lettuce, Tomato on Whole Wheat Bun

I enjoyed delicious sushi at Camille's:


Red Dragon Roll: Soft Shell Crab, Smelt Roe, Avocado, Green Onions And Spicy Sauce Topped With Tuna

Bob had this fabulous salad for lunch at Fabrice:


Seared Tuna Salad Nicoise with Anchovies, Hard Cooked Eggs, Potato and Tomato

I was sad that we trudged up to Nick's on Rt. 20 in the rain, only to learn that they had no crab claws. But they did have fresh alligator!


It really does taste like chicken!

We enjoyed happy hour at the Hurricane Oyster Bar, which is located in a newish plaza just off of SR 283 in Grayton Beach.


Grilled Oysters Pesto

We dined that evening at Fire, a newcomer to the area (literally right across the parking lot from the Hurricane Oyster Bar) owned by relocated New Orleans restaurateurs. Dinner was outstanding - and though the weather was brutal, we couldn't understand why it was so empty on a Friday night.


Grilled Pineapple Salad

This was simply fabulous - my only complaint was that there was a little too much cheese and buttermilk dressing, which overwhelmed the tender Bibb Lettuce a bit. The candied nuts and grilled pineapple were sweet and the dressing complimented perfectly.


Sauteed Grouper with Vegetables and Sweet Potato Cake

The next night - Saturday - we dined at D&K Cafe - and it was even emptier than Fire had been! Yet, most of the chain restaurants we passed seemed to have full parking lots. HELLO - what is wrong with this picture???

Especially when D&K serves seafood this pristine:


Sun-Kissed Martini Trio

We shared this delectable assortment of pristine seafood for appetizer - Boiled seasoned Shrimps, Fried Crab Claws, and Lump Crab Meat drizzled with Remoulade.


Grilled Grayton Grouper with Soft Shell Crab, topped with Seafood Cream Sauce

We both noticed that the fish at D&K was the first grilled fish we ate that actually tasted of a wood smoke grill. And softshell crabs are in season - and this one was fabulous! There is a portion of rice under all of that fish, also. Yum from top to bottom and all the way around.

We spent part of Sunday at the Thai Charity Food Court, which is open 9am-3pm every Sunday at the Wat Mongkolratanaram Buddhist Temple at 741 Mayflower Avenue (turn left off of Lewis), FWB, (904) 863-2906. We arrived with open hearts, open minds and empty stomachs.


I asked what the above sweet dish is called, but the vendors only knew how to say it in Thai, and my brain couldn't hold the word. An amazingly thin batter made with coconut milk, sugar, rice flour, scallions and other ingredients is ladled into a greased cast iron form, which is set on a charcoal fire. As the cakes set, the maker makes "sandwiches" of them, placing the half moon shapes together to make a loose ball, which still has two distinctive parts. The cooker is then covered until the cakes are finished. They are scooped from the molds, and plated as above. Simply amazing in taste and texture - sweet and savory at the same time, and crunchy yet viscous and pudding-y at the same time.

Our Sunday dinner at Borago was a disappointment this year, as far as seafood was concerned. But their fresh pasta is awesome.


Three meat Bolognese with Cheese Tortellini and shaved Parmesan

Bob's last lunch, at Harbor Docks:


Bronzed Swordfish with Red Pepper Cream Sauce and Shrimp

My last lunch:


Sesame Fried Tilefish

I got the last order of Tilefish before they ran out - and it was so fresh it practically jumped off of the plate!

So now, I am returned to Cleveland, the land of the frozen seafood. :sad: I look forward to visiting the Emerald Coast again!

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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  • 3 months later...

I'm headed that way the last week of July. I'd like to know where to buy the best seafood while there. Best quality and price. I'm going to do a little fishing naturally, I've picked out a good party boat, but would love to here of any good deals for catching my dinner.

It's also the weekend of the lobster mini season but I doubt there any lobster that far north unless they are abut 150-200" down. I'm Naui certified for scuba, but not really making plans for that as my gear all needs extensive servicing and me maybe a refresher or recert course.

