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Friday April 18th 2014

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Best of the Coast ’13: Eat

Breath of Fresh Air
Since its opening in early 2013, Al Fresco quickly became a popular downtown dining experience. Five Airstream trailers offer a range of culinary options from barbeque to smoothies, and the adjoining building houses Jerry’s Cajun Café, brought back to life in a new location. “We see a lot of families with young children and dog lovers all enjoying what Pensacola has to offer,” said Michael Carro, owner of Al Fresco. Thanks to a misting system and umbrellas, the heat of summer didn’t slow down business at the downtown “oasis.” Instead, Al Fresco was consistently crowded, a popular stop for those attending events at the Community Maritime Park or looking for a change of dining pace. “We are definitely surprised at how well the evenings and weekends are attended and have incorporated numerous musicians to entertain the crowds. People seem to love the comfortable outdoor feel that comes with dining al fresco,” said Carro. Currently, the Al Fresco team is developing a delivery system for all five restaurants and has plans to construct a covered patio with ceiling fans designed to accommodate 60 people, to keep things fresh and improving during their first year. 501 S. Palafox, eatalfresco.com

Egg-ceptional
With its homey décor, welcoming coffee bar, and hearty fare, Pensacola’s Another Broken Egg Café has become a breakfast favorite since it opened in January 2012. “The reputation was already earned by other ABE’s in this area. It was our task to live up to and promote the concept in the Pensacola area,” said owner Homer Biggs. “Fresh food, exceptionally well prepared, exemplary service, in a clean and pleasant environment and reasonably priced seems to catch on anywhere.” After moving to Pensacola from Texas 10 years ago, Homer and his wife Linda—who co-owns the restaurant—visited the Destin location monthly, and befriended the owners Tommy and Marcia Green. “We pestered them to put one here in Pensacola until finally they told us they had one, and if I thought it was such a good idea, why didn’t we do it?” After talking about it into the wee hours of the morning, the couple decided they should try their hand at the breakfast business. They seem to appreciate the restaurant as much as its multitude of customers, according to Biggs, “We really enjoy what we do.” 721 E. Gregory St., anotherbrokenegg.com/pensacola_fl

Antioxidant Corner
Behind door number one we have The 
Bodacious Olive, home to artisanal olive oils for the sampling and purchasing, gift items and more. Just to the right, behind door number two we have The Bodacious Brew, where smiling baristas can be found slinging espresso, serving up Handsome Coffee Roasters coffee, and steeping loose leaf teas galore. Together we have an unparalleled Bodacious cornerstone experience—and a healthy one at that. “We are the corner of antioxidants—olive oil, coffee and tea,” said owner Rishy Studer. Rather than simply acting as a shopping destination, Studer has created an entire experience for her patrons. “I like the idea that it flows—so it creates a total experience,” she said. Not only does this experience overflow to the outdoor bistro tables where bodacious customers can be found indulging on a bodacious breakfast, it continues to overflow into the upstairs area that is expanding to serve as a kitchen store and home to cooking classes. In addition to drawing in a loyal following of regulars, both Bodacious locales are creating a buzz amongst tourists. “We’re becoming a sightseeing stop,” said Studer.  407 C & D, S. Palafox, bodaciousolive.com

Authentically Meaty
You don’t have to wait until holiday time to bite down on a delicious bird. Just give Cajun Specialty Meats a call. 
“Our Turduckens are available year round. The great thing about this versatile bird is that it is appropriate for any special occasion. Not just the holidays,” said Carl Broussard, one half of the brother duo that owns and operates Cajun Specialty Meats. When they’re not shipping Turduckens all over the country, the brothers can be found serving up Cajun delights from their lunch counter—everything from gumbo to their signature po-boys and of course—the Sloppy Broussard. Seriously, can a recipe get any more legit than being authentic third generation handed down from the Broussard’s grandfather? Probably not. And then there’s the bread that their fresh, authentic dishes are served with, or in the case of the po-boys—served on. “I know everyone thinks a po-boy has to be on Gambino’s bread, but I invite you to try ours and let me know what you think,” said Broussard. No matter what you pick to indulge upon, it’s sure leave you fully satisfied. Word on the street is they are undergoing a rebranding of sorts, expanding their restaurant operations, and will even be working to develop a full dinner menu in the next month or so. 690 E. Heinberg St., cajunspecialtymeats.com

