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Hog’s Breath Cafe: More than just a pretty face
541 Harbor Blvd., Destin, 837-5991
Hours: Open daily at 11 a.m.
Reservations: Not necessary

By Bruce Collier
March 20, 2008 Issue

If you have lived or visited in this area for any amount of time, you’ll have seen the great pig-faced sign that marks Hog’s Breath Cafe - and saloon, and barbecue dispensary, and souvenir store. It’s one of the area’s oldest dining establishments. I hadn’t eaten there in years, my last visit being lunch some time in the 1990s. I was anxious to discover the secret of the old swine’s longevity.
The restaurant sits right on U.S. 98 - or whatever it’s called in that stretch - and looks like an old-fashioned Florida coastal house. There’s a patio, with a bar, and another bar just to the left as one enters. It’s possible to drink and eat at Hog’s Breath without going inside, surely a temptation in the temperate weeks ahead.

The inside is wood and painted surfaces, with Tiffany-style lamps and a cool, saloon atmosphere. The walls are decorated with fishing photos, and there are both open tables and booths. Depending on your appetites, you can drink, drink and snack, enjoy live entertainment, or dine in relative seclusion in the back. We chose the latter. The other aspects of Hog’s Breath - booze, bands and bikini contests - are for another article.

The menu offers a wide selection of foods, well above just bar snacks, though they are available. There are appetizers, soups and salads, specialties, seafood, and sandwiches. We ordered drinks, and reviewed how to start. My friend decided on gumbo, and I ordered a dozen raw oysters.

The gumbo was full of meat, crawfish, peppers, and whatnot. I expect the kitchen may vary the contents according to mood and season. It’s good, and if you want it more spicy, the kitchen no doubt can furnish appropriate sauces. My oysters were especially tasty - small and briny, in shells that had been scrubbed free of grit. Not every order of oysters comes this clean, and it was a relief not to have to eat around sand.
Other starters include Brunswick stew, wings, cheese sticks, fried mushrooms, spinach-artichoke dip, fried calamari, smoked tuna dip, peel-and-eat shrimp, crab claws, oysters Rockefeller, and fried fish “toes,” little battered nuggets.

My friend is a barbecue lover, and since Hog’s Breath has gone to the trouble to set up a barbecue place next door (Boss Hog’s), fairness dictated we sample some. She ordered a pulled pork plate, served with Texas toast, baked beans, and cole slaw. I went toward the Gulf and had a grilled fish sandwich - a full third of the menu is sandwiches. Mine came with garnishes and fries. We also ordered a separate side of hushpuppies.

The pork was served in a large mound, and was tender, smoky and moist. The house serves three bottles of sauce. One is sweet and tomato-based, the other two are mustard-based, indicating a South Carolina influence. One of the mustard sauces was mild and vinegary, while the other packed a little more heat. It’s good to have a choice, the better to mix and match. The beans were full of crisp and smoky meat.
My fish was served open-faced, with crisp fries. The hushpuppies stayed hot, and each went down in two greaseless, slightly sweet bites. They’re worth getting, whatever your entree choice.

Other main courses include ribs, barbecue chicken, a barbecue sampler, chicken fingers, New York strip, fish and seafood platters, and steamed crab legs. Sandwiches include fried shrimp or oysters, barbecue, assorted burgers, a hot dog, chicken, smoked chicken salad, and smoked turkey club. Most come with fries and a pickle.

Hog’s Breath’s portions are generous, but they do offer two desserts in case you need something sweet. They are cheesecake and key lime pie.We ordered both. As with everything else, they were substantial, especially the cheesecake, a creamy style with graham cracker crust and strawberry sauce. The key lime was the traditional condensed milk and lime juice version. The bar looks fully capable of turning out dessert-style drinks as well, if that’s more to your taste.

The night we ate at Hog’s Breath, I noticed the clientele was almost exclusively locals, kids included. Slogans, blow-out parties and t-shirts notwithstanding, Hog’s Breath houses a real restaurant. If, like me, you haven’t been there since the ‘90s, the Hog is well worth your time and dining dollar.


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