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Tuesday October 21st 2014

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Eating Out, Eating Local

The Chefs and Restaurants Plating Pensacola’s Local Fare
By Jessica Forbes

It probably goes without saying that chefs love food—and some more specifically love food prepared using fresh, local ingredients.

We set out to identify and speak with local chefs who use locally grown, caught, or produced food and food items in their restaurants, and discovered that “local” has become a quietly huge movement in Pensacola’s culinary community.

A number of local chefs are well aware of the bounty harvested only miles from their restaurants and are thrilled to utilize the products. Many have even built collaborative business relationships with the farmers who are supplying increasing varieties and quantities of items.

Whether sourced locally or states away, these chefs are dedicated to knowing exactly where from their fresh ingredients come, but all we spoke with share a passion for using local, seasonally available ingredients and do so at every possible turn.

From vegan cuisine to local fine dining institutions, the following Pensacola-based restaurants are committed to strengthening the area’s growing network of farmers, food artisans, and chefs that are keeping many of us eating literally local—whether we’ve been aware of it or not.

Local Vegan

From the local art on the walls to the local vegetables in the dishes, End of the Line Café is as serious about supporting the local community at large as they are providing healthy, healthful meals.

Committed to using local ingredients since opening End of the Line Café 11 years ago, Owner Jen Knight used to ride her bike—trailer attached—to Bailey’s Farmer’s Market at its former Fairfield Avenue location to load up on local produce.

“It seemed to make more sense. If it’s here, if it’s available, why aren’t we using it? Why aren’t we supporting our local community?”

Since Bailey’s moved, Knight still buys local whenever possible, from farmer’s markets to farmers themselves.

“I tell everybody that we’re 100 percent vegan, about 85 percent organic, and as local as we can get.” Knight has a specific source for shitake mushrooms in Beulah, bread from Pensacola, coffee roasted in Santa Rosa Beach, and the organic produce the restaurant buys is regional. “If I have to get something from a distributor, I ask where it’s from.”

Farmers from Palafox Market often stop by the restaurant on Saturday afternoons to sell their remaining product. Knight talks to farmers when buying, asks what else they have, and what else they can grow. “I’m constantly changing the menu, we’re constantly running specials,” putting Knight in an ideal position to integrate what’s seasonally available.

“Luckily we have two meals a week that the menu changes for every week—the Sunday Brunch and Thursday Dinner—and I can do that with some oddball vegetables that we have.” Knight also does catering and personal chef work, which are also locally sourced and/or organic. “We don’t even advertise it anymore, that it’s local … at this point, it’s second nature to us.”

End of the Line is also a hub for local music, artists, non-profits and community groups. Knight says she even gives kitchen scraps to a local community gardener who composts them, “We’re keeping our dirt local, too.”

In August, Knight is offering a cooking class—a regular event that always utilizes seasonal produce—that she’s calling a “local vegan challenge,” showing customers how to cook vegan dishes with exclusively locally-sourced ingredients, and challenging them to put together one meal a month using all local ingredients.

“My class is going to show how easy [cooking local and vegan] is actually—once you put your mind to it and know the resources to look for, where to go—that it’s actually kind of fun and not as hard as you think.”

A New Frontier

It’s fair to say that IRON at Marcus Pointe is distinct among Pensacola restaurants. From the open kitchen itself to the garden located 20 yards from the restaurant’s back door, every aspect of IRON is committed to providing a transparent and informed, yet still relaxed fine dining experience.

“Cooking in New Orleans definitely got me interested in local stuff because their entire restaurant community thrives on it,” said Executive Chef Alex McPhail, who, post-Katrina, helped rebuild and then rose to rank of Sous Chef at Commander’s Palace, and later worked at Restaurant August and The Roosevelt before returning to his native Pensacola.

When conceiving IRON at Marcus Pointe in early 2012, McPhail reconnected with former Pensacola acquaintance Nik McCue, a computer tech turned gardener, after seeing photos of McCue’s home-grown produce on Instagram.

