Best of the Emerald Coast 2012

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We give you 124 of the best reasons why you love to live, work and play on the Emerald Coast. In this annual Best of the Emerald Coast issue, we celebrate your favorite picks to shop, dine, relax and take care of business.

After a decade, The Best of the Emerald Coast Awards is still one of the most popular charity events of the season. In fact, our award is such a coveted honor and our event such a fun affair that other publications in the area appear to be trying to imitate them. To that we say, thank you, we are flattered to be the Best and are glad we could provide creative inspiration for yours.

Join us at the party of the season on Saturday, Oct. 13, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the lovely Grand Boulevard at Sandestin. The event, which is open to the public, promises an evening of food, fun, fashion and entertainment. Enjoy complimentary food and beverages and sample products and services from many of the winners.

Tickets are $25 in advance or $35 at the door; proceeds benefit the Junior League of the Emerald Coast. To purchase tickets, visit for a list of ticket locations.

We thank all of our loyal readers for taking the time to cast their votes in this annual reader poll, we thank our contest auditors for verifying the results and we thank our event sponsors and charity partners in advance for what we know will be the “best” evening ever. And now, gentle readers, we present The 2012 Best of the Emerald Coast winners …


Best Appetizer
Bonefish Grill

Again this year, Bonefish tops the list of favorite appetizers with its famous Bang Bang Shrimp tossed in a creamy spicy sauce. Also, try the Wagyu Beef and Ginger Dumplings, handmade with American-style Kobe and pan-seared with crispy shallots, Thai peppers and soy sauce. Destin and Pensacola

Best Bagel Shop
Not Just Bagels

With two dozen flavors of fresh gourmet bagels, breads and pastries, as well as a variety of cream cheeses, Not Just Bagels will have you in comfort-food heaven. All toppings and fillings are also made fresh every day. And as the name implies, Not Just Bagels serves sandwiches too. Try the delicious chicken salad on a savory Swiss bagel. Destin

Best Bakery
Sugar Mill Sweets

Do you have a sweet tooth? This tasty family-owned business serves up delicious homemade pies, cheesecakes, cakes and breads. Whether you are on the go, looking for a great spot for lunch or need dessert catered, Sugar Mill Sweets is just confection. Fort Walton Beach

Best Barbecue
Jim ’n Nick’s Bar-B-Q

It’s official. Jim ’N Nick’s is the boss of the sauce. The restaurant refuses to cut corners, instead smoking meats for 14 hours in hickory. The result? Dishes such as slow-smoked baby back and spareribs, hand-pulled pork and sliced Angus beef brisket are definitely vote getters. Destin

Best Beer Selection
Miller’s Ale House

Here’s to the Ale House Restaurant! Its full-service bar features wine, liquor and more than 75 varieties of beer. Pair that ale with any number of delicious steaks, seafood, salad and pasta dishes, all served within the casual atmosphere of a neighborhood family restaurant. Cheers! Destin

Best Breakfast
Another Broken Egg Café

Earning Best Breakfast for an entire decade, Another Broken Egg Café boasts the most coveted breakfast in town. The café offers more than 130 delicious, home-cooked breakfast, brunch and lunch foods in a warm and inviting atmosphere. Destin, Miramar Beach and Grayton Beach

Best Brunch
Mama Clemenza’s European Breakfast

Mama Clemenza’s European Breakfast at Clemenza’s Uptown restaurant is a true celebration. Homemade Italian Breakfast Panini with prosciutto,
fresh eggs and Gruyere cheese, Lemon Curd Ricotta Pancakes
and Flourless Espresso Biscuits are all made
from old family recipes. Come hungry and taste the love in every bite.
Fort Walton Beach

Best Buffalo Wings
Buffalo’s Reef Famous Wings

They don’t start cooking until you order, so relax and have a beer. Savor something sweet with the honey barbecue sauce or something zesty with the garlic Parmesan wings. Like it spicy? The hot ‘n’ spicy wings are for you. But if you order them super hot, you’d better be prepared. Fort Walton Beach

