Pensacola, Florida
Friday October 31st 2014

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Summer Eats: What’s Good There?

with Chef Alex McPhail

Whether you prefer it fried, baked, grilled or all of the above, if you like seafood, you probably love the fact that most of our local restaurants feature at least one seafood dish on their menu. It’s just one of the perks of living in Pensacola. But even though we order seafood regularly, especially the fish tacos at Cactus Flower, we know there’s more out there we aren’t eating enough of. So we recruited local seafood connoisseur and Restaurant IRON Chef Alex McPhail to share some highlights from his dining exploits around town and on the beach. Though he’s touted as a progressive, modern chef, McPhail has a soft spot for the deep-fried Southern classics. Because of that, his recommendations are a perfect mix of old school and new school, complete with fried platters and tempura lobster fingers.  Here are his top picks for the best local seafood “shacks” and why.

Peg Leg Pete’s
When on Pensacola Beach, nearly every local will point you toward Peg Leg’s for an authentic seafood experience. My favorites are the Cajun baked and raw oysters, but they do a good job with all of the seafood dishes I’ve tried. A trip to this affordably priced, iconic restaurant is like the cherry on top of a day at the beach and is worth the occasional long wait to get seated. Plus, the kitchen manager is an old culinary chum of mine.

The Grand Marlin
Another great way to cap off a day at the beach is to swing through The Grand Marlin for some more contemporary and diverse seafood offerings. I appreciate the Pacific Rim-influenced flavors and techniques, and they source some of best quality fish of anyone in the area. I love their grilled fish dishes, and the creative appetizers, like the tempura lobster fingers, are always welcomed at my table. Another spot that you’ll likely have to wait for a table, but the payoff is worth it.

Marina Oyster Barn
One of my favorite neighborhood restaurants has always been the Marina Oyster Barn. But it’s not all about the ‘ol Bayou Texar nostalgia. Some of the best fried shrimp and oysters have been coming out of that little kitchen and into my mouth for decades. Being closed on Sundays and Mondays make it a little tricky to visit for those in the restaurant industry, but I get in when I can.

The Oar House
Another bayou favorite, though this one’s on Bayou Chico, is The Oar House. Perched on the site where our town’s only draw bridge once operated, the setting is great for hanging with friends, enjoying some frosty beers and fish tacos. I’ve also been caught ordering the fried pickles and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Sam’s Seafood
The official winner of my unofficial Captain’s Platter Challenge is (drum roll please): Sam’s Seafood. It may seem like an unlikely place to win such an illustrious award, but I really think Sam’s has the best seafood sauces. The house-made tartar and cocktail sauces are presented in jars rather than squeeze bottles and tastefully compliment their fried offerings like the scallops. A fried scallop is a rare find, but I’m glad I made the discovery because they are delicious. Their breading is always fresh, well seasoned and perfectly crispy. And their cheese grits are always on point.

Honorable Mentions:  Chet’s Seafood (Navy location)
I have yet to try this Westside not-so-secret spot, but I feel like I’m missing out based on the number of referrals I’ve gotten from some of my most trusted foodie friends. It’s definitely next on the list.

Type by Blake Rushing
Having nearly the same hours as my restaurant makes it even more tricky to get over to Type, but there are few others on the Panhandle using such progressive cooking techniques and presenting such contemporary offerings.

For more proof that McPhail knows what he’s talking about when it comes to seafood, make sure you check out Restaurant IRON. His lunch and dinner menus include more than their fair share of seafood dishes, including a fresh takes on classics like shrimp and grits.

Restaurant IRON
2500 Oak Pointe Drive, restaurantiron.com