Fresh, local and tasty, the seafood in SEASIDE® is worth diving into by Susan Benton - 30AEATS.com
Beach town, waterfront neighborhood, New Urbanism designed community — call Seaside what you want, but many locals like myself call this special place home.
It doesn’t matter if you actually own a dwelling in the coastal escape of Seaside, the town was built for lasting memories to be created. And it holds a place near and dear to my heart, and to all who visit.
There is a sense of connectedness to the lush outdoors, front porches, picket fences and to the brick-lined streets. It makes it hard to meet a stranger, especially come summertime when swimmers and sun worshipers flock to the sugar white sand beaches and crystal blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
When hunger strikes, those in the know are looking for bonafide seafood that comes from our local waters for consumption. For many, life’s most intimate details can come flooding back at the sight, smell and taste of a particular food, especially in the summer, the season for nostalgia.
Like others who have traveled to the Gulf Coast before, just opening a pack of saltines or buttery captain’s wafers will evoke fond memories of childhood beach trips and vacation dinners that include slurping cold briny oysters from their shells, devouring lump crab cakes, grouper sandwiches and royal red shrimp served steamed.
Researchers suggest that when we associate foods with happy memories, the effects are profound, impacting how good we think foods taste as well as how good those foods make us feel.
Guided by instincts for the best eats, I’ve tracked down the feel-good seafood dishes for the summer in Seaside, and here are a few of my favorites.
Bud & Alley’s Pizza Bar + Trattoria
Don’t let the name fool you, Bud & Alley’s Pizza Bar + Trattoria does serve some of the best pies and pasta dishes in South Walton, along with the tastiest fried Mahi fish sticks. But, it’s the oysters that have me coming back for more, as they are sourced right down the road in Panacea, and served chilled by the dozen with cocktail and mignonette sauces, along with a wedge of lemon. Make sure to grab a seat on the outside patio to catch the salty breeze billowing in from the Gulf as you slurp down the plump and briny bivalves.
45 Central Wine & Sushi Bar
Chef Jim Shirley owns a bevy of top-notch area restaurants, and 45 Central is my go to for great wines by the glass, tapas and small plates. Known as the hot spot for adult dining and for the daily happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m., 45 Central is also the place to find the freshest sushi for those in search of their fix. Make sure to try my favorite Kelli Roll made with ginger panko fried shrimp, spicy tuna, cream cheese and avocado.
The Shrimp Shack
Though the lobster roll at the Shrimp Shack had me at hello, the best menu item in my opinion is the peel-and-eat steamed royal red shrimp. They are unique to our area, and live in the very deep water over 100 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. The Shrimp Shack serves them perfectly cooked with warm drawn butter, fingerling potatoes and corn on the cob. These beautiful crustaceans have a taste that is succulent and sweet.
Bud & Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant
Blue crabs are one of the most popular sources of food for many coastal communities, and quite popular in Northwest Florida, too. The crustacean’s scientific name is Callinectes sapidus, which translates to “savory beautiful swimmer.” Prized for their sweet, delicate flavor and tender meat, my favorite way to consume them is in the form of a (no filler) jumbo lump crab cake, like those served at Bud & Alley’s. Plan to order and consume this dish while sitting on the rooftop deck watching the sun dip below the horizon at sunset. It’s pure bliss.
The last thing you want to do is spend hours in the kitchen while on vacation making meals for the family. That’s where Modica Market comes in. This one-stop shop offers a large selection of prepared foods to be eaten on the spot or taken to go. Homemade with love, the shrimp salad is my favorite. I should own a small share in the family business considering how much of it I’ve devoured. The plump and juicy shrimp are tossed in a mayonnaise based sauce, chilled to perfection, and the tastiest warm weather meal.
Bud & Alley’s Taco Bar
With a motto that states, “Great food starts with the best ingredients,” Bud & Alley’s Taco Bar’s open-air eatery is the perfect place to dine when coming off the beach wearing nothing but a wet bathing suit. I don’t know what could scre am summertime vacation more than eating the fresh caught fish of the day in the form of a taco, and my top pick is grilled Baja Style with shaved cabbage, pico de gallo, and house-made avocado salsa.