Roux the day: Sandestin gumbo fest sets the standard

Jessica Coker
April and Chris Brookhart have been attending the gumbo festival for three years, this year they have baby Addison in tow.

Nearly 2,000 guests swarmed the streets of Baytowne Wharf during President's Day weekend for the 24th Annual Sandestin Gumbo Festival, breaking all of the previous attendance records.

Local favorites like the Marlin Grill, Harry T's, Pompano Joe's and Camille's were among the 18 area restaurants to showcase their Cajun cuisine during the gumbo festival.

The roux, or stock, is the first step in making gumbo — which can be dark or light. The next step in the gumbo process is protein — gumbo can be made with chicken, sausage, shrimp, or any kind of seafood. Celery, bell peppers and onions — dubbed the "holy trinity" by gumbo aficionados, tops it all off.

Although they were all serving gumbo, each restaurant had their own unique twist on the dish. Watercolor Inn & Resort served a non-traditional "wild game" gumbo with rabbit, while Bubba Gump Shrimp Company offered their seafood gumbo to hungry guests.

Just as each restaurant varied, so did the guest’s tastes. Pompano Joe's held onto their title, winning "People's Choice - First Place" for the second year. Soundside at Hurlburt

Field took home "People's Choice - Second Place," while Baytowne Floating Society rounded out the top-three winning "People's Choice - Third Place."

After sampling each participant’s gumbo in a blind taste test, a panel of judges decided the fate of the "Area's Best" in three categories — veterans, five or more years and first-time participants.

Pompano Joe's took first place in the veteran category, 98 Bar-B-Que won second while Tops'l Beach and Racquet Resort won third place.

Winning first place in the five or more year’s category was Marina Bar and Grille, second place went to Marina Bar and Grill and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company took third.

Soundside at Hurlburt Field won first place in the first-time participant’s category, Baytowne Floating Society won second and 790 on the Gulf grabbed third.

The judges also determined the winner in the "Best Display" category, calling it a tie between Marina Bar and Grille and Buster's Bar and Grill.

The event drew locals and tourists alike.

Beth and Brad Martin from Fairhope, Ala., sampled gumbo while listening to live music provided by The Waylon Thibodeaux Band. They agreed that their favorite gumbo of the day was Pompano Joe's, but they were all delicious.

The day provided more than just good mood and music. For those brave enough, a zip line offered the best view of the event as it sailed over the top of the guests. A carousel, a giant checkerboard and a rock climbing wall were a few of the activities provided for children.

Planning is already under way for next year's festival, being held Feb. 15. For more information on Sandestin's gumbo festival visit