Local fair would also be good. I like small mom and pop shop eateries and seafood naturally will be my focus on this trip.

Any help or advice will be greatly appreciated, and if you happen to live there and go fishing every day, I'd love to join you.

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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I've been visiting Destin with my husband every year for the past 4 or 5 years.

I would also recommend that you read this board: Sowal.com and perhaps post there re fresh fish at retail and fishing.

As far as restaurants go - my favorite is Cafe Tango, followed closely by D&K Cafe and Stinky's Fish Camp. But there are so many - if you peruse the info the above links take you to, you'll learn about the local pre-fab eats, though not as much about do-it-yourself.

Enjoy your trip and report back!

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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Anyone ever eat at "Old Bay Steamers"? My wife's coworker who just happens to have stayed in the condo next to the one my coworker owns recommended it.

I couldn't find them directly on google but did find lots about them on travel sites and also some reviews in local papers like this one.

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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I have eaten there once. Many of the locals seem to love it, but I don't know why.

As the name implies, the specialty of the house is steamed seafood. The problem is that the menu is Sysco-derived - especially the seafood. At least in the winter, when I went, everything was frozen and nothing was local.

The place is loud and kitschy, but again, if you like that, you'll like this place. Huge portions of food are served on big plastic trays - but again, the sides were nothing special (frozen corn on the cob in Florida?). Prices are modest, which may be why it is such a strong local draw.

And the one time I went, my food wasn't even served hot; they get so busy (they don't take reservations) that service can suffer (and this was off season and during the week).

If you want great seafood, get the stew at Stinky's Fish Camp or the seafood pasta at Locanda. You'll pay about the same (or less) and enjoy it more.

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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  • 1 month later...

We just got back from my week in Fort Walton Beach/Destin. Unfortunately, my wife isn't big on taking a camera to dinner :( So I'll try to describe my experiences to you here.

We left Saturday morning and drove straight there. We arrived at 5:00pm CST, checked in to our condo at the "Sea Oats" and then went to find some dinner. We drove up and down the "Miracle Strip Pkwy" and landed at "The Original Crab shark Restaurant and Marina". It was raining outside and they refused to seat us outdoors under the covered portion of the deck. We later watched someone one else get seated where we asked to sit. The wait staff informed us that they were unable to serve draft beers and we would have to order by the bottle. My wife ordered a Hurricane and ended up sending it back as it tasted of pure grenadine. The food however, was good. I ordered their any two platter with grilled mahi mahi and gulf shrimp and my darling wife ordered the shrimp and grits. My brother in law who came with us but followed us in his car, also ordered the same any two combination. Afterwards we went for a moonlit walk on the beach and played godzilla on whatever sandcastles we could find.

On Sunday, we woke up, watched the umbrella guys set up the umbrellas and beach chairs on the beach from the balcony and sipped on some Community Coffee that we picked up with various other essentials at the publix the night before. We then headed out to play in the ocean and bask in the sun for the day while sipping on Landshark beers. Once the heat ran us back in, Mark (bro in law) and I headed out to find some fresh local seafood. We ended up at "Sexton's Seafood Market" where we bought 3 pounds of of huge head-on shrimps. We made a stop by one of the three over-priced grocery stores in the area and picked up what we needed to make Barbecue shrimps, parsley buttered red potatoes and a nice baguette to eat out on the balcony as we watched the sun set.

Monday was pretty much the same itenirary, we ate dinner at Landry's Seafood House. This place was great. Food was excellent, service was everywhere it needed to be and our waiter was covering an extra station as well. I had the stuffed Flounder, she who must be obeyed's dish oddly enough isn't on their web menu. We can't recall the name of it, but it was shrimp, scallops, and mushrooms in a tomato sauce on penne pasta and she loved it. Mark had the fresh catch of the day which was Tilapia. How can you sit at a table not 300 feet from the ocean and order Tilapia? Its farm raised in guatemala or bangladesh or some other cesspool backwater fish farm. <Shrug> He liked it anyway.

