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Fresh from the Sea

Local Seafood Fare Offers Endless Options for Flavor

By Casey Feindt // Photo by Alena Bakutis Photography

White sand and serene endless water views make seaside nuptials a classic option for couples looking to tie the knot. You don’t necessarily have to get hitched near the water to incorporate coastal elements into your ceremony, though. Wherever you are in Northwest Florida, the region’s proximity to the coast means fresh local seafood is just down the road. 

“When you’re close to the beautiful water and have so much fresh fish at your fingertips,” said Ed Ward, co-owner of 790 on the Gulf in Destin, “it’s what people tend to want and enjoy.”

Ward caters almost 250 seafood-centric weddings a year. His most impressive dish? A signature creation featuring grouper acadiana – a tender fillet of Gulf grouper, pan blackened, and topped with crawfish étouffée. Other favorites include bacon wrapped lump crabmeat, crabmeat stuffed grouper medallions and trout florentine. And all are either caught locally or sourced from nearby seafood distributors from the region.

When it comes to selecting the freshest in seasonal seafood, the key is to ask a lot of questions. Some fish can be strictly seasonal, while others are available year-round.

“How fresh the seafood is, where it came from, these are definitely questions you should be asking,” said Ward. “From there, you’ll be able to find reputable seafood vendors and be able to buy the freshest seafood possible.”

When putting together a maritime menu, the world is your oyster. Local seafood vendors as well as restaurants and caterers are constantly coming up with elaborate menus that would impress King Neptune himself. Fresh Gulf shrimp, red snapper and crab cakes are easy and delectable options that guests are sure to love. Feeling bold? Take it a step farther with fried crab gnocchi bites or cilantro shrimp-stuffed avocados.

Dave Rauschkolb is another seafood-loving professional. The founder and owner of Bud & Alley’s, a popular waterfront restaurant in Santa Rosa Beach, Rauschkolb says that in his mind, seafood and weddings are a perfect match.

“Being located directly on the Gulf of Mexico here in Seaside,” started Rauschkolb, “our brides naturally look to Bud & Alley’s culinary team for coastal-inspired menus. Fresh seafood prepared to perfection in an unforgettable beachside setting makes wedding dining that much more deliciously memorable.”

With entrées like grilled Gulf snapper with baby lima beans and sweet corn succotash, it’s safe to say that the fare at Bud and Alley’s would make any wedding unforgettable.

In addition to putting a fun spin on any menu, chilled seafood provides a refreshingly convenient food option for wedding goers trying to beat the heat. Instead of opting for a traditional carving station or hot food line, try incorporating chilled ceviche and raw oysters with a glass of ice-cold champagne. Guests will appreciate the scrumptious escape.

Coastal-inspired serving displays can also add a beautiful visual element to any reception. Serve fresh Gulf shrimp in mini sand buckets of cocktail sauce for a creative appetizer option. Small wooden dinghies can also be filled with ice and stocked full of oysters for guests to dine on throughout the evening. The seafood-inspired displays will help solidify the wedding’s coastal theme.