By Joni Williams
We knew Tucker Duke’s had moved into Dockside’s prime waterfront location in Niceville. But when we entered through the sophisticated, wood-framed glass front doors and were met with a pristine white hostess desk, we had to ask to be sure. Turns out this classy eatery and bar with in-your-face waterfront views is indeed the new Tucker Duke’s.
Don’t get us wrong—we loved the old place, and that included its quaint, slightly quirky appearance. But the look of the gorgeous new Tucker Duke’s is worlds away from the original, landlubber diner in neighboring Valparaiso—a cleverly remodeled gas station with lots of cozy indoor seating and a rambling, covered patio replacing the gritty gas pumps. The menu was equally creative, brimming with burgers, sandwiches and unique, specialty items created by owner Brian Cartenuto.
Oddly enough, the extensive craft beer list so highly regarded at the south Florida Tucker Duke’s location was missing from the Panhandle location. Until now.
The Niceville Tucker Duke’s offers a beautiful full bar, and it’s stocked with primo selections of wine, top shelf liquors, creative libations and best of all, a tantalizing array of rotating craft brews. The night we were there, the full-page list included Grayton Beer’s Fish Whistle IPA, Ballast Point’s buzzworthy Sculpin IPA with its 7.8 percent ABV, and an even more potent 15.2 percent honey mead. We also spied Founders, Back Forty, 3 Daughters and Gulf Coast Brewery, but the crew was getting ready to switch up at least some of the brewers by adding Coastal Empire, Sixpoint and Kentucky Ale.
We went with St. Arnold’s Fancy Lawn Mower, a pretty blond Kolsch-style draft. Malty-sweet, floral and almost fruity, this beer’s saving grace is its balance and well-rounded flavor that’s neither deep nor quite crisp, yet still highly drinkable. Though its recommended pairing was “spicy foods,” we chose the multi-level classic Tucker Duke “no changes” burger, which was divine. A burger this huge (with flavor that’s even bigger) requires a beer that’s easy to sip often—maybe even chug—without tainting or overpowering the taste buds.
The combo was divine, but what was downright shocking about the new Tucker Duke’s (besides the view) were the prices. That almost-famous Tucker Duke burger? You know, the one a South Florida magazine named as one of Florida’s 15 best burgers? It’s just 10 bucks on the “supper” menu, and that includes a rib-sticking side of house made rings. Come in after 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, or all day on the first Tuesday of the month, and it costs half as much. Who needs Mickey D’s when you have Tucker D’s?
Compared to other waterfront sit-downs, this place is, well, cheap. Dinners featuring a pork chop, shrimp or a full pound New York strip are priced from 12 to 18 dollars. And if you don’t want a full-on meal, you have the option of hitting the bar for snacks like fried pickles, cheese fritters and smoked pork belly and bacon “lollipops,” priced from five to 10 dollars. Likewise, there are many drink specials that won’t break the bank—five-dollar Moscow Mules on Mondays, three-dollar pint nights on Wednesdays and two-dollar drafts on Thursdays. Keep in mind, even at full price, a beer can be had for as little as three bucks.
Nonetheless, there is a daily happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. every week day, when draft beer and wine is half off and well drinks and cocktails are four and five dollars. And those interesting snacks we discussed? Half off. And don’t forget the rock bottom prices come with a million dollar view. A burger and a brew at a waterfront sit-down for under 10 bucks? We defy you to beat that deal this time of year.