From raw honey to artisan bread to wholesale seafood, there’s a lot more to Pensacola than turquoise waters and miles of white sand. Here’s a look at what we found to love in The Emerald City, which is home to great food as well title-holder for being America’s oldest settlement.
We made the plans to visit Pensacola months ago, in December, back when we were drowning in cookbook details and nothing sounded dreamier than the idea of sugar-white sand and palm trees. Of all the cities in Florida, Pensacola is one of the closest to Nashville, accessible in just over 7 hours by car.
It also has sugar-white beaches, a killer farmers’ market, and a rich history, the kind of history that truly wows you with its Spanish Revival-style Florida History Museum, charming buildings, and sweet lighthouse guides who are dying to tell you that some people consider Pensacola to be older than St. Augustine (because, technically, it was settled first! see the link in the subtitle above!).
During the last four days, while we’ve had a lot of time to think about the gift that a trip like this is—such a good gift, I have felt guilty getting to have it, truth be told—I’ve realized again how little we control what is placed in our hands.
Just as foolish as it is for me to fight the hands taking away a house or our baby or some relationship I want, so it is foolish for me to fight what they give, to try to decree what good things we should or shouldn’t receive.
“We take what he gives us,” Tim said to me last week. He was responding to my question about a hard future, should that be what God allows, but his words are just as true about the comforts and providences that are easy to delight in, too.
All these things are smaller than He is; He is the great gift; we take what He gives us because we know Him, and He is good.
This past week, we’re thankful to have seen that through the beauties of a city in Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Below are some highlights of what we saw and ate and enjoyed in Pensacola:
GREAT FOOD //
Adonna’s Bakery and Café: Friday night was one of Pensacola’s Gallery Nights, a event that draws the community out in droves (more info here), and while we were wandering the crowds in the open air of music and art displays, we wandered into Adonna’s for a couple French macarons.
Al Fresco: Al Fresco is Pensacola’s food truck park, made up of food purveyors in super slick airstreams. When the wait was too long at the tapas place downtown, Global Grill, we beelined for the taco truck, where I had the Mahi Mahi and Tim had avocado.
Palafox Market: Saturdays in downtown Pensacola are market days, with food-filled tents lining the center of North Palafox Street in Martin Luther King, Jr., Plaza, from Wright Street to Chase Street. In our stroll through the market, we spotted pesticide-free produce, raw milk, raw cheese, kefir, bread, pastries, fresh juice, jalapeno apricot hummus, and fruit trees being sold for $7. We left with a squeeze bottle of East Hill Honey and a fresh loaf of Sunne Joy Bread Co. sourdough, which we immediately broke open and ate for breakfast.
Restaurant IRON: Set on a golf course, Restaurant IRON is a short drive from downtown Pensacola, but we made the trip because of the on-site garden from which much of the menu stems. As evidence of the thriving herbs outside the dining room, our salads were high stacks of lettuce, roasted peppers, and feta, with finely chopped herbs all over the top.
Taste of India: We splurged on Indian food because of the high ratings at this restaurant, which everyone online seems to love, whether or not they already liked Indian food when they first came.
Ever’man Natural Foods: While we will say that the Pensacola Publix stores had large organic sections, much bigger than the Publix groceries near us, we also loved Ever’man Natural Foods, which stocked everything we wanted by way of snack items, from chia kombucha to fresh fruit to packaged einkorn cookies.
The Grand Marlin: Tim and I split some perfectly cooked Mahi Mahi, drizzled with brown butter caper sauce, at The Grand Marlin, which overlooks the water and specializes in a wide range of seafood.
J.W. Renfroe Company: Stop by this brown building Monday through Friday for a gift shop filled with many varieties of pecans, available shelled or unshelled.
Joe Patti’s Seafood Market: Led by our sweet 92-year-old tour guide Mr. Perry (“I’ve known the Pattis since the ’40s!”), we toured all parts of this Pensacola fish market, from the shiny front retail space to the giant back freezers to the fish-packing stations and everything in between. We learned it’s pristine (“Mr. Patti doesn’t want to see a single piece of food or anything on the floor,” Mr. Perry told us, explaining why someone was hosing down the back rooms and pointing out the lady with a broom popping in and out of the gift shop). We learned grouper is huge (I mean, this eye!). We also learned that a mullet is more than a tragic hairstyle; it’s a fish that nobody should buy outside the Gulf Coast, at least if you’re asking Mr. Perry what he thinks. Joe Patti’s is a wholesale market, so restaurants pay the same prices people do, but it actually has a lot more than fish—from a wine shop to a sushi station to a gourmet food/gift shop, which offers everything from coffee and gelato to packaged mustard and local honey.
GREAT SITES //
Downtown Pensacola: As mentioned above, downtown Pensacola is filled with historic buildings, unique architecture, and tree-filled parks. We liked walking around and soaking it all up.
Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum: Climbing the 177 spiral steps to the top of this lighthouse gave me a completely new appreciation for what lighthouse keepers used to do (every two hours and while carrying a lamp!). From the top, you also have incredible views of the bay. Bonus: The lighthouse is located on a naval base, so you’ll see some cool military sites, too.
Hyatt Place Pensacola Airport: Built about a year ago, this Hyatt Place is still new and feels like it. It’s right at the airport and yet you hardly hear the planes at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure we hear the airplanes in Nashville, living a good 15 minutes from it, more than we did at this hotel, right off the runways. Some of our favorite features were the glass-enclosed shower, the bright and spacious surroundings, free wifi, free parking, and a way to watch airplanes from the window in our room.
Thanks for letting us share these little windows into our trip; the more we travel, the more we realize the value of capturing memories like these in photographs and the more we realize what a small place we occupy in this world. We are seriously so thankful for the opportunities we’ve been given to see more of the natural beauty and cool food businesses that are out there, and we’re especially thankful to get to share them with you.
Our accommodations were provided by Hyatt Place. Special thanks to manager Adam Emling, as well as to the super helpful Brooke A. Fleming at the Pensacola Visitors Bureau, who not only gave us plenty of recommendations but also accompanied us through Joe Patti’s, which was a highlight of our visit.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.