Many of our guests at Ocean Reef love to eat out when visiting The Emerald Coast. After all, it's nice to take a break from cooking a meal. You always have the economical option to do so since our fine private home rentals and luxury condos have a full galley or gourmet kitchens. Many properties also feature outdoor grills to create your own Surf n Turf creations. However, no one can resist enjoying the local catch of fresh seafood which is always offered in abundance at one of the area's great beachfront restaurants. There is something wonderful about being seated in a restaurant on the beach with the smell of salt air, crashing sound of the waves and viewing the huge expanse of Emerald green water that stretches out to the southern horizon. For our new Ocean Reef guests, here are a few of the local beach side restaurant gems in The Beaches of South Walton that extend from Miramar Beach and along Scenic Highway 30A.
Starting out on Scenic Gulf Drive, (aka “Old Highway 98”) there is the funky, iconic Key West styled seafood restaurant called Pompano Joe's. This has been a local favorite since 1995, it has good food, a great bar, a beach side patio and a wrap around dining balcony that overlooks the Gulf. TripAdvisor gives it a four star rating with over 225 reviews. Almost 100 guests gave it an “Excellent Rating” with another 67 rating it as “Very Good” due to the delicious Caribbean styled seafood entrees and fantastic location. The building is rustic yet cheerful at the same time with old plank wood flooring, high beamed ceilings and rainbow colored window frames. Large wooden replicas depicting Gulf caught fish with name tags hang on the walls with the real thing being served on your plate. Popular items include appetizers like “Coral Reef Nachos” piled high with shrimp, scallops and fish; “Voodoo Shrimp” served with a tangy BBQ sauce and French Bread;and a “Smoked Tuna Dip” with Dijon-Mayonnaise sauce. Fresh fish specialties include Tuna, Amberjack, Grouper and Mahi Mahi to name a few. You can get anything from a Po Boy Sandwich to full dinners. Every Sunday from 3 to 5 pm they have a Big Shrimp Boil which includes one pound of shrimp, buttery potatoes and corn on the cob for only $10.99. Pompano Joe’s also offers ice cold, $1 Draft Beers which makes the meal refreshingly complete.
About five minutes towards the east at the Sandestin Golf, Tennis, and Beach Resort is Finz Beachside Grille. This gourmet restaurant was formerly The Elephant Walk for many years before getting a face lift and new venue. The location is awesome since it sits on a dune overlooking the shimmering Gulf towards the south and southwest as well as one of the swimming pools. The green roofed building looks like a big, multistory pagoda with lots of windows for dazzling views. Here you may dine inside or out on their expansive beachfront deck which is a great place to enjoy ocean breezes and even a heavenly sunset over the water in the Fall or Winter. Finz serves not only fresh seafood but also a gourmand's delight of dishes that includes “Charleston Lamb”, “Free Bird Chicken” and “Black Skillet Beef Filets.” Popular seafood dishes include “Crispy Red Snapper”, “Gulf Waters Bouillabaisse”, “Sea Scallop Parpadelle” and “Grouper Elizabeth.” They also serve customized creations of your own choosing with grilled “Signature Skewers.” The chef describes their cuisine as being inspired by “the Gulf Rim including the Caribbean islands...as well as hints of New Orleans.” Finz also has a great wine menu, seven different types of specialty martinis, mojitos and other popular frozen beverages.
Heading down Scenic Highway 30A which parallels the coast, another great beachfront restaurant is the new Vue on 30A. This was formerly the restaurant for members of the private Santa Rosa Beach Club and has a kind of old money look. Now it has been totally revamped with a hint of South Beach, especially in the ultra modern lounge. What hasn't changed is the wonderful location, high upon the sandy bluff that rises above the Gulf in Santa Rosa Beach. A wall of windows takes full advantage of the beach views and there is an adjacent pool side patio for outdoor dining. This place has always been a popular place for Wedding Receptions with its club like, beach side atmosphere indoors and out. The elegant interiors are chic looking with sculpted bronze palm frond lighting, sleek black leather couches and zebra striped rugs. Adjacent tables are topped with crisp cream white linen. The menu is deliciously diverse with such offerings as Pistachio Crusted Grouper, Shrimp and Grits as well as Scampi, Roasted Duck, Pepper Crusted New York Strip, Lamb Porterhouse, Double Cut Pork Chops, Veal Cardinal and Chicken Piccata. Their “Vue Fruits de Mere “specialty includes a creative concoction of sautéed shrimp, clams, mussels, fish and a half a lobster tail served over creamy grits with a brandy sauce.
