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.