Cozy Carmen’s
Carmen’s Lunch Bar has only been open for a year and yet specialties such as Carmen’s Soda Bread and Open-Face Spanish Crab Melt—not to mention the restaurant’s cozy atmosphere—feel so familiar. “Pensacola has been incredibly receptive,” said owner and chef, MariCarmen Josephs. “People often comment on how warm and cozy the bar feels, and they love the international menu that introduces them to new flavors.” The restaurant has an emphasis on delicious food made from fresh ingredients. Some even come from Palafox Market, which is a regular grocery stop for produce. “What I believe in is real food—staying away from processed foods as much as possible and making things from scratch,” Josephs said. Carmen’s also provides diners with menu options to satisfy any dietary needs with vegetarian, vegan and gluten free dishes. Adding to the restaurant’s coziness is Joseph’s love of making soup. “This is where local produce meets my spontaneity in the kitchen,” she said. “I am always experimenting with new flavor combinations.” When you visit Carmen’s be sure to leave room for dessert. Specialties such as Crustless Lemon Cheesecake and Warm Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Icing sell out quickly. 407-B S. Palafox, carmenslunchbar.com

Something Special on the Square
Known for its sushi bar, creative coastal-inspired dishes, and unduplicated ambiance, Dharma Blue has been a signature downtown establishment for quite a while. “I think Dharma Blue is unique, a place like no other,” said General Manager Robin Kennedy. A popular spot for first dates, Kennedy says the staff frequently sees couples getting to know one another over the restaurant’s many small tables. “It’s very quaint and often quiet,” Kennedy said. “People seem to enjoy being here and feel at home here.” The interior has always been as interesting as the views from the porch and sidewalk seating areas overlooking Seville Square, but Dharma Blue recently made a few small changes. During a September renovation, the restaurant changed interior paint colors, brought in new chandeliers, and rearranged the artwork, one of the restaurant’s décor trademarks. “It’s kind of a whole new feel,” Kennedy said, “but we’re still Dharma Blue.”  300 S. Alcaniz St., dharmablue.com

Something Sweet
“We make fresh, small, all natural batches daily with no preservatives,” said Marie Mayeur when explaining what makes her shop Dolce unique.  Aside from gelato, Dolce also offers a selection of beverages from its full coffee bar, dairy-free frozen treat options and, often, an assortment of truffles and other small sweet treats. Located in Historic Pensacola Village, Dolce provides a prime venue to enjoy original flavors. “Some of our unique concoctions include Pear with Blue Cheese, Caramel and Walnuts, Thai Stick—coconut milk spiced up with ginger, lemon grass and green chili or maybe a Dark Chocolate Porter Sorbet featuring Pensacola Bay Brewery Porter beer,” said Mayeur. “What makes me happiest at Dolce is bearing witness to the ebb and flow of the historic district neighborhood—welcoming new citizens to Pensacola, watching couples get engaged, dance recital celebrations and many more micro-dramas of Pensacola life,” said Mayeur. “Dolce is their perfect setting to share sweet moments! It’s a new Pensacola tradition.” 221 E. Zaragoza St., dolcepensacola.com

Bring it on Down to Veganville
Multi-course weekly spectaculars, tempeh anyway you could dream it up, made to order cashew cheese to take home with you—and that’s only the half of it. Over the course of the past decade, Jen Knight-Shoemaker, owner of End of the Line Café has transformed her coffee shop into a full-fledged, bright, shining, organic, locally-sourced, powerhouse of a vegan restaurant, coffee bar and art space. Yes, it really is quite a mouthful! And a tasty one at that. For the café’s Sunday brunch and Thursday night set menu ensembles, you can spot Knight-Shoemaker scurrying around behind the counter plating plate after plate of signature dishes to serve to a packed house of eager stomachs of all ages. “I try to create menus with a combination of what’s in season and what compliments the season,” she said. “International foods, comfort foods and spices that consider weather and nostalgia.” Speaking of changing with the seasons, be on the lookout for what Knight-Shoemaker notes as exciting changes on the horizon. Plus she plans to roll out more cooking classes, including Vegan Holiday Fare, desserts, and even one for the kids. 610 E. Wright St., eotlcafe.com

