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BEST OF THE COAST 2008 | Vol. 10, No. 38, October 16, 2008
(Best Of The Coast 2008)

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Featured Winners - Restaurants


THE FISH HOUSE, ATLAS OYSTER HOUSE, THE DECK
Winner: Best Restaurant Overall, Best Seafood Restaurant, Best Place to Meet Friends After Work, Best Happy Hour

Top 3 Finish: Best ChefJim Shirley, Best Original Menu, Best Oysters, Best Wait Staff with Personality, Best Bar To People Watch, Best Restaurant with a View, Best Outdoor Dining, Best Looking Wait Staff, Best Place to Eavesdrop

Walking onto the deck at the Fish House and Atlas Oyster House is a lot like walking through the gates of an amusement park. Complete with lights, live music most nights, gourmet dining and a terrific view of Pensacola Bay and, it's one of the best entertainment hubs in town.

Walking up, you'll smell the aroma of blackened Gulf seafood and sauteed Grits a Ya Ya.

For more intimate evenings, inside offers a quieter and more relaxed ambiance.

But what is it that makes people keep coming back?

Fish House Public Relations director Shelly Yates says she believes the restaurant continually has won the Best of Coast award for best restaurant because of its reputation for quality.

"Our effort is to get the freshest ingredients available for our food and try to go above and beyond to meet our guests' expectations," says Yates. "We also have the only license in town to buy seafood off our dock."

The Fish House and Atlas get all of their seafood fresh from the Gulf of Mexico and partner with local produce growers to receive the best tasting and freshest fruits and vegetables available.

But let's not forget Fish House chef Jim Shirley, who has once again been nominated as one of the best and most creative chefs in the area.

Shirley, who has been a chef for nearly 20 years, is a master at creating dishes that articulate the Gulf seafood and grits that he was raised on here in Pensacola.

"He always tries to preserve traditions yet be creative with recipes," says Yates.

Shirley has received international recognition, including a visit from Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods in 2006 to try Grouper throats.

Besides his culinary arts, Shirley is also known as a person that truly cares about the community.

"The great thing about Jim is that he really does try to do the best he can for the community," says Yates. "He's on a lot of boards in the area."

After eating a world class meal in the diverse coastal atmosphere of the restaurant, it's almost a requirement to grab a drink from the outside bar and sway to the likes of Good Foote, Lucas Crutchfield and other local bands that play nightly on the recently built deck.

Larger acts such as Colonel Bruce Hampton are also regulars to the back deck.

Don't forget next door's Atlas Oyster House, which serves up oysters in addition to other seafood specialties. You can't beat a frosty beverage and a dozen raw, fresh oysters in succession.

If oysters aren't your thing, a late night order of Grits a Ya Ya from either establishment is always a great option. The warm, smoked Gouda cheese grits dish covered in herbs and spices and shrimp is so good, we anticipate it will eventually become its own food group.

Wednesday nights are all about the ladies, who drink whatever they choose for just $2. The deal understandably draws a consistent crowd and creates an easy opportunity to mingle, dine or people watch.

Happy hour runs every evening from 5-7 p.m. with $2 draft beer and half-priced wells. Land Shark beer, which is the designated beer of the outside deck, is $3 anytime.

For those looking for a quieter outside setting; Tuesday nights are not as lively as the Wednesday crowd, but you'll still get a deal with half-price sushi. Did we mention the sushi is freshly made at the Fish House-nothing short of exquisite, of course.

The laid-back atmosphere and open setting throughout allows ears to wander and eavesdrop. You might just find out more about Pensacola than you ever wanted to know.

Along with the food and atmosphere, readers clearly appreciate the Fish House/Atlas waitstaff, who add another element the dining experience there.

Often, restaurants have only one or two draws for customers. The Fish House complex, however, has it all. With the combination of great food, ambiance, service and entertainment, it's no wonder Fish House has been such a success in downtown Pensacola for the past 10 years, and it's not suprising that our readers continue to vote for them year after year.

If you don't believe us, just get on your computer and Google them. There is a list of reviews below the link to the restaurant that spans three pages-with an overwhelming number giving five stars out of five in approval.

"Great restaurant for everything!" says one reviewer from Citysearch.com. "You can bring a group, kids, have a romantic dinner, etc. They have a great menu, wonderful seafood, and even great sushi! There's even a new outside deck with totally different ambiance where they have live bands and a wrap around bar where you can sit and enjoy the ocean view."

As appreciation to its loyal customers, the Fish House is offering monthly free cooking classes starting on Oct. 14 with a class entitled "Cooking with Spirits." The classes run through February 2009, so check their Web site at Goodgrits.com to see what is being instructed each month.

THE GLOBAL GRILL
Winner: Best Restaurant-Downtown Pensacola, Best ChefFrank Taylor, Best Original Menu, Best Tapas, Best BartenderMatt, Best Place to Eavesdrop

Top 3 Finish: Best Restaurant Overall, Best Place To Splurge, Best Desserts, Best Wait Staff With Personality, Best Looking Wait Staff, Best Place for a First Date, Best Romantic Dining, Best Martini, Best Margarita, Best Selection of Wine by The Glass

Downtown Pensacola has an array  of great restaurants. But there has to be a greatest, and this year the honor goes to The Global Grill. With its eclectic, upscale dcor, yet relaxed atmosphere, The Global Grill offers a fine dining experience that isn't too uptight. The walls are adorned with local art, and local jazz and blues musicians play several times a week.

