Beachfront dining on the Gulf coast at Schooners

With summer around the corner it is only fitting our intrepid food reporter found his way to Panama City Beach to dip his toes in the sand and sit down at the “Last Local Beach Club”, Schooners.

Over the years, there have been many attempts to unite both the local community and groups of tourists in areas where tourism plays a big part of the local economy.  And while many ideas, such as theme parks or festivals usually are only available during certain days of the year, one concept that I have embraced first hand with great success is the club environment.  Before I continue, allow me to make one thing perfectly clear, this is NOT the same type of club most people picture in their minds with atrociously blasted dub-step paired with seizure inducing flashing lights.  This is quite the opposite.

When taking a journey down to the Florida panhandle, there are many attractions to draw people from bars, restaurants and to the beach itself.  As a devout foodie, I wanted to experience something that embraces all of these components I previously mentioned and pass the word onto my fellow fans.  So after doing some extensive research, my attention was drawn to the “beach club.”  In essence, a beach club is along the lines of the clubs most typically think of except the central location is right on the beach and instead of the downfalls of the previously mentioned clubs, beach clubs offer serene relaxation with the choice of either relaxing with a beer, watching the sun set or enjoying the offerings of live entertainment.

My curiosity was indeed piqued so I began my search and with this I found two of these locales in the Panama City Beach area: Schooners and Spinnaker Beach Club.  Between the two, I noticed unanimous praise toward Schooners by offering the serene relaxation or the live entertainment if so chosen while Spinnaker is geared more toward the younger 21-25 demographic (possibly because its proximity to Club La Vela which is the largest nightclub in the United States).  It was quite obvious my decision was clearly made even before getting into my car and with that I made my way to Schooners.

Before even making it inside of the establishment, I had my work cut out for me just trying to find it.  

A view of Schooners Panama City Beach
Photo courtesy www.tripsmarter.com

Schooners is not immediately visible from the road, rather the club is squeezed amidst two large parking garages for luxury condos and the only sign that delineates your final destination faces one way (driving east bound on Thomas Drive), meaning unless you are tactfully looking for the sign there is a large probability you will miss it.  A note should also be made that parking is extremely limited at their front entrance, enough to accommodate at the most twenty cars.  Unless you arrive at 11 a.m. to enjoy a quick lunch on the beach, you will more than likely be parking your vehicle in the vacant lot across the street used for Schooners parking overflow.

The Food

After arriving and settling in, my first task was to take a glance at the menu.  What better dish to have sitting in front of the Gulf of Mexico than a basket of fresh seafood?  I was more than lucky to know that not only that Schooners offers fresh Gulf seafood, but they are also the only other restaurant besides Spinnaker that offers the freshest Grouper caught daily just a few miles away and transported to the back porch of the restaurant.  In addition to the fresh seafood, the lunch menu at Schooners offers many other options such as a jerk style chicken sandwich, a monstrous hamburger, and for the big eater a legendary appetizer that draws both locals and tourists like flies to honey: onion rings.  You’re probably thinking, “Really? What is so special about battered pieces of onion?”  Schooners’ reputation for their onion rings come from their sheer size, which when explained to me by my server Ray, “You get eight onion rings that are the size of a radio controlled toy monster truck tire.”  You read right.  For the average eater, these onion rings are enough to share between two people as a meal alone.

A fish sandwich.
Photo courtesy Schooners.

With all things considered, Schooners prepares all of their dishes with the highest quality and freshest ingredients.  This also comes at an extra premium.  The average cost of a basket at lunch time is around $13 but the seafood baskets are more expensive averaging around $16.  Dinner prices are slightly more averaging around $15 for non seafood entrees and the fresh seafood averaging up to $25 per entree.  The price of two people with drinks and tip came to $47 but for the freshness of the food and the view I got to take in while eating made it worth every single penny.

Schooners embraces all the qualities both locals and tourists look for in a casual restaurant.  In addition to the outstanding food, they offer live entertainment ranging from some original acts to cover bands performing the best songs that perpetuate the feel of a relaxing evening on the beach.  It should also be mentioned that Schooners is famous for their tradition of firing a small cannon every evening to signal the end of a beautiful day and the start of a wonderful evening which has all the locals and tourists alike say, “You come to Schooners for the food but you stay for the sunset.”

From the beachfront dining to the full embrace of the beach lifestyle, Schooners brings all cannons firing to ensure both locals and tourists get the freshest seafood and the most breathtaking view of the beach this side of Laguna Beach.  Although some might say their food is a little expensive, I am always willing to pay more for a quality meal matched with quality service.

Schooners is located at 5121 Gulf Dr in Panama City Beach, FL just off of the historic Thomas Dr.  They are open year-round 11AM-11PM.  More information can be found on their website at www.schooners.com.


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