Best Cajun
Louisiana Lagniappe

As the name suggests, this New Orleans dining experience serves up “a little something extra.” Louisiana Lagniappe features authentic Creole cuisine such as lobster tail, shrimp étouffée and Cajun seafood gumbo, as well as steak entrees. Enjoying a beautiful sunset while you dine makes for a memorable occasion every time.  Destin

Best Onsite Catering
Eventful Planner

The Eventful Planner, owned and operated by Tammy D’Agostino, is dedicated to providing outstanding culinary excellence to its clients and their guests. Whether you are hosting a small intimate dinner party or a wedding for 300, their freshly cooked food is served in innovative, clever ways that impress every guest. Destin

Best Restaurant/Walton County
The Red Bar

Locals will tell you The Red Bar is one of the area’s most popular indoor destinations. The come-as-you-are restaurant serves up a simple, but delicious, menu and great live jazz music in a casual atmosphere with a funky vibe. Don’t be surprised if you spot a celebrity here; after this many years as the go-to restaurant of Emerald Coasters, the word has gotten out to just about everyone. Grayton Beach

Best Bloody Mary
The Red Bar

A favorite among locals, visitors and celebrities, The Red Bar is a must-visit when in Grayton Beach. Come for lunch or dinner (or a little later) to kick back on the funky furniture and listen to live music while enjoying great food and cocktails — especially the award-winning Bloody Mary. Grayton Beach 

Best Chef
Dan Pettis

Chef Dan Pettis draws his inspiration from “daily life, what is fresh and what is local.” The Florida native describes his style as a mix of “South Florida, Pacific Rim and Southern roots.” Chef Pettis is passionate about keeping his food local. A testament to this is his farmer’s market adjacent to his restaurant, One 20 A Modern Bistro. Niceville

Best Chinese
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

From its famous Ginger Chicken Stir-fry Romaine Wraps to the Shanghai Noodles with Grilled Rib Eye and Broccoli, P.F. Chang’s strives to create great craveable foods you can’t get anywhere else. Each dish on this restaurant’s extensive menu is prepared to order using only the freshest and highest-quality ingredients. Miramar Beach

Best Coffee
Starbucks Coffee

Starbucks figures that putting people before products makes good sense. Its relationship with farmers yields the highest quality coffees, and the connections it makes in communities creates a loyal following. Serving the finest coffees in the world with friendly service, Starbucks Coffee is a local favorite. Destin, Grayton Beach, Miramar Beach and Fort Walton Beach

Best Dessert
Tommy Bahama’s Restaurant & Bar

Their signature dessert, the Piña Colada cake, is what a beach vacation should taste like. The Butterscotch Pudding, Key Lime Pie and Pineapple Crème Brulee whisks you away to “destination relaxation,” too. Though usually enjoyed at the end of the meal, dessert is just the beginning of enjoying the island lifestyle at this coastal-inspired restaurant. Miramar Beach

Best Fine Dining
Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood

A five-star dining restaurant specializing in the finest prime beef and freshest seafood available, Seagar’s offers the most elegant table on the Emerald Coast. With private dining facilities and a wine list featuring more than 800 labels, Seagar’s continues to be extolled by critics as one of the best restaurants around. Miramar Beach

Best French
Restaurant Bistro Bijoux

Located in The Village of Baytowne Wharf at Sandestin, this romantic French bistro serves perfectly seasoned dishes made from the freshest ingredients and presented like a work of art. Try the pan-seared diver scallops nestled in a saffron cream with crispy rice cakes and curried peanuts. Miramar Beach

Best Frozen Treat
(icecream, yogurt, gelato, snow cones)
Twirl frozen yogurt

Twirl infuses its frozen yogurt in-house with ingredients such as fresh berries, real espresso, red velvet cake and homemade Nutella for a more intense flavor experience. At Twirl, though you can load it up with more than a dozen delicious fruit, candy and nut toppings, you never pay for the cup — only the goodness inside! Destin

Best Gourmet/Food Shop
Sarah K’s Gourmet

Sarah K’s Gourmet earned recognition as one of the Top Five Destinations for Crab Cakes in Taste of Home magazine. Sarah’s gourmet shrimp dip was featured in Woman’s World magazine. And her chef-crafted ready-to-heat cuisine has earned her the Best of the Emerald Coast award seven years running. Destin.