“We decided to take it one step further,” said McPhail. “We had this beautiful piece of property and a lot of talented people on our team.”  McPhail cites John Besh’s La Provence outside of New Orleans as an inspiration for setting up a kitchen garden for the restaurant. “We never anticipated it being what it is now … we were just winging it at that time,” McPhail remembers of their initial crop.

“We focus on show ingredients, the inspirational and main ingredients,” said McCue of the IRON garden’s staple items, which include heirloom tomatoes, greens, carrots, herbs, and edible flowers among others.

McCue plants on a carefully planned schedule so harvesting can be staggered based on the kitchen’s supply needs and what’s seasonally possible.

“We do experiment a little bit, and that’s how we get things that are unique in this area,” McCue says of the crops, some of which are so unique—like purple carrots—they would be cost-prohibitive to obtain elsewhere. “It becomes impossible to offer some of those cool things unless you do it yourself.”

The restaurant’s successful first year has shown that customers are excited by the flavorful produce and being able to literally see from their tables where much of what is on their plates was harvested.

McPhail estimates that 80 percent of the produce used is local or grown on property and 50 percent of meats are local, including seafood. Though not all items are supplied from their garden, “We’re constantly talking to providers about where the produce, goods come from,” said McPhail.

Through IRON, McPhail hopes to increase awareness of seasonal and fresh eating and eventually reverse the decades-long trend of reliance on grocery stores and corporate chain restaurants. “What Besh did for New Orleans is what I want to do for Pensacola. Just supply Pensacola with the best local food, flavor, recipe, technique that we can possibly do.”

Now in its second year, the restaurant itself recently expanded and will soon be up to 70 seats. IRON remains dynamic, and according to McCue, “It’s tough to do something new, it takes a little bit of extra work, but it’s been incredibly worth it thus far.”

Celebration on the Square

You’ve probably never heard someone use the word “celebrate” with as much earnest resolution as when you hear Chef Irv Miller describe how he utilizes the products of local farmers and fishermen at Jackson’s Steakhouse.

As the restaurant’s founding executive chef, Miller made a conscious decision to utilize whatever local ingredients were available to him when he opened Jackson’s in 1999.

“When we talk about locally sourced or locally farmed ingredients, it’s fair to say that I’ve been doing that since I’ve been on the coast, so that would go back to three decades ago,” said Miller.

Having lived and worked in the Destin area since the early 1980s, Miller was familiar with the seafood and produce available on the Gulf Coast, but was initially challenged in sourcing enough produce for Jackson’s.

“Produce has taken off in the last decade or so,” says Miller who is now able to feature dishes built entirely around locally available vegetables. “The Seasonal Gulf Coast Farmland Salad is a celebration of everything that’s in season from Creole tomatoes and field peas, zucchini and squash, to Craine Creek greens.”

Miller even has a salad named for Tomato Joe, the farmer who provides tomatoes to his restaurant and to the Fish House.

Though not a complete farm-to-table restaurant, Miller maintains strong relationships with a number of farmers, communicating with them about what’s possible for them to grow and for him to use. “I’m of the school that says, ‘You tell me what you’ve got and I’ll make sure I use it on my menu.’”

The staff meet regularly to discuss ingredients and, according to Miller, to have “conversations about things that we use. It’s an ongoing effort to educate the customer as much as possible without intimidation about food and where it’s from.”

“There’s an awareness now amongst chefs and the community about locally sourced ingredients—finally people care about where their food is coming from,” said Miller, who is a board member of the newly launched Slow Food Gulf Coast chapter. “I’m so proud to be amongst everything that’s going on here.”

All of Jackson’s seafood is local except for salmon, and much of it is purchased from Maria’s Seafood where Miller can get information about sourcing if a fish was not caught in the Gulf. Some of the restaurant’s chickens are raised in Molino, as well as some lamb, pork and eggs. Miller, like other chefs, does have to go out of area for some items—such as berries—when they are out of season.

