Dining Destin-ations, Part 1

Our annual road trip to Destin, FL was last week. This is our yearly recharge. A truly relaxing vacation where our most difficult decision is what to eat for dinner.

Destin is know for their powdery white beaches and emerald green ocean waters, not their food scene. But if you are willing to do a little looking, there are some hidden and not so hidden gems out there, including one of the 5-best pizzas I’ve ever eaten. Here are some of my favorites:

The Back Porch

Is this the best seafood you’ll ever eat? No. Is it crowded and “touristy”? Yes. Do they still serve their kid’s meals on souvenir frisbees? Yes (awesome since I forgot mine). But this is our stop every year on our first night in Destin.

The restaurant sits right on the beach and has the best view in town. The food is simple and appeals to the masses: grilled, blackened, fried seafoods of all types, the best being the local grouper, amberjack and Gulf shrimp. Crab claws are also in season. We like them broiled in garlic, butter and seasoning.

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They do a great traditional gumbo with a dark, rich roux and lots of seafood. It claims to be award winning for best gumbo on the Emerald Coast, and I believe it after tasting it.

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I was craving fried seafood this night and had the shrimp, crab cake & grouper combo. Everything was lightly breaded, perfectly crisp and not the slightest bit oily. The fried grouper was the standout on the plate. Sorry about the lighting it was getting dark at this point.

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We had a wonderful breakfast at Another Broken Egg thanks to a recommendation from @NomNomspgfd. Try the biscuit beignets, crab stack (think shrimp & grits with a crab cake) and omelette with bacon, chorizo, monterey jack and cream cheese. A breakfast worth paying for, which I hadn’t found before in Destin.

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A couple more to check out:

The softball-size Maryland crab cakes at Sarah K’s Gourmet are full of lump crab and almost nothing more, which is how a crab cake should be. This is gourmet take-out, so make sure you’ve got an oven and/or microwave available. This time around we dined on crab cakes, bacon spinach & parmesan polenta, teriyaki green beans and mushroom asparagus risotto cakes. Warmed it up according to instructions and dined on our condo balcony looking out at the ocean. A great way to spend an evening.

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McGuire’s of Destin
You can’t miss this place as you’re coming into the city. Green neon lines the sprawling rooftops. But don’t let the large size and crowds keep you away from some great burgers, steaks and Irish comfort food. The Reuben Egg Rolls (featured on The FoodNetwork show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”) were my favorite dish of the night. House cured corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese fried crisp in an egg roll wrapper and served with Thousand Island dressing. Thanks for the tip Robert Irvine.

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Shepherd’s Pie

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Stay tuned for Part 2. If you’re a pizza & BBQ fan, you’ll love the next post.

Go Grotto, Great Burgers

I was craving a great burger last night, didn’t feel like firing up the Big Green Egg, and the first place that popped into my head was The Grotto. They never fail to deliver a thick, juicy, perfectly cooked (medium for me) and well seasoned burger. That is exactly what I got last night.

My personal favorite is the Grotto Bleu, add bacon. If adding bacon is an option, it’s always a go for me.

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I would usually opt for the Bleu Cheese Chips as my side, but my wife wanted some as well (and I didn’t feel like sharing), so we went with an appetizer order. Quite possibly my favorite app in 417, the fresh chips, awesome on their own, are taken to new levels by the creamy, just-right tang of the bleu cheese sauce.

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And yes, I doubled up on my fried starches with a side of sweet potato fries with my burger. Lightly battered and crispy, they go perfect dipped in the house avocado lime ranch dressing. It’s an extra $.50, but well worth it. The flavors go great together.

Fresh, flavorful, California-inspired cuisine. Great burgers, sides and gourmet pizzas (try BBQ Chicken, add bacon of course, and yes I have a pic).

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Over the past few years, The Grotto has cemented itself as one of my top 5 favorites in SGF. Try it for yourself and find out why.

eAT-Lanta

For the past couple of years I’ve been fortunate enough to have a conference scheduled in Atlanta in September. Had a blast checking out the latest home technology at the CEDIA Expo and just as much fun eating some of the best meals of my life. These are some of the highlights.

