PANAMA CITY BEACH — Visit Miss Linen’s Café on Panama City Beach Parkway for a great Cuban in a cozy atmosphere, and then get some shopping on the side — next door at Florida Linen.
“I’ve thought about it for a long time,” owner Lyn Retherford said as we sat at one of the retro dining tables. “When somebody shops in our store, they bring their husband and kids who have nothing to do — they’re bored. It’s something to entertain them.”
The café is modern, but kid-friendly. Red pendant lighting hangs over a lacquered dark brown wood bar in a narrow dining area with hues of red, black and gray. A framed photo of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio hangs on the wall. A variety of children’s toys are neatly stowed in the lounge area by the black and white yin yang couches.
“I wanted the men to be comfortable in here, didn’t want it to be frou-frou … We have salads and sandwiches. We just also have beer,” Retherford said. “One Saturday, we had a bunch of guys come watch the game. That was a really fun crowd.”
The café, which serves lunch and dinner, has five flatscreen TVs. Happy hour is 4-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, with $1 off all beer and wine, and customers can get $1 draft beer all day Saturday. The café is closed Sundays and Mondays throughout the winter.
“The original goal was to get husbands over here, but it turned into a lot of locals, businesses coming in,” Retherford said.
Doctors from Gulf Coast Dermatology have taken to the Cuban sandwich, the No. 1 seller.
“Everybody likes Cubans, and everybody has a different take,” Janice Brady said as she made my Cuban on Tuesday. “I do my own pork here. I slow cook it in the crock pot and have my own Mojo seasoning I use… I make my own citrus stuff.
“I have a panini maker, all sandwiches made fresh to order. The hot sandwiches I think are better, especially in winter. Donna’s or Jen Jen probably tie for third.”
Brady’s white kitchen towel was folded over the bar, with “Carla” monogrammed on it in black. “They like to call me ‘Carla,’ like on ‘Cheers,’ ” she said dryly.
On a cold and rainy Tuesday, Brady and I talked at the bar while I ate my warm Cuban, slightly crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, with tender pork loin and thinly sliced ham layered with melted cheddar, a sliced pickle spear, mayo and mustard. After the sandwich and cup of freshly cut fruit salad — with kiwi, strawberries, grapes, cantaloupe and an orange slice — I was comfortably satisfied, not stuffed, as has become the norm during the holidays. It is a perfect meal to keep energy up for shopping, even if it’s only to go next door.
“I wasn’t trying to get into the bar business, and I wasn’t trying to get in the restaurant business, but that’s what I’ve done,” Retherford said. “It’s hilarious that I did this; I don’t even cook at my house.”
Retherford, who worked for Brady 20 years ago at Brady’s Tex-Mex restaurant, has been able to lean on Brady’s kitchen experience.
“We worked together to create a menu and let our customers be a big part of it,” said Retherford, who put a sandwich on the menu named after her friend, “Jen Jen,” with turkey, bacon and provolone on sourdough bread.
Panama City Beach Swim Team coach, Coach Jonathan, has a ham and cheese sandwich named after him and a special “Reserved ‘Coach’ ” nameplate at the bar. “Coach Jonathan eats with us about three or four times a week when he’s in town,” said Retherford, whose daughters, Hannah and Heidi, are on the swim team.
Bookkeeper Donna Sander, who lends a hand in the kitchen during a rush, is the inspiration behind Donna’s Favorite Roast Beef on Focaccia. “We use 4 ounces of meat,” Sander said. “It’s really good.”
Roast beef is topped with crumbled bleu cheese, red onion, tomato and horseradish mayo.
“I love Donna’s, but it’s so big,” said Retherford, whose admits her favorite is the Cuban. “And, our chicken salad is awesome.”
Janice’s Chicken Salad is served on sourdough or wheat with lettuce and tomato.
“Everybody likes grapes, pecans and walnuts, but a lot of people can’t eat pecans or walnuts. So instead, I put sunflower seeds and dried cranberries in it,” said Brady, who also works at Patches Pub & Grill on the weekends. “I try to come up with different stuff. If I don’t like it, I don’t think anyone else will.”
MISS LINEN’S CAFÉ
Specialties: Cuban sandwich, chicken salad
Where: 12011B Panama City Beach Parkway, Panama City Beach
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, $1 off all beer and wine; all day Saturday, $1 draft beer
Details, call-ahead orders or catering: (850) 249-7858 or Facebook.com/MissLinensCafe
Shopping: Florida Linen next door is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday)