Foodie Friday: Salty Mayhem at Joe Patti’s Seafood Market — A.K.A. One fine hunk of fish in Pensacola

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I am slowly coming around to the reality that cooking is cheaper (and in many cases, tastier) than dining in restaurants — even inexpensive ones. This is a vex for the BlinkPacker, constantly trying to conserve both time and money, and often traveling without the convenience of a place to lay the old head, never mind a stocked kitchen.Enter AirBnB.com, a miraculous website that connects thrifty travelers with regular folks who choose to open their home in exchange for a few bucks. I have been experimenting with AirBnB stays recently, and to date I am thrilled with the results. For about half (thereabout) of a hotel rental cost, AirBnB patrons gain access to clean, comfortable spaces in host homes, which often includes admittance to common areas like decks, living rooms, and kitchens.

I found myself in Pensacola, FL over the weekend to attend a friend’s destination wedding — not exactly the idyllic BlinkPacking experience… but I digress. I scoured the interweb machines for a great deal on a room to no avail: rock-bottom pricing for a flea-infested box at the Econo Lodge came to $108 with tax. Thank you, no.

You could imagine my exuberance at finding an AirBnB guest house about a mile from the aforementioned flea bag. For $60 a night (plus a negligible booking fee — hey, the site has to make money somehow) I landed a spotless room with private bathroom in a designer home with its own private section of bay-front beach. The friendly owners set out bagels and coffee in the morning, which I savored perched on the whitewashed deck overlooking the water. Divine. And they invited me to use the house’s common spaces for relaxing and its gourmet kitchen for cooking, if I so desired. They even cleared out a shelf in the fridge for my use.

The instant I detect the smallest inkling of salt in the air is the moment I begin craving heaping plates of steamed, garlicky seafood. So thanks to AirBnB and my gracious hosts, when it came time to indulge, I thought I would further trim the alread-svelte weekend budget and whip up a homemade dinner.

“Oh, Joe Patti’s, no question,” my eager host answered my query without hesitation. “It is not the closest, but it is the best.”

I am used to seafood markets looking like, well, markets. You know the ones: quaint shacks with a few white refrigerated tubs filled with the morning’s catch and a handful of shelves scantily stocked with essentials like Tabasco and Old Bay Seasoning. And don’t forget the obligatory unenthused teen in the white apron behind the register gazing longingly at their friends whizzing down the street in topless Jeep Wranglers.

When I arrived in the lot of Joe Patti’s, I felt instead like I had arrived at an amalgamation that was one part cargo boatyard and one part salted Walmart. I entered through the double glass doors and gazed bewildered at what I instantly realized was the seafood mecca of the Florida panhandle. Saws buzzed away at fish heads, patron numbers blurted from tinny loudspeakers every few seconds, and throngs of people holding white, iced sacks of lobsters, flounders, and prawns maneuvered their way through the mayhem toward the registers.

“Take a number,” groused a man in his seventies with a mesh cap and tobacco-stained plaid shirt, seated on an unpainted wooden stool, his gnarled index finger pointed in the general direction of a wall-mounted red dispenser. Two thoughts simultaneously entered my mind: “I wonder if this is Joe Patti in the flesh?” and “Sure am glad this crusty character won’t be man-handling my soon-to-be supper.”

The workers moved swiftly, and before long my number belched over the loudspeaker. A youngish lady with auburn hair stood on her tiptoes and looked around. I waved my hand.

“How about grouper?” was her response to my ambling of, “I have no idea what I want… can you recommend something locally caught?”

Sold. I clutched my iced, white baggie and meandered toward the registers, making a couple of stops along the way to sample house-made crab dip atop baguette wedges and Joe’s famous garlic spread aboard plain potato chips. I forewent purchasing the extra treats, instead tucking only a humble baguette into my basket for mopping up the juices soon to be left on my plate.

So thank you, Joe Patti’s, for the grandest, most succulent hunk of fish I have ever packed into my gills. Thank you, kind Pensacola locals, for the grand stay in your elegant home, the fish market recommendation, and the use of your kitchen. And thank you, AirBnB, for bringing a unique, affordable, and fun concept to the travel market that scratches me right where I itch.

And finally, I leave you with my simple recipe that works as well with most types of fish as it will with Grouper:


Simple Pan-fried Grouper

Ingredients:

Grouper Fillets
Unsalted Butter
Fresh Garlic
Fresh Lemon
Salt and PepperMethod:
Heat butter in a large skillet until melted.
Crush garlic into butter and cook for a twenty seconds (do not brown).
Add grouper fillets to pan.
Squeeze plenty of lemon juice over the fillets.
Cook for five minutes per side, or until fish flakes with a fork.
Fleck with salt and pepper to taste.
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6 thoughts on “Foodie Friday: Salty Mayhem at Joe Patti’s Seafood Market — A.K.A. One fine hunk of fish in Pensacola

  1. Just discovered Joe Patti’s this week and brought back royal red shrimp, pompano and snapper to Memphis. Joe Patti’s is a good reason to move to Pensacola! There’s nothing like it anywhere – not even the Northeast where I grew up!

    • I grew up in the northeast and went to school near Gloucester, MA. Plenty of awesome seafood up there, but Joe Patti’s is basically a seafood-lover’s Oz. Thanks for stopping by the blog and leaving your thoughts. Hope to see you again soon.

  2. Just moved to Pensacola in July and Joe Patti’s is at least an every other week trip. Love it! Tonight it’s bay scallops and shrimp scampi. Tomorrow you ask?? Why stone crab claws, of course! One of my fav finds in Pensacola for sure!

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