Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Hidden Gems: Restaurants We Love in Pensacola

People are flocking to Pensacola, or, actually, to the white sugar sands of Pensacola Beach, where you can breathe Covid-free air, paddle around in the Gulf and maintain distance between your less-than-ten group and the next.

Those flocking are always looking for good places to eat at the end of a long day in the sun. As people who love good places to eat, we are going to share some of the lesser known but delightful places in Pensacola where we eat often. We arrived here ten years ago, and were blown away that this old Southern town had such a variety of restaurants full of different tastes.

If you are not from the South, this is for you:  Any time you see the words “with a Southern twist” it is code for loaded with fat and sugar. You can’t beat the sweets – think beignets, Southern cakes, think sweet tea. I believe the South does some of the very best desserts in the United States of America.

That Southern twist, however, is one of the reasons that the most obese states in the USA are also in the South. You will find sugar and fat where you least expect it – one time, at a noted Pensacola restaurant where people go to see and be seen, I ordered a side of greens, trying to avoid sugar. When I tasted the greens, I gagged. Whoda thunk that collard greens would be cooked with sugar?

These are places local foodies go:

Blue Dot BBQ310 N De Villiers St

I’m starting with Blue Dot because it is one of the quirkiest places in Pensacola. In the first place, sometimes they are open, and sometimes they are not. Sometimes when they are open they will answer the phone, and sometimes they will not. Their answering machine gives out a message that says something like “we might be busy or we might be closed, so don’t call again.” Sometimes they have ribs as well as hamburgers, and sometimes they do not. And always, they are packed with people picking up orders. The guy taking the orders keeps them all in his head, and we haven’t seen him mess up a single order.

I had lived here for ten years before I tasted my first Blue Dot hamburger. People here say these are the best hamburgers in the world, pure and simple. I fully enjoyed mine, and I can’t say why. The meat was really good, and the bun was really good, but I can’t put my finger on what made it all so good. It is simple, and it is simply good. Doesn’t come with anything. Doesn’t cost much. And if you’ve lived in Pensacola a long time, Blue Dot is the best kept secret.

New Yorker Deli, 3001 E Cervantes St

I should put a disclaimer on the New Yorker, saying we eat there regularly, like once a week, but the truth is, most of these places I am sharing with you are places we eat regularly, and we don’t get any kickback for saying good things about them. We say good things because they serve good food.

The New Yorker is a deli and restaurant frequented mostly by locals, but get there early. They serve at least eight different home made soups every single day, and a huge variety of salads. They also boast “Pensacola’s best Reuben,” which I can attest to being pretty awesome, and a French Dip Sandwich with some of the best dipping broth I have found. We took a visitor there, they only person I know who could get excited over a liverwurst sandwich, but he is from New York and this was his favorite place in Pensacola. Tuesday they serve Crawfish Etoufee, and if you want to dine in, you had better get there early. Friday, they often have their famous Broccoli Salad.

If you’re looking for dinner on a Friday night, get there early. Yes, they serve wine and beer.

They also have pastas and pizzas. They also have a spectacular selection of desserts. They also have friendly, personal service. We feel so blessed to have a place nearby serving food of this quality.

Gulf Coast Seafood Market and Restaurant, 2250 W 9 Mile Rd

This restaurant is not near-by, and it is high enough on our list that we make the effort to go there often. As part of the renowned Patti family seafood and restaurant empire, it serves some of the best and freshest seafood in the area. The Alaska girl in me gets a craving for some salmon and I give my husband the look that says “take me to (Jonathan’s) for some salmon!” While most of the customers are ordering their baskets or platters with fabulous fried oysters, crab cakes, grouper, catfish or shrimp, we love it that GCSMR will also grill or blacken. This little hidden gem serves what I consider the best salmon in Pensacola, hush puppies to die for, and excellent baked beans. They use sugar where you would expect it – hush puppies, baked beans and sweets – but they also serve steamed broccoli, no sugar.

