Omnivore - Dewey Destin's: A Florida seafood shack experience
Finding something real, right on the water, down in Destin
For a good chunk of the South, going to the beach means heading down to the Florida panhandle - the long stretch of powdery white sand along the Gulf of Mexico that starts somewhere inside the Flora-Bama Lounge and extends down through Panama City and Port St. Joe. The region is frequently referred to as the "Redneck Riviera," a somewhat pejorative moniker that is either proudly embraced or frantically erased depending on one's personal affinity for mullet (both the fish and the haircut).
These days, at least in the area around Destin my family has been visiting for the past several decades, it seems like the erasers are winning out over the embracers. Upscale retail chains and commercial developments are popping up all over. Destin's historical identity as a full-time fishing village is harder to glimpse, especially when viewed through the rearview mirror as one's SUV slowly crawls through the pristine planned communities along the beaches that have branded themselves "30A." All of this makes a shack like Dewey Destin's all the more rare. All the more...real.
- Google Maps
- Finding Dewey Destin's
Dewey Destin's, at least the original Dewey Destin's, is what you might call a seafood shack. You turn off the main road, pass some trailers and RVs at the Destin Marina park, then have to search for the restaurant's sign peeking out through some overgrown trees. As you make your way down a long, bumpy, unpaved driveway, you may begin to question whether or not you're in the right place. Soon enough, though, you catch a whiff of the seafood cooking and get a glimpse of the gorgeous water, and you know you've found something worth going out of your way for. Heck, just look at the street view from Google Maps, with the perfectly timed drive-by of a beat up Chevy truck with monster wheels. It's a shack serving up freshly fried shrimp at the end of a bumpy road, trailers with aquamarine views, pickup trucks packed with fishing rods. This is Destin.
I didn't realize it until I researched the place a bit, but Dewey Destin's is actually run by the Destins - the same family that first settled this area around 1835 and helped build it into a fishing village. The restaurant's website contains a nice little bit of history, detailing how fisherman George Destin (Dewey Destin's great, great, great grandfather) first set sail from New London, Connecticut, to look for the fertile waters of Florida. Hurricanes and, later, the Civil War nearly derailed everything, but the Destin family managed to help develop the area into a "thriving commercial fishery." The town wasn't even incorporated, though, until 1985 - well into its expansion as a thriving tourist destination. The Destin family continued fishing on, until a net fishing ban in 2000 effectively put their fleet of boats out of business, and they shifted their focus to two seafood markets and then their restaurants.
- Brad Kaplan
- A basket of fried gulf goodness at Dewey Destin's
The Dewey Destin's I know and love sits just north of the Destin Bridge (spanning the emerald waters of East Pass). It's literally a shack, with the shrimp and fish frying done in an attached trailer at the back. You order at the counter, tell them your name, then (with luck) find an empty table outside on one of two narrow piers that jut out over the waters of Choctawhatchee Bay. Colorful umbrellas provide shade, and hungry seagulls and pelicans prowl waiting for scraps. Pretty soon, someone will be calling your name and delivering to your table a basket of plump and perfect, just-fried shrimp with hushpuppies (aka "pups") and crinkle fries, or maybe a cup of the shrimp-laden house gumbo. The experience is everything all the tourist traps nearby valiantly try (but fail) to manufacture.
The menu also features local delicacies like smoked fish dip or all sorts of fresh steamed seafood (priced by the pound). There are grilled fish sandwiches, or even burgers and chicken tenders for the kids who can't bring themselves to touch the good stuff. But for my money, it's gotta be the fried shrimp. Nothing else quite captures the magic of this little spot right on the water, where the frying oil bubbles away inside a trailer out back, and the fish swim by in schools, oblivious to the hungry seafood-eaters seated mere feet away. And if you order a bottle of the local Grayton Beer Company blonde ale (branded 30A, just like those upscale beaches down the way), I promise it won't detract at all from the Destin experience.
Speaking of which, there's a slightly swankier Destin Harbor location of Dewey Destin's less than a mile away, with full table service and a bigger, pricier menu. But the original is the one to hit, if you ask me.
Dewey Destin's, 9 Calhoun Ave. Destin, Fla. 850-837-7575. Hours: Daily, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.