15 Things We Love About AJ’s

Beachcomber Editor Chris Manson (center) comes between Beachcomber Music Award nominees Tim and Rusty Morinelli yet again. They don’t look too happy about being nominated for Best Duo, do they?

Our gracious hosts for the Beachcomber Music Awards on Feb. 29 suffered a fire on the upper level during Fat Tuesday. Thankfully nobody was hurt, and the lower level remains intact for our big event. Despite the setback, AJ’s did great business on Ash Wednesday (insert joke here).


In the spirit of positivity, we asked Beachcomber contributors, friends, readers and complete strangers to submit things they love about AJ’s. As our 15-year anniversary approaches in August, you’ll be seeing a lot more “15 Things-People-Places…” listicles in these pages and at beachcomberdestin.com, so consider yourself warned.


1. Chelsea Castoria: People watching…best on the Emerald Coast!

Chelsea, a radio superstar, will present the Best Band award at the BMAs. And watch people. So dress nice and behave yourselves.


2. Maranda Lambert: The longevity and loyalty of the staff. I know when I haven’t been to AJ’s in a couple of seasons I can go back and find my favorite bartender Surfer Mike working. He always remembers me and takes care of me and my guests!


3. Monica Blowes: Those red beans and rice. They taste just like my grandma’s!


4. Lisa Buchman: I love that AJ’s hosted services for Shoreline Church on the Jumbotron. The staff was so welcoming and went out of their way to support us every Sunday.


5. Lisa Buchman (again): AJ’s supports the community.


6. Lisa Buchman (yet again!): They make killer Bloody Marys!


Lisa Buchman is the Director of Promotions and Events for Apex Broadcasting.


7. Bruce Collier: I reviewed AJ’s for The Beachcomber in February of 2011. My daughter the Tiny Diner was three weeks old. For some forgotten reason, I referred to her in the review as “an infant member of our party.” I described the oysters in the shell they served as “just plain perfect.” They were.


I grew up visiting Florida once a year every summer. Places like AJ’s—casual, crowded and turning out enormous platters of fish and shellfish—were part of this pudgy little Ohio boys’ introduction to the good life. AJ’s came through the fire because it was just meant to be. There are still pudgy little Ohio boys that need to taste the good stuff.


8. Paula Hilton: Their outside seating—love the view.


Paula Hilton is the creative force behind Act4Murder and Beachcomber Editor’s beloved doggie mama.


9. Brandon Day: The people that make AJ’s truly breathe—the hostesses, wait staff, bartenders, musicians, DJ’s, management, etc. All great folks.


Brandon Day is nominated for Best Cover Band/Solo Act. He and Shea Bryant will present the Best Punk Artist award Feb. 29.


10. Joni Williams: That water view and that balmy breeze. It’s the stuff dreams are made of for a lot of people. And it’s right here.


Joni actually sent us a whole Top 10 list. Hopefully, David Letterman will come out of retirement to read them all at the big event.


11. Austin Jennings: The staff is like family to me, so I love the staff.


Austin performs on awards night, and he’ll present the Best Female Vocalist honors.


12. Cheryl Jones: It’s a hot nightspot in the Top 100 Clubs in the Country right here in our backyard that features a huge variety of live music.


Cheryl performs with Jones and Company most Sunday afternoons at AJ’s. You can—and should—pick up a copy of the band’s new CD Raise the Roof at the AJ’s Gift Shop.


13. Nikki Hedrick: I love that AJ’s is up for a good time year round. It’s always a party, and everyone is always invited.


Nikki will present the first-ever Best Metal Artist award Feb. 29. As it should be.


14. Shannon Ireland: The fish town vibe and the outdoor stage.


15. Me: I took Paula Hilton there last October for her birthday. Austin Jennings was playing, and despite his protests, he agreed to my request and performed a stunning version of “Wagon Wheel.” Though for Paula, I’m sure the oysters would have been enough.

– CCM 




Thank you for your support of our annual Shelter House Luminaria Run! It was a great day filled with sun, fun and raising awareness. With your help, we were able to raise nearly $19,000!

Jeni Huckstep, Development Coordinator for Shelter House



Creating art is a discipline, and you are mastering it (“Why I’m Not Insane: How Art Saved My Brain” by Lesha Maureen Porche, Jan. 28-Feb. 10 Beachcomber).

Carol Ann Cain



Fabulously written. This woman is a brand name genius!

Mara Fiore




Our eighth celebration of local musicmakers happens Monday, Feb. 29, at AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar in Destin. Thanks to the thousands who voted at beachcomberdestin.com.


We’re looking forward to our biggest and best event ever, with performances by Schatzi + the String Boffin, Austin Jennings, Strange Tang, Sway Jah Vu, The Steenos and Franko “Washboard” Jennings and The Rips.


Guest presenters include Brandon Day, “Smilin’” Fritz Froeschner, Cheryl Jones, Bill Garrett, Chelsea from Q92 Radio and, Shannon Ireland and Josette Rhodes from 30A Songwriter Radio, our very own Nikki Hedrick, and, hopefully, Adele.

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