Shoreline Deli, 1180 W Main St

Just down the street from the famous Joe Patti’s, at the corner of Main and E is the Shoreline Deli and grocery. Not only do we order out, fabulous fresh made sandwiches and salads with a Greek flair, but we also buy our olive oil there, by the gallon, LOL (you think I am kidding, but I am not). While waiting for my order, I buy many of my spices there, fresher than in the supermarkets, think za’atar, sumac, poppy seeds, cardamon, cinnamon sticks, clove, all packaged in small packages (or large, if you need large).  They have Mediterranean relishes, sweets, condiments, nuts, specialties of all kinds, and a very large selection of Zapp’s potato chips and other local specialties.

Near the cashier, where you get a military discount if you show your ID, is a stand laden with irresistible sweets – think baklava, big chewy cookies, and for my husband, some of the best peanut brittle anywhere.

Taste of Jerusalem, 707 N Pace Blvd Suite B

Ray, the owner, is working on a new location on Cervantes, so check Taste of Jerusalem.com before you head there. The current location is tiny, but well patronized because the food is just SO GOOD. I tell AdventureMan “this is better than some of the Middle Eastern food we used to eat in the Middle East.” Ray is constantly expanding his menu, and there is something for everyone. My vegetarian friends love the two huge Vegetarian Platters, with selections from hummus, baba ghannoush, stuffed grape leaves, Jerusalem salad, felafel, tzatziki, etc. His grill platters and sandwiches are chock full of grilled flavor; lamb, beef, chicken, kebabs, gyros, and shrimp. He also has grilled chickens and platters of biryani and mensaf. His trout is excellent. Join the stream of loyal patrons who marvel that Pensacola has a world class Mediterranean restaurant of this calibre.

Taco Rock 29, 5454 Pensacola Blvd

This is the original Taco Rock, and we love it because the food is so well prepared and so tasty. It is not fancy, and sometimes the air conditioning does not work. It doesn’t deter us. My husband is addicted to their fresh, home-made tamales (pork) and I am a big fan of the Burrito Loco. The food is fresh, hot, comes with a mild or hot salsa. You have your choice of meats in the tacos, tostadas, burritos, etc. The chips are thin and crisp. They have a loyal clientele, and many delivery customers, so sometimes you have to wait. It’s worth it. We love this place.

Seafoods Station, 4796 N. 9th Ave.

My Hawaiian friend introduced me to Poke’ bowls, which I’ve tried at different places every since, but I have found none that I love the way I love the Ahi Tuna Poke’ or the Salmon Poke’ at Seafoods Stations. Lucky for me, my husband has several dishes he loves – the clam platter, the mussels platter, the Cajun Shrimp platter, the Shrimp Stir-Fried noodles. Actually, the menu is so large and varied that everyone we have taken there has found something to love. It is quirky, to us to combine seafood, Vietnamese and Cajun foods, but with the local history of Vietnamese immigrants settling in Louisiana and becoming major players in the shrimp and fish industry, it all makes sense, and the flavors are beautifully combined at Seafoods Station.

Siam Thai, 6403 N 9th Ave

When we first moved to Pensacola and started taking our then-baby grandson out with us, he cut his teeth on foods from Siam Thai. They were always so patient with us, and so kind to our little grandson. Now, we order out from Siam Thai regularly because their food is so well prepared, fresh and full of flavor. In truth, I like some foods spicy, and they make it spicy enough for me.

We love their Spring Rolls, uncooked with shrimp and vermicelli noodles, and a rich peanut sauce to dip in. I love their Grilled Chicken Salad (that’s a full meal right there), and we love their Northern Style Noodles Soup (another full meal, rich in chicken and vegetables in a tasty red chli base). We love their Chicken Cashew Nuts and OMG their Rama Chicken. There are dishes we haven’t tried yet. We mean to, but we go to order and can’t resist those we have had and found to be so delicious. We intend to keep trying 🙂 and we will enjoy every bite 🙂

Taqueria Al Asador, 7955 N Davis Hwy

Once solely a food truck, Al Asador has some picnic-style outdoor seating, and now it is even covered. Listed as one of the best food-trucks in the USA, the food at Al Asador is worth every second of the wait in the line to order, and the wait to pick up. Service is speedy, and they have to-go down to a science, with pre-packaged Salvadoran sauces to spice your tacos and tostadas and burritos. One of our favorites is the Chicken Platter (Platillo de Pollo), so much food and we can both eat for under $20. The meat is grilled and smoked on huge grills behind the truck, so the aromas while you wait are sheer heaven.

