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So Long, 2016 – The Year in Dining (and Drinking)

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It’s been a more varied year in dining, one with fewer restaurants than I can recall since I began writing this column. My list of dining establishments tops out at 16—Charlie’s Burger Bar, Tommy Mattonie’s, Airstream Row at Seaside (I counted it as one, since the Tiny Diner and I pieced together a progressive lunch there in February), La Paz, Chanticleer Eatery and Bakery, Destin Diner, Brotula’s, LuLu’s, Trebeache, Stewby’s, Zesty Baguette Bistro, McGuire’s Sushi, Mother Earth’s Cafe, Boshamps, Burrito del Sol, and Chiringo Grayton Beach.

 

My Just the Liquor Talking column this year touched on gin, mezcal, blended Scotch, Florida distilled spirits, bourbons for under $20, Canadian whisky, and Armagnac (in this issue). Research, as always, is arduous, but the column has opened my eyes to some spirits I might otherwise have ignored.

 

I hope to always keep my perspective, learning and sharing what I learn as I go. Personally, I am very proud to know that within easy driving distance (Crestview), first-rate, locally distilled spirits are being produced at Peaden Brothers and Timber Creek. And cheers to the local bars and liquor stores that stock their product.

 

As always, my family and I enjoyed good eats this year. Once again there were some finds, some places I wish I’d discovered years ago, and some more places I hope will survive and flourish. Looking back at all the wonderful area restaurants I’ve dined at over the years—the reviewed and the unreviewed—it’s discouraging to consider how few are still around. Here are some highlights.

 

Landmark Event of the Year. My daughter Grace (the Tiny Diner) ordered on her own from a server for the first time.

 

Longest Meal. My lunch with TD on Airstream Row. Those Seaside Frisbee games…

 

Favorite Beverage. The Old Fashioned made with Bulleit Rye, cane syrup and a Luxardo cherry, at Trebeache in Redfish Village. Such drinks could lure me away from martinis.

 

Favorite Appetizer. Trebeache served an outstanding crispy duck lettuce wrap. Big enough to share, it was (as I wrote), “leg and breast, perfectly cooked, juicy and lush without being fatty.” The shredded mirliton slaw was perfect. LuLu’s Lower Alabama Caviar—black-eyed peas, chopped onions and sweet peppers in vinaigrette—was also addictive. Boshamps’ Oysters Bienville with shrimp and lump crab gets a Very Honorable Mention.

 

Favorite Main Course. There were so many contenders—Tommy Mattonie’s smoked meatloaf, Brotula’s mustard-and-beer boiled mussels and shrimp, the pompano with baby bok choy at Trebeache, Barefoot BBQ’s brisket sliders, Stewby’s shockingly inexpensive fried calamari, Burrito del Sol’s super shrimp tacos, and Boshamps’ swordfish. This is a close one, but the pompano won by a nose (or maybe a gill).

 

Favorite Dessert. The pistachio crème brulee and strawberry glacage at Trebeache. To quote myself, the glaçage “manages to be both homey and elegant. The crème brulee was just plain outstanding—crunchy, creamy, nutty and garnished with a pair of sugar-dusted biscotti.” I also loved the warm triple berry tart at Mother Earth’s Cafe, the lemon cream cake at Chanticleer, and Tommy Mattonie’s key lime crepe. God bless all restaurants that use real whipped cream.

 

Favorite Restaurant of 2016. I can’t say I ate a bad meal at any of them. I’d gladly go back to all of them. But based on the above categories, I have to say it was Trebeache. From start to finish—atmosphere, service, bar, app, mains and dessert—there were no missteps. Special thanks to our server Courtney, whose kindness and demeanor brought forth TD’s best manners while we dined.

 

Find of the Year. Stewby’s Seafood Shanty—fresh, delicious, affordable.

 

Place I Wish I’d Been Eating at for Years. See previous paragraph.

 

On behalf of myself, the TD, and our pals at The Beachcomber, Happy New Year and we’ll see you in the dining room.

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