“We try to do our part in the sustainable food movement,” said Miller. “I think it’s here to stay. I’ve watched it come and go too many times, but this time it feels like all the young chefs are trying to create names for themselves, and they’re trying to be at the forefront of their game by supporting and using local ingredients, which I think is wonderful.”

Locally ‘Global’ Goodness

Chef Frank Taylor has been in business for almost 10 years on Palafox Street. In that span of time, Global Grill has become a fine dining favorite and source of local foodie pride.

The breadth of offerings—Global remains one of the only restaurants in town with an actual tapas menu—and rotation of specials reflect Taylor’s mission to connect with as many food producers as possible and create dishes that represent what is possible when farmer and chef or farmer and fisherman are communicating regularly.

About four years ago, Taylor says he began increasing the amount of produce he purchased from local farmers. “At first it was kind of hard going getting enough farmers to grow enough for the restaurant, but we’ve got about four or five now that produce enough where we can say we’re almost sustainable with local stuff.”

About three times a year, the farmers Taylor works with the most come to discuss what they can possibly grow and what he’d like to try in the restaurant. “They want to see what grows around here, too and I want to see if I can use it. That’s the fun thing about working with farmers,” said Taylor. Last winter, they tried fava beans, one of several types of beans Taylor also experiments with in his home garden.

“When Coldwater Gardens first came to me they had a handful of stuff, now they have enough they can produce for other restaurants, too,” Taylor said of one of his primary produce suppliers. Global still obtains all of its lettuces and herbs from Coldwater during the winter. During the summer, Taylor estimates 50 percent of his produce—namely zucchini, eggplant, herbs, heirloom tomatoes, Elderberry flowers, herbs and shitake mushrooms—come from Coldwater Gardens.

The rest come from smaller farms from which Taylor regularly sources as well as growers who come to the restaurant to connect with the chef, such as one farmer who regularly drops off chanterelle mushrooms. Taylor is also able to obtain quail eggs, duck and pig, some rabbits from regional specialty farms.

“Now we’re getting enough variety and enough volume that we can actually write our whole menu around it mostly,” said Taylor, who says the restaurant’s supply varies from between 50 and 75 percent locally produced. “We do the best we can with the volume.”

As for seafood, Taylor—an avid fisherman himself said, “We’re on the Gulf Coast, so fish is not a problem. That’s the easy part.” Aware of what fish are running, Taylor communicates with seafood purveyors as he does with farmers. “I have about two commercial fishermen that fish directly for me and then I use Maria’s a lot.”

Even though he has set relationships for food sourcing, Taylor says he still likes to check out the farmers markets to see what varieties people are producing. “You’ll find a couple farmers out there that really have some cool stuff growing.”

Like other chefs, Taylor strives to be as close to farm to table as he can, but notes it’s difficult to source everything he needs for every service exclusively from within 200 miles of the city. “We’re a little behind; we’re not New York, we’re not California, but we’re definitely getting there.”

Friend of the Farmer

Carmen’s Lunch Bar chef and owner MariCarmen Josephs is as enthusiastic about her ingredients as any foodie could probably be.

Josephs made a pledge when she opened Carmen’s eight months ago that she would shop the Palafox Market every Saturday; in the ensuing months, she says she has only missed one Saturday. “It’s gotten so fun and exciting that I have to allow about two hours,” Josephs said of her weekly shopping trip, “because I really have a lot of conversations with the farmers.”

Josephs creates specials—soups, salads, and desserts—often for the whole week based on what she gets at the market, “Basically, they show me what they have and I create a dish around it.”

“One of the most exciting things is seeing how excited the farmers are when they’re able to grow something that’s put to good use,” said Josephs, who even photographs dishes and takes her camera to show individual farmers what she makes with the items they sold to her. Josephs also uses Facebook to present her dishes and ingredients, and tags farmers when possible.

Initially skeptical that she would be able to source so much locally, Josephs said that buying seasonal, locally produced ingredients, “Really makes it exciting for me, too, because it keeps me inspired.”

