Heart of Glass

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Mary Hong Studio Gallery

There’s something wildly therapeutic about turning shards of glass into a very personal piece of art. Although I wasn’t mending a broken heart of glass like Blondie (I’m happily married, but Heart of Glass is a better blog post title), I did experience the enjoyment mosaic glass art can bring during a recent visit to the The Shard Shop in Grayton Beach.

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My sister-in-law kindly treated two of my daughters to a class at The Shard Shop as a birthday gift. We took the girls, along with her daughter (my niece/their cousin), to the Shops of Grayton, where you’ll find The Shard Shop next door to Mary Hong Studio Gallery.

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Mary Hong Studio Gallery

Mary Hong is a local artist who has been doing shard art, as she calls it, since 1999. Her gallery sells her beautiful creations and also provides inspiration for first-time artists who are going to make their own works of art at The Shard Shop.

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Upon arrival, our girls quickly chose their canvases and decided what the subject of their art would be. Each chose an assortment of colorful, multi-textured glass shards to place atop a chalk sketch they’d drawn on the canvas. We helped with cutting some of the larger glass pieces for the girls (safety first!). Craft glue was used to secure some of the pieces while others were placed loosely, all to be permanently set by an epoxy resin coating that The Shard Shop staff pours over your “finished” piece. It was fun to watch the girls create a crab, pineapple and peacock, and we were impressed with how well they turned out the next day when we went to pick up the resin-coated finished products.

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While helping the girls with their pieces was fun, my sister-in-law and I wanted to return to The Shard Shop sans children and make our own shard art. Later during our vacation week, we paid our second visit and got to work on making a tree (hers, which I sadly failed to photograph) and a trio of butterflies (mine). Unlike traditional mosaic art, the shard art style is more layered or dimensional. After placing larger pieces of glass from old bottles and dishes on the canvas (or wood plank, in my case), we filled in the design with smaller shards and even some glittery bling (note: not a technical term). The Shard Shop does provide safety goggles and gloves for you to use when you are cutting glass and handling the sharper pieces. There is a safety waiver you have to sign before taking a class – of course there is, there is always a waiver! The instructor we worked with showed us how to cut and sand the edges for a smoother finish so that no one will inadvertently stab themselves while admiring our finished pieces.

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While our work might not hold a candle to Mary Hong’s professional pieces, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in The Shard Shop and we each have a handmade souvenir from our 30-A vacation to display in our homes. I would recommend The Shard Shop classes and workshops to anyone who is old enough to safely handle glass (7 is the minimum age for children’s classes). The classes we took were $35 for children and $85 for adults.

This would be a fun destination for a girls’ weekend or girls’ day out. One woman who was in the shop at the same time we visited said she had used shard art as therapy after experiencing some traumatic physical health challenges. Whatever your reason for wanting to do glass art, your creation is sure to be a unique thing of upcycled beauty.

If you’re hungry for lunch before your art class, just walk across the parking lot at Shops of Grayton to Farm Stand, a good spot for farm fresh, organic food. I recently visited Farm Stand and wrote about it in the article, From Farm to Table in Northwest Florida, published by Visit Florida.

Gator Bait in Destin

the-swampThis crimson-blooded Alabama native has seen enough Gators after a football weekend trip to The Swamp, in Gainesville, Fla. The raucousness of the University of Florida crowd after a triple overtime win over the University of Kentucky Wildcats looked much like the scene at another reptilian retreat I visited a few weeks ago.

The scene: Destin’s Fudpucker’s restaurant at alligator feeding time.

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Just like the diners at this popular eatery, real, live alligators come hungry. Trained staff and regular restaurant-goers alike have a chance to feed these gators, which reside in a manmade swamp just outside the front door at Fudpucker’s.

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I ate at this restaurant years ago, but I don’t think they had alligators on the premises back then. (Fudpucker’s opened in 1982.) Just as I remembered, guests can (and do) leave their autographs on the walls, tables and just about any other writeable surface inside this colorful establishment.

