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Distinctive experiences come in many shapes and sizes along the Emerald Coast. A feast for the senses, our region is home to stunning water views and lush natural surroundings, soft, sugar-white beaches, the smell of warm Gulf breezes and, of course, tastes that will delight even the most discriminating palate.
Award-winning restaurants and celebrated chefs are abundant across the communities served by The Premier Property Group. Whether you are seeking a Gulf-to-table experience, Southern cooking, healthy fare or international cuisine, the chefs of the Emerald Coast strive to create dining experiences that will keep you coming back for more.
Here are a few of our favorites.
Jim Shirah, executive chef at Dewey Destin’s Seafood, grew up fishing the waters of the Emerald Coast with his family. Local to the Destin area, when the family launched the restaurant 10 years ago, the plan was to serve locally-sourced seafood, which can be a bit of a challenge sometimes.
“Locally-sourced seafood is the freshest possible, but it sometimes means we don’t have every fish available on the menu because it’s out of season,” Shirah said. “Changing the menu keeps the work interesting for our team and the food interesting for our customers.”
Shirah works in a kitchen that once belonged to his great aunt and uncle, and though the building in Destin Harbor has expanded over time, Shirah’s team serves an extensive menu of fresh fish from a surprisingly small kitchen. With four locations along the Emerald Coast, Dewey Destin’s serves original Destin recipes as well as Gulf Coast recipes pleasing both locals and visitors alike.
At George’s at Alys Beach, executive chef Camille Withall oversees a menu of regional coastal dishes flavored with global touches. Originally from the Philippines, Withall enjoys traveling the globe to learn about food, bringing that knowledge back to the customers at George’s.
“Food is everything. I believe that food has the ability to inspire, create lasting memories, and it can gather and unite people together almost like a universal language,” she said. “You can express love and emotion through food as well.”
The team at George’s crafts its offerings with locally- and regionally-sourced produce and the freshest seafood available for its lunch and dinner menus. Withall says that her team’s love for food is reflected through their creativity and enjoyment in crafting uncommon dishes.
Withall added that many customers are surprised to learn that the chef at George’s is female. “Although women are still not predominant in this male-driven industry, they are just as hardworking and talented as the rest of them,” she said. “Almost half of my kitchen staff are women, and I couldn’t be more lucky and proud to have them in my team.”
Chris Joyner serves as executive chef at The Saltwater Grill in Panama City Beach, which specializes in steak and seafood dishes on its dinnertime menu. Home to a 25,000-gallon tropical saltwater aquarium, The Saltwater Grill receives whole fresh fish daily, making its menu offerings among the freshest on the Gulf Coast. Joyner points to people’s increasingly busy schedules as the motivation for creating a memorable dining experience.
“As society evolves, we have less time to spend together at the dinner table,” he said. “Those 30 minutes together may be the only time that people get to spend with one another. A good meal can turn a bad day into a great one.”
Restaurant IRON, led by executive chef Alex McPhail, serves Southern contemporary cuisine driven by locally-sourced ingredients in handmade recipes. The dishes feature Gulf seafood, grass-fed beef, artisan products, and produce fresh from the on-site garden.
McPhail points to local markets like the Palafox Market in downtown Pensacola as a source of seasonal fruits and vegetables for everyone in the area, and a variety of products like locally-produced cornmeal and honey.
McPhail finds his inspiration, and the secret to Restaurant IRON’s success, in the teamwork of a talented staff, the beauty of his surroundings, and his freedom to create the freshest offerings from native ingredients.
Jim Shirley, chef and owner at Great Southern Cafe in Seaside, is affiliated with numerous well-known restaurants in the area, including The Fish House, The Atlas Oyster House, 45 Central Wine and Sushi, The Meltdown on 30A, The Bay in Santa Rosa Beach, and Baytown Provisions.
Great Southern Cafe promotes what it calls “New-Fashioned Southern Cuisine,” a mix of international cuisines with Southern cooking and locally-sourced foods. Shirley, a Pensacola native, has extensive knowledge of the waters along the Emerald Coast, and he couples that with his family’s farming history to promote what he calls “New Ruralism,” a concept that champions sustainable agriculture.
Smoked Gouda Cheese Grits
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound Dixie Lily grits
¼ pound butter
1 pound shredded smoked Gouda cheese
The Ya Ya
8 strips applewood-smoked bacon, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced shallots
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp
1 portobello mushroom cap, sliced
¼ cup diced scallions
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
2 cups heavy cream
3 cups smoked Gouda cheese grits
First, make your grits. Run the chicken stock into a thick-bottomed saucepan and turn on high till it boils. Mix in the grits and stir like crazy. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cream if you need more liquid. Then tumble in the butter, drizzle in the rest of the cream, and stir ‘til it’s all in the family. Then shake in the shredded cheese and stir very well ‘til it’s all nice and smooth.