Josephs also works with Flora Bama Farms for some items, and directly with others like Coldwater Gardens and Stewart Farms. “I never pretend to say that everything in here is local and that we buy only local produce, I just buy what I can,” said Josephs. “Why create a special around an ingredient that isn’t fresh, seasonal, or local?”

Carmen’s Spanish Lump Crab Melt-Open Face is a customer favorite, and Josephs said the staff at Joe Patti’s knows when they see her coming to start bagging up whatever Alabama crab they have, “I, whenever possible, buy the Alabama crab, it’s absolutely by far the best.” In addition to produce and seafood, Josephs also uses local honey suppliers as well as C&D Grits.

One unique aspect of Carmen’s is the range of gluten free option the restaurant offers. Gluten-free for eight years herself, Josephs is able to use local produce in many gluten free dishes such as a local blueberry gluten-free tart dessert special.

In the cases Josephs can’t use all of a farmer’s offerings, she is happy to recommend them to other chefs. “Our community is really all about helping each other out … a real cooperative environment.” Most recently, she referred a blackberry farmer with an overabundance of berries to Flora Bama, and also to Jaco’s; as a customer of theirs, she knew they have a blackberry mojito on special.

By maintaining a collaborative spirit, Josephs hopes to perpetuate the growing farm-to-table movement in Pensacola, “The more you build these relationships with the farmers, the more they’re able to grow things to suit our needs.”

Fresh Air, Fresher Food

Al Fresco, Pensacola’s food truck haven, has opened in stages over the past several months. Despite the summer heat—and probably due to the umbrellas and mister system that cools things down a bit—the open-air eatery is usually full of diners. A few of the trucks are already interested in revamping and localizing their menus and have turned to local chef Amber Solnick Rushing for guidance.

Solnick recently opened Gourmand Pro Consulting, a business in which she offers restaurants restructuring, training, pricing, sourcing, and menu development solutions. Having put together menus for weekly Lee House dinners and special events, Solnick is versed in buying local and seasonal for this region.

Greenhouse at Al Fresco is already implementing local sourcing practices, buying ingredients from Wendt Family Farms and the market outside of Joe Patti’s Seafood.  “All of our olive oil and vinegars to make our vinaigrettes come from Bodacious Olive,” said Solnick, adding, “We’re trying to transition to getting hopefully all of our produce that we don’t already get from the farmers from Flora Bama. We’re working on that right now.”

Gouda Stuff will be the next truck to receive menu-revamping guidance from Gourmand. “I’m definitely going to be working to try and get more and more local stuff on the menu,” said Solnick.

Already looking a few seasons ahead, Solnick is also working with Greenhouse to conceive new ways to utilize their fresh juice press. “When citrus season happens this winter, we’re going to have freshly pressed juice.” Currently for summer, Solnick is retooling the truck’s fresh lemonade, “That’s what we’re going to be working on this week, adding a ginger lemonade, a lavender lemonade, and a non-alcoholic mojito to the menu.”

As a working chef, Solnick tries to go to Palafox Market every week, “I do try to go and chat with people, and go out to farms, too.”

The health benefits of eating local, seasonal produce is an important aspect of keeping food fresh for Solnick, who studied macrobiotics and learned, “Basically, food that’s grown around you is healthier for you because you’re in the same environment. You’re inhaling the same pollen as the food that you’re eating, so your body is already hardwired [to accept it].”

As for the Lee House dinners, Solnick practices the principles she implements through Gourmand. The menus change weekly, “but we still try to get as many things as we can from the farmer’s market. We’ll even go out to Bien Dong [Oriental Market]. They’ve got really cool things out there, things you’d never see at the farmer’s market because nobody knows what it is.”

Through her work at the Lee House, Solnick has seen that most customers are excited about eating local and when slight changes to advertised menus occur due to what products are freshest, “Nobody seems to mind so far. I think they like it.” It’s that kind of customer experience and satisfaction Solnick hopes to duplicate at Al Fresco, and anywhere else that summons up Gourmand’s services.