Tuesday we went fishing on the "Sweet Jody"! We caught 3 red snappers and 3 white porgys and a vermillion snapper. the crew cleaned them anbd we packed them on ice until I could prepare them. All day on a party boat watching a large asian family and most everyone else who came NOT prepared wretch for 6 hours will wear you out, in between reeling them in that is. We were tired when we got back and I crashed for a long noon time nap, after which I woke up craving steak and eggs and there was a Waffle House next door. After which Mark went and picked up his girlfriend at the airport.

Wednesday was more beach time, followed by the most overpriced, undeserving restaurant I've ever had the misfortune to dine at. I guess it was the novelty of a place called "The Black Pearl". Our clique of friends enjoy anythng that is island or nautical related and a major portion of that is dedicated to pirates. So we could not resist. $9.00 for 2 oz. of Gordon's gin in a martini is in my opinion too much. Had it been on the drink menu for me to see they were actually pirates at this restaurant I'd have ordered the $5.00 beer instead. Mark's girlfiend Kimberly and I ordered the wasabi crusted tuna with a soy ginger reduction. The tuna was cooked rare as I asked for, but the wasabi crust was some hard crunchy concoction and I found the sauce bland while the wasabi was from a tube and overwhelming. Maybe that is why I could not taste the sauce. My wonderful bride had the mahi mahi which she liked and Mark had the grilled grouper and shrimp which he did not like, he thought it was not fresh and as he describes it, "Slimy". In any case none of us thought that the meal we received was worth on average $10-20 more each per person than the other seafood restaurants in the area. Two words - tourist trap.

We headed to "The Track" after dinner and had much fun on the go-karts. The wood track wasn't quite as fun as it looked from the road. The small slick track was a blast as the karts were much faster. We followed this up with another moonlit filled evening of what we came to call "Godzilla'ing".

Thursday brought more beach fun, a quiet day at the condo filled with many aloe applications and then my bride and I hit the shops on the strip in Ft. Walton Beach. There is a wonderful pet bakery called "Three Dogs and a Chick" where we picked up some treats for our fuzzy children back home. We also bought some doodads at the antique places and stopped in the Cigar Shop. That evening I prepared the red snapper we caught using the "Red Snapper Basquaise" recipe from AB's Les Halles Cookbook". You just can't go wrong with that recipe. I used Chateau St. Michelle in the recipe and also for libations. Its a $11 bottle of chardonnay that is actually very good for its price. I rate it with Simi as a good comparison.

Friday we stayed in due to rain and then went for a Dolphin Cruise anyways. It was a nice boatride in the bay and we did get to see the dolphins. Afterwards we headed over to "McGuire's Irish Pub"

Cathi, my wife, ordered an Irish Wake for the souveigner glass, Mark followed suite. We poured them in the car later on after they bought up the whole danged gift shop. For dinner I wanted Beef, so I ordered the New York Strip and was glad for it. Mark ordered the Irish Steak and Mushroom pie which he was mildly dissapointed in and the women ordered the fish and chips which appeared to be whiteing, they both thoroughly enjoyed it. We proceeded back to the condo to pack up since the whole day had been very wet. We were feeling the birth of the now present Eduardo in the gulf.

Saturday was check out time and we stopped by a place I had seen on the way in that advertised fresh shrimp on the boat in Vaisparo, Florida. We bought 10 pounds of $4/lb fresh shrimp that had been passing their time in the bay not even 8 hours prior to our arrival. We also bought 10 pounds of $2/lb fresh sea trout that had been caught in the nets with the shrimp. We then drove home unloaded the car and ordered chinese.