Do not, we learned from experience, go on a Saturday. The line is very long.

You have to know what you are looking for. Al Asador is co-located with a Shell gas station, north of I-10. Drive north on Davis, do a U-turn at Olive Road and get in the right hand lane to exit soon, when you see the Shell Station. There is additional parking over in front of a warehouse on the right hand side of Blackwell Road. Al Asador is worth the trouble.

Ozone Pizza Pub, 1010 N 12th Ave #111

We think Ozone has the best pizzas in town, and the best thin crusts. I love that the pizzas are really Italian in style – not too much red sauce, not too much cheese, not too much crust, and fresh ingredients with a lot of flavor. I love the Pesto Vecchio and the La Bianco, my husband loves the Nutty Idea, our grandchildren love the Carnivore, my daughter in law loves the Root Down Salad and we love the Greek salad – one is enough to share, when also eating pizza.

I will admit, I also love that it is in a re-purposed old building, once a hospital, now housing two restaurants and several businesses. Ozone has loyal and fervent customers, passionate and ready to defend Ozone as the best Pizza in town (and one of the best bar scenes).

Joe Patti’s Seafoods, 524 South B Street

Just off Main, you can’t miss the huge sign or the flag, Joe Patti’s is a Pensacola landmark and institution. It is not a restaurant – well, maybe you can eat some sushi in the back – but there is a Joey Patti’s restaurant nearby serving a lot of heavily fried delicious fresh seafood.

I mention Joe Patti’s because I would dare to say that everyone in Pensacola shops there – some occasionally and some more frequently. Joe Patti’s has all the variety of fresh seafood you can imagine. It also has specialty food items you can’t find any where else.

For us, we are addicted to Joe Patti’s gumbo, although once I ordered clam chowder by accident and it was every bit as good, it is just, frankly, I can make chowder that good, but I cannot equal Joe Patti’s gumbo. We order it by the quart and grab a baguette of his delicious sourdough bread to go with it. Sometimes I can’t resist one of their specialty cheeses, even though I know it is bad for me, Joe Patti carries some really delicious cheeses. Oh. And ice cream and cakes. A whole display case of them. And a variety of seafood salads. Anything you could want for an elegant picnic, including wines, you can find at Joe Patti’s.

Do not go on Christmas Eve day; even early in the morning, there is a line a couple blocks long when it opens. If you MUST go on Christmas Eve, be sure you have ordered your oysters at least a week in advance.

* * * * * * *

Above are some of our very favorite, most frequented places. I will remind you that I have lived in countries designated by our fearless leader as “$#*!holes” and I am willing to overlook things more dainty women might object to. Most of these places are not elegant. You don’t even have to take off your shorts and sandals – they are Florida casual. Of course, right now, in the age of COVID, we are not eating out, but we are very religiously taking out; we want to support our hard working friends in the restaurant business.

Having said that, now and then you want to dress a little and celebrate. I will share four of the more known restaurants we like, and why.

Flounders Chowder House, 800 Quietwater Beach Road

Well, just kidding, take those pearls back off and get back into shorts and sandals, Flounders is casual, but more expensive, and part of a chain, but a local chain we really like because we find their food excellent.

The first thing we love at Flounders Chowder House is . . . the chowder. It is exceptional. It is full of seafood, not the least bit skimpy. My husband orders the grilled grouper sandwich, which comes with the most sinfully delicious fries ever. I am not supposed to eat fries. They are really bad for me. If I am going to eat fries, I eat a couple or five or so off my husband’s plate. They are so crisp and so tasty, must be all that fat and salt. I usually order the Baja Fish Tacos, fried and served with abundant pico de gallo, yes, fried, but so GOOD. If I am better behaved, I order the grilled shrimp salad or the Caeser with grilled shrimp.

The food is excellent, every time. You can also get good drinks and good wine there (we see it flowing like water, and many a well-oiled customer), often live mellow music, and always a fresh Gulf Breeze, even on the days with the heaviest humidity. Flounders is a treat.

