The Florida Panhandle has long been known for its extraordinary white-sand beaches, emerald-green Gulf waters, and Seaside—a model town that, in the early 1980s, introduced thoughtful urban planning not only to the coastal area along Scenic Highway 30-A, but also to the nation.
At the heart of Seaside, along the Gulf of Mexico’s edge, is Bud & Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant, a favorite local gathering place that celebrated its thirtieth anniversary on January 20, 2016.
Owner Dave Rauschkolb, a pioneer and visionary on the 30-A restaurant scene as well as a community activist, said, “Who would have thought that two bright-eyed twenty-four-year-olds would be given the opportunity by the town cofounders, Robert and Daryl Davis, to open a restaurant in Seaside? My former partner and chef, Scott Witcoski, and I were literally on our way to surf in Panama City when we stopped for the meeting.” Having one semester of college left, Rauschkolb had to sleep on the idea and needed to speak with his mother, who gave her full support. She passed away in 1998, and Rauschkolb credits her for much of his success. “My mom believed in me,” he says. “I never imagined that we would still be here thirty years later, from that really simple time when we started Bud and Alley’s on an evening so long ago. We had about fifteen or twenty people that came in the first night, with Robert and Daryl Davis among them.”
During the celebration this past January, Robert Davis said, “Just the fact that a great restaurant can survive thirty years and look forward to another few decades is a testament to the strength of 30-A as a destination that people want to come to, and more and more want to move to.”
When Bud & Alley’s first opened its doors, Seaside only had twelve homes. Today, the town has grown to about a hundred full-time residents and attracts thousands of visitors in the summer alone. Rauschkolb also helped found the Merchants of Seaside, where businesses with a common thread network to help each other grow. “We supported each other when in need back then; it was just the smart thing to do,” he recalls. “There is something to say about a business community that acts as cheerleader for its neighboring businesses. It was a rare opportunity and an honor to be on the ground floor of a budding neighborhood.”
Through the years, Bud & Alley’s has become a beloved place for families and friends to come together and share a great meal while creating lasting memories. When the rooftop deck was added in 1994, the restaurant became a 30-A hot spot to have a drink and catch the Florida sunset. Each evening, patrons take guesses as to the exact time the sun will dip below the horizon, and an employee rings the iconic brass bell as the glowing orb disappears.
As South Walton’s longest-established restaurant, it goes without saying that Bud & Alley’s is special. This is thanks in large part to its employees. Rauschkolb said, “A restaurant is not a one-man operation, and I often get more credit than I deserve. I am privileged to have an amazing staff of wonderful, talented people working with me.” He credits a big part of Bud & Alley’s success to his management team led by Kirk Williams, the general manager of operations, as well as to executive chef David Bishop.
When Rauschkolb and his former partner Witcoski decided to take the leap in 1986, they also made a conscious decision from the beginning to create amazing, locally sourced food in an unpretentious setting. They were responsible for pioneering the farm- and sea-to-table movements in the region, and Rauschkolb said, “The philosophy of the restaurant has remained the same; to serve the best available food prepared simply. We are so fortunate to have an abundance of the freshest seafood and produce right in our back yard!“
Bud & Alley’s showcases a Fresh From Florida menu, with the logo located next to the food selection, verifying that the product is authentic, and not to disappoint. Seating is offered in the sun room (my favorite inside dining space), bar, dining room, outside next to the dunes on the patio, or with a limited menu on the deck upstairs.
Though a plethora of great restaurants have followed in Bud & Alley’s footsteps over the years, making the Florida Panhandle a noteworthy culinary destination, and several of those owners and chefs have worked or trained in the kitchen at Bud & Alley’s. Irv Miller, executive chef of Jackson’s Steakhouse in Pensacola, Florida, was the first. He shares some insight as to what it was like in 1987 when he was hired to relieve Witcoski from the stoves. “Two months after I was on-site, Bud & Alley’s hosted a wine dinner with a guest-chef appearance by Norman Van Aken,” Miller recalls. “He was starting a food revolution even before the celebrity-chef craze, and he was taking fresh ethnic flavors and merging them together to make his mark on the cuisine in Key West. The event was to promote the release of his first cookbook, Norm Van Aken’s Feast of Sunlight. Chef Van Aken, his pastry chef, and I prepared the dinner. I am proud to have had the opportunity to work early in my career at Bud & Alley’s.”