Good Grits
Good grits is no joke. In fact, it’s the foundational element of one of the The Fish House’s all-star, world famous dishes—one that will leave you saying “Ya Ya.” “When we first opened, Chef Jim Shirley’s goal was to use the freshest local ingredients and to provide the best dining experience possible to locals and people traveling through town. That’s still our goal today,” said owner of Great Southern Restaurant Group Collier Merrill. The Fish House is equally dedicated to serving up mouthwatering local seafood, and keeping their Deck Bar bustling with non-stop entertainment, so guests of all ages can come for the food, and stay for the experience. “We want everyone who comes through to be glad they chose us,” said Merrill. Not only does The Fish House get love from its customers, it receives just as loud of applause from its employees for being a great place to work. And it starts from the top down, with Merrill himself. “We treat everyone with respect and everyone enjoys being a part of the team,” he said. “We want people to enjoy their job. That’s what resonates with the public and that’s what helps provide great service.” 600 S. Barracks St., fishhouse.goodgrits.com

A Global Empire
The Global Grill has created an empire—led by husband and wife, Jane and Frank Taylor. Like any good empire, the establishment is culturally distinct, boasting an ambiance that Jane describes as “upscale dining with a friendly atmosphere.” Much of this ambiance is cultivated by stellar staff. “We have a great morale amongst all of our service staff,” she said. “They are knowledgeable about the menu and we like for each of them to let their personalities show through.” This includes waitress Libby Castellani. “Libby has been here for years. She started out as a hostess. She is just always on—knowledgeable, friendly, attentive to detail and she makes everyone have a great dining experience,” said Jane. Beyond the ambiance and the all-star service, the experience begins in the kitchen. Between mind-blowing original dishes like bacon-wrapped lobster tails, and seasonal heirloom salads, this is where magic happens at the hands of Frank Taylor. “To me it’s all about Frank’s innovative and exciting food. Not only does the food look beautiful, but it also tastes great. It all starts and ends there—everything else in between helps,” said Jane. Speaking of in between, one can’t forget to give a shout out to the bar and sip down a martini while at Global. It’s only fitting.  27 S. Palafox, dineglobalgrill.com

Hop Up, Drink Down
When it comes to Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen & Taproom, what’s not to holler about? “Hopjacks is a great mix of hot pizza, cold beer, and cool music. We embrace all types of people from ‘ties to tattoos,’” said owner, Joe Abston. “We have a huge draft beer menu that keeps a mix of beers that you love and will always be available, but we still rotate many of our handles to keep things fresh with new beer.” While beer may be their game and you can count on Hopjacks to be the first to bring new beer to your belly, pizza remains a deeply rooted part of their name. “We have added new flatbreads to our amazing pizza lineup,” said Abston. “And let’s not forget about the Belgian Fries. ‘Duck fries with crack sauce’ have been a staple in Pensacola for nearly six years with almost 3,000 pounds of potatoes a week sold between all of our stores.” While downtown may serve as grand central station, these stores Abston refers to include the bustling 9 Mile Road location that keeps the North end of town and college students hopped up and happy, and the Filling Station in East Pensacola Heights, where neighborhood regulars can be found washing down their fries with bottled craft beer. 10 S. Palafox, hopjacks.com

Landmark Feasting
Don’t let the term “steakhouse” fool you. Between standout culinary craftsmanship, a superstar wait staff and ambiance that rivals big city bistros, an unparalleled dining experience awaits you at Jackson’s Steakhouse, all the way from the start to finish, beginning in the kitchen with Chef Irv Miller. “A vast amount of well-rounded industry experience enables me to draw from historical and current food trends. This permits me to articulate and demonstrate both quick-fire and well planned dishes and menus,” said Miller. Not only are the menus always one step ahead, they shift with the seasons. Jackson’s fall menu comes to your table this month. Still, Miller affirms, it’s not a one-man show. “Most important to me is my team, a talented family that I work closely with at Jackson’s,” he said. “I admit I encourage them to be on their best game every day in order for me to be able to bring my very best to the table.” Serving these fine plated dishes are stellar servers, such as Scott Miller. “Scott is a professional server with a passion for food and wine,” said General Manager Steve Ooms. “His knowledge and expertise will ensure that you experience the perfect meal.” 400 S. Palafox, jacksons.goodgrits.com

