Pensacola’s Gulf to Table Movement is Off the Chain
As Pensacola continues to grow and flourish, so does its culinary scene as the city focuses on a more “Gulf-to-Table” movement. Follow along as we explore some of the freshest catch-of-the-days Pensacola has to offer.
Markets to Mullet Over
The world-famous Joe Patti’s Seafood market is a family-run mecca for the freshest selections of the sea. The First Family of Seafood has been serving the Pensacola Bay Area and beyond for nearly 90 years and has grown to include their own café and sushi bar, in addition to their market featuring everything from shrimp, lobster, caviar, salmon, whole fish and fillets, crab meat, clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops.
Down the road from Joe Patti’s is another long-established seafood distributor, Maria’s Fresh Seafood Market. Maria’s serves more than 130 area restaurants, including their own restaurant on Pensacola Beach, Peg Leg Pete’s. I dare sell you on any experience greater than sitting – face in the sun, beer in hand – and enjoying a legendary Peg Leg’s grouper sandwich. But you don’t have to hit the beach to try Maria’s food firsthand. Their new restaurant, the Olde East Hill Grill in downtown Pensacola is merely a mullet toss away from where you’ll be standing in line to collect your bounty.
And whether you go by boat, car, paddleboard, or float – you can’t forget the fresh bites and Bushwackers at the Flora-Bama Yacht Club on Perdido Key. Depending upon what fish is in season, you’ll find an array of items on the menu featuring tuna, snapper, mahi mahi, triggerfish, swordfish, and grouper. But over at FBYC, they don’t discriminate against fish that aren’t they’re own; if you hook ‘em, they’ll cook ‘em. (Including, but not limited to, lionfish – a delicious, yet invasive non-native population that has become dangerous to Gulf waters. The yacht club even hosts a “Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day” to help reduce the rapidly growing species, which eats other young populations of Gulf fish at an alarming rate.)
A Little More SoFish’ticated
The ever-changing and daily-printed menu at The Grand Marlin Restaurant and Oyster Bar has proven to be quite a significant and tasty catch for Pensacola Beach. Whether dressed up inside or sitting comfy-casual outdoors, Grand Marlin keeps the area’s best-stocked oyster bar, from Apalachicola to East Bay. (Who says oysters can’t be BBQ’d?) And the view? It’s dreamy.
And though it may not be on the water, Dharma Blue sits on the Harbor Docks of the bay. You’ll find fresh, never frozen, in-season seafood from the Gulf of Mexico on your table at Dharma. The elaborate sushi menu rivals even the most authentic of Dharma Blue’s local Asian neighbors.
Fishing for Compliments
While we have all come to know and love fresh Gulf Coast and Pensacola Bay Oysters, some of us still need a Saltine to wash down the brine. Or perhaps your cure is similar to Jackson’s Steakhouse: Bill-E’s Small Batch Bacon. The seasoned chef at Jackson’s perfectly complements his fried Gulf oysters with thick-cut local bacon from Fairhope. But fresh seafood isn’t Chef Irv Miller’s only ode to “real” Florida; you’ll find Tupelo honey from local beekeepers, microgreens and hydroponics from urban farmers, and grass-fed beef from local ranchers to complement his Destin red snapper and North Florida shrimp.
Pensacola Gets Schooled
Perhaps the newest fish on the block is Angelena’s Ristorante Italiano, another Great Southern Restaurant with Chef James Briscione at the helm. Director of Culinary Research and chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, Briscione boasts a long line of accolades, but his commitment to using fresh, local product in his new Pensacola restaurant is key. Briscione’s counterpart – writer, instructor, wine connoisseur, and wife – Brooke Parkhurst says the pair must “take advantage of and celebrate what’s at our disposal.” Though not boasted specifically as a seafood restaurant, you’ll find a hybrid of culinary creations with a nod to the Gulf Coast, as in their shrimp and pesto pizza.
But don’t simply rely on indoor restaurants to provide your fresh catch, because in the Festival City of the South, there isn’t just one catch of the day around here. Experience Pensacola’s tastiest samples at Seafood Festival and Crawfish Festival in September and a Taste of the Beach in October. Year round, you’ll find Pensacola’s Gulf-to-Table selections are off the chain.
Sid Williams-Heath has lived in Northwest Florida since 2016, after relocating from New York City while working for the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is the executive director of the Pensacola Cultural Center and serves on the Board of Directors for the Stamped: LGBTQ Film Festival. Williams-Heath currently lives in Pensacola with his husband, Dr. Nicklaus Heath, who serves the LGBTQ community through dentistry.