By Martin Liptrot
According to humorist and playwright Noel Coward, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
In a beach town with sparkling seas and sugar-white sands you too could be forgiven for venturing out in the heat of the day but, fortunately, the French came up with an altogether better alternative.
Done properly, this midday repast has always been the star of the gourmands day. It is more than a meal, it is an opportunity to leave the beach, escape the heat, relax, unwind, chat, and laugh. You can do business over lunch, celebrate success, catch up with old acquaintances or treat new friends. And in sweltering climes, finding the perfect ‘al fresco’ patio, rooftop or courtyard from where to indulge has become an obsession.
Happily, there are plenty to choose from along 30A. There are white-tablecloth spots with sophisticated wine lists and those with paper napkins and sauce bottles in plastic baskets. Others have gulf views or bay views, and there are even those hidden away from the crowds where the locals go.
Below are just five you may want to explore next time you decide you too want a break from the midday sun.
Vue on 30A is the clubhouse for Santa Rosa Beach and Golf Club and it took me too long to realize it was open to the public. What sets this apart is the proximity to the water, nowhere else along 30A gives you the white tablecloth lunch experience with uninterrupted views of the Gulf of Mexico. The food is memorable too. Chef Isley Wight brings a little taste of his Jamaican homeland to dishes based on the best things Northwest Florida offers – fresh fish, gulf shrimp and melt in the mouth crab cakes. With a private club feel and relaxed atmosphere it is no surprise there is also an outstanding wines and champagne list which both pair wonderfully with the food, but also tempt you to uncork another bottle, sit back and take in the view.
If you can live without a gulf-view but won’t compromise on the food, take a seat on the porch at Chanticleer – a New Orleans-style bakery, deli and sandwich shop in North Grayton. The menu is a mix of salads, sandwiches and Louisiana-influenced dishes like Jambalaya and Krioyo Pasta.
With so many mouth-watering options, choosing just one can be difficult so locals in the know opt for the ‘half and half’ menu where the delicious Southern Summer Salad can be matched with a Chanticleer Grilled Cheese on fresh home-baked Rosemary Sage bread. With an on-site bakery there are mouth-watering desserts and cookies to linger over and a stellar wine and cocktail list can turn a light bite into a lazy afternoon.
Also based in Grayton Beach, just north of the 30A, is Grayton Corner Café. Here the menu changes daily but revolves around comfort-food favorites like meatloaf, meat and two, fried chicken, and vegetarian offerings. Mason jars of sweet tea are on every table and there is a surprisingly good wine list, offering some high-quality wines for little more than supermarket prices. Order your food, pick a bottle, and pull up a chair at a table in the shade outside. Here you can eavesdrop into the conversations of the many developers meeting with their architects, brides-to-be meeting photographers or local community leaders plotting their next campaign. Tasty food, fabulous wines and animated conversations are the hallmarks of this local’s lunchtime secret spot.
Further West in Dune Allen is the venerable Stinky’s Fish Camp. Despite its name, this is a lunch spot of high regard for regular visitors to 30A. With only a limited amount of space on the rear porch and no reservations allowed – it is first come, first served – if you do score a waterside table be prepared for a serious treat. The lunch menu includes a wide array of oysters, sourced locally, prepared to order on the half shell, Rockefeller or redneck shooter-style with a cold PBR. With a Raw Bar, Tacos, Po-Boys and fresh gulf fish blackened or grilled there are plenty of choices for every appetite. They also make good cocktails and offer a weird but wonderful frozen drink called Stink Juice. It tastes like an orange cream popsicle but it isn’t for the kiddies!
Sometimes you want a lunch that is not just the center of your day but the focus of your entire vacation. If that’s for you, then I recommend you dress up in your designer daywear, fresh from the barbershop or fly from the beauty salon, and head for the Havana Beach Rooftop at the Pearl Hotel in Rosemary Beach. There are no reservations at this uber-luxe Cuban-inspired location but if you want that Old Havana or Miami Beach vibe you can reserve a pool-view rooftop cabana for that special occasion. Veranda seating is also available at Havana Beach Bar & Grill with views of the Gulf and of Main Street
Safely settled in the shade, lounging on the pillows, it’s time to explore the menus and enjoy living, eating, and drinking well. The AAA 4 Diamond restaurant offers a range of dishes that are tagged Gulf Coastal American with the provenance of many of the ingredients being nearby farms, fisheries, and farmers markets. The cocktail list is extensive and, if you time it just right, you can graciously drift from a gossipy lunch accompanied by Pink Champagne and bottles of ice-cold Pouilly-Fume, through a late-afternoon of Hemmingway’s Daquiris to catching the sunset with a house specialty Free The Oppressed cocktail in hand.
Gordon Gecko was wrong – Lunch isn’t for wimps, it’s for those who love the finer things in life. Like life on the 30A.