During our stay along Florida's Emerald Coast, we noticed a restaurant that had an outdoor seating area in the same central square in Seaside that housed Modica Market. (Click here for the entry on Modica Market.) They were open for breakfast and we took note of that fact. One morning when we felt like we needed to get out of the hotel to scout around, we ended up at the Great Southern Cafe for breakfast.
The Great Southern Restaurant is a "farm to fork" establishment under the watchful eye of Chef Jim Shirley. As a youngster, Jim Shirley was the son of a Navy pilot who was stationed all over the world. He learned to love many of the various local cuisines that he encountered while growing up. But his family roots were in the South and the staples of traditional Southern foods that his grandma made when he was a young boy were always his favorite.
Pictured right - Jim Shirley
Shirley opened his first restaurant in 1995 - Madison's Bar in Pensacola. Two years later, he opened his second place - The Screaming Coyote. Both restaurants focused on modern and traditional Southern cuisine. Shirley became famous for his signature dish "Grits a Ya Ya" - which primarily consists of a mixture of bacon, spinach, and mushrooms with jumbo shrimp in a cream sauce served over smoked Gouda cheese grits. Along the way, Jim Shirley became executive chef and co-owner of the Great Southern Restaurant Group which owns The Fish House, Atlas Oyster House and Jackson's Steakhouse in Pensacola. Shirley opened the Great Southern Cafe in Seaside in 2006 and earlier this year he opened The Bay - a Southern/Asian fusion restaurant - just off the causeway in Santa Rosa Beach. In addition to his duties as a chef, Shirley also wrote a weekly column on Southern cooking and is active in both statewide and local restaurant and civic organizations.
The Great Southern Cafe is on the north side of the Central Square in Seaside, just off 30A. (See map) Since it was a beautiful Florida morning, we ended up sitting on the patio at the restaurant. They had a nice bar area, one that I could see myself hanging out at on a warm afternoon.
We were seated at a table near the bar and we were greeted by our server, Wendy. We had gotten our menus from the hostess and the first thing that Cindy saw was that they had beignets. The first thing I saw was that they had a loaded bloody Mary. We couldn't help but order both.
The beignets came out soft and warm. A generous amount of powered sugar topped the beignets with a fruit medley off to the side. Maple syrup came with the beignets, but we didn't even bother adding any. The beignets on their own were a wonderful start to breakfast.
And my bloody Mary was a spot-hitter. The mix was a bit spicy, not enough that it was too spicy. A long skewer of olives, pickled okra, pepperoncini and spiced green beans were mixed in with the bloody Mary. I usually get a beer chaser with my bloody Mary, but this was enough. More than enough.
The menu at the Great Southern Cafe features a number of "farm-to-fork" items. Locally grown produce and meats from area farms are a staple at the restaurant as well as a number of fresh catch seafood. But they also had breakfast staples such as vanilla pancakes, waffles, eggs Benedict, and biscuits and gravy. They also featured Jim Shirley's Grits a Ya Ya dish (which I almost got), steak and eggs, and a fresh catch of the day entree that was char-grilled and topped with a choice of a house-made salsa, a spicy Creole hollandaise sauce, or olive tapenade. It came with smoked Gouda cheese grits, scrambled eggs and a fresh-baked biscuit.
I ended up getting the corned beef hash/eggs Benedict plate. A side of cheesy grits came with it. (Cheesy grits were a popular breakfast item along the Emerald Coast. I sort of just like good ol' plain grits.) And I got a side of the house-made sage sausage patties. I didn't care much for the cheesy grits and the sage sausage patties were flavorful, but very dry. However, the eggs Benedict/corned beef hash was just excellent. The hollandaise sauce was light and unobtrusive. The corned beef was somewhat salty, but had a great flavor. The combination of the eggs Benedict and corned beef hash was a winner.
Cindy ordered the veggie frittata - an open-faced Egg Beaters omelet topped with zucchini, yellow squash, red onions and red peppers, then all that was topped with Romano cheese. She said, "This is perfect!" She said it was very good, but very rich - even with the Egg Beaters. She made a significant dent in it before she said she'd had enough. Had she not had the beignets, she probably would have been able to finish it off.
We thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast and our visit to the Great Southern Cafe. Wendy did a great job taking care of us, making sure that we had everything we needed without hovering over us the whole time. The food was interesting and outstanding. And we loved the patio setting of the restaurant. We had a lot of memorable meals during our trip to Florida, but maybe none more than the one at the Great Southern Cafe mainly for the combination of the ambiance and the excellent and interesting food.