With multiple locations throughout northwest Florida, Helen Back Cafe does its best to ensure that cold drinks and hot comfort foods are always nearby. The eateries' signature items are its hearty pizzas. These hand-tossed pies won the 2012 reader' choice poll for Best Pizza in Emerald Coast Magazine, and Esquire urged readers to visit and, "eat the best pizza you've ever shoved in your sunburned face."
With 17 toppings available?including everything from meatballs and jalape?os to chicken and onion?patrons are able to build their own custom pie from scratch. A small selection of sandwiches and other classic finger foods round out the menus, giving visitors snacks to nibble as they enjoy a frosty beer or cocktail from the bar and listen to the live bands on select Friday and Saturday evenings.
For Helen Back Cafe, keeping customers happy is almost as important as giving back to the communities it serves. The staff regularly provides donations to charitable causes, and Helen Back Cafe proudly supports The Special Ops Warrior Foundation, which helps the dependents of fallen soldiers continue advancing their educations.
The bar’s trademark dueling pianos serve as the epicenter of these nightly celebrations; patrons submit their favorite songs on slips of paper for the pianists and backing musicians to recreate. If the website’s playlist is any indication, the bands can handle popular songs from all genres and eras, from Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” to Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” The performances are spirited: colorful lights splash upon a stage where servers, guests, and chairs that have somehow developed mobility all dance along to the music. On Sunday nights at the Fort Walton Beach location, a comedy show cranks up the revelry at 9 p.m. after the dueling pianos stop for a rest.
Fueling the celebration is the bar’s indulgent selection of drinks. The menu includes military specials and revelers grab colorful straws to help drain 32-ounce booze buckets filled with fruit-flavored rum or other fruity libations. Honey-infused whiskey sweeten specialty cocktails, and local beers add depth to coolers stocked with Stella Artois and Dos Equis.
Children at a birthday party with Nonie's Ark Animal Encounters might get to meet Jimmy, Jack, or Jill—but despite their deceptively human names, these guests are actually exotic animals. A naturalist and wildlife educator with a background in zoo-animal technology, Nonie encourages kids touch and sometimes hold live animals such as snakes, toads, chinchillas, and sugar gliders during hands-on interactive and educational presentations. Nonie has adopted and cared for each of these creatures, many of which were formerly unwanted pets. At some parties, Nonie also leads children in animal role-playing games like eating dirt cake and worms and doles out goodies such as safari helmets and outdoor toys.
At Fort Walton Beach Bowl, all 24 lanes light up like Christmas trees as sounds of pins crashing together and players hooting and hollering soothe the ears like a well-sung carol. For the last 17 years, the same family has kept these lanes glossy and fed the digital turkeys that live in the automatic scoring system. In between slinging pin-smashers, kids can sip on pop while grownups can share rounds from pitchers of beer, and on special nights, bowlers can sing karaoke.
Emerald Coast Science Center has 5,000 square feet of gallery space filled with eye-opening, family-friendly exhibits on principles of biology, physics, earth science, and technology. In the Hall of Life, there are microscopes where you can peer at bodily cells, as well as a replica intestine that unfurls to reveal its surprising length of 17 feet. At Color & Light, you can interact with mirrors, colorful lights, and a domesticated rainbow. And in the Critters room, kids get to meet such museum residents as Tickles the Snake and Rosy the Tarantula.
The Emerald Cork’s artists help groups to unleash their creativity and socialize in a relaxed, fun environment. They provide step-by-step guidance and advice on techniques such as brush selection and color blending, and at the end of class, each guest leaves with their own work of art. Guests can bring along nonalcoholic beverages and snacks to enjoy while painting.