Fudpucker’s hadn’t been on my short list of places to go in Destin for quite a while, but it’s funny how having children leads you to all sorts of places you might not otherwise go. Surprisingly, some of them are not so bad. Fudpucker’s, in fact, may be brilliant because what I remember as an area to wait for a table is now a semi-educational attraction, thanks to the alligators.

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For $3, you can purchase a bag of alligator food. Your four pellets of food are presented to you with a fishing pole-like contraption that you use to lower the bait down to the surface of the water below. Then, watch the gators swarm and CHOMP!

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The pellet snacks are an appetizer to the raw chicken pieces a staff member feeds them during a narrated demonstration. “The alligators here are young gators,” he explains. “Once they reach five or six feet in length, they are moved to other habitats as they’d become too aggressive for this environment.”

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A rare albino alligator named Pearl also resides at Fudpucker’s. She is older and has her own tank that is shielded from the sun to protect her skin.

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My children loved seeing Pearl, feeding the other alligators and asking questions about them. It was certainly a unique experience, and it would be an easy way to pass the time with young children if you in fact were waiting for a table.

On this visit, we didn’t have to wait. We were having a late lunch on Labor Day, when most of the summer vacationers had packed up and gone home. Service was good and the food was better than I expected at a big, popular tourist stop.

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Our entrees were around $10-12 each. The fish sandwich I ordered was seasoned well. My mom enjoyed a fresh salad with chicken, fruit and nuts. The kids’ menu included the usual fare and portions were good.

If you don’t go to Fudpucker’s for the food, go for the gators (even if, like me, you don’t usually “go for” Gators).

 

Fudpucker’s has locations in Destin and Ft. Walton Beach. Somewhere on the restaraunt’s walls is written “Roll Tide Roll!”

An Old Destin Favorite: Harry T’s

One of Destin’s oldest restaurants, Harry T’s relocated to HarborWalk Village a few years ago. I was happy to see this colorful restaurant back on the scene after it closed its doors at the Destin Yacht Club. The old Harry T’s was a favorite of mine as a child. The food was pretty good and the T-shirts sold there were a coveted souvenir.

My Harry T’s T-shirt was yellow with a giraffe on water skis (or something similarly imaginative; it’s been a few years!). When I wasn’t wearing it, it shared drawer space with my A.J.’s and Back Porch T-shirts. (Did I mention I spent a lot of time in Destin?) As I got older, I remembered Harry T’s for its festive atmosphere and live music.

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It seems that not a much has changed since those glory days. I’ve been back to Harry T’s a couple of times since its reopening. Now occupying prime real estate overlooking Destin Harbor and East Pass, it has one of the best views in Destin. You can choose outdoor seating directly adjacent to the marina to take in the emerald waters and passing boats. If you dine inside, you’ll eat amongst the circus-themed memorabilia the restaurant has long been known for displaying. You’ll find TVs, too, if there is a big game you want to see during your visit.

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Harry T’s menu offers a variety of seafood dishes, sandwiches, burgers and other American fare. Our most recent visit was for a weekday lunch. We walked into Harry T’s after an unwelcoming experience at another popular restaurant we’d planned to try just down the boardwalk. The greeting and service we received at Harry T’s was outstanding. Our waitress was attentive and even brought stickers to our daughters at the end of the meal.

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The food was good. It’s not fine dining, but the kind of food you expect at a large restaurant in a resort town, and Harry T’s does it well. Our party enjoyed a variety of dishes, including a fish po’boy, fish tacos, a quesadilla and the Lighthouse Seafood Salad. The portions were substantial. Children’s menu items are served in a Harry T’s frisbee the kids can take home with them.

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We did not pick up any additional souvenirs during our visit, but the restaurant’s gift shop still offers the famous T-shirts in abundance alongside caps, keychains and koozies bearing the Harry T’s name. Maybe next time!

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What are your favorite Gulf Coast restaurants? Have you taken your family to any of the restaurants you enjoyed as a child? Leave a reply with your comments.