Tommy Mattonie’s Coastal Cafe is tucked away in a little corner of Eglin Parkway, between Racetrack Road and the Shalimar Bridge. The one-story building appears to have once been a residence (or possibly a small office), and you have to look sharp to catch sight of it. That said, I can tell you that plenty of people—mostly locals, by the look of them—know how to get to Tommy’s place. They have additional parking in the back, too.
My daughter Grace (now five, but still the Tiny Diner to her mother and me) accompanied me on a recent mid-week visit. Mom was at work, so it was Daddy and Daughter Day. Tommy Mattonie’s serves breakfast and lunch from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. We went for lunch, but breakfast takes up one entire side of the menu.
Tommy Mattonie’s is bigger inside than it looks from the street. The dining room is slightly L-shaped, with plenty of tables and very open spaces. The walls are hung with posters, photos and paintings, many with a Gulf Coast or Louisiana theme. Service is friendly and everybody seems to know everybody else.
The dining choices bear a strong New Orleans and Gulf Coast influence, from the ingredients (e.g. Gambino’s bread for the sandwiches) to the sandwich names—Jean Lafitte catfish, Billy Bowlegs roast beef, etc. In addition to an array of Pirate Po’ Boys, there’s Bikini Line Salads, Floribbean Tacos, house-smoked barbecue, and daily specials, the latter written on a chalkboard next to the cashier’s counter.
I ordered an Abita root beer for me and a lemonade for TD, and tackled the menu. The server brought crayons and pages to color, which my daughter seized upon like Picasso with a deadline. Talk to you later, Daddy…
I knew Mattonie’s served smoked meatloaf, something I’ve never tried. Lo and behold, it was the special of the day, which decided that. TD initially asked for grilled cheese, swiftly changing her mind when I pointed out fried shrimp. She’s her mother’s girl.
The sandwich menu was predominantly po’ boys, named for various buccaneers and filled with one’s choice of “messy” roast beef (with debris and gravy, Canal Street style), fried shrimp or oysters (dressed or undressed), buffalo chicken, Boar’s Head deli meats, catfish, chicken parmesan and pulled pork. There’s also a traditional muffuletta (featuring mortadella with pistachio), corned beef, chargrilled hamburger and a pressed Cuban sandwich with Carolina mustard sauce as a slight variation.
Our food came. TD grabbed a shrimp, flipping it into the air immediately (it was hot from the fryer). I retrieved it and ate it by right of salvage. The shrimp was fresh and tasty, with a good hot crunch. The French fries were fresh-cut (as advertised) and just the right size, like my mom used to make on weekends.
My plate lunch of meatloaf came with two sides—mashed potatoes and green beans, and a thick brown gravy I got on the side. The meatloaf was slightly oval-shaped, wrapped in a slice of bacon and pecan-wood smoked with a tangy glaze. The smoke taste was subtle and not overwhelming; as Hank Hill always said, I tasted the meat and not the heat. Of course I unwound and ate the bacon, too.
Other items from the smoker include Carolina pulled pork (available daily), Texas brisket (Wednesday), and Memphis style ribs (Friday).
If sandwiches and smoke are not your thing, Mattonie’s lists six salads—chef, Caesar, Baja roast chicken with curry mayonnaise, spinach, chicken and ham, and a galley salad to which pulled pork may be added. There are four Floribbean tacos, with grilled chicken, Cuban marinated beef, fried shrimp with chipotle sauce, and pulled pork.
I ordered a catfish po’ boy to go for my wife. We held the tomatoes and mayo, but the remoulade (on the bread and the side) stayed bright and tangy. The sandwich was stuffed full of tender catfish, and the Gambino’s roll held onto its chewy flavor all day.
I also took a dessert home for us to share. The root beer float sounded delicious, but they just don’t travel, so we chose a key lime crepe. It held up until evening, and we all enjoyed the full-flavored filling, whipped cream and Oreo cookie crumble. The other crepes were blueberry and Bahamian (strawberries and blueberries).
TD was ready. A baby seated at a nearby table was chattering. “It’s so loud,” whispered my daughter, with five-year-old disdain.