Dockside Downtown

As far as Pensacola eateries go, the Fish House is a go-to location to impress out of town guests and/or or to enjoy a meal right on the bay. Maria Goldberg, director of marketing for the Great Southern Restaurant Group, says that using local ingredients has been part of the Fish House’s operations for quite some time.

“First and foremost, we’re a local restaurant. We’re firm believers in supporting our local community be it our local farmers or local nonprofits,” Goldberg points out, adding one of every diner’s favorite aspects of buying local:  “Plus, it tastes wonderful to boot.”

Aside from providing a unique backdrop for dining, the docks and marina at the Fish House serve an important purpose for ingredient sourcing as well. The Fish House has a license to purchase seafood from boats at their docks enabling the restaurant is to obtain and prepare fresh seafood from the Gulf only hours after it is caught.

“It’s a great thing to offer, because it’s right here in our back yard,” said Goldberg. “There is nothing like having fresh cobia grilled up to perfection, and knowing that it just came out of the water that day—nothing like it.” When demand surpasses supply from their docks, the restaurant does turn to popular local seafood purveyors Maria’s and Joe Patti’s to supplement their offerings.

In addition to fresh local seafood, the Fish House has also has a long-standing relationship with Renfroe Pecans, whose crop the restaurant utilizes for pecan-crusted fish dishes, on salads, and in sauces. The Fish House also uses C&D Grits, as does sister restaurant Jackson’s, and sell the grits—the centerpiece of Grits a Ya Ya, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes—at the Fish House Gift Store. “They fly off the shelves,” said Goldberg.

“There is a man known as Tomato Joe who handpicks tomatoes and brings them to us. We use those for salads, entrees,” said Goldberg of a figure who is almost legendary within the Great Southern Restaurant Group. “It’s a wonderful thing to have.” For other produce, the Fish House utilizes Flora Bama Farms, whose owner Sandy Veilleux is also the restaurant’s assistant pastry chef.

Across the board, the Fish House and its chefs believe in the virtue of buying fresh and local and will continue to do so, according to Goldberg, “Anytime we can use what our community brings to us, we will put in on the table.”

Type of Change

When asked what his signature dish is, Chef Blake Rushing gives an answer that is telling of an almost compulsive urge to create new ingredient medleys, “I think that my signature dish is ‘Everything is always different.’ I don’t like cooking the same thing over and over.”

At the end of July, Rushing will open Type by Chef Blake Rushing at Duh. “Basically, we’re going to have five signature dishes that are always on the menu and the rest of the menu is going to change every week,” said Rushing. “So three starters, three mains, and three desserts that all change every week with the seasons and using as much local produce, fish, meats, and poultry as possible.”

The name “Type” is a play on Rushing’s aim to feature a different type of menu every week that shows off his self-identified New American/Modern American, Asian, and French influences. “It will be my style of cuisine with all different flavors,” said Rushing. “I think that is my favorite thing:  Super fresh, simple flavors.”

Type will be open Monday through Friday for dinner. Rushing has a split lease for the space inside of Duh with Norma’s, which will serve lunch during the day. Rushing explained, “We’re joking we should call it ‘Norma by Day, Blake by Night.”

Rushing currently works at Lee House, putting together the weekly Gourmet Buffet for Evenings in Olde Seville Square on Thursdays as well as working on banquet and special event menus. The chef says he currently uses Joe Patti’s seafood almost exclusively and Green Acres Farms for pigs and beef, which he will continue, along with locally grown produce sourcing. “I’ll keep using it as much as I can, if not more, especially with the changing menu. As produce, new stuff is available every week and coming into season, it works out perfectly,” said Rushing.

“I’ve always read that items from within 100 miles are better for you,” Rushing says of his reasoning for buying local. “The more local stuff you can eat the better.”

“If it’s something special and local, we definitely put the name of the farm, where it’s from [on the menu] for sure,” said Rushing of both regular dinners and special event menus. Rushing has learned that customers at Lee House respond well to seeing local items listed on menus, and dinners put together using exclusively locally sourced ingredients typically sell out. “People really liked it,” he said. “They all want to know where it’s from.”

