30 years of pioneering Panhandle cuisine by Susan Benton
The Florida Panhandle is known for its extraordinary white sand beaches, emerald green Gulf waters, and since the early 1980s, Seaside; a model town that introduced thoughtful urban planning, not only to South Walton, but to the nation. Located at the forefront of this new urbanism community along the waters edge, Bud & Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
“It is a rare opportunity, honor and privilege to be on the ground floor of a budding neighborhood,” says founder/owner Dave Rauschkolb, a pioneer and visionary on the 30A restaurant scene. “There were only five restaurants in the area when my former partner and chef Scott Witcoski and I first opened, and from the beginning we made a conscious decision to create amazing, locally sourced food in an unpretentious setting.”
A plethora of great restaurants has followed in Bud & Alley’s footsteps over the years making the Panhandle a noteworthy culinary destination, and several of those owners and chefs have worked or trained in the kitchen at Bud & Alley’s.
Executive Chef Irv Miller of Jackson’s Steakhouse in Pensacola was the first. In 1987 he was hired to relieve Witcoski from the stoves. As he recalls it, “Two months after I was hired, Bud & Alley’s hosted a dinner with a guest chef appearance by Norman Van Aken. He was starting a food revolution before the celebrity chef craze, and was taking fresh ethnic flavors, and merging them together making his mark on the cuisine in Key West. The event was to promote the release of his first cookbook, A Feast of Sunlight. Chef Van Aken, his pastry chef and I prepared the dinner, and I am proud to still call him a friend today. It’s a small world in our mega state.”
Chef John Jacob and business partner Todd Reber of the Florida Trend Golden Spoon Award Winning restaurant, Vintij Wine Boutique located in Miramar Beach, first met when they were honing their skills at Bud & Alley’s in the early 1990s.
“I had a great experience at Bud & Alley’s,” he says. “It was a huge stepping-stone for me. On my first night cooking in 1993, Chef Irv Miller had me preparing jerk Gulf shrimp with black bean cakes. I’m a Jersey boy who had just come off a job in Seattle cooking Pacific Rim, so Bud & Alley’s is where I learned Southern Panhandle cooking techniques. Witcoski and Rauschkolb would travel within the United States and abroad seeking out unique flavors to bring back to Seaside and to showcase on the menu. Bud & Alley’s was a real food think tank, way ahead of its time.”
Chef Gene Arnold agrees. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York, Arnold was hired to oversee the restaurant operations at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, but Witcoski scooped him up to be the sous chef for Chef John Jacob.
“The experience was tremendous. We were one big family. We were the only ones doing boutique wine dinners. I later became executive chef during Hurricane Opal (1995), but we were lucky to only have minimal damage. The Seaside Shrimp is still a stand out dish for me,” says Arnold, who is currently a chef with Emerald Coast Catering and Vintij Wine Boutique in South Walton.
Many patrons believe that the rooftop deck was part of the original restaurant, but truth be told, Bud & Alley’s has undergone several renovations through the years, and the iconic rooftop deck was added in 1995. It certainly has become the go-to place for locals and tourists who want to capture the sunset, while sipping on an ice-cold beer and savoring the fresh tuna dip, another longtime menu favorite.
Edward Reece had been working under the tutelage of Frank Stitt (James Beard Who’s Who of Food and Beverage) at Highland’s Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Ala., prior to his executive chef tenure at Bud & Alley’s, and he is currently the owner and executive chef at the coveted Edward’s in Rosemary Beach. While at Bud & Alley’s in 2007, he hired David Bishop, who is at the kitchen’s helm today, and who also oversees the operations of the successful sister restaurants under the Bud & Alley’s brand: Taco Bar and Pizza Bar.
Though the menu changes seasonally, Chef Bishop says, “The most popular dishes remain the baked whole fish with capers and lemon, BBQ shrimp with Andouille sausage, and the jumbo lump crab cakes.”
“It goes without saying that the people who work at Bud & Alley’s make it special,” Rauschkolb says. “A restaurant is not a one-man operation and I often get more credit than I deserve. I am privileged to currently have, and have had an amazing staff of wonderful and talented people working with me.”
Bud & Alley’s has garnered numerous awards, including Florida Trend Magazine’s Golden Spoon Hall of Fame Award, an honor reserved for only 30 Florida restaurants. The beloved restaurant has earned several awards recently including: three Visit South Walton’s Perfect in South Walton Awards for Best Seafood Menu (Top Finalist), Best Gulf to Table Menu (People’s Choice) and Best Sunset View (Grand Champion) and named to several prestigious lists such as 10 Best Restaurants in the South by CultureTrip.com.
For more information on Bud & Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant, call (850) 231-5900 or visit budandalleys.com.
Bud & Alley’s BBQ Shrimp
1 tablespoon all-purpose seasoning, such as Everglades seasoning
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon celery salt
Mix together the all-purpose seasoning, cayenne pepper and celery salt. Store in an airtight container.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup sliced Andouille sausage
6 large head-on shrimp, peeled, head and tail left on
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 cup white wine
3 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon barbecue seasoning
Grilled Tuscan bread, for serving
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil, sausage and shrimp. Cook for 1 minute, and then turn the shrimp over and continue cooking. Add the garlic and rosemary sprig and cook for another minute.
Pour in the wine to deglaze, and then add the butter and 1/2 teaspoon of the barbecue seasoning. Reduce the heat to medium and swirl the pan to incorporate the butter. Taste and add 1/2 teaspoon more of the seasoning, if needed. Reserve the remaining seasoning in an airtight container for another use.
Transfer the shrimp and sausage to a serving bowl and garnish with a slice of grilled Tuscan bread.