A Table with a View
At the end of Palafox Wharf, locals and visitors alike have discovered Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille to be one of the best places in town to sit and take in a sunset, and perhaps a hand muddled fresh fruit mojito. Chef Tricia Horton’s modern menu of Italian and Mediterranean inspired culinary creations have also added to Jaco’s popularity. “Tricia does such a great job at combining and creating flavors that those always seem to be a unique hit,” said General Manager David Hambrick, who stated that the restaurant’s signature flatbreads, the ahi tuna with the tempura vegetables, and glazed salmon salad are among the most popular. “We like to introduce a new wine special each month and have been very lucky to have some unique limited release wines that people seem to love,” said Hambrick, adding that Jaco’s multiple Best of the Coast nods indicate that they’re on the right track. “It sounds like we are in line with the experience we want to create,” said Hambrick. “We can always do better and improve.” 997 S. Palafox, jacosbayfrontbarandgrille.com

Leisure In A Cup
If there’s one thing The Leisure Club is passionate about, it’s their coffee. “We are passionate about pouring the best cup of coffee in Pensacola.  It’s rewarding to see this goal being accomplished every day and still resonating with our customers three years later,” said owner Denise Berry. The coffee starts all the way back at the beans, directly sourced from farms around the world, and culminates with final execution, that is, the TLC they put into each and every cup of freshly roasted Intelligensia, prepared using the finest hand brewing techniques. As an added, homegrown element, The Leisure Club offers locally sourced dairy and honey to compliment your coffee. Guests may take a cup to go, or sit and enjoy the retro-modern, inviting ambiance. “We want great coffee to be respected, yet approachable and always fun to explore at our coffee bar,” said Berry. “The inspiration behind our business name is centered on the concept of ‘leisure,’ which can often be missing in our fast-paced, techno culture. We want to be a space for people to unwind, relax, connect, and enjoy themselves. And return often.” 126 S. Palafox, tlcdowntown.com

Neighborhood Vibes
Sandwiched between longstanding East Pensacola Heights establishments is a newer kid on the block, The Magnolia. This simple, sweet and southern neighborhood restaurant and bar is the brain child of power-couple Bill Manning, who can typically be found serving up brews on tap to thirsty patrons, and Kiley Bolster who is constantly plating up The Magnolia’s staple sandwiches and surprise desserts. Supported by a couple of amazing staff members they call family, Manning and Bolster thrive on making each person who walks in the front door of The Magnolia feel like they’re at home. “We keep the neighborhood bar vibe alive by truly connecting and getting to know our patrons,” said Bolster. “The majority of our customers are regulars. We see the same lovely faces—and lots of new ones—weekly and look forward to catching up with each individual when they come in.” Still, The Magnolia’s menu gives the top-notch atmosphere a run for its money, satisfying the palates of cheese fanatics and vegetarians alike. “The Magnolia’s menu was inspired by some of the delicious food Bill and I ate while traveling,” said Bolster. “Our daily specials are always inspired by beautiful fresh ingredients.” On top of whipping up specials, The Magnolia also regularly plays host to supper clubs and private events, and has even been spotted hosting a crawfish boil or two. 2907 E. Cervantes St., magnoliapensacola.com

A Sports Fan’s Paradise
No matter what your sport, it’s highly likely that New York Nick’s will be the best place in town to try to catch it on game day. With over 40 televisions, numerous sports packages, a full menu and full bar, Nick’s has all the bases covered. And if sports aren’t your thing, there is plenty of memorabilia at which to stare and plenty of characters to mingle with while your friends and/or significant other is glued to the TVs. And of course there’s people watching along Palafox Street, just outside the bar’s long time downtown location. “The key to NYN’s success is the food that is homemade plus we have the ability to show every sporting event—after all, we are a sports bar,” said owner Nick Zangari. As for future plans, Zangari said the bar will keep on its same, well-loved track: “We’ll keep on keepin’ on!” 911 S. Palafox, newyorknicks.net

