December 20, 2014

Down-Home Dining

Robert W. Tolf | 8/1/1995
Last month's column on the culinary high-flyers of North Florida has to be balanced by some attention to the less exotic, lower-priced places where good ol' boys and ordinary tourists meet to eat. These restaurants don't represent a counter-trend, but a continuing trend, one where fried fish is the order of the day, along with homemade pies and a lot of basic, down-to-earth specialties. Here's my current list of favorites among North Florida's tried-and-true, home-style restaurants:

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Hog's Breath Cafe

904/244-2199

1239 Siebert St.

Okaloosa Island,

Fort Walton Beach

This local institution is ultra-casual, with $5 daily specials and lots of budget-stretching menu items. I particularly like the crab claws, soft-shells and various types of seafood, including Gulf shrimp saluted with the scampi treatment. Any dish featuring one of the great natural resources of the waters off Fort Walton Beach, amberjack, gets my serious attention; it's smoked for salads, battered and fried, chargrilled and cajunized - everything but blown with hog's breath. Lunch and dinner, with entrees $6.95 to $12.95, are served daily.

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Julia Mae's Seafood

Restaurant

904/697-3791

Highway 98

Carrabelle

It's been more than four years since Julia Mae sold her landmark shack on a finger of land near Carrabelle. Back in her old haunt, still advertising itself as serving the "Finest Seafood in the South," patrons still dine on her old recipes. That means terrific hush puppies, okra-loaded grouper chowder, awesome oyster stew, such fancies as shrimp creole and crab imperial, and burgers made with shrimp, oysters or scallops. There's still a stack of pies up front and restrooms out back. Lunch and dinner are served daily. Entree prices range from $6.50 to $20 for a large, let-it-all-hang-out seafood platter.

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Nick's On The Beach

904/267-2117

Highway 30A

Santa Rosa Beach

Since 1973, Bonnie and Frank Nick have been producing schools and schools of some of the best fried fish in Florida, first in Freeport at Basin Bayou and since 1989 here at Santa Rosa's Blue Mountain Beach area. There are burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches for the land-locked crowd, but I like the shrimp, oysters and fillets of fresh fish fried. Bonnie is in charge of recipes and her batter boasts a secret ingredient. There's also something secret and oh-so-satisfying in Old Nick's Original Seafood Gumbo. Dinner, with entrees $12 to $15, is served nightly.

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Parsley's South Carolina Bar-B-Q

904/664-2303

101 N.W. Hollywood Blvd.

Fort Walton Beach

Papa G's Porkers from Paradise, based in Fort Walton Beach, wins trophies awarded to the best barbecue teams in the U.S.; but unfortunately, they don't have a restaurant, only a barbecue trailer. So if you want 'cue in these parts, you have to check into Parsley's, a simple little place where the barbecue sandwiches and plates feature beef, chicken, pork, sausage and, of course, ribs. For side orders, I prefer the baked beans and Brunswick stew. And for dessert, what else but homemade banana pudding cake? Lunch and dinner, with prices in the $6-$14 range, are served daily.

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Posey's

904/984-5799

Highway 98

Panacea

This newcomer features an outstanding seafood buffet on Saturday nights, one of the bargains in the state, priced at $10.95. The regular salad bar boat is also bountiful, but then the man responsible for it all is named Noah Posey. His crew launches one of the best seafood platters with all kinds of freshness from Dickerson Bay. And if you over-indulge or want to explore the local area with its many seafood wholesalers, you can check into the Posey Motel out back. Breakfast (starting at 6 a.m.), lunch and dinner, with entrees $6.50 to $16.50, are served every day but Monday.

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Sam's Oyster House

904/939-1998

8495 Navarre Parkway

Navarre

904/244-3474

1214 Siebert St.

Okaloosa Island,

Fort Walton Beach

Sam Taylor was so successful that he cloned his "World Famous Seafood, Gumbo and T-Shirt" operation, opening a second location and doubling the pleasures of his seafood-loving customers. In Navarre, many of Taylor's patrons like to start with oysters raw, Rockefeller or Jason (with bacon and cheese bits and a dollop of pico de gallo). I like to start with cajun popcorn (fresh crawfish tails fried) or fried cocktail crab claws. I follow that with a pair of jumbo soft-shells, some gator tail or those all-you-can-eat southern fried catfish and mullet dinners. The Navarre location has a wonderful playground on the beach for families waiting for tables, as well as a fascinating fish tank where many of the menu specialties swim around. Lunch and dinner, with entrees $7.99 to $14.99, are served daily at both locations.

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The Lucky Snapper

Bar & Grill

904/654-0900

76 Highway 98

Destin

Since May 1993, this marina-front marvel, dangling its decks and dining room over the water, has appealed to me. For starters, I like the Hot Hoppers, Louisiana-raised frog legs in spicy sauce, and gator tail Bayou Teche, wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and served with honey-mustard. Their nachos are nifty, the seafood gumbo glorious and the crab cakes Bayou La Batre real beauts. But don't sell the jerk chicken or the blackened pork chops short. Lunch and dinner, with entrees ranging from $11.99 to $23.99, are served daily.

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