We are moving! Over the next couple of weeks, we are making the transition to the Northern Virginia/D.C. area. While I am so excited to begin the next chapter of our lives, the past four years have been wonderful and I am a little sad to be leaving some parts of it. Sure there are some not so great things about Florida (the often unbearable heat and humidity/ mosquitoes and palmetto bugs in WINTER), but we have made some amazing friends here and enjoyed quite a few of the benefits the area has to offer. For the next few posts, I will show highlights from the past four years: Fort Walton Beach today, then Niceville, Destin, and South Walton.
Along 98, there is a strip of shops (many locally owned businesses) and a large park, The Landing, in the back with beautiful views of the water. The Landing is also a popular spot to hold special events, especially during the summer. Do be cautious in this area at certain times. There is a homeless and panhandling population along Miracle Strip Parkway/98 and in the surrounding parks.
One of the events held at The Landing every summer is the Billy Bowlegs Festival. It began in 1953 as a water-skiing festival. It is now organized by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce and is held during the first full weekend in June.
The festivities currently kick off with a parade down Eglin Parkway, followed by events and live entertainment through the weekend. Be prepared for large crowds and traffic, including many boats in the sound behind The Landing. With my belly dance group, The Kasba Dancers, I participated in the parade a couple of years and performed once.
More information on the Billy Bowlegs Festival.
The Landing is also specially decorated around the holidays. Check out the area in December to see a large Christmas Tree
There are a few shops we enjoy along the 98 strip. One is 3 Dogs and a Chick, a dog bakery and boutique. In addition to homemade treats, cookies, and cakes, they also offer an assortment of toys, bedding, food, skin products, and other merchandise for dogs and cats. We always went here to pick up treats, birthday, and Christmas presents for Riley and Sophie. They also have special events for the dogs scheduled throughout the year, including Doggie Socials.
Cupcakery By the Sea opened during our time in Fort Walton Beach. It is right next to 3 Dogs and a Chick. I only visited the shop a couple of times since I usually make cupcakes at home, but it was great for a special treat. Cupcake flavors change daily (and are often seasonal), so there is always something new to sample. In addition to cupcakes and other baked goods, they also offer specialty baking products and decorations.
For those into history, Heritage Park and Cultural Center lies on the opposite side of Highway 98 from the shops. Here, you can see the Indian Temple Mound Museum, Fort Walton Temple Mound, Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum, Garnier Post Office, and Civil War Exhibit building. The Indian Temple Mound Museum opened in 1962 and showcases artifacts from Native Americans, European Explorers, Pirates, and Early Settlers. The Fort Walton Temple Mound is a National Historic Landmark from the Mound Builder Culture dating back to 800-1400 AD. It is possibly the largest in the Gulf Coast at 12 feet tall and 223 feet across.
More information on the Heritage Park and Cultural Center.
One of Evan’s favorite activities in Fort Walton Beach was Open Gym at Emerald City Gymnastics. Their Open Gym program is available to preschoolers on Monday and Friday mornings. I started taking Evan right after he turned one and he always looked forward to it. There are plenty of toys, trampolines, mats, balls, and other equipment to keep him busy and run off excess energy. It was especially perfect on hot and rainy days.
The Air Force Armament Museum is located next to Eglin Air Force Base. It is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30-4:30 and admission is free. Outside of the museum, you can get a close look at multiple types of aircraft. The museum houses additional aircraft, bombs, missiles, rockets, and interactive exhibits.
We usually went to Okaloosa Island when we wanted to spend some time at the beach. Our house just over the bridge and we didn’t have to fight the traffic for the Destin beaches. For less busy days or when we wanted to grab a bite to eat, we would visit the Boardwalk. Otherwise, we would drive a little further to Beasley Park or the military beach closer to the Destin bridge.
The Boardwalk has a couple of restaurants with great views of the beach. They tend to mostly be tourist traps, but the location is great. We went a handful of times with friends, but the food never really stood out.
Now for other restaurants in Fort Walton Beach: I only have photos of a few places since I didn’t get into the habit of taking photos at restaurants until recently.
Props Brewery and Grill opened near our house while I was pregnant with Evan. It is a favorite of Chad’s and he always took friends while they were in town visiting. Their Mac and Cheese has been a hit with us and Chad usually gets a Flight to try a few beers at once.
The Italian restaurant, Clemenza’s at Uptown Station, offers Mama Clemenza’s European Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings. You can find an assortment of European breakfast items and beverages. We tried the Bellini with Peach Nectar, Orange Ricotta Pancakes, Homemade Eggs Benedict (Eggs and Prosciutto over Yorkshire Pudding Muffin and Hollandaise Sauce, served with Tossed Greens and Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette), and Crepes Trio (Lemon Curd, Lingonberry, and Apple). Everything was absolutely delicious. We ordered the Crepes Trio for Evan, but he ended up stealing most of Chad’s Eggs Benedict. We don’t go to restaurants often for breakfast, but this has been one of my favorites. It was also noted as Emerald Coast’s Best of 2013- Best Brunch.
While Fort Walton Beach did not have a lot of diverse restaurants, there were plenty of options for those who enjoy Thai food. We tried a few different places in the area and never had a bad meal. The ones we frequented the most were Thai Kitchen (close to our house) and Orchid House (lunch buffet is pretty good if you get there early).