Deli Extraordinaire
“The Deli opened its doors in 1991 and our high standards for quality products, ingredients, and service have kept us going strong ever since,” said Renee Nix of the New Yorker Deli & Pizzeria. Known for its wide variety of pizza, calzones, pastas and salads there is something for virtually everyone at the New Yorker. “We have a large menu that offers a wide variety of menu options and our customers really enjoy having so many items to choose from,” said Nix who notes that customer favorites include the deli’s traditional Rueben sandwich, the Twin Towers sandwich, the Chunky Chicken Salad, and the Pasta Rockefeller. “We also serve eight made from scratch soups daily,” said Nix, which makes the New Yorker a popular lunch spot. Getting to know regulars and serving the local community as well as visitors is one of the biggest perks of the business for Nix. “It is also a great privilege to work with the amazing crew we have at the Deli,” she said, “They are the best!” Pensacola seems to agree. 3001 E. Cervantes St., newyorkerdeliandpizzeria.com

Cupcake Nirvana
Sweet addicts rejoice: Oh Snap! Cupcakes is a winner again. “Red Velvet, Dalmatian, Oreo, Strawberry, and Vanilla Lemon are definitely top-sellers every day,” reports co-manager Erin Stevens. “The cupcakes won’t go away—they’re too easy to stop by and pick up as a sweet treat.” Special flavor rotations are regularly scheduled and posted on the shop’s Facebook page. If it isn’t the specified day for your favorite flavor, never fear—with advance notice, the shop is happy to prepare a custom order. As an added bonus, they cater to special needs and even offer cupcakes of the vegan variety. “Everything is homemade and people come back because of the quality,” Stevens believes. “We have a really great team that’s grown into a perfect little machine.” 707 E. Cervantes St., Suite A, ohsnapcupcakes.com

Fine Dining in Flip Flops
Inside a relatively non-descript building under the Perdido Key Bridge, chefs are taking the concept of a nearly-beachside seafood restaurant and bumping it up several notches. “Fisherman’s Corner uses only the highest quality ingredients, fresh Gulf seafood, and prime Angus beef for menu items prepared to order by culinary trained chefs,” said administrative assistant Beth Barrios. “Every dish is made from scratch when it is ordered and our entire menu has a Creole flair.” Just down the block from its sister establishment Perdido Key Seafood, the restaurant serves fresh fish caught daily on their own boats. “The owners’ philosophy for the restaurant is to provide our customers with a fine dining ‘experience’ in a casual atmosphere and wine that compliments and completes any fine meal,” said Barrios. Notably, the restaurant’s wine list earned a 2012 Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator. “Fisherman’s Corner has become the number one seller of premium wines on the Gulf Coast and as such has the opportunity to carry some labels exclusively,” said Barrios. 13486 Perdido Key Drive, fishermanscornerpk.com

Backyard Delights
There’s nothing quite like Southern contemporary cuisine fueled by on-site vegetable and herb gardens from the creative minds of true southerners. Whether you are looking for a gourmet lunch or casual fine dining experience, Restaurant IRON serves up flavor to meet and match all palates. “Our inspiration, that has culminated in Iron, was an overwhelming desire to create unforgettable and intimate dining experiences using a combination of fresh local ingredients, clever twists on southern-inspired cuisine, and diner-centric service,” said chef Alex McPhail. “We’ve ignored the norms and remain focused on top-quality dining experiences in a comfortable and contemporary atmosphere.” From the chefs to the plates, and from the wait staff to your table, this bright and shining star of a new restaurant receives kudos every stop the food makes as it moves from garden to your taste buds. “The garden-fresh ingredients we produce get highlighted in wonderfully imaginative ways,” said McPhail. “While we are only able to produce enough products on-site to elevate our dishes, we are honored to have great and evolving relationships with area farmers.” And there’s more where that came from. “We’re just getting started and we’re excited to continue to innovate.” he said. 2500 Oak Pointe Drive, restaurantiron.com