Best Gumbo
High Tide

Located east of Brooks Bridge, High Tide is a local’s favorite haunt. In addition to their savory gumbo and their fresh seafood, the come-as-you-are atmosphere and friendly service keep visitors and locals coming back year after year. Fort Walton Beach

Best Hamburger
McGuire’s Irish Pub

An award-winning steakhouse with traditional Irish food and in-house brewery, McGuire’s offers 25 different trimmings for its giant, custom-ground steak burgers. Try the Big Daddy burger with bacon, cheddar and jalapeño or the Terrible Garbage Burger, which piles on some of everything. Destin and Pensacola

Best Happy Hour
Cuvee Bistro

Cuvee Bistro is the place on the Emerald Coast to meet up with friends and business colleagues for Happy Hour. The upscale restaurant has a full bar with an extensive wine and martini menu. Come for Happy Hour, Monday through Saturday from
5 to 9 p.m., and enjoy select martinis, specially priced beer, wine and cocktails, as well as the half-price bar menu that features their popularCrispy Flatbread Pizza. Destin

Best Hibachi
Osaka Japanese Hibachi Steakhouse and Sushi Bar

For a memorable and entertaining dining experience where the freshest available ingredients are assembled into artfully prepared dishes at your table, Osaka is the place. The Japanese steak house offers an amazing show as your meal is prepared right in front of you. Destin and Miramar Beach

Best Italian Restaurant
Fat Clemenza’s Brick-Oven Pizzeria

Fat Clemenza’s is a wonderfully authentic Italian dining experience. The checkered tablecloths and old family photos on the wall create an atmosphere of a throwback to an Italian neighborhood restaurant in any big city. Award-winning chefs prepare old family recipes for pasta, fish, chicken and veal with the freshest available ingredients. Miramar Beach and Fort Walton Beach

Best Locally Owned Restaurant
Callahan’s Restaurant and Deli

A multi-year Best of award winner, Callahan’s aims to please with its custom-cut meats and generous portions of delicious food. In addition to the fresh sandwiches, pastas and salads, the restaurant offers nightly dinner specials. Try the New York Strip — and save room for a slice of homemade cake or cheesecake for dessert. Destin

Best Margarita
Cantina Laredo

This authentic Mexican restaurant’s margaritas are made from freshly squeezed lime juice, as well as an impressive line of tequilas that include triple-distilled and aged brands that, once again, make the margaritas fabuloso. Miramar Beach

Best Martini
Tuscany Italian Bistro

Cheers to Tuscany’s fabulous martini menu. Try the Down & Dirty Martini, Disaronno Cosmo, De Stress Martini as well as the Torta Chocolate, or raise a glass to Frank Sinatra with a sip of Old Blue Eyes. For those daring individuals, why not try the Sicilian Kiss? You can sample your favorite for just $5 during Happy Hour every evening from 5 to 7 p.m. along with a half-price menu. Destin

Best Mexican/Latin American Restaurant
Pepito’s Mexican Restaurant

This authentic Mexican restaurant once again earns a spot on our “Best of” list because the restaurant’s delicious Mexican dishes are made with only the freshest ingredients. Olé! The newest location, Crab Island Cantina, is located in HarborWalk Village. Destin, Miramar Beach and Niceville

Best Outdoor Bar
AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar

Come here with the entire family, your special someone or a group of friends to sip a cocktail and drink in the stunning harbor view before dinner or after … or both! This lively outdoor bar is situated on an oversized deck with a sweeping view of the Destin harbor. Come here to enjoy live music and daily Happy Hour specials from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Destin

Best Mediterranean
Aegean Restaurant

The Aegean Restaurant is a family owned and operated neighborhood Greek restaurant with fresh, authentic Greek and American dishes. Come and experience the food and hospitality of The Aegean Restaurant and let yourself be transported to the sunny lands of Greece. Miramar Beach and Shalimar

Best Outdoor Dining
Harry T’s

The circus memorabilia on display at Harry T’s adds to the fun atmosphere at the restaurant, but the boathouse is a favorite place for feasting on fresh seafood, burgers and steaks while enjoying fantastic views and a coastal breeze as well. Destin