Chef John Jacob and business partner Todd Reber of the Florida Trend Golden Spoon Award–winning restaurant Vin’tij Wine Boutique, located in Miramar Beach, Florida, first met when they were honing their skills at Bud & Alley’s in the early 1990s. “I had a great experience at Bud & Alley’s,” Jacob says. “It was a huge stepping stone for me. On my first night cooking in 1993, I was preparing jerk Gulf shrimp with black bean cakes. I’m a Jersey boy who had just come off a job in Seattle doing Pacific Rim cuisine, so Bud & Alley’s is where I learned Southern cooking techniques. Witcoski and Rauschkolb would travel within the United States and abroad seeking out unique flavors to bring back to Seaside and showcase on the menu. Bud & Alley’s was a real food think tank and way ahead of its time.”
In 2007, David Bishop was hired as the executive chef and remains at the kitchen’s helm today. He also oversees the operations of the successful Seaside sister restaurants, the Taco Bar and the Pizza Bar, and he has been showcased on the Cooking Channel’s Emeril’s Florida. Although the menu at Bud & Alley’s changes seasonally, Chef Bishop says, “The most popular and established dishes remain the baked whole fish with capers and lemon, the barbecue shrimp with Andouille sausage, and the jumbo lump crab cakes.”
My party first enjoyed the House Made Smoked Tuna Dip served with lavash crackers while sipping on the refreshing Seaside Punch (where $1 of the proceeds goes to the local charity, Alaqua Animal Refuge). The dip is not heavy and contains large chunks of smoked tuna, a great way to get your Omega-3’s and protein.
Our first entree selection included Lionfish as the Catch Of The Day (a delicious nuisance species), that sat on a bed of local Mac Farms greens and included a side of jalapeño cornbread, such Southern hospitality on a plate. Nutritional studies have found Lionfish to be high in lean protein, and compared to many other fish that we eat, contain lower levels of heavy metals such as mercury.
Another menu item that I can’t leave Bud & Alley’s without ordering is the duo of lump Crab Cakes. They are always so moist and delicious. The Crab Cakes do not contain any filler, and are rolled in Panko bread crumbs, lightly pan seared, and topped with a lemon vinaigrette. Simple, yet soulful. Crab meat is an excellent source of phosphorus, zinc, copper, calcium, and iron and is very low in fat, especially saturated fat.
Though eating fresh is best in the state of Florida, the Panhandle can’t always rely on the weather and temperatures to cooperate with what is going on in South Florida, as we are located (for the most part) under the state of Alabama. Mac Farms, Greens Man Gardens, WaterStreet Seafood, Harbor Docks, Destin Ice, Bon Appetit Bakery, Adams Produce, and Louisiana Lagniappe, are just some of the reliable producer’s that supply this great restaurant and our region with Fresh From Florida products to enjoy.
Bud & Alley’s motto—“Good food. Good people. Good times.”—still rings true with Rauschkolb, who says, “When I travel to other parts of the world, I can’t wait to come home. I can’t wait to come back to work. I hope to live to be ninety so we can celebrate our fiftieth anniversary and more!
”Bud & Alley’s has garnered numerous awards, including Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon Hall of Fame Award, an honor shared with a select list of Florida restaurants and is located at 2236 East Highway 30-A. They can be reached by phone at (850) 231-5900 or by email at email@example.com. Visit their website to make reservations, or to view the live webcam of Seaside’s beach and Bud and Alley’s Rooftop Deck. Lunch is available from 11:30 am to 3pm daily, and dinner is served 5:30 pm to 10 pm. The Roof-Top Deck is open from 11:30 am until late into the night. In winter months, closing times may vary. Plan to also visit the sister restaurants, Pizza Bar and Taco Bar.
Do you have a favorite restaurant serving Fresh From Florida fare, or have a favorite Florida food you like to cook at home with? I’d love to hear about it in the Fresh From Florida comments below! For more information, follow Fresh from Florida on Facebook here, and Fresh from Florida on Twitter here.