Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Culinary Adventures On the Emerald Coast and My Quest For Chippermint Ice Cream

First off, I would like to wish you all a very happy summer!  June is my favorite month, mostly because it's my birthday month because it is the time of year where summer fun and relaxation really get into full swing.  Outdoor swimming, vacation plans, traveling, shorts, garden reaping, birthday presents, and of course cookouts.  Now I know with this kind of introduction you might think I'm going to talk about grilling, but I'm actually going to talk about restaurants in Florida.

I recently went on a family vacation to Ft. Walton and Destin, Florida - otherwise known as The Emerald Coast.

Now I don't know about you, but whenever I get to the ocean, I can't help but crave seafood.  Which is funny to me because I'm not a big seafood lover.  I like some fish pretty well, and I used to love clam strips in my youth, but I'm really picky about the texture of ocean creatures. 


For some reason, the very first seafood delight I decided to have for lunch on the beaches of Ft. Walton was calamari. I don't usually order calamari, however, I thought since I was on the ocean it sounded like a great idea.  I was wrong.

We walked down to The Boardwalk and stopped at a cool-looking rustic place called The Crab Trap. The calamari tasted not fresh but frozen and was underwhelmingly seasoned.  It was also overcooked so it had a very rubbery texture which definitely equals a big NO for me, so I passed it on down to my step-dad and brother-in-law to finish off.  However, my nieces did not eat all of their mozzarella cheese sticks and chicken tenders so I filled up on them, and they were oddly enough delicious!  I also ordered a pina colada expecting a tall curvy glass to hold its contents to make me feel like my vacation had really started.  Alas, I received a stubby plastic cup (pictured above) and the pina colada was about the quality that you can get out of a premixed jug.  All-in-all, the Crab Trap was not a good start to my vacation on a culinary level, however, the view from our outdoor upper deck patio was breathtaking. 

For dinner that night, we tried the seafood place right next door to The Crab Trap called Floyd's Shrimp House and OMG!  Yes!  This place knows how to do seafood!  It was so fantastic that I forgot to take pictures!  But please, head on over to their website and check out some of their photos. I got the fried fish basket which included lightly breaded very fresh catch-of-the-day fish bites with seasoned fries and corn on the cob.  I also started out with the blueberry vodka lemonade which was delivered to me in a very sexy souvenir glass, which I have since put homemade peach Bellini's in, so that was a bonus.  Some of the entrees to make it to our table included some beautiful grouper tacos, fresh giant oysters on the half shell, and gorgeous salads.  My mom has an allergy to fish (I know, that would pretty much suck having to eat at all the seafood restaurants a beach has to offer) however, I have something to say about her dish.  Most seafood joints have non-seafood options and generally, they taste like options - as if seafood is their forte so anything else they just don't put as much effort into, but not Floyd's.  My mom ordered their "Cajun Chicken Pasta"  which is blackened chicken breast in a spicy alfredo over fettuccini.  She let me taste hers and I was floored by the layers of flavors that it had.  I wound up having several more bites and she left very very happy with her experience.  They also offer all-you-can-eat shrimp for under $10 and the atmosphere, food quality, and exceptional service make this a must-stop if you ever find yourself on Okaloosa Island!

The next few days took us down to Destin, just up Miracle Strip Parkway to their Harbor Boardwalk. We found this little big gem - McGuire's Irish Pub.

Leave it to my clan to find an Irish pub on a beach.

Now, this isn't just one small building with a restaurant, it is practically an entire block that has several parts that interconnect inside, but also have individual outside access.  These parts include the main pub house, a gift shop, and even a pizza and pasta place next door called Vinnie McGuire's Pizza Pub.  We didn't get a chance to try Vinnie's, but not for lack of want, I only really had 3 days to try and cram in all the culinary goodies the Emerald Coast had to offer.  So, back to McGuire's... the first thing I fell in love with was the ambiance.  The lighting was dim and perfect for a classic pub-like feel and it's walls were lined with wood, stone, and dollar bills.  Yes, I said lined with dollars! There are over one million dollar bills hanging from the ceiling and lining the walls signed by the customers that have dined their over the years.  You can read how this tradition began on their menu found here.  You simply pull out a dollar, sign your John Hancock on it and the date of your patronage, then ask your server for a stapler and pick a spot.  Here is where we tacked our little bit of tradition:

Now, for the food.  I can honestly say that I have never tried a new pub without getting fish and chips.  That is how I generally size up a pub - by the quality of their fish & chips and ale combo. However I saw some items on their menu that I could not pass up.  Don't get me wrong, I definitely sampled the pub's home brewed Irish Red pint from their traditional oak and copper brewery, and enjoyed it, but I also tried a frosty mug of their homemade root beer as well - yum!  But as far as food goes, I started with their famous "Senate Bean Soup".  I have never in my life ordered bean soup off of any menu ever, but this one had a story - and I can never resist a dish with a story.

**Please forgive the quality of my photos of McGuire's, as I said, the lighting was magnificent for a true pub experience, however, not really camera friendly.**

Anyway, back to the story.  Legend has it that this is the exact same recipe of bean soup was served in the United States Senate back in the day for $.18 cents.  McGuire's has been selling this homemade soup for that same price since 1977, and that is how much I paid for it when I went.  However, if that is the only thing you are ordering from the menu, be aware that you will be charged $18.00 for a bowl.  It was so delicious, that I might have considered paying $18 per bowl for it, however, I was much happier paying the 18 cents.