The Global Grill also features an awesome bar. There's a good reason the Independent News hosts our weekly martini night here. They have a great selection of drinks and the best bartender in town, Matt. It's also one of the hippest places in town to dine and thus, is the absolute best place to eavesdrop. On any given night you could slyly tilt your head in the proper direction and treat your ears to everything from awkward first date chatter to inside political information.

Of course, it's hard to earn the title of best restaurant downtown without the best chef in the kitchen. According to IN readers, Chef Frank Taylor is the best Pensacola has to offer. He's known for introducing the area to the tapas tradition, small, snack-sized dishes that perfectly complement drinks and discussion. They also serve as perfect appetizers to a main entree. And Chef Frank Taylor has created some absolutely astonishing dishes if you're in the mood for a full-blown entre. Everything from roasted duck breast to fresh seafood is offered. The filet mignon is to die for as well.

With great food and atmosphere, The Global Grill is the perfect spot for a romantic evening or a gathering of friends for drinks and a meal. Whether your appetite is big or small, you can't go wrong with The Global Grill. We agree with our readers here - It is truly the finest dining experience downtown.


VARONA'S
Winner: Best New Restaurant Escambia County

Top 3 Finish: Best Restaurant- Cordova area

Owner Robert de Varona has brought a part of his Cuban childhood from the 1940s and 1950s to Pensacola's Varona's, near the Pensacola airport. Varona's features Cuban food, along with a few Continental and American favorites. The dining room seats 72, the Mojita Bar holds 60 and the outdoor capacity is 120. The Capablanca Room is a private dining area for parties and meetings. This is a welcomed addition to a host of new restaurants in our area.

JACKSON'S STEAKHOUSE

Winner: Best Place To Splurge
Top 3 Finish: Best Restaurant-Downtown Pensacola, Best Romantic Dining, Best Steak, Best Original Menu

Gov. Andrew Jackson accepted the transfer of Florida from Spain in Plaza Ferdinand, just a few steps away from Jackson's front door. Jackson's Steakhouse is the place to splurge and celebrate our historic past or any special event. The food is outstanding, the service is impeccable, and the entire dining experience is memorable. We think Pres. Bush had Jackson's in mind when he came up with the Economic Stimulus checks.

HORIZEN RESTAURANT

Winner: Best Japanese Restaurant, Best Take Out, Best Sushi

Horizen has won the hearts of IN readers and their votes for the Best Japanese Restaurant, Best Take Out and Best Sushi. If you like sushi, chances are you'll find what you're looking for here, along with some unique selections. There are the usual items, such as California and Veggie rolls, but the menu also features Tiger Rolls (snow crab, avocado, tempura flake) and Snapper Fusion. For the adventurous types, there are also giant clam, sea urchin, baby octopus and mackerel.

DHARMA BLUE
Winner: Best Place for First Date, Best Lunch Spot
Top 3 Finishes: Best Restaurant-Downtown Pensacola, Best Sushi

Dharma Blue has perfected the lunch. With a versatile menu from pastas to salads to sushi to fresh fish, Dharma has it all. The lunch menu has daily soup, quiche and pasta specials. The dinner menu is a bit more elaborate, offering an extensive sushi menu, special entrees and a fish of the day served grilled, blackened or even tempura fried. The setting is ideal for that first date whether you sit outside or inside.

JERRY'S CAJUN CAFE

Winner: Best Restaurant- Cordova area, Best Cajun Restaurant
Top 3 Finish: Best Po-Boy


Finally, Jerry's Cajun Cafe has reopened. We were wasting down to nothing while we waiting for this Pensacola icon to once again serve its juicy Roast Beef Po-boys, Red Beans and Rice, Boudin Balls, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo and Crawfish etouffe.


THE OAR HOUSE

Winner: Best Restaurant-West Pensacola/Perdido Key, Best Outdoor Dining
Top 3 Finish: Best Gumbo, Best Fish Sandwich, Best Place to Meet Friends After Work

It's known as the "little bar with a big deck." This little restaurant and bar is one of the IN readers' favorite hot spots. It's located at the mouth of Bayou Chico at the former site of the Barrancas Avenue drawbridge. Gather with friends, have a drink and enjoy one of the Oar House's almost famous sandwiches, salads and seafood.


BIG SEXY FOOD/NOONER CAFE
Winner: Best Caterer
Top 3 Finish: Best Special Event Space, Best New Restaurant Escambia County (Nooner Cafe), Best Lunch Spot (Nooner Cafe), Best Cajun (Nooner Cafe)

If you want truly memorable event, IN readers recommend Big Sexy Food. For the second consecutive year, Chefs Chris Kimbrel and John Murphy have won this category. Their new restaurant, Nooner Caf, is a welcomed new lunch option for downtwon diners and offers a sampling of the southern creations the chefs are famous for.

THE MELTING POT

Winner: Best Romantic Dining
Top 3 Finish: Best Place To Splurge

There's just something about fondue that screams romance. Another Pensacola favorite, The Melting Pot is one of the most foolproof date spots around.  The food, atmosphere and service  make it a night to remember. This unique fondue dining experience is a favorite of IN Readers

THE ANGUS
Top 3 Finish: Best Steak, Best Greek Restaurant

The Angus has been a Pensacola tradition for 40 years. Long known for its USDA Prime cuts Aged Midwestern Corn-fed Angus beef, fabulous fresh Gulf coast seafood, traditional handmade Greek desserts and outstanding house specialties, the Emerald Coast landmark is truly full-service. Banquets and catering are available for all types of events and celebrations, from an intimate dinner for two, a comfortable family get-together or a wedding for three hundred. The extensive menu specializes in Prime Angus Beef, fresh gulf seafood and a variety of other specialties.