Dinner with a view: Destin’s Harbor-front restaurants

Savannah Chastain
Baked oysters are a specialty at The Boathouse, shown here are the Baked Action left, and the Baked S.O.B., right.

Editor’s Note: As part of the “100 days of Summer,” The Log will be exploring Destin and the activities it has to offer during the summer season. This week the featured pastime is restaurants along the Destin Harbor front.

Harbor Docks opened on the 4th of July, 1979, and like most new businesses it had a simple and humblebeginning.

“When we first opened we had six picnic tables and two coolers, one had oysters and the other had beer,” said manager Eddie Morgan, who’s father Charles Morgan founded the restaurant. “I remember fishing off the dock and seeing concerts on the deck when I was a kid. A lot of the people here I’ve known my whole life; these people raised me.”

One of the longest serving employees and a mainstay for Harbor Docks’ soul food is Annie Jones, known around the kitchen lovingly as ‘Mrs. Anne.’

“I started work here about six months before he was born, around 28 years ago,” said Jones motioning to Morgan. “When I started working here this kitchen had nothing. It was the most empty kitchen I ever worked in with just a grill and a flat top.”

Jones told The Log that today, several of the menu items are her own including her famous fried chicken.

“Back then they didn’t do no fried food,” Jones said of the early days. “Then one day he (Charles Morgan) asked me, ‘Do you know how to fry chicken, good chicken?’ and I said, ‘Well I think so!’”

Today, Harbor Docks serves a variety of cuisines on the lunch menu including authentic Thai food, southern comfort food, and of course, fresh local Gulf seafood.

“In 1981 we opened our seafood market downstairs,” said Morgan. “We originally opened it to ensure we had fresh fish for our restaurant. Now, the market services lots of restaurants along the Gulf Coast area and we contract with over 100 boats from Panama City all the way to Pensacola.”

Dinner at Harbor Docks brings out a whole new menu for the restaurant, as sushi is the top pick of the night with two full sushi bars, and head sushi chef, Yoshi Eddings of Tokyo, Japan leading the pack.

“We decided we were already serving the freshest fish, why not serve it raw as well,” said Morgan.  “Yoshi’s been incredible; she’s even worked with tons of different movie stars on sets.”

Harbor Docks is located at 538 Hwy. 98. For more information visit www.harbordocks.com.

The Boathouse Oyster Bar

Owner Kelly Pfirrman will be the first to say The Boathouse Oyster Bar is no fancy place.

“You can come in bathing suits, we have boat slips for parking,” she said. “We have a little bit of everybody, it’s one place you can go and it doesn’t matter who you are or how much you make, everyone is treated the same and having fun the same.”

The restaurant sits right on the boardwalk and is a natural part of the dock as it was once, just as its name suggests, a functioning boathouse.

“The boathouse has been here since the ‘30s,” said Pfirrman. “My mom invested in the marina next door, and the boathouse kind of came with it.”

The open-air restaurant first opened in 1986, serving mainly oysters and gumbo to locals and fishermen.

 “We didn’t even have a kitchen,” said Pfirrman. “We had a propane tank, that’s how we would cook gumbo, and a steamer to steam oysters and sandwiches.”

Today, the restaurant has grown, adding a full kitchen and a spacious covered deck. Pfirrman told The Log that most of the renovations came about when she took over her mothers business in 2006.

 “We were still hand-writing tickets up until eight years ago,” she said. “We revamped the building, added the fryers, and started selling liquor. This has all happened in eight years.”

The Boathouse has a come-as-you-are vibe with walls covered with signed dollar bills, shirts and even a few bras hanging from the rafters.

“Everything is a bit naughty and edgy out here,” said Pfirrman, referencing the suggestive menu item titles and t-shirt slogans. “They have a nickname for us out here, ‘The old school fools,’ because we love to have fun,” she said.

Almost camouflaged into the dock itself, it is easy to see why the restaurant has the motto, ‘Destin’s Best Kept Secret.’ When asked how the slogan came about, Pfirrman replied, “We never advertised. Everything was word-of-mouth. This is where the locals go; nobody knows about us until they ask the locals, ‘Where’s the best place to get oysters.’”

The Boathouse Oyster Bar is located at 288 Harbor Blvd. For more information visit www.boathouseoysterbar.com.

Jackacudas

Even though it is one of the newest restaurants in town, Jackacudas already has a running rapport with local fishermen.

“It’s named after a local fishing hole,” said owner Chris Ruyan. “It’s where some of Destin’s finest fishing fleet take their customers to fish.”

Ruyan told The Log that the famous fishing spot was once named “Tenaco 80” after an artificial reef was dropped, however that all changed in one fishing trip.

“A prominent fishing captain, Dale Beebe, took out a group to fish the monster Amberjack,” said Ruyan. “He took them out in the summertime but they didn’t catch anything but barracudas. When they got on the CB’s (Cobra Electronic Radio) the captain said, ‘We didn’t catch anything but jackacudas,’ and the name stuck.”

Ruyan teamed up with Destin local, Tyler Jarvis to open Jackacudas in March of this year, and the two added something new to the dining experience.

“We have something that we are really proud of,” said Ruyan. “It’s a government tracking program called Fish Trax that monitors grouper, triggerfish, amberjack and snapper. Anytime you order one of those four from us you can actually track where the fish was caught, what local captain caught it, on which local boat and where it was processed.”

Ruyan said that all the fish sold in Jackacudas is fresh, never frozen, even the sushi fish such as salmon and yellowtail is mailed overnight from Hawaii to insure the freshest possible seafood experience.

“We both have a passion for hospitality first and foremost,” Ruyan said of himself and business partner Jarvis. “We feel the food industry should all lean towards fresh and organic. We are here to give a great atmosphere and great food.”

The restaurant, located in HarborWalk Village, seats 265 patrons with indoor and outdoor seating. A chic sushi bar is located just inside the front door, and a large drink bar takes center stage.

“We have an eclectic drink menu with sake, sake cocktails, 17 craft beers on tap, and we infuse our own liquor,” said Ruyan.

As for the food, Ruyan says don’t let the words “seafood and sushi,” be misleading.

“People see the word sushi on our sign and think we only serve Japanese cuisine but we consider ourselves a more modern American style restaurant,” Ruyan said. “We have a good pork-chop; we serve only grass-fed beef and free range chicken. In my opinion it’s some of the best meat you can buy.”

 For more information visit www.jackacudas.com. 

 Destin Harbor-front GOOD EATS

Restaurants listed from the Destin Bridge Eastward:

La Famiglia on the harbor, 424-7441

CrabIslandCantina, 424-7417

Harry T’s, 654-4800

Jackacuda’s Seafood & Sushi, 424-3507

Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, 460-7700

AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, 837-1913

Dewey Destin’s, 837-7525

Fisherman’s Wharf, 654-4766

The Red Door Saloon, 424-5974

The Boathouse Oyster Bar, 837-3645

Marina Café, 837-7960

Boshamps Seafood & Oyster House, 424-7406

Gilligan’s Seafood Restaurant, 650-4400

Harbor Docks, 837-2506

LouisianaLagniappe, 837-0881