Beachcomber Editor Chris Manson has lately been sending me to review restaurants in the belly of the summer beast—not only places in SoWal and MidDest (middle of Destin—how’s that, TDC?)—but also the Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island.
Sure, they are popular gathering spots for summer visitors, and yes, they fill up fast, and finding a parking space demands patience and cunning. But my family and I have had great success of late. Mostly it’s a case of clearing one’s schedule and getting there early.
Al’s Beach Club and Burger Bar is reportedly the latest addition to the Boardwalk’s stable of restaurants and entertainment establishments. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., the kitchen serves a single menu all day, allowing complete freedom to schedule your meal.
We got there right at 11 a.m. on a recent weekend, so we had a very short walk from car to restaurant. If you aren’t a Boardwalk regular, pinpointing exactly where one restaurant ends and the next takes up might require some walking and asking questions. Fortunately, everyone there is happy to point you in the right direction. And if by chance you finding yourself walking into a room with tables, chairs, and no people, wherever you are is probably not yet open.
Al’s Beach Club is a large, open-spaced area that fronts the beach, accessible by a few steps out and down. Inside the club (under a roof) there’s a bandstand, dance floor, tables and chairs, and a huge bar, command center of the operation (and where they keep the liquor). There’s also a set of colorful splash-equipped toys for kids to play on.
We went a table in the shade but in the path of a brisk Gulf breeze. My daughter Grace (the Tiny Diner) jumped into the splash games with some other kids, while my wife and I figured out lunch.
There are menus on the tables, and a large menu over the bar. As the name implies, Al’s offers burgers, other sandwiches, salads and sides. There are two bases—hamburger and cheeseburger, with pickle, lettuce, onion and tomato relish, plus American, cheddar, pepper jack or Swiss. Custom toppings (extra) include bacon, avocado, jalapenos, and caramelized mushrooms and onions. An extra patty can be added for a jumbo burger.
My wife ordered a burger with the base toppings and a side of house made sweet potato chips, with a cayenne brown sugar dusting and a maple Dijon mustard dipping sauce. TD got a kids-size burger, with fresh fruit on the side.
Other sandwich choices include grilled chicken, tuna, and Nathan’s hot dogs (also available “loaded”). I could not pass up the tuna, with a side of hand cut fries.
You place your order at the bar, and your server brings it out via a homing device. While we were waiting, we noticed the place was filling up, from all sides and the beach—all ages, many in damp suits and wraps. The atmosphere was very casual, the staff all veterans, and everyone was getting what they needed. TD was enjoying the splashing and kid-fellowship.
The sandwiches came, all on brioche buns. Portions were generous. My wife’s burger was thick and juicy, with just the right amount of fresh greenery to add moisture and crunch. The sweet potato chips were addictive, and so plentiful that we had to box them up.
My chunk of tuna was seared on the outside and warm pink as I like on the inside. The garnish was fresh pickled vegetables, cilantro, green onion, sesame seeds and a sweet chili soy sauce, hot, cool, sweet and sour. The fries were thick and lightly salted, and none went home.
The menu also offers dinner salads, and seasonal specials—onion rings, fried mac and cheese, bacon gravy fries, cheesy bacon fries, chicken tenders, and a sno-cone.
In addition to its beer and beach drink choices, Al’s purveys a line of handspun shakes, made to order with frozen custard. Flavors are vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and caramel, with chocolate-strawberry, key lime pie, and Georgia peach cobbler signature shakes.
There are also shakes for grownups, with rum, bourbon and vodka. We ordered a peach cobbler to share. Peaches are mixed with custard and streusel crumbles, and it’s topped with whipped cream and a caramel drizzle. Plenty for three, including a giggling, wet six-year-old.
The restaurant, Boardwalk, and parking lot were teeming when we left, but we had gotten in, fed, and out with ease. It’s all in the timing.
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