(My favorite YaYa Gritts from Great Southern Cafe in Seaside’s recipe is at the end of the Article!!) 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.
Check out Shirley’s recipe for Grits à Ya Ya, or many others at the Great Southern Cafe website.
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.