What, you may ask, is the greatest invention of the last century? Sliced Bread? Penicillin? HBO’s The Wire? Hardly. I’m talking, loyal readers, about Bachelor Parties. Now, Bachelor Parties are obviously baller on several levels, but since this is a lunch blog, from a lunch-men’s perspective Bachelor parties are great because, in addition to the expected debauchery and careless decisions, these weekends allow you to travel to different locations and indulge in some of the local cuisine. Plus, usually by the time you eat anything you are knee deep in alcohol, so your conscience is dulled and you order the most expensive and fattening (READ: delicious) items on the menu. Even I’ll admit, there just isn’t really a place for a salad at the typical Bachelor Party meal.
This most recent BP led yours truly to the Emerald Coast in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico to Santa Rosa Beach to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of my law school classmate, “The Governor,” who practices in Birmingham. You may be asking yourself, “Santa Rosa Beach – not exactly La Varenne, is it?” Well be that as it may, this off-the-radar area boasts a dining experience that, despite its distance from the Capital City, deserves a review. If you are ever near the area, I think it’s a must, even if you are as far west as Destin or as far east as Panama City. I’m talking, of course about The Red Bar.
The Red Bar is nestled right near the ocean in an old village whose storefronts have all been updated and converted into fashionable shops and restaurants. The Red Bar, however, doesn’t look like its changed so much as a door screw since it opened over twenty years ago. To give you an idea, you can expect to wait over an hour for a table, and you’d better bring cash for the bar while you mill about outside drinking and waiting to be seated. Since the weather was perfect and we had a good group of guys catching up, no one minded waiting while we enjoyed some drinks out front.*** Once seated, a waiter quickly approached our large table with a giant chalkboard that featured the night’s menu. Basically, The Red Bar has 5-6 items you can choose from, and that it. Its cash or check only, and when they come to take your order, you’d better damn sure be ready. The experience was, in a word, intense.
I little intimidated, I just did my normal lunchmen move of ordering the special, which this night was sautéed grouper. We also had some orders of tuna dip appetizers for the table to hold us over. Let me first say that I have never before traveling to this part of the country had tuna dip. Crab dip, yes. Shrimp dip, sure. But never tuna. However, after trying this local delight, I give it my full endorsement. Its light, cool, and always comes with a good pita/bread type option for dipping. We had it at every meal we ate out this weekend, and always enjoyed it.
As for the entrée, I’m not one for hyperbole, but this plate is currently challenging to crack my top five best meals of all time. Maybe it was the Red Bar’s shabby charm, maybe it was the good company and conversation, or maybe it was the scores of co-eds from Alabama, Auburn, and LSU that gradually flooded the restaurant as the evening progressed (more on that later), but the dinner was just about damn near perfect. Other diners with the group tried the shrimp and crawfish over penne, the baked eggplant stuffed with shrimp, and, it being a Saturday night, the Crab Cakes. There wasn’t a plate that didn’t get cleaned.
To top it all off, a couple of the attendees kicked things up another notch when they ordered a few desserts for the group. I took down about a 1/3 of an order of Bread Pudding, which I had admittedly never tried before but found absolutely delicious. This brings up another lesson learned on the trip. Whenever you are at a restaurant in this type of situation, ALWAYS leave the dessert ordering up to people who don’t drink. They invariably are experts when it comes to dessert. Perhaps they savor this final part of the meal more than others since they aren’t rushing to get to the bar or have another round. Whatever it is, I have found without fail that a teetotaler is usually well versed in the proper way to end a meal. The Governor’s pals that did not drink alcohol once again proved this to be true.
When it was all said and done, we gathered our stuffed stomachs and headed for the door. As we were leaving, however, we couldn’t help but notice that the crowd had, as the night wore on, gotten progressively younger (READ: hotter) and more female. Suddenly surrounded by sorostitutes from the finest schools the SEC has to offer, we very nearly reversed course to enjoy the new “scenery.” However, we were quickly reminded that all of us were past our mid-twenties, and attempting to navigate this particular ocean of flesh would be akin to Shaq bringing it back for another season next year. He might have enjoyed himself on the court, but it would have been painful to watch.
*** I do want to get something off my chest, a practice that I’ve noticed has become more and more prevalent the further away I get from college. First a little background: In college, everyone is basically poor, so its just understood that a man pays for his own drinks. No questions asked. However, once all your buddies start working and making a little coin, people get the crazy, f-ed idea that we should buy “rounds” of drinks for each other. The lunchmen are going on record as wholly opposed to this. Inevitably this leads to inequity, as the person getting the first couple of rounds ends up shouldering the drinks and getting none bought for him in return. Either (1) the tab only lasts a couple of rounds, so most people pay nothing, or (2) since people drink at different paces people just start ordering their own drinks and paying their own way, conveniently forgetting about the rounds that were just bought for them. Our advice – always say you’ll “get one of the next rounds,” you are sure to come out ahead. But I digress.