When Marcia Hull, executive director of the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation, reminisces about her childhood, she remembers family dinner outings in Destin.
“Whether it was the Fisherman’s Wharf (where Kelly Docks/Emerald Grande stand today) or the Blue Room, my favorite seafood dish was always flounder,” Hull told The Log. “I remember at the Fisherman’s Wharf my brothers, Dale and Kent Peterson, and I would go out on the docks overlooking the Destin harbor while we waited on our orders to be served and watched the boats coming in from the Gulf.
“Primarily, in the early ’60s it was the fishing party boats like the Florida Girl coming in with all the red snapper (no limits then!) hanging from the bow of the charter boats. I believe that was before amberjack was served in restaurants since it was originally considered trash fish … no longer the case!
“Sunday brunches at the old Hawaiki Restaurant were a child’s delight as it was a revolving restaurant on the top of the Holiday Inn. It was the biggest spread of food I ever saw displayed and my plate was certainly filled with all the buffet choices, but not as big an appetite to finish for the amazing dessert station.”
Norma Calhoun, a Destin resident for almost 41 years, remembers the early days when there were only a few restaurants and they were only open for the three-month season.
“My favorite was Capt Dave's on the harbor,” Calhoun told The Log. “Dave Marler kept a great consistency of fresh seafood. The twins who were the fry and grill cooks were with Dave for years and he trained them ... great food and fish came off the boats at the docks ... fresh!
“For breakfast here in Destin was the old Silver Sands owned by Farrell Ship and his sister, Jo. These folks knew how to cook biscuits, gravy and grits. Boy, you had to serve good food back in those days for the returning tourist knew about you and what your kitchen was like.
“This village was very close knit — the fishing fleet, a few motels, a few restaurants and a few bars and one or two churches, but a whole lot of community love for the village and the folks living here.”
Tona Trammell Newland also has fond foodie memories of Capt Dave’s on the Harbor, owned by her uncle David Marler and his wife, now Jane Vayda, and Outrigger’s Five Seafood and Steaks.
“Capt Dave’s had great food and view dining over the water,” Newland told The Log. “It was taken out by Hurricane Opal.
“My parents owned Captain Jimmy Trammell's Outrigger's Five Seafood and Steaks. We had great friendly customers. I saw my family everyday. All the kids had jobs and Lola Maltezos made the world's best gumbo. I loved the Grouper Parmesan and the broiled stuffed shrimp. I miss the good times we had together.”
Newland also remembers The Spot, owned by Edwin Marler in the old days, the Silver Sand Sundry
and the Grill, where the dive shop is near the Greek Church.
“The Kellys had the Gateway,” Newland said. “The Marlborough Restaurant was owned by Willie Marler. It was a nice place to dine after church.”
However, Newland said most of her business probably went to Tastee Freez, across from the Florida Girl Motel where she worked.
“My grandmother loved their Root Beer Frosty. I usually had strawberry ice cream with coconut and nuts on top. I went there everyday!”
As part of this culinary remembrance, The Log asked fans on its Facebook food what their favorite restaurant and dish was of days gone by. Here’s what they had to say.
Holly Tickner: The Wharf just about where the soon-to-be Margaritaville will be at HarborWalk, and of course, Capt Dave's over the water. You drove right down to these harborside spots and dined over the water with the best seafood anywhere. And going way back to the Village Cheese Shoppe originally about where Coyote Ugly is now. The pastrami and Colby was to die for.
Then there was an awesome little place called the Hot Dog Trolley with the best imaginable hot dogs and a view of the charter boats returning daily. And who could ever forget the Tastee Freez burgers and soft serve and a juke box when there weren't McDonald's & BK here?
I also remember the fish sandwiches at Fred's Sandwich Shop, which was right about where Vinnie McGuire's Pizza is. And Mary Starnes' Pier 98 had a good burger and seafood baskets across from Harbor Docks on the corner of 98 and Benning.
Then there was also Scooter's Seafood where Hog's Breath is now. And The Lantern on Mountain Drive had the best pizza. And the list goes on for Destin and an honorable mention to some venerable FWB ones including gumbo at Sam's Oyster House originally at the foot of Brooks Bridge going into FWB and let's not forget The Seagull, Liollio's, The SummerHouse, The Sound and dare I go on?
This list goes back a ways and more and more come to mind!
Lisa Wildes: Lebanese chicken salad on Thursday lunch special at original Callahan's.
Shannon Powell: The Blue Room! Everything! Also, fried pickles at Pier 98!
BillyCenter: The Sand Flea. It was probably the atmosphere and food that I remember.
Tessa Zampieri: Zampieri's Copper Grill. Best steaks in town, but the hospitality was even better!