As I mentioned, I couldn't help but forgo my traditional fish & chips when I saw the Irish Pie on the menu.  McGuire's "Irish Steak and Mushroom Pie" is made up of choice tenderloin beef tips with an array of wild mushrooms baked in a flavorful Irish Stout Demi-glaze topped with a homemade puff pastry crust with giant candied carrot slices on the side.  How could I NOT try this???

I wanted to try some of their amazing sounding desserts, but I was so full I could barely walk out of there, and I only got through half of my Irish Pie.  

Speaking of desserts, my sister and I have a tradition when we go to a beach, it's more like a mission where we find a local establishment that makes frozen daiquiris to go and then we do that, we get "adult slushies" to go.  When we went to Hilton Head, SC we had Frosty Frog and if you have been to H.H. and managed to miss this place, it is reason alone to make a trip back...I'm not even kidding.  Okay, so down in Florida on the Harbor Boardwalk we finally found a family-owned daiquiri bar with locations in New Orleans and Destin, Fl. called Jester Mardi Gras Daiquiris.  Their "adult slushy" menu is not near as extensive as Frosty Frog, but it definitely hit the spot!  They have one mix called "The Jester" which is touted as being the most alcoholic frozen daiquiri on Earth.  I had a sample and they weren't kidding!  It's a kiwi strawberry flavor base mixed with 151 dark rum and Everclear, if that gives you any idea about its potency.  I decided ultimately on the "Hurricane" which is cherry fruit punch and 151 dark rum and it was delicious, even at 9 bucks a pop!  And you can get it to go so you can walk around the boardwalk with a bit of extra happiness in your hand on your vacation.

Next up at Destin's Harbor Walk Village was The Fudgery.  When you walk in you are welcomed bombarded by several employees thrusting bite-sized spoonfuls of fudge samples at you.  And believe me, no matter how full you are you will be powerless to resist them.  They make the fudge right there on sight and you can watch and talk to the fudge makers as they work.  And it smells so good in there!  The one guy that was there making the fudge the few times we went had an excellent sense of humor and great showmanship.  You can even buy a warm slice directly off the marble slab.

Oh, there's one more tasty oddity I had the benefit of trying during the weekly Mardi Gras parade on the Harbor Walk my last night there.  It's a brew called "Not Your Father's Root Beer".

It's a 10 point beer bestowed upon us mortals by the Small Town Brewery company out of Chicago. It tastes just like a good old-fashioned root beer with a kick at the end.  It was smooth and sweet, but way too sweet for my taste, so I couldn't drink it all.  However, I'm glad that I got to try it and for anyone who does not want an "adult slushy" you can have your choice of an "adult root beer" instead.

Well, that about sums up my culinary adventures down in Florida's Emerald Coast.  I have one more awesome foodie thing happen to me on my flight back home though, but of course it requires a bit of a back story...

Once upon a time several decades ago when I was a child, my most favorite place in all the world was Baskin Robbins Ice Cream.  My grandparents used to take me there as a treat every weekend and even with all of their 31 flavors, there was only one that I would even consider - Chippermint.  For those who don't speak Baskin Robbin-ese, it's mint chocolate chip.  Sometime in my tweens our Baskin Robbins in Piqua, Ohio closed it's doors and more across the country sadly soon followed. There are still several left, but none that I have found to be easily gotten to for me.  So for years I have been searching for a store-bought mint chocolate chip ice cream manufacturer that could re-produce that perfect Chippermint flavor to no avail.  One time, on a road trip from Ohio to Oklahoma, I was very excited to see several billboards on the interstate for Baskin Robbins ice cream parlors.  We pulled off the highway every time I saw one and was disappointed each time, because when we would get to where the billboard said they were located, each one was shut down, permanently closed for business.  

On that trip we even took a detour down to Silver Dollar City in MO., and found a glorious, fully-functioning Baskin Robbins!  I was so excited!  I flung open the door, patiently waited in line and when I told the lady what I wanted, she made a sad-face and said, "I'm sorry, we're out of Chippermint."

What?  I just drove 900 miles for this!  How can you be out of Chippermint?  It's part of your original 31 flavors!!!!  I didn't say any of that out loud though, I just thanked her and sulked back out to the car.  That was like 8 years ago and I had since halted my quest for Chippermint ice cream, I just couldn't take that kind of disappointment again.

So, on my way back from Florida a couple of weeks ago, I had a layover at an airport I'd never been in - Love Field, TX.  I was wandering around looking for a place to get some lunch between flights, and suddenly, the heavens parted and light shown down upon my Holy Grail...

I stood there staring at it for several minutes, my mouth was surely agape.  But I had been fooled once or more and I knew I had to walk in to see before I got my hopes up.  There it was! Chippermint!!  My old friend, where oh where have you been all these years?  I basically threw my money at the girl behind the counter before she even got it dipped.  And then suddenly, there it was, in my hand in all it's unnaturally blue-green glory.  My quest fulfilled and my vacation complete.

Happy June, Everyone!!!!

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