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Jul/Aug 2009 Issue

Good Gulf Food

Established Fort Walton Beach restaurant serves up fresh seafood and great steaks.
By Deborah Reinhardt Palmer

When Staff’s Restaurant opened in Fort Walton Beach in 1913, the town was called Camp Walton and a one-room schoolhouse, made by local citizens, was the educational center. Both historical structures remain a part of Fort Walton Beach today. The school is part of Heritage Park and Cultural Center, and Staff’s is still serving patrons some of the best, freshest seafood on the Emerald Coast.

Restaurant

Staff’s Restaurant, known for fresh seafood and tender, flavorful steaks, is easy to find on the Miracle Strip in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. It’s a popular place with visitors and locals. A signature dish is the broiled skillet (below) that should not be ordered if you’re watching calories or cholesterol. Deborah Reinhardt Palmer photos

food
Any restaurant that has been in business for 95 years is worth a visit in my mind, so during a recent family vacation, we tried this institution. Judging by the exterior, we were expecting a friendly, casual and reasonably priced establishment. The staff was great, the atmosphere was relaxed but the prices were more expensive than we expected–about $33 per person.

We started with an appetizer, green chilies broiled with crabmeat ($7) and topped with cheese. It was enough for three to share, although I thought the mild chilies were just a bit overcooked.

Our dinners included a very good, crisp tossed salad that was larger than most dinner salads. Try the homemade blue cheese dressing, one of Staff’s signature items; it’s also sold by the jar to take home. In fact, all salad dressings are presented at your table in a mason jar, which allows the diner to help himself, and also presents a home-like quality at the table. Dressings, sauces and gazpacho are family recipes that date back as far as five generations. The warm, homemade wheat bread loaf that was baked in the kitchen was another nice addition.

For dinner, I tried another signature dish, the broiled skillet, featuring grouper, shrimp, scallops, and oysters. The fish and shrimp were stuffed with more crabmeat although the stuffing easily could have been left out. The dish is topped with cheese and broiled. It’s very rich–to the point of being over the top, with the crab, cheese and butter. And at $26, it’s also one of the more expensive entrees. The meal came with a new potatoes and corn-on-the-cob.

A special for the evening included a Maine lobster tail, scallops and shrimp. It was another pricey entrée (about $30), although portions were generous. Potatoes and corn-on-the-cob came with the meal.

A six-ounce filet mignon ($27) was tender, well-prepared and flavorful. All of the fish–except the lobster–comes from the Gulf and is filleted in house. The waiter said many diners come to Staff’s for the steaks, and if this one is an indication, it’s easy to see why.

For those with smaller appetites (and wallets), Staff’s offers “small plates,” a la carte entrees such as blackened fresh catch of the day; Southern fried grouper strips; a marinated combo of shrimp, fish and chicken or pasta scampi. Prices were also smaller, ranging from $10–$18. Add a salad for another $2 or a different side for $2–$4. Staff’s also is open for lunch, a good alternative for vacationers watching their dining out budget.

Unlimited refills for iced tea and coffee were offered. There is a full bar and a nice selection of wines available by the bottle or glass. The kitchen is under the supervision of executive chef Michael Hill.

Staff’s is a community landmark that visitors should consider trying. They will find fresh seafood, quality steaks and an attentive, professional wait staff.

Deborah Reinhardt Palmer is managing editor of AAA Southern Traveler.

Menu

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