If you are looking for a unique and casual fine dining experience in Panama City Beach, Florida, then look no further than Firefly Restaurant. Located in a very unassuming strip mall called the Shoppes Of Edgewater, Firefly is an oasis for foodies.
Firefly specializes in local and imported exotic seafood, and their mouthwatering steaks are cooked on an 1800 degree broiler to sear in flavor. They also serve artisan pizzas, hand made pastas, and sushi. Firefly boasts an extensive wine and martini list, and this family-friendly Mediterranean-style bistro was recently honored by acclaimed Urbanspoon and placed on their list of “America’s Most Popular High-End Restaurants.”
Dave Trepanier, owner of Firefly, met my husband and me in the restaurants bar on arrival. We toured the beautiful space surrounded by dark wood and sumptuous fabrics, and the 535 Library Lounge, which evoked the feeling of being at home with family and friends. Dave said, “With only 25 Florida restaurants making the world-wide Urbanspoon list, we are excited to be one of the most popular dining establishments among food critics and the general dining public.”
We were seated in the main dining room where the overall ambiance is an experience within itself. A sprawling oak tree makes a statement from the center of the room, twinkling lights glittering from the limbs, the atmosphere is that of a Mediterranean garden piazza. The diffused lighting provides the perfect setting for romantic dining, yet is also a place for business meetings, and celebrations.
First to arrive to our table was a basket of artisan breads accompanied by a trio of spreads. Dave said, “The kids really love the one that is wild cherry infused.”
He then sent out his favorite sushi dish called the sushi burrito, which was packed with fresh avocado, crab, ahi tuna, and asparagus. He modeled it after a similar dish he had found in California, and my husbands reaction was, “Don’t walk…Run to Firefly for the Sushi Burrito!” This coming from a man who doesn’t eat sushi.
Dave sat down with us and spoke about his father-in-law, a local developer and owner of Edgewater Beach Resort, and his wife Stacy. Dave and Stacy met in Los Angeles at a Nascar event when Stacy was an actress, and Dave the manager of hard rock bands. Stacy was offered tickets to the event by local Nascar owner James Finch, and in turn she offered tickets to a cinematographer who was shooting her for work. The cinematographer then gave a pair of tickets to his brother, a drummer for one of Dave’s bands, and the rest is simply kismet.
Within four years Dave and Stacy were married, planning a family, and moving to Panama City Beach from Los Angeles to follow Dave’s dream of opening a restaurant. Firefly is now reaching its 5th year anniversary, and Dave said it has been the perfect fit for their family lifestyle.
Dave loves cold soup, especially in the summer, so he brought us a sampling of Firefly’s chilled soup of the day, and their ever popular she-crab soup. Having lived in Charlestion, South Carolina, where she-crab soup is a regional specialty, I have had it many times, and can honestly say that Firefly’s is some of the best I have ever tasted. Creamy and decadent, it is served with puff pastry and sherry, and definitely something you should order when visiting the restaurant.
Firefly uses fresh local produce when available, and this was evident in our next service of salads. Four smaller portioned versions of those found on the menu were brought to us to try, such as the hydroponic butter lettuce with goat cheese and warm pecan dressing, served with fresh strawberries and Bulls Blood micro greens. The Ceasar with lump crab was showcased in a delectable house made parmesan bowl, and the Caprese sald with fresh avocado, tomato and mozzarella was a favorite. I especially liked the flavor profile in the Stilton Bleu Cheese Salad, which contained Granny Smith Apples, candied pecans, and was dressed with a house made balsamic vinaigrette.
Dave said the the most popular menu items other than the she-crab soup were the steaks, lamb and boar shank, and the Andouille Crusted Red Snapper. We tasted a sampling of the boar shank, which those dining around us were also enjoying. It was tender, juicy, and roasted to perfection with a blend of Chef Paul Stellato’s secret spices. We followed with a perfectly plated presentation of duck, which was served in a crawfish, onion and tomato broth, and the well liked red snapper served in oyster sauce, surrounded by a squash and eggplant ratatouille.
The finale of our meal was an over the top presentation of a trio of desserts; the white classic creme brule, cheesecake with candied pecans, and the chocolate bombe, which is pastry based and filled with chocolate mousse. All luscious and sumptuous, they were equally delicious.
Executive Chef Paul Stellato stepped out from the kitchen to say, “hello.” He was formerly with Canopies in Panama City which closed five years ago, just in time for Chef Stellato to make the move to Firefly. Chef Stellato was with Canopies for 22 years, and has been on the advisory board for the Culinary School at Gulf Coast Community College. A native of Connecticut who worked his way up from dishwasher at the age of thirteen, Chef Stellato can add to his credentials that he served President Obama and the First Family during their visit to the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast in the summer of 2010.
Chef Stellato described his staff to us, and the detailed works of artistry created by his pastry chef, saucier, and sushi chef. Firefly has hired some of the top chefs in the area to work alongside Chef Stellato, and he says, ”We have the highest payrolled kitchen in the Panhandle!” Saucier Chef William Baker has been with Stellato for fifteen years, and Chef Stellato says, ” Without him I would be nothing. I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve had.”
Chef Stellato’s most recent accolade is that he will be among a contingent of chefs representing Gulf seafood at the Summer Olympics in London.“The Spirit of the Gulf” will be a four-day series of events presented by BP for Team USA during the games. The events will expose thousands to Gulf seafood and the Gulf Coast as a tourist destination.
Three of the events will be buffet-style dinners for an estimated 1,000 people each. The fourth will be a 200-person luncheon with cooking demos. The chefs will travel in two shifts, with a group leaving on July 25 and another leaving on Aug. 2.
On top of their other awards, Firefly has received Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon Award two years in a row and Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for five years running.
Dave said,“We pride ourselves on being known for our creative culinary excellence and dedication to the Gulf Coast. We have a great local following, and our chefs and our staff are the best.”
Firefly is located at 535 Richard Jackson Boulevard in Panama City Beach across from Edgewater Beach & Golf Resort in the Shoppes at Edgewater, part of the Resort Collection of Panama City Beach. The restaurant’s daily specials and current events can be found online at www.fireflypcb.com or by calling 850-249-3359. They are open seven nights a week for dinner beginning at 5 p.m., and are closed for Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, and Super Bowl Sunday.