The farm to table movement is nothing new, but when chefs like Phil McDonald get creative, innovative menu items aren’t the only things sprouting at the restaurant; ideas and edible gardens are too.
McDonald says, “It’s all about keeping it fresh. Our philosophy is not to cook anything too much. We try to incorporate seasonal ingredients into the dishes we prepare, and I like to improvise.”
This summer one of those coveted menu items was the fig toast. Streaming live on Facebook and Instagram by satisfied patrons, I had to stop in for a sample. The figs were grown on property making the toast extra special, however the savory and sweet combination of flavors that came from the whipped goat cheese, garden basil, scallions, sherry shallot vinaigrette, chili and sea salt that topped the house made sourdough bread, is what set the dish apart from other restaurant preparations on 30A.
Chef McDonald returned to the Emerald Coast in 2015 after spending a year in New York City where he was honing his culinary skills with some of the countries top chefs and restaurants, including a six-month tenure as sous chef at Reynard in the Wythe Hotel.
Since taking the reigns at Pizza Bar, some of the seasonal highlights McDonald has created have been the Pear & Goat Cheese salad, Grilled Eggplant with Seasoned Yogurt & Aleppo, and the Housemade Bucatini with Heritage Pork Guanciale. McDonald has also helped to facilitate a restaurant expansion with the introduction of a to-go pizza oven, and added a variety of craft beer, as well as a new carefully curated boutique wine program. “We’ve received great feedback from the customers”, said McDonald.
McDonald is a Florida native who grew up in Destin eating fresh Gulf seafood right off the docks. He draws his inspiration from the Gulf of Mexico, regional farms, his customers’ tastes and the five senses, but says, “Pizza is my passion and I am very excited to be part of the Bud & Alley’s family. Owner, Dave Rauschkolb, has been a true pioneer and visionary on the 30A restaurant scene for three decades, and Pizza Bar has been serious about making pizza the right way from day one.”
To raise the bar so to speak at Pizza Bar, this past September Roberto Caporuscio, a highly acclaimed pizza chef with the #1 raked pizza in New York by The New Yorker magazine, visited the staff in Seaside. Caporuscio serves as US President of the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli (APN – Association of Neapolitan Pizza Makers), the elite Italian governing body that teaches the 300 year old art of Neapolitan pizza making, and certiﬁes adherence to authentic procedures. “Roberto’s visit was amazing. He helped us improve the quality of the pizza through technique. From the mixing of the dough to the shaping of each pie, and to keeping the correct size of the flame in the oven, his knowledge and authority of Pizza Napoletana was a boon for our kitchen. Pizza Bar currently boasts four pizza chefs recognized by APN”, said McDonald.
Chef McDonald and his team that now includes General Manager Jay Etheredge, a native to the area with 10 years of restaurant management experience with St. Joe Club & Resorts under his belt, make fresh batches of pizza dough, mozzarella cheese and pasta by hand daily. Each 11-inch pie is created to order and topped with regionally sourced or onsite produce, seafood, and imported meats and cheeses for the most authentic experience and taste. The pizza is baked in a wood-fired brick oven, stoked with southern oak at temperatures nearing 950 degrees, creating a thin crust that is cooked and served in minutes.
Popular choices include the classic Margherita made with basil and fresh mozzarella, the Roasted Fennel Sausage that is topped with house made sausage and fresh mozzarella, and the famed White Clam Pie topped with fresh-shucked clams from Alligator Point.
Guests of The Pizza Bar can experience Chef McDonald’s menu family-style in the courtyard, in the restaurant, or on the veranda overlooking the Gulf. Pizza Bar is open daily from 11 a.m. For more information call (850) 231-3113 or visit www.budandalleys.com, where Food Film Fest sponsored by The Local Palate will be taking place on Sunday, April 10, 2016.
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