Not all 13-year-olds have the foresight to realize their life's calling, or the world would be full of unemployed professional puppy holders. Luckily for the foodies of Pensacola, Dan Pettis had a knack for his more practical dream. He started experimenting in the kitchen just before he entered high school, starting as dish washer and working his way up through the cut-throat world of the restaurant industry. At the top of the food chain, he is now both chef and owner at One 20 A Modern Bistro.
Here, he crafts a menu of innovative, fusion bistro cuisine, drawing inspiration from his southern roots and journeys to Southeast Asia and Japan. The artfully plated dishes take on southern accents with dishes such as blackened garlic sautéed shrimp accompanied by creamy cheese grits and mustard-rubbed pork chops with a side of braised collard greens. Whereas, international influences take the form of range-glazed tuna steak and stir-fried edamame.
The balcony at Helen Back Again affords views of bustling Palafox Place below. As guests sun and people-watch, bartenders keep busy doling out ice-cold beers. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, fresh ingredients are tossed onto award-winning pizzas with a butter garlic crust lauded by writers from Esquire. Helen Back Again caters to bar and restaurant employees, and they have a deep and abiding appreciation for the military. Open 7 days a week, they host live entertainment as well as Military Night, Guys Night, Ladies Night, Bike Night, and Sin Night, in addition to broadcasting all sports games on a collection of HD televisions.
The Boathouse Oyster Bar has shucked local Apalachicola oysters and ladled specialty gumbo at their harbor-side restaurant for a quarter-century. With gulf winds gently blowing through the open-air dining area carrying breezy live tunes, customers can slurp raw oysters ($5.95 half-dozen, $7.95 dozen) or polish off prepared pearl-maker varieties including the Baked Action oysters, doused in butter and flavored with onions, bacon bits, and melted mozzarella ($13.95 dozen). In addition to rib-sticking bowls of gumbo ($7.95), The Boathouse Oyster Bar's chefs prepare savory fruits of the sea such as grilled or fried mahi-mahi ($15.95) and a one-pound-plus stack of Alaskan snow-crab legs, which can be placed on fingers to span large intervals on the piano ($18.95). Landlubbing appetites can be sated with juicy burgers ($8.95+) and sandwiches such as grilled chicken ($8.95) or Black Angus prime rib ($12.95).
Kilwin's crafts 32 flavors of its own ice cream, 13 varieties of fudge, and a cornucopia of other sweet treats made from scratch and in store when possible. Crowns of New Orleans praline pecan and fudgie brownie ice cream regally adorn cake or sugar cones ($3.75 for single) as well as store-made waffle cones ($4.25 for single). Sixteen-pound batches of 200-degree fudge spill onto a marble table where chocolate tamers paddle the molten beasts to a creamy consistency ready for sampling or purchasing ($14.95 for 1 lb.). Decadent caramel apples employ a caramel made from scratch to glaze crisp apples made from apple seeds ($4.50 each) as popcorn overflows Kilwin's copper pots and dons a coat of cinnamon ($6.50 for 1 lb.) or peanuts and caramel ($8.50 for 1.25 lbs.).
Captain Larry maneuvers the Sea Blaster––a 73-foot speedboat––on four different cruises in the Gulf, departing from the HarborWalk Village. Dolphin cruises speed through the water during the day, coming up close to dolphins as they leap out of the sea in an effort to distract humans while they steal their sunglasses. With the addition of snorkeling, passengers strap on a simple breathing apparatus and paddle through the crystalline waters. Others spy dolphins during the sunset cruise, as the horizon burns pink and orange, or watch fireworks burst over the water from the Sea Blaster’s deck every Thursday evening.
Scenically perched over the Gulf of Mexico's inviting waters, the seafaring chefs at Harbor Docks whip together tasty treasures crafted from the sea's naturally briny bounty. A parade of ceremonious appetizers opens oceanic feasts with fried crab claws ($10.99+) and fried grouper cheeks ($10.99); stuffed mushrooms are filled with less expressive, but equally delicious lump crab and monterey jack ($11.99). Famished fishermen can sink teeth and hooks into the market-priced catch of the day, culled from Harbor Docks's wholesale market and prepared to your taste, whether you prefer your fish blackened, broiled, sautéed, fried, chargrilled, or converted into a fetching hat. Sushi seekers can take a delectable detour through Harbor Docks's extensive menu of rolls and nigiri, nibbling traditionally prepared bites such as the eel- and avocado-laced Banzai Roll ($8.99). Or rub rice-y elbows with remixed creations such as the Cowboy Roll ($8.99), which corrals hunger using a combination of steak, green onion, and tiny seaweed lassos.
There are plenty of reasons to come to Groovy Grouper Grill that aren't on the menu. The space may fill with competitive shouts during trivia nights, cheering during televised sports, or pulsing music late into the evening. The adventurous menu is still at the heart of most of the action, though, combining culinary influences from Asia, Central America, Louisiana, and other hubs into dishes that might include meatloaf sliders with chimichurri, flatbread with smoked sirloin and bourbon glaze, or banana creme brulee. Revelry in the space is augmented by hand-crafted cocktails as well as wines from around the world.