Paula Deen wants you to feel as if you’re eating at her place, which you will be if you visit Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen in Destin.
The Queen of Southern Cuisine opened the eatery in early March at the Destin Commons.
I had the opportunity to attend a media preview tasting event then, and Saturday my husband and I returned for a full-on meal.
I’m switching things up by starting with service, but I think you’ll understand why in a minute.
The first thing our wonderful server, Micayla, asked after seating us was whether we were familiar with family-style dining.
In a nutshell, food is served in dishes that are intended to be passed and shared among the diners at a table.
Later during our visit, Kitchen Manager Jacob Zagaruyka explained that Deen wants people to come enjoy a meal and each other, “to put the phones away and talk,” he said. It’s the guiding philosophy behind Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen.
Every staff member who engaged with us definitely extended that feeling.
The menu at Paula Deen’s is straightforward once you have the game plan.
Appetizer choices are Grandmama Paul’s fried green tomatoes, flash-fried okra and “Shore is Good” seafood dip.
We chose the tomatoes, which lived up deliciously to their description as “fried crisp and topped with roasted red pepper sauce. Accompanied by a sweet onion relish.”
I dare say they’re the best fried green tomatoes I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few. The sauce and relish perfectly highlighted the savory, fried goodness that was delivered to our table piping hot.
For your main meal, you choose between The Albany and The Savannah.
The Albany includes a choice of two Down Home Dishes and four of Paula’s Famous Sides for the table as well as a dessert for each person.
The Savannah ups the number of Down Home Dishes to three with everything else the same.
Each of these spreads comes with unlimited refills. That’s right. Unlimited. And not just the sides, but the Down Home Dishes as well. Because of this arrangement, no take-home boxes are allowed, which Micayla explained up-front.
Down Home Dishes are Best Ever Southern fried chicken, beef pot roast, chicken-fried pork chop, Ol’ Fashioned Southern meatloaf, spare ribs, chicken & dumplings, Georgia fried catfish and Low Country chicken.
We went with the meatloaf and Low Country chicken, which was described as Deen’s favorite. Both were excellent.
The four thick slices of meatloaf were tangy and topped with crispy tobacco onions. The boneless chicken breast meat was tender, sauteed with shallots and mushrooms in a Southern white wine sauce.
To go with them, we chose creamed potatoes, squash casserole, poppyseed tossed salad and black-eyed peas.
The buttery potatoes were heavenly. The casserole had an unexpected, but pleasant, spicy zing to it. The peas were chock full of tender meat morsels for extra flavoring. The salad provided a bright note of fresh vegetables to our meal.
Other sides available are green beans, collard greens, fresh candied yams, cole slaw, buttered white rice, baked mac and cheese, creamed corn and potato salad.
In case you’re wondering, we didn’t get any refills. Perhaps if we’d skipped the appetizer we would have wanted more of something, but it was all we could do to finish what we had.
And then it was time for dessert. The choices are Ooey Gooey Cake in vanilla or chocolate, banana pudding or seasonal cobbler.
Because the cake is a signature dish, we got that and the cobbler, which was peach. Both were good and nice sweet treats for finishing the meal.
All of our food arrived in a timely manner and hot, including two savory biscuits that were served with our beverages.
Beverages are a separate charge, and there’s a large variety available. Besides sweet and unsweet tea, fresh lemonade and Coke products, there are specialty teas, lemonades and smoothies. Milk, chocolate milk and several juices are also available.
My husband chose wisely with the strawberry lemonade, which was deliciously tart with a nice dose of strawberry sweetness. I kept it simple with unsweet tea, which was a healthy brew with good tea flavor.
Paula Deen’s also offers house cocktails, signature cocktails, premium cocktails, frozen creations, wines and bottles of domestic and imported beers.
You enter Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen through its retail store, which features all manner of Paula Deen merchandise from cookbooks and kitchenware to toys and take-home treats.
Don’t expect checkered tablecloths and Mason jars at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen. It’s Southern, not country.
The decor is elegant and inviting, like someone’s home. A muted nautical theme is carried out in shades of gray and slate blue. Chandeliers and wall sconces provide lighting.
Seating is at elevated booths and at free-standing tables. There’s also seating available outside.
The restaurant steadily filled up during our visit, but it never got loud. We detected ’70s pop music playing quietly in the background.
A FINAL TASTE
Dining at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen was a delightful experience. Our meal took about an hour because we ate at a leisurely pace and because we weren’t in a hurry for it to end.
We left full, smiling and planning our next visit.