If you are looking for a laid back atmosphere that may remind you of college days, then you have to head a little further down 30A to old Grayton Beach where you will discover The Red Bar. Don't let the name fool you since besides the arty, poster strewn bar which often features live musical entertainment, they have great food. The menus are displayed on chalk boards which are brought to your table by the friendly wait staff showing specials of the day as well as traditional favorites. “Old” Grayton Beach is a slight jog to the south of Scenic 30A and only takes a minute to get to it. However, once you arrive you will feel like you are in miles of mainstream civilization in a small beach side village. It is almost totally surrounded by State Park Forest as well as the stunning and Blue Wave Award winning Grayton Beach State Park. Years ago before it was “discovered” old Grayton Beach was the residential habitat of eccentric artists, hippies, Bohemian types and lots of unleashed friendly dogs. In fact there was a bumper sticker that said “Welcome to Grayton Beach. Nice Dogs, Strange People”! The Red Bar was established by friendly Belgian family years ago and has become a local haunt by natives, although certain celebrities have also been spotted there late at night. The atmosphere is eclectic to say the least with lots of deliberately tacky red lights, crystal balls, rustic furniture and sixties type posters which even cover the ceiling along with European prints. Lunch (11 am to 3 pm) and dinner (5 to 10 pm) is served here with generous, tasty portions and is reasonably priced. Most lunch entrees are under $10 and most dinners under $20. Interestingly enough they only take cash or checks here but there is an ATM on the premises in case you just have plastic. Luncheons include great Penne' Chicken or Fish Sandwiches as well as juicy Cheeseburgers. They have succulent salads as well with grilled chicken, smoked tuna and smoked salmon. Dinner entrees include the Fresh Catch of the Day, Shrimp and Craw fish Pasta, crispy Crab Cakes, Baked Eggplant with Shrimp and Scallops and a cheesy, aromatic Manicotti. Although The Red Bar sits next to the beach this is pretty much an indoor world unto itself. However, before or after you visit, the isolated beach is right around the corner for enjoying a lovely walk and a stroll through this tiny, eccentric, beach village is charming.
Just a “hop, skip and a jump away” down Scenic 30A you will pass over the isthmus between Grayton Beach State Park and the pristine Western Lake created by a coastal dune. Drive slowly, the views in both directions is simply stunning. Once you cross over you arrive at “Watercolor”, the perfectly named relatively new, Master Planned community of upscale old Florida styled residences. As soon as you come into this charming village you will see the next beachfront restaurant on our list called Fish Out of Water. This glamorous and very romantic restaurant has received multiple awards for excellence in fine cuisine and service. In fact Delta Sky magazine named it one of the “Top Eight Most Romantic Restaurants in the World.” It also is rated with a “Four Diamond Award” from AAA, received a “Golden Spoon Award” from Florida Trend magazine and an “Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator magazine. The dining area has an expansive wall of windows that look out onto this stellar locale which is particularly sublime with spectacular sunsets coloring the water in Autumn through early Spring. There is a casual outdoor deck for dining too so that you may experience this sensational sea side scene al fresco. Indoors literally thousands of bottles of wine line the walls giving it the kind of look you might see at an established winery in northern California. All in all, there are over 3,000 bottles available with about 650 different labels which is perhaps the largest collection on The Emerald Coast. Fish Out of Water proudly purchases fresh fish and vegetables from local fishermen and farmers. The cuisine is worthy of its many awards which includes such varied offerings as Gulf Grouper with Corn Pudding; Florida Hopper Shrimp Herb Risotto; Heritage Pork Chops with beluga lentils; Bricked Amish Chicken with lemon and garlic; Hanger Steak with olive tapenade and Whole Roasted Fish with Meyer lemon relish just to name a few. All items are ala carte but well worth the money for some of the most delicious food you have ever tasted, especially for that special anniversary or Hallmark birthday.
Just a “stone's throw away” as they say, in neighboring Seaside, is a landmark hot spot known as Bud and Alleys. Seaside itself created quite a stir internationally when it was created as one of the first, pedestrian friendly, Master Planned communities in the world back in 1986 by the famed architectural team known as Plater-Zybork. It is also the town that served as the perfectly manicured background for “The Truman Show” with Jim Carey, Laura Linney and Ed Harris back in 1998. The theme of this movie was eerily coincidental to real life since the main character lives in a town of “constructed reality” as a clue less star of a televised reality show of sorts. Bud and Alleys was completed back in 1986 when Seaside was just twelve houses around a village green on one of the most beautiful beaches in America. The founding of this beachfront restaurant is somewhat surreal as truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction. Two local surfer dudes named Scott Witcoski and Dave Rauschkolb were twenty-something years old at the time, decided to open this restaurant since Scott was a chef for his father's restaurant in Destin. They named it after a pet dog and cat, hence Bud and Alley. (Bud was the Dachshund and Alley was the cat!) The restaurant is distinctively casual and offers awesome sunsets from their upper open deck. In fact, they ring a big cast iron bell to signal the sun setting every day. Luncheons feature a huge array of sandwiches including Cuban, fish, shrimp, grilled chicken, Angus beef, Sausalito turkey, grilled veggies and chicken salad. There are also lunch entrees like shrimp & grits, Craw fish linguini, seared salmon and chicken scaloppini. Most lunch fare runs between $10 to $15. If you go for dinner or hors d’oeuvres be sure to coincide your visit for the sunset hour. Dinners are pricier but all inclusive and feature such delights as Seared Scallops or Red Snapper, grilled Grouper, a giant Seared Pork Chop, Free Range Chicken Breast, Bud and Alleys Crab Cakes, Prince Island Mussels and Prime Filets. Some of their popular appetizers include Smoked Tuna Dip, Peppered Seared Tuna, BBQ Shrimp, Chickpea Hummus and Sweet Potato fries. Their fabulous bar includes about a dozen top name Tequilas and potent specialty drinks with such names as Electric Lemonade, Caribbean Lemonade, Mango Mojito, Dream-sicle, Absolut Stress Reliever and Pain Killer! Don't be surprised to occasionally see a celebrity here as well but be sure to let them chill. Laid back Southern hospitality and good manners is part of why they come here in the first place, along with visiting some of the most beautiful beaches and vacation rentals in the world of course. How nice that such a place comes complete with delicious dining experiences on the beach. Bon appetite!