We found a seafood place in Fort Walton that offers delicious food at a lower price than many of the restaurants in the tourist areas. Stewby’s Seafood Shanty is a bit off the beaten path, tucked at the end of Racetrack Road. It is small with counter service and take out available. I had the fried shrimp tacos, Chad had fried amberjack with grits and fried okra, and Evan had the kid’s popcorn shrimp. There are only a few tables, so I can see this place getting packed during busy times.
For Tex-Mex, we frequented Tijuana Flats on Eglin Parkway. We got take-out often while Evan was tiny. As he got older, he enjoyed looking at the decorated ceiling tiles and other artwork in the restaurant. They have a hot sauce bar in the back with choices ranging from a mild sweet chili sauce to deathwish sauces.
We went to the Neighborhood Cafe while some friends were visiting since all the breakfast places in Destin were packed. I am so glad we found it. So delicious and we only had to wait about 5 minutes on a busy Saturday morning since it was further away from to tourist areas. Evan had scrambled eggs with home fries and toast, Chad had country fried steak, our friend had french toast, and I got the special white chocolate and strawberry pancakes. I loved the pancakes and will definitely have to make them at home sometime.
For grocery shopping, I purchased most of my groceries at the commissary on Eglin AFB or Publix. I used Off the Vine for my organic produce. I could order a mixed vegetable and fruit, fruit, juicing, or salad box each week based on my needs. They emailed me a list with the produce included in each box on Friday, I ordered by Sunday, and picked up the box on Wednesday. There are a handful of Asian Food Markets in the area. I went to Hong Kong Asian Market on Eglin Parkway most often. They specialize in Korean and Japanese groceries. They offer plenty of pantry items, along with fresh product, frozen products, and meat (including pork belly!). I went to the Asian Market on Beal Parkway whenever I needed specialty Indian ingredients. Thai Market on Racetrack Road was great for Thai products. I also got a few bowls and utensils here for food props. I went to Yiota’s Greek Deli on Miracle Strip Parkway for Greek cheeses. I never ate at the deli, but did occasionally take home a slice of tiramisu or baklava.
For the recipe to go with this post, I made my own version of Mama Clemenza’s Crepe Trio using my favorite flavors- Vanilla Bean Custard with Nutella Drizzle, Peaches and Cream, and a Vanilla Bean Crepe with Strawberry Sauce. You can make the whole recipe, pick one, mix and match, or add your own customizations.
Evan doesn’t like fresh fruit with his pancakes and crepes, so he didn’t really go for the peach one. He liked the Vanilla Bean Custard with Nutella Drizzle and the crepes plain the best.
There are a few steps for these crepes, but a couple can be made ahead of time. The strawberry sauce can be made up to four days in advance. The vanilla bean custard can be made a day in advance.
I added a little vanilla sugar as I was making the whipped cream for the peaches for a little extra flavor.
Vanilla Bean Crepe Trio
Vanilla Bean Custard Crepes with Nutella Drizzle adapted from Yammie’s Noshery; Strawberry sauce adapted from Just One Cookbook, from Food Network; Crepes adapted from Grandma’s German Cookbook
Vanilla Bean Custard:
2 cups milk
2 vanilla beans
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoons sugar
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 lemon, zest and juice
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams, scant 1 cup) all purpose flour
1 1/3 cup milk
1 vanilla bean
4 medium peaches, pitted and sliced
1 1/2 cups whipped cream
1/4 cup Nutella
To make the vanilla bean custard: In a medium saucepan, heat milk and scrapings from vanilla bean over medium heat until it begins to steam but not yet boil.
In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, egg, egg yolks, and cornstarch. While continuing to whisk, slowly add about 1/4 cup of the heated milk. Repeat with about 1/2 cup more milk, until the eggs are tempered. Slowly pour the eggs into the saucepan of milk, continuously whisking. Continue to stir the mixture over medium heat until it thickens. Remove from heat and transfer to a medium bowl. Cover the top with plastic wrap, making sure it is touching to prevent a film from forming, and refrigerate until chilled and ready to serve.
To make the strawberry sauce: In a small saucepan, whisk together sugar, water, and cornstarch over medium heat. Mix in the zest and juice of the lemon, then gently add in the strawberries. Cook, stirring and breaking up the strawberries often, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. If desired, blend to make a smooth sauce. Cover and refrigerate for up to four days.
To make the crepes: In a blender, add the flour, eggs, milk, salt, and scrapings from vanilla bean. Blend until smooth. To mix by hand, whisk the ingredients in a medium bowl until smooth. Let rest for 15-30 minutes.
Lightly grease a large skillet or crepe pan and place over medium low heat. Once heated, add just enough batter to make a thin coating over the bottom. Cook until barely golden and the top is set, 1-2 minutes. Flip and cook until barely golden. Repeat with remaining batter and let the crepes cool slightly.
To assemble: Spread prepared vanilla custard over one side of 1/3rd of the crepes. Fold in half, then fold over again to make a triangle and transfer to serving plates. Place the nutella in a small bowl and microwave until warm with a thinner consistency, about 30 seconds. Drizzle over the vanilla custard crepes.
Fold another 1/3rd of the crepes into triangles and place on serving plates. Top with prepared strawberry sauce.
For the remaining 1/3rd of the crepes, spread one side with whipped cream. Place sliced peaches over half of each crepe. If the whipped cream is not sweetened to desired taste, sprinkle with some powdered sugar. Fold into triangles and place on serving plates. Top the crepes with additional whipped cream and powdered sugar.