Four Days On The Riviera

The “redneck” Riviera that is. Also known as Panama City Beach.  It is on the Gulf of Mexico, about 100 miles from where I live and has one of the finest white sand beaches in the state and country. It’s often called the “redneck” Riviera because it attracts a lot of folks from southern Alabama.

A Manila classmate of mine owns a two bedroom, two bath beachfront condo on the 12th of 14 floors. Renting one on the “open market” would easily cost $200 a day including fees but she lets me have it for $95 a day plus a one time $90 cleaning fee. That’s an offer I can’t refuse.

These photos I took from our balcony explain why Panama City beach is so popular:

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Looking south from condo (Regency Towers, Thomas Drive)

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Looking north from condo

Our typical daily routine was to laze in the condo and swim in the morning and then go out in the afternoon. Cheryl likes to check out thrift shops and so we visited her favorites there: Goodwill, Salvation Army and Humane Society. She bought a “papasan” style wood swivel rocking chair for $30 which I was sure we’d not be able to carry back in the car because of all the food she brought but I was surprised that it did fit.

As a “foodie” I’m particular about what I eat. Beach towns are of course heavy on seafood, but I an not a fish lover except for shellfish and certain types of fish. The first night, we checked out a Cajun restaurant that was on Thomas Drive, where the condo is.

The good news is that each week night they have a “special of the day” and that night it was jambalaya for $8. The bad news is it is so popular they ran out of it two hours earlier. But, it was out fault for showing up at 9 PM. So we shared as an appetizer an excellent chicken and andouille sausage gumbo.

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That gumbo was so filling we should have shared a Ponchtrain Shrimp which I was not too thrilled with. Only about six shrimp in a creamy sauce on a bed of rice. (Too many carbs.)

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We brought way too much food and adult beverages. These were the beverages that I brought (and Cheryl brought about 18 bottles of craft  beer):

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From left: 3 bottles of San Miguel (Philippine beer), coconut sake, Tempranillo from Spanish winery, New Age red, blueberry wine from Florida winery, and three craft beers.

Another night, we went to the very popular Uncle Ernie’s on the St. Andrews district marina, which has a craft blueberry beer on tap that Cheryl likes. We had just spent four hours visiting with one of my Manila high school friends who was in town visiting her mother and had already had wine and a variety of cheese and other appetizers with them. But we decided to have a light dinner of crab cakes and coconut shrimp appetizers while taking in the sunset from a waterfront table.

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While wandering downtown Panama City on Friday, we stumbled upon Willows British Tea Room and decided to indulge in a proper English afternoon tea. I went with a pot of raspberry black tea and I forgot what Cheryl ordered. We ate the three types of  finger sandwiches, various sweets and two types of scones  and fruit in the proper order: from the bottom rack up. We also learned that when teacups had no handles, it was proper to raise the pinky finger  when sipping. After handles were introduced, raising the pinky became a no-no.

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On our final evening, we hosted my Manila high school friend and her mother at the condo, where I cooked chicken adobo. Everyone has their own adobo recipe. Mine is very minimalist: a 50-50 mixture of vinegar and soy sauce (using Kim Ve Wong brand, which has only four natural ingredients, no preservatives and is low sodium); minced garlic; bay leaf and cracked peppercorns. I marinated the skinless chicken thighs in the adobo sauce for six hours before simmering until done.I thought I had made enough for our guests to take some home but none of it survived dinner.

We drank the Tempranillo with appetizers of Swiss and sharp cheddar cheeses, marinated mushrooms and Kalamata olives. It was the New Age red with the adobo and it paired very well since it is a smooth red. And with a dessert of brownies we sipped chilled coconut sake. (Chilling it is what the sake rep told me to do when I discovered it at a wine tasting.)

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By the time we arrived back in Tallahassee on Saturday evening, it was prime dinner time. We had eaten only a very light breakfast the whole day and decided to check out the new Island Wings, which features 80 craft beers on tap, 40 TVs, a large outdoor seating area which includes sofas that can seat 12 and an extensive menu which makes it seem that wings were an after thought instead of the main attraction. But it was an hour wait and so we decided to look elsewhere.

At the intersection just up from Island Wings, serendipity brought out attention to a restaurant I’d been wanting to try for months. Shogun Japanese BBQ is the Japanese variant of Korean BBQ buffet which you cook at your table. When Koreans brought their BBQ to Japan, the Japanese were not excited. So the Koreans added a Japanese touch and Japanese BBQ was born.

Although the appetizers include Japanese favorites  (such as miso soup and endame), the meats are more Korean style, except that sauces are not as spicy. (A Japanese nod is “Japanese bacon” which is long rolled strips of pork belly about the width of bacon.) The buffet includes all you can eat of eleven appetizers, four veggies, and nine thinly sliced meats (including shrimp and squid). We sampled five appetizers and all of the meats except for squid, which I like but was too full for.

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Angus brisket at top, peppered boneless short rib at right, pork loin at left

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We’ll be back for lunch, which is a much better value since for $17 it includes everything on the dinner menu except shrimp and premium angus ribeye (versus $25 for dinner). And of course they have Kirin on tap to wash all that food down with.

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