As a food enthusiast himself, Rushing agrees with his customers’ feelings about eating local:  “It’s so much nicer. It just tastes better.”

Laid Back Local

The Leisure Club (TLC) has possibly one of the most self-descriptive restaurant names in Pensacola. The ambiance aside, however, the management and new chef are anything but leisurely about sourcing fresh, local, and craft food items for the restaurant’s food and beverage menus.

Matt Barnhill, manager and barista at TLC, listed numerous ingredients the restaurant sources locally and some just barely outside of the 200-mile local cutoff.

“All of our produce comes from Flora Bama Farms as well as Ocheesee Creamery milk, yogurt, and butter, which comes from Blountstown,” said Barnhill. The Ocheesee milk goes into not only the coffee bar’s numerous drink offerings, but into the pastries made in house as well.

The restaurant buys cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Ga. and also purchases its small-batch, craft ice cream from a creamery in Atlanta.

To supplement produce purchases, Barnhill said—referring to new Chef Lindy Howell –“Our chef Lindy sometimes brings stuff from her garden. It’s not exclusively, but sometimes she uses basil or tomatoes she’s grown.”

In the future, Barnhill plans to add more locally sourced ingredients and regional beers. “We’re definitely pushing local, trying to get more and more, I was just thinking about it yesterday,” he said.

Upcoming changes to the menu are also in order. According to Barnhill, “Soon we’re going to be adding more salads, fresh items.” With a new chef and an existing dedication to quality ingredients, it will be worth continued visits to TLC over the summer to see what changes are in store.

One Stop Shop

Situated on Ninth Avenue, the East Hill Market is a hybrid of sorts. A combination restaurant and market, Owner Susan Countryman has operated out of the building, a renovated auto garage turned bike shop turned foodie haven, for two years and eight months.

“I buy for the market and use it in the kitchen or vice versa. Not to sound cheesy, but I cook what needs cooking,” said Countryman.

The café offers a wide variety of soups, salads, sandwiches and heartier entrees—like the meatballs one customer was raving about on a recent Saturday afternoon—in an eclectic and warm setting.

Countryman likes the challenge of adapting the menu based on what is in season. “It helps me to rotate,” she said. “I cook seasonally and usually I change the menu based on what’s available.”

As the head of the family run operation, Countryman says she buys some produce from Flora Bama Farms, but also gets a lot of items from farmers who walk in, “I’m so busy here all day, every day that unless they come through my door I can’t, as of yet, venture out to get things.”

A dedication to regional ingredients and products is evident when browsing the market’s offerings; it is also evident when Countryman begins listing off where from she sources her various ingredients:  Watermelon from Tallahassee, corn from Alabama, peaches from Chilton County, local berries, and seafood from Maria’s and Joe Patti’s.

“I use Shore Acres Plant Farm for Poinsettias—they’re near Bellingrath Gardens—and some fresh herbs and flowers,” offerings that Countryman would like to expand in the future.

Countryman also sells multiple products available at Palafox Market, including Keen’s Beans Coffee and Farm Girl’s raw milk, cream, and kefir, jams. Other locally produced items include Yummy Cheese Straws made on the beach, Ladybird’s Hot Sauce and Kitrell’s Honey. For a meal or a stop to pick up something you forgot to get at the market on Saturday, remember East Hill Market, a locals’ spot providing local goods.

Bayfront Fresh

Executive Chef Tricia Horton has been creating dishes at Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille for the past three years.

Known for its excellent views of the bay, Horton aims to create dishes at Jaco’s that are as colorful as the sunsets that diners take in at its South Palafox location.

“We use produce daily, and usually use up what we order that day,” said Horton who lists tomatoes, berries, corn and chanterelle mushrooms as the most common ingredients sourced during the spring and early summer months.

Of the produce used at Jaco’s, Horton estimates between 75 and 80 percent is locally grown. The restaurant buys from a combination of Flora Bama Farms, Joe Patti’s, Maria’s and individual growers. “We have farmers who come in,” said Horton. “We often buy product and find a way to use it in the menu.”

