The weather along the Florida panhandle has been a hot mess this week, which has caused me to place an even bigger emphasis on eating. (Who am I kidding? Eating is always the chief reason why I come to the coast.)
Here’s how I would rank the places I’ve eaten in Panama City Beach this week, from best to worst (with worst being strictly relative; I haven’t had any truly bad food).
1.) Mike’s Oyster Bar. This place, located along Front Beach Road on PCB’s west end, is something of a dive but it’s well worth the visit. Mike’s serves up sea critters and swamp critters alike (even offering a fried swamp platter). The fried alligator is worth writing home about, and the crab cakes may be the best on the beach. Meanwhile, french fries may be just french fries at most places, but they’re good enough to eat by themselves at Mike’s.
2.) Sharky’s Beachfront Restaurant. Sharky’s is one of those beachfront, open-air-dining establishments that are a dime a dozen on any beach. You usually pay for the atmosphere, not so much the food, and that’s certainly been how I would have ranked Sharky’s in years past. This year was different, for whatever reason. It was my first stop after arriving on Saturday evening, and it was better than it has been in years past. (Added bonus: it was the cheapest place we’ve eaten all week!) I’m going to make a return trip this evening, weather permitting, to see if Saturday’s experience was an exception or the rule.
3.) J. Michael’s. This hole-in-the-wall on the bay on PCB’s east end draws quite a crowd every evening, and for good reason. Most years I would consider it the best food on the beach. This year I wasn’t as thrilled, but that’s mostly because J. Mike’s has a limited menu, as seafood goes, and I knew that before I went. As fried shrimp goes, theirs is as good as any. Their corn fritters are worth paying extra for, and you will have trouble finding anything on the menu that isn’t worth sinking your teeth into.
4.) Schooners. This is another of those beachfront clubs, very similar to Sharky’s. Calling themselves PCB’s “last local beach club,” Schooners is tucked away between high-rise condo complexes that have sprung up around it. It may be almost hidden from view, but it’s typically my favorite beachfront restaurant in PCB. I didn’t think it was quite as good as Sharky’s this year, and I ate the exact same thing at each place. (Maybe I was just irritated that they wouldn’t serve me a drink because I had left my wallet — and, thus, my ID — back at the room.)
5.) Bayou Bill’s Crab Shack. Located at the west end of PCB, where Front Beach Road and Hwy. 98 meet, Bayou Bill’s is open for dinner only and fills up quickly. Bill’s specialty is crab, and you can find it on the menu in just about any shape or form. My take on Bill’s is that the food is overpriced; it was by far the most expensive place we ate. The crab cakes were just okay, which is disappointing for a place that specializes in crab. And my biggest complaint with Bill’s is that no substitutions are allowed. Which means I took my crab cakes with steamed vegetables. Bleh. The fried cheese curds were good, but no better than the cheaper-priced plate at J. Mike’s.
6.) Thomas’s Donuts & Snacks. This is a local standard, located on the west end near the end of the high-rise condos. It draws a huge crowd for breakfast (donuts and muffins) and at sunset (ice cream). The donuts are just okay; better than you can get in a box at Walmart, but not as good as you would expect fresh-made from a donut hut. The ice cream is likewise just okay. Lunch is fair, but severely overpriced. And don’t ever expect them to actually have all their menu items available.