Best Oysters
AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar

With a huge outdoor deck offering sweeping views of the Destin Harbor, great entertainment and friendly servers, AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar is the perfect place to down a dozen. Enjoy them raw, steamed or try Oysters AJ — a dozen oysters grilled and topped with jalapeño peppers, Monterey Jack cheese and bacon. Destin 

Best Restaurant/Okaloosa County
Magnolia Grill

The Magnolia Grill, which sits on historic Brooks Street in downtown Fort Walton Beach, is equal parts museum and dining establishment. The delicious steak, prime rib and seafood fare here is just the start of this historic gem owned by Tom and Peggy Rice. The walls of this 1910 catalog house showcase pieces of local history, including photos of people and places that now only exist in the memories of those who grew up or lived
here “back in the day.” Fort Walton Beach

Best Pizza
Helen Back

Helen Back has friendly servers, ice cold beer and a casual, welcoming atmosphere, but it has expanded to five locations all along the Emerald Coast because it bakes the freshest possible ingredients into its homemade hand-tossed pizza. Destin, Crestview, Fort Walton Beach, Navarre and Valparaiso

Best Romantic Restaurant
Seagar’s Prime Steaks and Seafood

The exquisite cuisine designed by Chef Johnny Earles, the elegant atmosphere and attentive five-star service makes this an intimate dining experience. Isn’t it romantic? Miramar Beach

Best Sandwich Shop
Lenny’s Sub Shop

At Lenny’s you really get it your way as you build your hot or cold deli sandwich or salad. The menu features fresh deli meats and cheeses, garden toppings and Lenny’s signature pepper relish, as well as fresh baked bread. Destin, Mary Esther, Fort Walton Beach, Niceville and Crestview

Best Seafood Market
Destin Ice Seafood Market & Deli

Destin Ice Seafood Market & Deli offers the freshest selection of what the Gulf has to offer. Pick up some ready-to-eat or cook-at-home fish, Buckhead meats, decadent desserts and a bottle of wine. Destin

Best Seafood Restaurant
Dewey Destin Seafood

Situated in an old beach house overlooking the romantic Destin Harbor, Dewey’s is a great place for family dining or a romantic date. At the original location, you can enjoy fresh seafood as you sit at rustic tables along a dock overlooking the bay. Taste more than 100 years of Destin history as you bite into a delicious grouper sandwich or dig into the famous smoked tuna dip. Destin

Best Service
(Food and Beverage)
Marlin Grill

Quality fine dining begins and ends with great service. Marlin Grill has a loyal following as a popular steak and seafood restaurant, because the quality cuisine, elegant atmosphere and knowledgeable staff combine to make it a memorable dining experience that brings delighted patrons back again and again. Miramar Beach

Best Sports Bar
Johnny O’Quigley’s Ale House

There’s not a bad seat in the house at neighborhood-style Johnny O’Quigley’s. The 48-inch big screen televisions lining the walls offer some of the best sports viewing in town, along with plenty of good food, wine and beer. Touchdown! Destin

Best Steakhouse
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

Sandestin’s neighborhood steakhouse comes to life with a celebration of great food, wine and memorable times. Fleming’s serves the finest in USDA Prime beef — corn-fed, aged up to four weeks for flavor and texture, then hand-cut daily and broiled at 1600 degrees to seal in all the juices and flavor. Miramar Beach

Best Sushi
Harbor Docks

Though Harbor Docks is a seafood restaurant, the eatery features a large sushi and sashimi selection made fresh daily by master sushi chefs. Inspired by Asian influences, Harbor Docks also serves fresh seafood fried, sautéed or boiled. Destin

Best Thai
Royal Orchid

Sink into silk pillows around a traditional sunken Thai table or dine American style at a table or booth as you feast on delicious dishes like crispy duck, pad-thai, moo-yang and all sorts of curries. The family-operated business offers exceptional service and a just-right touch of Asian ambiance. Miramar Beach

Best Wine List
Vin’tij Wine Boutique

Its remarkable list of some of the finest wines from the most respected vineyards in the world made Vin’tij Wine Boutique the top choice of the Emerald Coast’s wine lovers. The vibrant restaurant, filled with local art, also serves lunch and dinner with impeccable wine pairings from its extensive collection. Miramar Beach