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.

alligator-crossing

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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Fudpuckers-walls

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.

lighthouse-seafood-salad

 

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!

harry-ts-tshirts

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.

Cucumber Pineapple Salad

Vacationing on the Gulf Coast with my husband’s family often includes evenings spent in the beach house kitchen, with one or more of us preparing a meal for all 11 family members. Though it may sound like a chore, we enjoy cooking and having meal time together. Sure we like to eat out, too, but it can be difficult with such a large group. And somehow making dinner is much more enjoyable at the beach when you’re not feeling rushed after a long day at work and children’s extracurricular activities.

Tonight was no different. My sister-in-law made three delicious homemade pizzas – one cheese, one veggie and one sausage. I’d bought the ingredients to make a recipe I recently discovered on Pinterest, a cucumber pineapple salad, so I made it and it turned out to be a nice complement for the pizza.

This cool and refreshing salad would make a good snack after you’ve been out on the beach, too. Take advantage of the fresh fruits and vegetables of the season and try the Cucumber Salad Recipe with Pineapple and Cilantro featured on the Reluctant Entertainer blog.

cucumber-pineapple-salad

 

What do you like to eat on vacation? Leave a comment and let us know.