While your grits cook, bring a large saucepan to medium heat. Add bacon and cook for about 3 minutes, then add garlic and shallots. Sauté and then add butter and a splash of white wine. When the butter is half melted, add the shrimp. When the downsides of the shrimp become white, flip them and add mushrooms, scallions, and spinach. Sauté for 2 minutes. Remove the shrimp. Pour in heavy cream and let simmer while stirring. When reduced by one-third, add salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Return shrimp to the sauce and combine. Spoon the sauce and shrimp onto heaping mounds of cheese grits.
Upcoming fishing seasons and tournaments
The Florida Gulf Coast is widely-recognized for its amazing sport fishing opportunities and tasty catches—many sought out by even the most discriminating foodies. It’s why the city of Destin has long been coined the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” and why ardent anglers travel from all over the world to get in on the action.
The good news is that the regions served by The Premier Property Group offer endless options for wetting a hook year-round, whether trolling or bottom-fishing on the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico or fishing in the Emerald Coast’s plentiful bays and lakes. But, not all months offer the same opportunities, and fishing aficionados will want to be aware of the seasons for various species of fish. Notably, the summer months offer some of the region’s most sought-after fishing opportunities that visitors and residents alike will not want to miss.
One of Destin’s premier offshore fishing events, the Blue Marlin Classic is recognized as the “Richest Fishing Tournament” for its sizeable prize purse. In fact, the tournament set a Gulf Coast record in 2016 when the purse reached a whopping $1.95 million. Scheduled for June 29-23, 2019 at the Baytowne Marina, the event features cash categories for billfish, dolphin, tuna and wahoo as well as individual angler prizes. Nightly entertainment is offered and open to the public, including a live cooking demonstration, fireworks and live music.
For those who prefer the quieter, more laid back atmosphere of inshore fishing, the Emerald Coast Redfish Circuit tournament schedule runs year-round. Next dates up include May 18 in Gulf Breeze and August 17 in Navarre. The organization promotes itself as a family-oriented club for all levels of anglers.
Seasonal Salt-Water Fishing
Anglers will find that summer is popular for many saltwater species including wahoo, dolphin, tuna, mahi-mahi, marlin, king mackerel, chicken dolphins, snapper and grouper.
For many Gulf Coast anglers, catching the coveted red snapper is the holy grail of summer fishing. This sought-after, flavorful fish has not only put Emerald Coast dining on the map, but it’s great fun to catch for people of all sizes and experience levels. Caught in deep water (60-440 feet), red snapper typically top out in size around 25 pounds, although Destin holds the record for Florida’s largest weighing in at 46 pounds. The Emerald Coast is home to many species of snapper including blackfin, cubera, dog snapper, gray snapper, queen snapper, lane snappers and the schoolmaster, but the popularity of the red snapper has resulted in restrictions that many of the other categories don’t share. Overfished due to its value, red snapper season is typically limited and varies by year. The 2019 red snapper recreational season will be open from June 11-July 12. For federally-permitted for-hire vessels, the season runs from June 1-August 1, 2019.
Grouper is another popular catch along Florida’s Gulf Coast that is celebrated for its mild, sweet flavor. Also caught in deep waters, many categories of grouper exist including black, gag, red, scamp, snowy and warsaw. Grouper size varies widely depending on the type. For example, a black grouper can reach nearly 100 pounds while a gag grouper typically ranges in size between 15 and 30 pounds. While restrictions also exist for catching and keeping gag grouper, June 1st marks the beginning of the 2019 season, which runs through December.
It’s not surprising that hundreds of couples choose the Emerald Coast each year for their destination weddings. Not only does our region’s natural splendor provide a one-of-a-kind backdrop, but the offerings here are as unique as the brides and grooms themselves.
For example, couples can get married on a boat, at a resort, in a state park, in a lodge, in a chapel, and of course, at the beach. They can opt for simple or extravagant, indoor or outdoor, any time of the year.
Certified wedding planner Kristi Purvis of Kiss the Bride Wedding & Event Planning said that 95 percent of the weddings she handles are destination weddings, with the lion’s share coming from Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. She has spent the last eight years planning weddings and events in the communities served by The Premier Property Group.
Perhaps surprisingly, she has seen a trend away from beach weddings, with couples choosing to be near the beach without actually being on the beach.
“I tend to do luxury weddings, and the brides often want to be able to have their pictures on the beach without necessarily having their toes in the sand during the ceremony,” Purvis said. “They don’t want their guests getting sandy, and the brides often want to be able to wear heels for the ceremony.”
