So, you’re out and about with your dog and decide it’s time to eat. Where can you go and not have to leave your canine friend in the vehicle (well air conditioned of course)? Well, here’s a preliminary list of places that will allow dogs in their outdoor seating area(s). So take your pup along when you go out. Please be aware that bringing your dog to dinner will excite some other dog-friendly people to stop by and have a chat. That's never a bad thing - meeting other dog lovers, I mean. This page will be updated as we find more dog-friendly places, and to be honest, I expect that there will be many more. If you find out about one - let us know.
Hillcrest Farm & Vineyard has been owned for the last thirty years by the Hixson family. Prior to that, we were told, that the previous family owned the farm for sixty years, so doing the math - we're talking about a farm approaching 100 years of use. The farm stand is just a bit off US 98 in southern Alabama and worth the detour. Farm fresh eggs are a joy to behold and all the jams, jellies, etc. are made right there. This is also a pick-your-own blueberries and grapes in the right seasons and just a great atmosphere.
Ms. Laurel Hixson greated us as if we had know each other for ages. What a delight. The shop is loaded with local honey, hot pepper vinegar, and preserves of all varietes, including blueberry, mayhaw, strawberry, and frog (don't ask - it's good). There is also jalapeno jelly (a favorite of mine), and cinnamon pears, and fig preserves.
So the pick-your-own part starts in June with the blueberries and muscadine grapes, and keeps going with scuppernongs in August, pears in August as well, persimmons in September and a rather impressive harvest of satsumas, lemons, and kumquats in November. There are also other produce for sale as available.
Did I forget the ice cream? No, of course not. Locally-made ice cream - how original is that? Currently, flavors are vanilla, coffee, coconut and cinnamon-pecan. There is also local honey available.
The store is open seven days a week, from sun-up to sun-down. You might even get to pet the chickens or say hello to the pup.
Established in 1985 in Baldwin County, Alabama, Alyce Birchenough and Doug Wolbert, truly lovely people, founded Sweet Home Farm, a dairy that produces its own cheese from its own cows. While there is, thankfully, a place to purchase cheese, it’s so small and surrounded by the cows, chickens, and turkeys, plus the garden itself, you feel like you are on a farm, and indeed you are.
The cheese shop
The first time we went to Sweet Home Farm was during the Elberta Sausage Festival (many years ago) and Sweet Home was packed. You really have to look for the small sign, but the small sign yields great results. I had read about their cheese in the daily paper, but little did I realize what I was getting myself into (hooked on). I had no idea that a typical weekend at Sweet Home Farm was a line-laden event well worth the wait. Sweet Home is only open on Fridays and Saturdays (never hurts to call in the winter months). On many (many!) subsequent visits, the small crowded shop appears to be par for the course. On the lucky Friday I get to go, it’s not quite so crowded, but an inventory of the license plates in the parking lot makes you realize that while VERY local, it’s a favorite of the tourists as well. Good for you, Sweet Home Farm.
The variety is amazing. You can go from a creamy Elberta to a sharp Montabella, to Bayside Blue. to a personal favorite of Perdido (sigh) and it’s so hard to decide that ultimately, you want some of all of them. Oh and don’t forget the Cajun which makes excellent cheese grits.
Ms. Birchenough and Mr. Wolbert have been in the shop every time (again, many times), I’ve been there, with ideas and recommendations and samples. It’s just cheese heaven. Having spent some time in England, this is the closest I’ve come to that experience and being only about 30 or so minutes from Pensacola makes us some of the most fortunate people in the Florida Panhandle (ever!). Bring your cheese allowance (cash or check only), because it is so amazingly worth it. Just do it. Really.
*Elberta is an unique place. It’s very small, and largely populated by descendants of Germans. Many residents are Lutheran or Catholic and there were church services in German until the 1970s. The Sausage Festival benefits the volunteer fire department and is a major attraction. It is a lovely little southern Alabama town.