“Depending on what the farmers have in season affects what our special is going to be that month,” said Horton, who also enjoys the changes in cooking technique that accompany seasonal ingredient preparation. “More fall and winter dishes involve more braising and stewing, long cooking processes where the summer is kind of a quick grill or sauté; real light, fresh flavors. You want your produce to stand out more because it’s not being cooked.”

“In summer, you don’t want to use heavy cooking techniques. You really rely on fresh, tasty ingredients to brighten up dishes,” said Horton, whose menu of salads, flatbreads, starter courses, and entrees utilizes a number of ingredients that are grown locally each season.

Like other chefs, if a particular ingredient is not in season locally, Horton buys from the freshest source possible. Horton avoids buying produce or items that travel great distances from farm to restaurant, as experience has taught her, “You definitely lose flavor, essence. There’s nothing like something that’s coming right off the farm. There’s definitely more flavor there.”

Seafood Centric

As one of the Grand Marlin’s operating partners, Chef Gregg McCarthy has been with the Pensacola Beach restaurant—which opened in March 2010—since its inception.

With a style McCarthy identifies as “Local Gulf Coast Seafood with a New Orleans-meets-the-Caribbean theme,” Grand Marlin serves a variety of fresh seafood, the origins of which are clearly identified on the menu. “I really concentrate my efforts on the freshest seafood available,” said the chef.

“I try to change a lot of the menu with the seasons. It’s very important to only have on your menu what’s in season, because then it’s fresh,” explained McCarthy.

Though some of the seafood is sourced from New England or the Carolinas, much of it comes from the Gulf Coast. “I kind of encompass the whole Gulf region as being local,” he said of seafood. He uses purveyors from Alabama to Apalachicola, and some in Louisiana to supply the restaurant.

Working with local produce companies, he noted, “I actually have a farmer that grows produce for us directly, he only deals with us—that’s all organic produce.” McCarthy also buys from Flora Bama Farms, and the restaurant’s menu currently features a Gulf Breeze Gardens Farmhouse Salad.

“For a general sense of community, I think it’s very important to buy local as much as possible,” said McCarthy. “This is our area, we need to keep it surviving and thriving. For the fishermen, I want to do my part to keep these guys in business.”

McCarthy has found that the Grand Marlin’s customers recognize and appreciate the quality of his ingredients. “People really enjoy knowing that its fresh seafood, people keep saying, ‘Don’t change,’” he said. “Finally, we have a place they can come and although we offer some fried food, they can get fresh grilled or pan seared seafood, we’ve had a great response to that.”

Fresh At The Yard

As one of the most spatially unique dining venues in Pensacola, the East Hill Yard is also striving to be as fresh through the ingredients it uses as it is in its dining approach.

The laid back atmosphere allows diners to choose a table from large indoor and outdoor seating areas; outdoor seats often come with the added benefit of live music on the restaurant’s outdoor stage. Diners are also free to wander in to the drink room at their leisure, where they can place an order from the Yard’s South American-inspired menu.

Executive Chef Jason Norris began using Flora Bama Farms to supply produce for the restaurant not long after he came on board at the Yard in early 2013. “The regular menu stays the same, but special items change depending on seasonal availability,” said Norris, who has previously worked at the Fish House and East Hill Market.

Norris is currently utilizing zucchini, tomatoes, avocados, and lettuce among other items that come fresh via Flora Bama Farms. The ingredients find a home in regular menu items such as tamales and fresh salsa, and in dishes that cater from vegans to meat and cheese enthusiasts.

The seasonal ingredients Norris has access to inspire changes to specials. “Right now, we have a summer vegetable soup, and I try to keep fresh fruits in all of the desserts,” said Norris, who recently had a very tasty Strawberry Shortcake on special using the season’s last strawberries. Diners can probably anticipate some blueberry special desserts in the coming months, and fresh takes on whatever else the local produce purveyors can provide.