That trend toward weddings near the water drives her to partner frequently with WaterColor Inn and Resort, Alys Beach, Vue on 30A, The Pearl, and the Hilton Sandestin. These venues have become her go-to because they are sought after, and they have so much to offer in terms of accommodations, event venues and amenities.
Alys Beach and WaterColor, for example, have gorgeous lawns steps away from the beach, while The Vue has a terrace overlooking the Gulf. The Hilton Sandestin has Gulf-front decks, and The Pearl has a rooftop space with European architecture that is perfect for weddings.
Unique to Alys Beach, couples can personalize the event food by building an on-site kitchen for caterers to use, while the other properties include their in-house catering staff as part of the venue package.
Purvis pointed out that there’s a misconception about what beach weddings “look like,” and that many people are surprised to find that weddings here can be elaborate and luxurious.
“People assume a beach wedding means a couple of chairs on the beach with people standing in the sand, but that’s not even close,” she said. “People might not think they can find luxury here but places like Alys Beach and WaterColor are known for their beautiful architecture and gorgeous lawns.”
Some brides host weddings that exceed $100,000, with chandeliers, drapings, and clear-top tents, as well as beautiful head tables and seating lounges for their guests.
The other trend Purvis has observed over the last couple of years is the move toward weekend-long gatherings as a way to capitalize on their visit to such a great area. Rather than hosting a one-day event, couples are scheduling bonfires, parties, lunches, and a variety of activities for their guests while they are in town.
Purvis admits that the weather often presents a unique challenge for couples getting married on the Emerald Coast, with anomalies like 80-degree weather for February weddings and 55-degree weather for April weddings. Because these venues are accustomed to hosting weddings in the uncertain Florida weather, the professionals involved work together to implement a plan B when necessary.
Purvis points to the close-knit community of the Emerald Coast as a selling point for brides considering a destination wedding here. She says it’s important to have “boots on the ground” who know how to match your needs and your budget without having to rely solely on information from the Internet.
“Everything operates like a well-oiled machine here because so many of us have established working relationships,” she said. “The venue managers know the people involved in the logistics of the wedding and everything runs like second-nature because of the trust and relationship among those people.”
For those considering an Emerald Coast destination wedding, Purvis clarified that though many brides begin their planning a year in advance, she has worked with brides who planned their entire event over the course of about three months. Though she doesn’t recommend it, she said it is possible.
She considers the 30A area the best-kept secret anywhere because of the broad range of things there are to do during a stay, whether it’s for a wedding or a vacation.
“These are the most insanely beautiful beaches in the world, and they are surrounded by golf courses, breweries, shopping, and anything else visiting couples could hope to do.”
WaterColor Inn courtesy of Kristi Purvis
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ATTENTION INVESTORS: Rental projections for this sprawling Gulf-front home, named “WATER MUSIC,” are $285,000. Actual rental income has been $185,000 annually, as a result of significant owner usage… it will comfortably accommodate 18 people. These rental figures offer you the opportunity to enjoy your beach home personally and rental nights will help it to pay for itself! Please call for a private appointment to tour this fantastic property. HOMEOWNERS: Picture yourself here: perched atop a private, sugar-white sand beach, this stunning home offers incredible views from each of its 4 stories of Gulf front balconies. Continue reading
This charming estate villa has never been on the market. The home features a private courtyard New Orleans veranda with pool and hot tub surrounded by lush landscaping, gas lights and french doors. When you walk in the front entry you notice the marble floors, Tuscany wine grotto with wet bar and cellar. The kitchen boasts stainless appliances, gas cooktop and breakfast bar. Once in the expansive living area, you will see the glass doors and fabulous view of the emerald green Gulf of Mexico. Upstairs from the front entry, the winding staircase brings you to the two guest bedrooms with private baths, work-out room and the Gulf Front master and bath complete with soaking tub, double vanities and walk in shower. NEW PHOTOS ONLINE…! – See more at: http://search.destin30agulffront.com/idx/details/listing/c114/733216/4905-W-Co-Hwy-30-A#sthash.zb7g0w4p.dpuf
This is one of the last remaining Gulf Front lots located in Destin. 100 feet of private white sandy beach to build your fabulous dream home or lucrative rental investment with little ARB restrictions. Very rarely does a lot become available at this price. Holiday Isle is a favorite, because of the no parking and no public beach access. Also, the ability to own and dock your boat within steps to your residence and you can be out in the open Gulf in minutes. Just to the north of the Gulf front lot is Destin Harbor. Several lots – listed and unlisted – are available for the buyer who wants an expansive beach and vista on the Gulf AND a deep water harbor for mooring your yacht, a combination sale can be arranged This is a one of a kind investment and will not last long on the market. View more details about this Holiday Isle lot for sale: