Visitors ask me about where to get fresh seafood, casual surroundings and a local feel. Plenty of restaurants around here have great fresh seafood, but finding a place with a genuinely casual, non-touristy atmosphere is another story. Plenty of restaurants attempt it, but it often comes across as gimmicky and contrived. There are exceptions.
Dewey Destin Seafood bears a venerable local name, and the restaurant on Calhoun Avenue (there’s another one located on the harbor) is about as authentic as it gets. This is not staged—the restaurant is a one-story structure on the water, with dining inside at picnic tables and outside under umbrella-shaded tables on the docks. You can drive in, walk in off the street, or come ashore from your watercraft. We drove in, dining early on a recent weekend. We hoped to beat the rush. We did, barely.
Inside, the restaurant is plainly furnished (but clean and well-maintained), with a sign pointing diners to the order counter. There are some framed photos and mementos on the walls. They have printed menus, but when the line is forming, it’s a good idea to read your choices off the blackboards hanging over the counter. Saves time. The menu offers appetizers, grilled or fried baskets, salads, steamer meals, sandwiches, kids meals, and a we-cook-your-catch option for successful fishermen ($10.95 per guest, up to a pound of fish per person).
The staff looked calm, organized and very experienced. Everyone had a task, orders were short and precise, and there were large trays of iced fish and shrimp glistening only a few feet away from us hungry customers.
We’d left our tackle at home, so we ordered off the wall. We started off with an appetizer bowl of gumbo. My six-year-old daughter Grace (the Tiny Diner) ordered a kids meal of fried shrimp with fries and a hushpuppy. My wife ordered a basket of fried shrimp and I chose a basket of fried scallops, both with slaw, fries and pups.
You place and pay for your order at the counter, and fill your own soft drinks from a fountain (they also have beer and wine). They gave us the gumbo, took our name and said the food would be out shortly.
I was prepared to wait a bit. The line was growing, tables were filling, and we just snagged one near an open window, the better to catch a breeze, and for TD to stand on her seat and wave to the minnows in the shallows just below the window.
The tables are set with a roll of paper towels, and squeeze bottles of ketchup and prepared cocktail sauce. I took this as a good sign that the kitchen had faith in its own seasoning. The bowl of gumbo was large enough to share, and was full of shrimp in a thick, tomatoey and pretty spicy stock, over steamed rice. I was taking frequent pulls at my soft drink by the time we finished.
All three entrees were fresh out of the fryer. After waiting a few seconds, we began. Both my wife’s and TD’s shrimp were large, tail on, fried crisp but not buried in breading. My scallops (10 in all) were large, juicy and sweet as I like them. I sampled a shrimp—could have sampled more—and sneaked the crunchy tails off the ladies’ plates. Most people throw them away, but when they’re fried crisp in a light batter, they’re like shrimpy little potato chips. Don’t judge—you’d have been tempted too.
Also worth a mention are the hushpuppies. Crisp fried, they were fluffy inside and seasoned with small slices of okra. Yeah.
Other fish and seafood choices include yellow fin tuna, market fish, soft shell crab, oysters, crab cakes, crab legs, royal reds, stuffed shrimp, chicken and hamburgers. There’s also crab claws, crab dip, smoked tuna dip, and buffalo fried shrimp.
Desserts include key lime pie, Butterfinger pie, and some specials. We passed this time.
I went inside to refill my drink. Some staffers were giving driving directions to some out-of-town customers. That’s the way to get return business, I thought.
After we’d paid, TD had to travel onto the docks to check out the marine life and pet a diner’s dog. We were walking back toward the restaurant when I heard my name called. I turned to see some friends of mine heading toward the dock in a boat. They’d been out fishing.
Life was good. Right down to the shrimp tails.
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