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Monday, December 29th, 2014
Dining Reviews

The Year in Dining (and Other Things)

The Beachcomber reviewed fewer restaurants than normal in 2014, the least number since 2010. They included Graffiti in Destin, Crab Island Cantina, Momma Goldberg’s Deli, Bric A Brac, Coach N Four in Fort Walton Beach, Acme Ice House in Seacrest, Loggerhead Grill, Asiago’s Skillet, Local Catch, Acme Oyster House, Chopstix, Brick & Spoon, and Vue on 30A.

This past year also saw the first installments of what I hope will continue to be a semi-regular Beachcomber column on spirits, Just the Liquor Talking. I reviewed rye, Irish whiskey, rum, bourbons for under $30, and after-dinner liqueurs for holiday meals. In 2015 I hope to acquire a taste for scotch and tequila, discover what could possibly make a bottle of vodka worth more than $10, explore some of the outstanding spirits being distilled here in Florida, and maybe formulate some rules on how to choose the right liquor store.

In the 16 restaurants reviewed, three were outside dining places, one was an all-night breakfast spot in the heart of a hard-drinking bar district, one a venerable family steakhouse, and one a trailer sitting on the edge of a dock. Several were located in buildings that had been occupied by a succession of closed restaurants, some of which had been pretty successful themselves. I can only wish permanence and prosperity to them, and the people they employ.

Getting back to the dining, it was, as before, a year of learning for my daughter Grace (the Tiny Diner). The TD now sits in adult chairs, and can make up her own mind on what she wants to eat. Her naturally extroverted personality usually puts her in good stead with servers, and few waitresses can resist hugging her. Keeping her still and in her seat continues to be a challenge. Say what you will about carrier seats, they do hold a kid in place.

Even in a good year, there were standouts.

Favorite Appetizer. We had excellent fried calamari at Graffiti and KC’s Sandbar. Nauti Girls’ broccoli cheese balls were good, guilty fun. Chopstix’s fried dumplings could make a meal by themselves, and my wife and I could have fought - but didn’t - over the lobster spring rolls at Vue. This was a very good year for starters, especially the crisp-fried variety.

Favorite Main Course. Worth noting were the buffalo/beef meatloaf at Graffiti, buffalo ribeye at Coach N Four, Acme Ice House’s duck confit pizza, spicy veal grillades and grits at Brick & Spoon, pork chops and mahi mahi at Bric A Brac, and the grouper with pistachio cream sauce at Vue. All were good, but the grouper at Vue was just a bit gooder. That said, every pizza place in the area needs to consider duck confit as a topping choice.

Favorite Dessert. It seems that many restaurants still rely on the key lime pie/bread pudding/cheesecake/ chocolate cake foursome, possibly because customers often skip dessert. We were no different, but we managed a few. Coach N Four offers a fine apple tart. Bric A Brac’s white chocolate key lime pie with real whipped cream made me forget I don’t even like white chocolate. Vue’s excellent blood orange and salted caramel gelati rounded out our meal perfectly. I call that a threeway tie. Everyone should eat blood orange gelato.

Miscellaneous Honors. Best kids’ meal value goes to Coach N Four, whose fried shrimp for children looked to be the same size as an adult lunch portion.

TD’s choice for dance music would be Local Catch. She also would like me to mention the wonderful beach playground at KC’s Sandbar. Thanks go to all our efficient and oh-so-patient servers, especially Theresa at Acme Ice House, who advised us that a single order of the truffled parmesan fries was big enough for three, to Tammie who stood guard as TD and I used the unoccupied women’s restroom at Asiago’s (the men’s room was being cleaned, and TD could not wait), and to the unknown waitress at Local Catch who tickled TD because it just had to be done.

Best Place I Didn’t Review. Marlin Grill at Baytowne, where my wife treated me on my birthday. Darn good martinis.

Favorite Restaurant of 2014. For atmosphere, service, menu choice, and quality of preparation and presentation, it was Vue on 30a. Everything, from spring rolls to grouper to gelato, was top-notch.

From me, my wife and the Tiny Diner, a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and even finer dining in 2015.