By Martin Liptrot
30A and South Walton have no shortage of great restaurants and eateries. Old favorites serve local produce and gulf-fresh seafood and new ventures are bringing exotic and international flavors to our shores. In fact, there are so many hot spots, getting around them all in a single vacation is proving something of a challenge. So why not embrace one of the latest crazes to sweep the sugar-white sands of Northwest Florida and sample the best of the best.
Progressive Dining is a roving tour of different restaurants, cafes and bars, sampling a dish here and a plate there, with a glass of something special somewhere else.
A progressive dinner, also known as a ‘safari supper’ back in the UK, is a dinner party at different restaurants, usually involving the consumption of one course at each location.
Of course, the fun of any meal out is the company you keep, so I extended an invitation to a few close friends from the beach and the five of us headed out to try a progressive dinner around one of our favorite beach towns – Grayton Beach.
Importantly, we agreed we would have a designated driver for our golf cart, we would order the specials whenever possible, start early and see how the night panned out.
Here is our choice of eateries and the dishes and selections we made along the way.
We started at Grayton Brew Pub for an aperitif — or ‘a sharpener’, as it is known in Blighty. We selected two flights of beer to share between the four drinkers — each flight had four 4oz samplers from the more than 20 draft beers on offer. Some, like the dark and malty brown ale, had a kick, and others, like the locally brewed 30A Beach Blonde, kept the palate crisp and clear for what was to come.
Taking a quick turn to the East we headed to Grayton Seafood Company in Uptown Grayton Circle, where a shady table beneath a large parasol welcomed us. Here we decided to select our appetizers from their attractive seafood menu.
We shared a pound of Blue Crab claws, a portion of smoked tuna dip, and a portion of fried pickles well, just because we could. We ordered the Blue Crab Claws sautéed in garlic white wine sauce, and this gave them a great aromatic rush. They can come fried, but we reckoned the crunch of a fried pickle was the perfect companion to a fresh finger of succulent blue crab claw. We were right. The tuna dip was house-made, rich in flavor, and seeing us fighting over the last of the crackers, our server brought more so we could scoop up each last, delicious morsel of dip. We ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, which goes perfectly with seafood anywhere, anytime but as the sun started to set and the shadows lengthened its fruity flavor seemed ideally suited to the moment.
Our next stop was Borago’s for what the Italians would call primi, and my dietician and gym coach would probably refer to as an entirely gratuitous excuse to gorge on fine home-made pasta, rich sauces and pancetta and prosciutto. For this report, I’m siding with the Italians – Borago’s has been a local’s favorite for many moons and the food here never disappoints.
We selected three pasta dishes to share, Angel Hair Pasta with seared shrimp, prosciutto and garlic in a tomato cream sauce, Linguine with chicken, pancetta, mushrooms and corn, and Angel Hair Pasta with parmesan, garlic and olive oil. All this came with a basket of home-made focaccia bread to mop up the flavors and a bottle of the outstanding, and reasonably-priced, Chianti Classico.
Rolling back into our golf cart, the designated driver was under instruction to take us around the corner to AJ’s where we ordered 4 filet steaks and a Redfish topped with lump crab and scallops were the order. The 7oz steaks were served rare, succulent and flavourful with a baked potato and vegetable plate while the grilled redfish looked fantastic topped with seafood atop a bed of vegetables and rice. As our designated driver had selected the redfish and was more than happy with ice-cold sparkling water, we accompanied this course with a bottle of Cabernet Franc, which is probably the boldest of the big reds to pair with the steaks perfectly.
We were done. Well, I was. We had taken in four of our favorite spots in Grayton Beach, eaten great food and sipped fine wines and craft beers, bumped into old friends and explained what we were doing on more than one occasion, and while some in the group decided to make one last stop in the recently re-opened Red Bar for a late last drink and dancing, I was ready for my golf cart to whisk me home.
Our progressive dinner was declared an absolute success and we agreed to do it all again next month, this time in a collection of cafes and restaurants in another of our wonderful 30A beach towns. We’ll tell you about it soon.