FYI: This is an updated version of a previous article from our sister site, panamacityscene.com. We think the message is worth republishing…with a few changes.
The Emerald Coast of Florida: When you visit any beach destination, like South Walton, Destin, or Panama City Beach, one of the first things you do after dropping your stuff off at your vacation rental is head out to find some place to pig out on some seafood. Down here in paradise, there seems to be a mom and pop seafood restaurant on every corner…because there literally is a place… on nearly every corner. As a matter of fact, if you were to walk blindfolded down Scenic Gulf Drive or Scenic Highway 30a for more than a couple of miles, chances are you’d walk smack dab into a building that is serving seafood quicker than you’d get run over by a golf cart driven by some out of control 14-year-old. (Editor’s Note: Please….please…please do no walk blindfolded anywhere…especially down any scenic beach road….even for some gulf shrimp)
Like many tourists, we locals love our seafood, and that is precisely why there are so many places down here to get your grub on.
For the most part, eateries on the Emerald Coast serve some dishes that can be considered gulf-to-table, and most even do a decent job of it. That being said, however, many of you visitors perplex us locals. You walk into the closest seafood eatery and order food that has us scratching our proverbial noggins. You claim to want FRESH seafood, but in all reality, you just want to eat…well…seafood somewhere close to salt water. In other words, you don’t really care if it was caught locally….you just want it because it’s part of the beach experience.
Hopefully, you were already somewhat aware of this, but if not, let us impart some wisdom on you. No, we aren’t trying to crush your seafood dreams. We just feel that seafood truth is important. So, here are some dishes that aren’t local to the area:
We sincerely hate to break it to you, but King Crab and Snow Crab do not live in the waters off of Panama City Beach. They are native to A gulf…just not the one closest to your vacation rental. The Gulf of Alaska for a $100 would be the correct answer to this Jeopardy question. In other words, those steamed crab legs that you’re so excited about eating at a quaint 30a or South Walton establishment are frozen and subsequently shipped thousands of miles before ever hitting that steamer pot. Not only that, if you live anywhere north of here, they are technically fresher back at home.
If you want a fresher crab dinner, take heart. We do have blue crabs in our warm gulf waters. Have you ever noticed the white ball-shaped buoys floating around the bay? That’s our local crabbers catching those delicious blues.
These fellas are a little smaller than their Alaskan cousins, and they have short little legs that make steaming them just not worth the effort. (See Image) So, if you’re after crab legs, then you’ll have to go for the frozen Alaskan or kings.
You can, however, enjoy a delicious bowl of she-crab soup…which, if done right, will definitely make you slap the taste out of someone else’s mouth…even your momma’s. It’s quite tasty and will make your freaking day. Attending a blue crab boil is another option for some tastiness. You just have to ask around and befriend some locals.
Before you get depressed and begin contemplating terrible things, you should know that we do, in fact, have lobsters in the Gulf of Mexico. They just don’t have claws. If there are lobster claws on your plate, just know that that particular lobster wasn’t a local. Not entirely sure how our local species defends themselves, but I like to imagine them with a cache of ancient Samurai weapons…or some lasers. Either way, you’d have to ask a scientist the hard questions. I just know they don’t have claws.
That being said, they do have tails (as you can see in the pic), so if you order a lobster tail, there is a slight chance it had a little place on the reef off of Grayton Beach. You can always ask your server where your food came from…they will know or can find out for you.
Calamari (Squid Tentacles):
Finally on our list is the tasty fried treat that I personally love: calamari. Of course, there are squid in our local waters, but I have never met any local squidermen, squid fishermen…or deep sea squid charters…or squidding guides. That being said, there is no trustworthy info as to exactly where they are harvested. I just deduced by my lack of knowing someone in the squid harvesting industry that squid aren’t local. That being said, it is tasty and a great pregame treat to a good locally harvested meal. if you haven’t tried it…give it shot.
Some Other Stuff:
I believe there is a bible verse or grandmother’s antidote…or maybe it was Bubba from “Forrest Gump” that said something about everything having a season. That is definitely true for local seafood too.
Oysters, for example, are one of the most popular menu items throughout the country. At one point, a large percentage of those oysters came from about 40 miles east of Panama City Beach in Apalachicola. Due to a water crisis/dispute with Atlanta involving the Chattahoochee River, Apalachicola oysters are no longer available year round. As a result, some of the oysters you get locally may be farm raised, from Texas, or from Louisiana. While the Texas and Louisiana versions are still decent oysters, Appalach oysters just always seem to be just a tad better.
The same goes for shrimp. Since the creation of shrimp farming, we now see a good bit of farm-raised shrimp in local restaurants, but like your crab legs and lobster tails, you can get those anywhere in the U.S. In order to ensure you’re getting fresh shrimp while on 30a or South Walton, you need to keep your eye out for menu offerings that say things like “Ruby Reds” or “Gulf Shrimp”, because that’s the what you want…trust us… even if it does cost a little bit more. The wild shrimp are just so much better and come straight from the gulf to your table. Those reds though…mm-mm. You’ll thank me later.
Hopefully, the above info hasn’t shattered too many of your seafood dreams. As a fat guy who prefers truth with my food, I just had to do be the one to tell ya. Folks wait all year to eat “fresh seafood” at the beach when, in fact, they could’ve just gone to their local grocery store and gotten the same stuff that they waited so patiently to eat. Now you know.
One more thing: If you didn’t realize that salmon isn’t local, then I can’t help you. You need some Jesus and a little more Discovery Channel in your life.
For more information on what seafood actually does come from the waters around Florida, check out this link right here.