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Friday, March 23rd, 2018
Chefs Up Close

For the Love of Lobster… Chef Kevin Wynn

Lobster Tail officially opened March 1 of this year. The restaurant is located on The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island.

Chef Kevin Wynn, who also led the kitchen at The Black Pearl (which occupied the same address for years prior to Lobster Tail), has been pleased with business so far, and recently took time before the weeknight dinner rush to talk with Beachcomber.

A native of Huntsville, Alabama, Wynn has been visiting this area since age 5, when he traveled with his family on vacations. The holidays included visits to area restaurants, many of which are only memories (though Angelo’s, a favorite in Panama City Beach, is still in business). He was intrigued by it all, and developed a lifetime love and taste for seafood, fresh and affordably priced.

After studying at Culinard cooking school in Birmingham, Wynn cooked at several country clubs and restaurants before moving to Destin 10 years ago. “I wanted to move to the beach,” he says. “It was a vacation.” He worked at Poppy’s Seafood Factory and was head chef at Hammerhead’s before moving to The Black Pearl, where he worked six years. When the decision was made to refresh and give the place a facelift, Wynn continued as head chef. “I tell people I come with the building,” he says.

The new look retains the broad view of the beach, with several dining rooms, one enclosed, one with a more open-air feel. The aim was to make it more casual and fun, and to ensure that the loyal core clientele of Black Pearl (and all locals) are well taken care of.

Wynn says he hopes to accommodate both diners in search of a quicker (though still fine) meal, and those who prefer to linger over their dinner. At present Lobster Tail serves dinner nightly (4-10 p.m.), but Sunday brunch will begin in the near future.

As for the menu—“I love lobster,” says Wynn. “There’s a million things you can do with it.” The 50-percent lobster menu reflects that philosophy, offering fresh Maine and Caribbean lobster prepared fried, broiled, steamed, blackened, sautéed, in stew, eggrolls, and mac and cheese.

There’s also mussels and clams (both shipped in fresh), conch, and a varying selection of local seasonal fish such as shrimp, grouper, snapper, cobia, redfish, mahi, tuna, and some less common items like tilefish when available. The sausage used in several dishes comes made-to-order from Georgia, and vegetables are locally sourced. The menu also offers sweet tea-brined fried chicken, pasta, and steak.

One of the centerpieces of the menu is the lobster roll, a traditional New England specialty that gets a simplified but mouthwatering spin—there’ s no mayo, just sautéed lobster (or a lobster/shrimp combo) on a toasted buttered roll. Another classic riff is the papillote-inspired grouper in a bag. There’s also fish and chips, seafood buckets for one or two, and a stuffed spiny lobster. Each item was prepared and tested at least 20 times before it made it to the menu.

As we talked, the kitchen sent out a serving of crunchy, fried lobster bites with a spicy honey mustard aioli, which I ate while they still scorched my fingers. I boxed up half for my wife.

Wynn has a few special events such as tastings in mind, but for now he is striving to get things up and running with the new menu. His day usually begins at 9:30 a.m., doing prep (and paperwork, his least favorite task). He next cuts fish and prepares lobster, and the cooks come in at 3 for a 4 p.m. opening. Each shift has three cooks and a dishwasher, with a total kitchen staff of nine.

His favorite part of the job, he says, is when he’s in the kitchen and everyone is working together in sync—“It’s like being a coach.” He likes the analogy of a restaurant being like a duck on the water—“calm on top, kicking like crazy” below the surface.

Wynn heads off to the kitchen to prepare something for a photo. About 10 minutes later, he returns with a plate of spiny lobster—split down the middle, stuffed with shrimp and conch, lemon butter, and a mound of mixed vegetables, sautéed in olive oil and garlic. I dig in—sweet tender lobster, savory and chewy conch and shrimp stuffing, and almost candylike caramelized squash, broccoli and onions. I manage to save half to take home to my wife. She loved it, too.

Lobster Tail is located at 1450 Miracle Strip Parkway SE (U.S. 98) in Fort Walton Beach. Hours are 4-10 p.m. daily. The restaurant has a full bar. Call 850-833-3016 or visit TheLobsterTail.com for more info.