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Weekender: Northern Gulf Coast, Florida

Frédéric Lagrange

Photo: Frédéric Lagrange

WHERE TO EAT

Owl Café 15 Ave. D, Apalachicola; 850/653-9888; dinner for two $60. Rightly considered the finest dining in Apalach, the corner café with Brazilian cherrywood floors and crayons on the tables does cosmic wonders with simple seafood. Oysters come fried crackling-crisp with mustard sauce, or tossed in balsamic-horseradish dressing and nestled in baby greens. You might also consider the black grouper with artichoke hearts, capers, and roasted garlic; or the Thai-marinated flounder fried in rice flour, crisp on the outside, steamy inside.

Tamara's Café Floridita 17 Ave. E, Apalachicola; 850/653-4111; dinner for two $50. Tamara Suarez took a leap of culinary faith when she introduced Latin flavors to this Old South riviera. The consensus?Locals can't get enough of her Cuban black bean soup and crab-stuffed grouper with mango chutney. Suarez insists on a fiesta atmosphere—mango-colored tablecloths, brilliant Venezuelan fish crafted from foil, a hammered copper bar—and she makes regular rounds to ensure that everyone is eating their way to a satisfying siesta.

Sharon's Place 420 Hwy. 98, Eastpoint; 850/670-8646; lunch for two $15. Sharon Shiver is a straight seafood shooter—there are no unpronounceable sauces or Williams Sonoma flatware here. An order of steamed oysters comes piled in a Styrofoam cup, the fried shrimp in a plastic basket. Sit in a booth inside, or out back on the deck overlooking the oyster beds and river. If you order something from land—say, the chicken and dumplings—the gulls won't pester you as much.

Angelo's Hwy. 98, Panacea; 850/984-5168; dinner for two $40. Anyone homesick for Florida seafood houses from the 1960's will go mad for this place. From its classic location at the foot of a bridge, you can sit on raw-wood rockers and look out across coppery Ochlockonee Bay. Inside, the dining room is simple and clamorous, the seafood caught within hours of landing on your plate (owner Angelo Petrandis is a fishing fiend, by the way) and priced (nearly) as if it's still the sixties. Everything's excellent, from the charbroiled octopus appetizer to the seafood cakes fattened with shrimp, crab, and scallops. If you want to "eat local," order the head-on bay shrimp, the sweetest you'll ever sink your teeth into.

Roy's Restaurant Hwy. 51, Steinhatchee; 352/498-5000; dinner for two $40. Ignore the square, squat concrete exterior. Inside, there's a dimly lit dining room that looks hungrily across the river. Go at sunset, when the scenes across the Steinhatchee are momentous: cypress trees blazing pink-orange, egrets still as statues, blankets of moss pulling at the dwindling light. Besides all this, Roy's is famous for startlingly fresh seafood platters, steaming stone-milled grits, and a salad bar where you can load up on Greek specialties like feta cheese and kalamata olives.

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