Flip Burger Boutique
Top Chef All Stars winner Richard Blais was near the top of my list of “Chefs Whose Restaurants I Want To Eat At”. His familiar flavors and chemistry experiment cooking techniques intrigued me and excited my appetite. Liquid Nitrogen milk shakes? Yes please. Deep fried burger with house pimento cheese? A must. And the array of fried sides (pickles, fries, onion rings, okra) and accompanying sauces were paired perfectly. This was my first gourmet burger experience (it was a few years ago) and still one of the best. I can still taste the chilled delight that was the Toasted Marshmallow Nutella milkshake.

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Antico Pizza Napoletana
The. Best. Slice. Of. Pizza. Ever. (That I’ve eaten to date). Everything from the glass case of cannoli at the counter, to the large communal table, to the kitchen dining where all the acton takes place and diners sit at mismatched picnic tables, the place transports you to Italy. When you go here, order your pizza and find a seat in the kitchen. There you will be surrounded by Italian music blaring from a small radio, bags of imported Italian flour and San Marzano tomatoes. You’ll see the pizza masters tossing fresh dough, piling on fresh buffalo mozzarella, sausage, herbs and whipping them into one of three ovens for their 2-minute trip to bubbly crispy pizza perfection. Then you’ll be served your perfect pie on a baking sheet covered in craft paper. And you’ll savor every delicious bite, all the while trying to figure out when you will be able to get back to Antico for another meal (a big challenge when you live in Springfield, MO). Their hours are 11:30 – Until We’re Out Of Dough. Don’t be late.

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Woodfire Grill
Home of my other favorite Top Chef, Kevin Gillespie, master of all things pork (down go the pig tattoo), this was my must stop destination last year. I happened to be in town when Chef Kevin was out cooking on a cruise ship, but was assured by the staff that I would enjoy the same quality experience. They did not disappoint. Splurge when you’re here and order the 5-course chef’s tasting. I tried things I never would have ordered off a menu. And enjoyed every one. For anyone wondering, properly prepared pork belly is melt-in-your-mouth, smokey, salty goodness. Other highlights included the seared scallop with corn and truffle puree, the wood grilled duck breast and the blueberry semolina cake. In reality, all dishes were stunning. I’ve included a shot of the menu (ask for one and they will print out what you ate). All in all, start to finish, the best fine dining meal I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy. Thank you Chef Kevin (and Woodfire Grill kitchen staff). And thank you Crestron for paying the bill.

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Varasano’s Pizzeria
#3 on my list of best pizza I’ve ever had. Behind #1 Antico and #2 Pizzeria Mozza (LA). The owner has one of the most viewed pizza blogs on the Internet and decided to put all his research and testing on display and opened a restaurant. It was a good decision. The house sausage and caramelized onion with Emmenthaler cheese was a standout. Bottom line, ATL is a pizza lovers destination.

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Hope you’ve enjoyed these highlights from my dining in the ATL. Bummed the conference got moved to Indianapolis this year. Any restaurant recommendations in Indy?

The Pizza House

There is no other food I crave on a more frequent basis than a pepperoni and sausage pizza from The Pizza House. A Springfield institution for over 50-years, they still crank out the thinnest, crispiest, tastiest pies in town. Bite-size square after bite-size square you will work your way from the perfectly burnt edges (my favorite) to the gooey center. Before you know it, you have eaten the entire pizza.

Stick with the basics here: pepperoni, sausage (amazing), ham, peppers, onions, cheese. If you are looking for gourmet pizza, head to The Grotto or Minsky’s. Want authentic Italian style pizza? Bruno’s is your place. This is Springfield style. And I love it.

Great pizza, great location (north-side!), great owner. Say hi to Stacey for me.

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The edges are always the first to go. (Mouth watering as I write this)
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Our Valentines Day tradition: PIZZA! Stacey makes it extra special for my wife and I.
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Yes, they have salad. Nice and simple: lettuce, tomato, lots of cheese and Ott’s French dressing. Reminds me of dinner at my grandma’s when I was a kid.
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