Palafox Market - Downtown Pensacola is a happening place on Saturdays from 8am to 2pm. At least for fresh produce, plants, baked goods, arts, and antiques. The Palafox Market is open rain or shine starting May 7th through December 17th for the 2011 season. There is music and vendors that are within a hundred mile radius from MLK Plaza in downtown Pensacola - an excellent thought, if you ask me. This part of Palafox street is covered in crape myrtles and a shady place to be sure - excellent for a market. Take your time and spend a little money to support local farms and markets. How easy could it be? One of my favorites is Kittrell's Daydream Apiary - some of the best honey I've ever had. Delicate and flavorful out of Fairhope Alabama - one of my favorite places. If you want to be a vendor, it's pretty easy. There are electrical outlets, water, and an easy atmosphere for all. Check out this site for details if you want to be a vendor. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter, so you'll know who will be there each week. There is one special farm, from McDavid/Walnut Hill, that I like to frequent - Green Acres Farm. It's a small family farm, that is such a jewel in this area. Please go to Local Harvest and sign up for their updates. We need to support local farms, local apiaries, as well as local restaurants and specialty food shops. It's just the right thing to do.
The Oar House Restaurant on Bayou Chico 1000 South Pace Boulevard (the end of Pace Boulevard) Pensacola, Florida 32502 850.549.4444 Open Seven Days a week - 11:00am - 'till
Ah, the Oar House, what can you say? It is on the water, on Bayou Chico. It is where the draw bridge used to be*, and then there was the fire**. Either of those items ring a bell for you? The restaurant with the big decks, minutes away from Downtown Pensacola and just off Bahia Mar Marina, features two full bars, and tables both inside and outside on the edge of the water. It's enjoyable for just watching the boats go by and watching the sea birds (love the ducks too), but there is so much more. There are many (many) locals that frequent the Oar House, but a few visitors find this place and I hope more do (well, maybe not too many more because that would make it harder for us to get the seat we want on Sundays). Almost always there is a nice breeze off the water which makes dining here a real pleasure.
The menu is select in that it serves a number of seafood dishes, but also roasts its own pork for sandwiches such as the cuban and the club. The burgers are outstanding - always seem to be perfect. The appetizers could count as a meal especially the quesadillas and nachos, and the sides are wonderful, especially the black-eyed peas. There are several "cajun" items, including crawfish etouffee and gumbo. For those interested in something lighter, there are salads and Jezebel's Grill, grilled or blackened fish with rice and mixed veggies. There are crab cakes and fish tacos, and ... you get the idea.
But let's be honest here, you come to the Oar House for good food, to be sure, but also for a great local restaurant on the water. That's one of the things about living on the gulf coast that makes it worth going through the hurricanes and humidity of the summer.
* The drawbridge, located here on Bayou Chico, was one of the last in the panhandle and was replaced in 1998.
** The fire was started by lightening in the early hours of the morning in June of 2008. This left 90 people out of work and damaged boats housed at Bahaia Mar Marina - a million or so all totalled. But immediately plans were put into place for the temporary kitchen and tents were put up to serve customers. It was an amazing effort and we went again and again just impressed by the work that the staff (esp. Tim Peck) and construction workers put in to bring back the Oar House. It was a sad reminder of how quickly things could go wrong for any of us. But, the Oar House perservered and is stronger now because if it. Our thanks to Leo Cyr and his excellent crew.
The Happy Pig Cafe is a great restaurant in the middle of the historic district and a prime downtown BBQ joint, just one block north of Seville Square. While the smoker is seemingly constantly going out back, there is never a short supply of pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked turkey or bbq chicken.
It is bbq w/taste
They describe the style of the bbq as barbeque with taste, and indeed it is. With your choice of five bbq sauces, anything off the smoker, smells of smoke and is tender and juicy. The brunswick stew is wonderful and the only thing that can make me eat and like a lima bean. There are several seafood options too. Don't miss the burrito with pulled pork, and there are loads of great sides (esp. potato salad).
As an additional bonus, they serve several beers from the Pensacola Bay Brewery along with a distinguished list of other beers on draft. There is a full bar and a great vibe.
Visit the Pig Pen, an exterior space in the back of the restaurant, near the smoker (yum) - where you can take your pups. There are several high top tables with umbrellas and several large tables under the shade of the trees. It's a great atmosphere with some impressive paintings on the fence. And any where you can take your canine friends, is always a fun place. So relax, have a beer, enjoy some bbq and the northwest Florida weather. Oh, and as you leave, check out the weather vain out front..