Sunday I woke up early and attended to a much dilapidated yard, headed off to the store after calling all of my close friends and inviting them over that evening to a fish fry. I sliced up a 5# sack of red skinned gold potatoes into chips and fried them in the outdoor frier, followed by the shrimp prepared ala *Justin Wilson and the trouts dredged in Zatarain's Fish Fry. We could only eat half of what we brought back and there were eleven of us in total. I also baked the remaining whole Red snapper we had caught. I stuffed/coated it with Boscolli's olive salad after trimming the fins and gills and a good salting. I also cut 4 slits to make it cook even and stuffed lemon slices in the slits as well as in the cavity. It made for a nice New Orleans Style Red Snapper Provencal. A perfect cap to a good week in florida.

* Justin Wilson marinated his shrimp in a highly seasoned egg wash for a few hours and then tossed them in plain flour to fry. It comes out wondamous, I GAYR-on-TEE!

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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Glad you enjoyed your trip. I'm a little jealous - I need to learn to fish!

I'm a little surprised that you went to Landry's, which is a chain - you can do so much better than that in this neighborhood - but so long as you enjoyed it, that's what counts.

We'll put Crab Shack and Black Pearl on our list of places to avoid.

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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Glad you enjoyed your trip.  I'm a little jealous - I need to learn to fish!

I'm a little surprised that you went to Landry's, which is a chain - you can do so much better than that in this neighborhood - but so long as you enjoyed it, that's what counts. 

We'll put Crab Shack and Black Pearl on our list of places to avoid.

It was our first trip and we didn't really get to see through the glare of the tourism to be the traveler the first time up to bat. Hopefully, my companions will allow me free reign next year to pick some more choice spots. Louisiana Lagniappe looked interesting, but we could not find parking and headed on down to Landry's instead. We were just cruising the strip lookig for a place to eat. It never dawned on me to go to Harborwalk. It's on my list for next year though. Sunday came too quick to even think about calling in a spot for the brunch. We went to Dewey's but my wife was not willing to roast in 95ºF for dinner. I guess the first week of August is the wrong time of year for outdoor seating.

Edited by RAHiggins1 (log)
Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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I'm a little surprised that you went to Landry's, which is a chain - you can do so much better than that in this neighborhood - but so long as you enjoyed it, that's what counts. 

We've had several large-group meals at the Landry's in P'cola. Each time, we called ahead earlier in the day to make the arrangements, but it's always been fairly short notice. They have treated us well. Both food and service have been good enough to keep us going back.

We'll put Crab Shack and Black Pearl on our list of places to avoid.

Haven't been to the Black Pearl, but got dragged to the Crab Shack once... NEVER AGAIN!


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Louisiana Lagniappe looked interesting, but we could not find parking and headed on down to Landry's instead.

LL is part of the chain that owns Back Porch - Southern Restaurant Group. If you are looking for that type of food, Blue Orleans has been our second fave, though I understand the restaurant is up for sale - and our absolute fave - D&K Cafe.

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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  • 3 years later...

Well its been four years - time to bump this thread up again! We spent two weeks in Destin in February. We enjoyed some fabulous (and less fabulous) eats from Fort Walton Beach to Rosemary Beach, with a northern detour to Crestview for Bamboo Sushi (well worth the drive).

We learned that Ferrell Ship of the Silver Sands Breakfast passed away last year, but got to enjoy the rebirth of breakfast served at Harbor Docks.

Newer restaurants of note included A La Carte and Stewby's in Fort Walton Beach, and Christiano's on 98 in Santa Rosa Beach.

Check out my four blog posts if you want to see more photos:


Fried Mullet Lunch at Harbor Docks


Shrimp & Grits Lunch at Marie's Bistro


Tuna Tartare Stuffed Avocado part of Omakase lunch at Bamboo Sushi in Crestview.

Post 1, Post 2 (Marie's), Post 3, Post 4

Edited by NancyH (log)

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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  • 1 year later...

Hello, I'll be in the Ft Walton Beach/Destin area next month and was wondering if anyone could suggest local finds for lunch/dinner. I've read through the thread but I'm not sure if these places still exist as there are some pretty old posts. My taste in food run the gamut but considering the beach environment, local seafood joints seem appropriate.


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