McGuires Irish Pub Pensacola, 600 E Gregory St

I am pretty sure McGuires and Flounders are owned by the same company. Every now and then, AdventureMan and I get a craving for a good steak. We know what we want, just a little filet with a heavy crushed pepper crust. We know where to go – McGuire’s.

McGuires is not a hidden gem; it is well publicized and well known. There are lines outside to get in. We usually go in winter, or on a parade day when everyone is somewhere else. It is very pubby – dark wood interior, Irish music, live Irish singers, tables close together, large crowds of people calling out to one another, it is noisy. There are dollar bills tacked to the ceiling, everywhere. You really don’t have to dress, although some do, some are coming from events, but many are still in their beach clothes, it’s that kind of mixture.

The food is relentlessly good. I admire that McGuires can provide continuously good food, across the menu, from drinks to desserts, and maintain a high standard of excellence. Our steaks are perfect, every single time.

Fisherman’s Corner, 13486 Perdido Key Dr

We are getting up to my two all time favorite Pensacola restaurants here, and we drive for 45 minutes to get to Fisherman’s Corner. We take our house guests there. It is that good.

Every thing we have tried at Fisherman’s Corner, we love. We always start with their hand-dipped peppered onion rings. If your group is hungry, order two or more; they are gone in a heartbeat. My favorite entree is the Creole Linguine, which I cannot eat because it is too rich, so my beloved AdventureMan will order it (well, he loves it, too) and give me a couple bites. I adore the Cioppino, honestly one of the best I have ever eaten, anywhere, but it is not often available at lunch and sometimes not at dinner.

Fisherman’s Corner is like that. They don’t keep a huge freezer full of frozen stuff, their food is fresh and if it is not available fresh, then it won’t be available. You learn to live with that small inconvenience because holy smokes, the food is so incredibly good. Their smoked tuna – when available – is awesome. Their grilled tuna or grilled tuna salad – when available – is awesome.

We were first taken there by a member of one of Pensacola’s first families. We would never have found it if she hadn’t taken us there because you have to leave the road off to the right just before you cross the Theodore Baars bridge to Perdito Key, Drive down that road and you come to Fisherman’s Corner and it kind of looks like a bait shop, except for all the cars in front, and maybe even people waiting outside to get in. If you are able, better to make a reservation.

Their bread pudding dessert and their Key Lime Pie are also very good, and they serve some excellent wines. AdventureMan takes me there for events, like anniversaries or maybe because it’s Saturday. A few people dress. Most put on clean shorts and a clean shirt at the very least. It’s a nice place, but still Florida, where people are going to wear what they want to wear.

 

The Grand Marlin Pensacola Beach, 400 Pensacola Beach Blvd., Pensacola Beach

Every now and then, you just need a night at The Grand Marlin. When you need everything – good food, great service, lovely surrounding, you need to be at The Grand Marlin.

No matter where you eat, you have a view of Escambia Bay. No matter when you go, you know that the wait staff here are the best the area has to offer, and they really like working at the Grand Marlin.

I am absolutely crazy about their TGM BBQ Shrimp. It is an appetizer, only six shrimp, but six very large shrimp in an exquisite sauce, with an excellent garlic bread. It is a savory BBQ sauce; I think they must use a couple sticks of butter in it but they say it’s the beer that makes it so good. We discovered with COVID that we could take it home, warm it up and serve it over angel hair pasta and it was exquisitely satisfying. The grilled salmon BLT is divine. Both of those are available from Curbside service.

For the times when we can dine in, we have never had a bad meal. I love the Cioppino, I love the Crab Cakes, I love the grilled salmon. Most of all, I just love being there, I love the totality of the experience with good food, good wines and a nice atmosphere combining with a lovely drive across two bridges and maybe even a sunset. The Grand Marlin is an experience, not just a meal.

If you find a place you love, or try one of the above and like it, please share below the name of the restaurant and what you ate that impressed you. I love it when one of these entries becomes useful to a lot of people. You can help make that happen.

June 20, 2020 - Posted by | Community, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Entertainment, Food, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Restaurant

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