PANAMA CITY — I pulled into the parking lot off Ohio Avenue for lunch Tuesday at Blue Marlins Family Seafood, just before a large potted plant was moved outside by the front door of the blue stucco building.
Sitting at one of the booths next to the dry-erase board with lunch specials — fish tacos, chicken & dumplings, mullet, red beans and rice — I had a view of Sharon Sheffield Park across the street.
“I don’t know if the building portrays what we have inside,” said chef and owner Kevin Kilpatrick, whose culinary history includes The Treasure Ship, Bay Point Marriott and Panama County Club.
Kilpatrick opened Blue Marlins on Feb. 2 in the community where he grew up. Black and white photos of family and old Lynn Haven hang on the walls of blue and white painted brick.
“The sailfish in the corner was caught by a childhood neighbor in 1979,” said Kilpatrick, whose kitchen gadgets include two 40-pound fryers, a four-burner range oven, 24-inch flat grill and a 48-inch char grill.
Blue Marlins’ lunch menu, “quick and economical,” features appetizer baskets, salads and sandwiches, with Chef Specialties at dinner.
“We try to just serve food that’s fun and interesting, but not pretentious,” said Kilpatrick, who earned his degree in restaurant and culinary management from Gulf Coast State College. “We want to make it eye appealing, but my focus always has been on taste more so.”
I started with a cup of the She Crab Soup, $4.95, and salty buttered garlic French bread that had been heated on the flat grill. The soup had a drizzle of cream and sprinkle of parsley with pureed vegetables and pieces of lump crab in each flavorful bite. Comforting on a day with a little chill in the air, the rich and creamy soup took me back to childhood. By the end of the cup, I had noticed the spice from the cayenne and paprika.
Kilpatrick makes the She Crab with one gallon of seafood stock, half a gallon of lobster stock and half a gallon of crab stock, then adds celery, onions, carrots, Old Bay, Tabasco, Worcestershire, Bay leaf, cream and garlic.
“The lobster adds a little richness,” he said.
His cousin, Chef Dee Brown of Dee’s Hang-Out, is known for his tuna dip, but Kilpatrick makes his own Smoked Tuna Dip using fresh tuna from Water Street Seafood in Apalachicola.
“We smoke the tuna out back on the smoker,” Kilpatrick said. “For a small amount, I just put it in and fire it up, a couple of pounds at a time. There’s nothing to it.”
He gets most of his other seafood from Buddy Gandy Seafood in Panama City.
“All of our seafood is fresh,” Kilpatrick said. “If it says grouper on the menu, it’s going to be grouper and I likely paid $10 to $11 a pound.”
All of Blue Marlins’ grouper dishes have been popular, including the Grecian Grouper, Almond Crusted Grouper and Grouper Imperial. “It’s at least an 8-ounce portion,” Kilpatrick said. “I’ve been doing these dishes for years; some are originals, some adaptations.”
The breaded fish on the Grouper Imperial would have been good by itself, but the lump crab took it over the top. A squeeze of lemon and a side of sautéed fresh vegetables balanced the richness.
“I like the combination of sherry and seafood in the She Crab and in the Grouper Imperial,” Kilpatrick said. “I take the jumbo lump crabmeat, and we bind it in a sherry cream sauce and put it over grouper that has been dredged in flour, sautéed and finished in the oven. I also do the lump crab on the Oysters Supreme and top it with Pecorino Romano and bake it.”
BLUE MARLINS FAMILY SEAFOOD
Where: 938 Ohio Ave., Lynn Haven (by Adams Pharmacy)
Specialties: Fresh Gulf seafood
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday
Details: (850) 248-2000 or Facebook: Blue Marlins Family Seafood Restaurant