David James Moreland: The fact that I gain 10 pounds every year when I am in Destin should suffice.
Sandy Sowards Hinderer: I remember when Harbor Docks was a screened porch that served two things: oysters and Bud.
Teresa Abraham: June's Dunes for casual — best breakfast and burger in town. Finer — the OLD Henderson Park Inn Restaurant prior to 2005 and Flamingo Cafe for their steak medallions. The best of fine dining — Elephant Walk and their snapper served over spinach with a lobster citrus sauce
Kevin Thornton: Nina's in SRB and their grouper Almondine. The chef and his signature sauces were to die for!
Demetra Butler Dickens: The Blue Room because it was the only "nice" restaurant around and their meals were always great!
Breezy Lynette Monk: Great Scotts sandwich shop in Destin. The F. Scott Fitzgerald was my favorite.
Robert Weeks: Best rural place was Chapmans on 331 when Ms. Chapman was still alive.
Jay Pugh: Capt. Dave’s on the harbor and their gumbo.
Bill Weldon: Bayou Bills on the harbor, where AJ’s is now. He used to cook mackerel backs for us deckhands for a few bucks.
Amanda Kay: June’s Dunes. It was just a great atmosphere to be at in the morning for breakfast. I was heartbroken when it was gone.
Linda Meredith Carter: Capt Jewel Melvin's! I loved the grouper Catherine (?) and I have the recipe. My son use to work there! The Magnolia Cafe comes to mind also! Everything was good there! And the free Monday night buffet at Fishheads could not be beat! Vic and Rena fed a lot of us working people! Plus, you saw everybody you knew! The good ole days!
Ryan Mabry: The Elephant Walk, Copper Grill and Cava Blue. So many fabulous places that aren't there anymore.
John Pickler: Scampi's Seafood Buffet! Right across the street from Back Porch! It was the best buffet around!
Rick Moore: My cousin’s place. The original Capt. Dave's Seafood Restaurant on the Harbor. My favorite dish was the broiled stuff scamp. The Capt. Dave's on the Gulf still serves it and the same chef still cooks there.
Krista Vind: Definitely the grouper Elizabeth at The Elephant Walk!
Charles Haney Maurice: Marler's Blue Room and their broiled stuffed grouper.
Suzanne Lowery Giancola: The Oyster Shanty on the Island. Raw oysters, gumbo and fried fish sandwiches were awesome!
Mia Chelle: "Sal's Eats," owned by Sally Smith who was once a New York food stylist, who was featured in many prominent magazines. Everything in her place was delish and she also sold Vietri Italian dinnerware and décor. Not sure how many years she was in biz, but it was a lovely bistro before bistros were the happening place (located near Pepitos and Old Time Pottery location now). I also miss the OLD Harry T's when it was in the Destin Yacht Club. Loved everything about it then. Spo Dee Odee's across from the Back Porch had great sandwiches. I also loved the Frangista. It was a really beautiful place with excellent menu and poolside. Of course, I really miss Junes Dunes, and took all my visiting friends and family there.
Debbie Bibbee Foster: Destinees. It had great food, service and atmosphere! It was where I always took visiting guests! Never had a bad meal and their bread was to die for!
Randy Baker: My mom's restaurant Miss Chens. Was next to Hardee's, now the Whataburger near the bridge. Everything was great!
Keith Ousterhout: We enjoyed the seafood platters at Captain Dave's before it was destroyed by a hurricane in the mid-90s. It also had excellent service and atmosphere. Plus Harry T's when it was in the first floor of the Destin Yacht Club. It had a good menu and a great staff.
Mark Herring: Way, way back in the day, if anyone asked, there was only one place, The Blue Room. Broiled snapper was the thing. Plenty o' butter!
Jeanne LeMoine Fell: Dinner at The Blue Room, June's Dunes for breakfast, and Frangista for dinner was wonderful! Back then most restaurants closed October through February.
Kate Schamroth: Tons of great places mentioned; I always loved Hatteras and the Beachwalk
Nancy Becker DeMay: Gratzi's had the best roasted garlic cloves stirred in olive oil and pesto for bread dipping! Loved the Rat Pack music and great location!
Kathy Wilson Patterson:Marler's Blue Room. All of their seafood was fabulous! And, one night my mother and I ate dinner there, driving all the way to the Destin harbor area from Seagrove Beach. We lived in Alabama at the time. After dinner, her car wouldn't start. It was 9:30 p.m. Mr. Marler had his cook drive us to our townhouse in Seagrove and had her car picked up and fixed the next day. His kindness will never be forgotten. Neither will his wonderful seafood!