After an interval of over-scheduling that had required me to do several reviews alone, I was happy I could take my wife and our daughter Grace (the Tiny Diner) along with me to eat at Surf Hut. Located on Scenic 98 (“Old 98” to us longtime residents), Surf Hut is right on the Gulf, with a nice big parking lot (thank goodness south Walton is getting real about parking), and plenty of space for casual drinking, snacking and inside dining. You can sit out front, sit inside, head out to a patio, or do like one couple I saw—just stroll in barefoot and sandy from the beach to pick up a beverage to go from the bar.
As the name indicates, it is a hut—a rather big one, with wide open spaces, expansive windows, and plenty of view of the white beaches out the back. We ate there early on a weekend, and scored a nice four-top next to a window. It was breezy, the shutter was up, and we put our condiments and utensils to good use holding stuff down from the occasional mild gust. I’m not complaining, though, the weather was gorgeous. The decor is casual but clean and shiny, with lots of polished wood and nautical bric-a-brac to keep the beachy vibe going.
The menu is big, offering a variety of choices from land and sea that pretty much hits every base. There are appetizers, soups and salads, a “create your own catch” with regular and daily specials, fried seafood, house specialties, shish kabobs, smokehouse items, sandwiches, and tacos.
There’s also a drinks menu featuring tall and short beverages (the fruity, umbrella-bedecked kind) frozen drinks, mojitos, assorted cocktails, and wine. And, of course, beer.
We ordered a sharing starter of peel-and-eat shrimp. We got 12—large sized, chilled and with a sweet, fresh flavor. Other app choices included oysters on the half-shell (priced by the oyster, minimum of three), deep fried sweet and spicy pickles (a change from the traditional dill), open-faced barbecue sliders, fried mozzarella, fried calamari, shrimp and crab dip, smoked snapper dip, fried shrimp and oysters, and fried crab claws. There’s also gumbo, and salads that can be converted to meals with chicken or seafood.
At six, my daughter has long since stopped eating from mommy and daddy’s plate, and I was impressed with the size and value of the butterfly shrimp dinner she ordered. For $7.99 she got 24 mid-sized shrimp and a fruit cup, and they did not look or taste like shrimp from a freezer bag. It would have made a respectable lunch for a grownup (but it’s just for kids).
I had checked out the menu online before we went, and I was interested in the shish kabobs. There are three kinds – chicken, shrimp, and beef tenderloin, or a “Big Kahuna” platter of all three with rice and black bean salsa. I got the latter. It’s not something you see all that often.
My wife, who loves grouper, ordered a fried grouper sandwich with fries and slaw. The other fish choice of the day was amberjack, and I saw cobia listed on the blackboard, but it changed, so maybe they were out that day.
My wife’s sandwich sported a large hunk of grouper, crisp fried and greaseless, simple but flawlessly executed. The three kabobs were jammed with their respective meats, interspersed with caramelized chunks of onion and sweet red pepper. The beef was sauced with parsley-garlic chimichurri, the chicken (looked like thighs, much better for grilling) with teriyaki, and the shrimp with Polynesian sweet chili sauce. There was more rice than I could finish, but I left not a scrap of the kabobs. The beef was done medium rare, as asked and ordered.
Other menu choices included catch of the day with choice of sauces, mashed potatoes and vegetable, fried shrimp, scallops, oysters or a combo (with fries), shrimp and grits, fried shrimp stuffed with crabmeat and bacon, ribeye, seared grouper with lump crab, snow crab legs, smoked barbecue ribs on their own or with sides of shrimp or kabobs, a hamburger, grilled chicken or fried shrimp sandwiches, and “shoreline tacos” with pulled pork, grilled fish, blackened shrimp or a combo.
My wife and TD took a brief walk onto the beach, and they returned to see a slice of traditional style key lime pie. Like the grouper sandwich, it was a homey and flavorful local treat. TD’s verdict was succinct: “I’d like to live here.”
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