PANAMA CITY — After discovering Smugglers’ hidden treasures, a new fan has been captured.
“This is not just a place you can come in and have a drink,” said Mark Stitt, who owns Smugglers with his wife, Kim. “It’s a place you can bring your family in and enjoy time as friends and not have it so noisy you can’t carry on a conversation.”
Lunch was quiet last Friday, as Tyndall Air Force Base personnel and other locals dined at new booths and tables.
“We literally gutted the place — we built walls; we tore down walls,” Mark said. “We now have a private party room for about 50 people.”
The inside of the restaurant on Tyndall Parkway has been completely remodeled, unrecognizable from its days as J’s Seafood. A brick wall now designates the entry, while fluorescent lights have been replaced with hanging light fixtures and tropical fans. A local artist has painted a pirate lady and guy on the restroom doors, which you can walk through without missing a sports play.
“I’ve always been under the impression that a great sports bar has to have TVs in the bathrooms,” Mark said.
As I sat at a high-top table, which had maps and coins lacquered into it, Mark talked about his love for the area. The Stitts lived in Bay Point in the ’80s and returned five years ago.
“When we made the move, we made a promise to each other to come back,” said Mark, who rides his Harley from the beach to Callaway, a second home.
“We have truly wrapped our arms around this community,” Mark said as a group of regulars from Gulf Power finished up for lunch. “We want to be Callaway’s bar — that is so important to us to be a part of this community.”
Every Tuesday is Military Appreciation Day with 50 percent off select entrees and appetizers.
Mark, who is expecting his first grandchild, encourages a family atmosphere. “We have a decent size game room for kids,” said Mark, who added, “a TV and camera in the room allow parents to see what’s going on.”
The Little Matey menu includes a choice of entrée and side for $4.95. Smugglers’ regular menu is expansive, but shows off the ability of Chef Craig Miller, who has 35 years of restaurant experience. He spent the past five years at 30 Degree Blue.
“The thing about Craig is next time you come in, the Bong-Bong Shrimp will be the same; the catfish will be the same,” Mark said of Craig’s consistency.
Express Lunch served Monday through Friday includes an entrée and two sides for $7.95, such as Friday’s Fried Catfish. The huge, meaty piece of catfish is dipped a seasoned batter for a crispy outside, comfort food at its best.
Manager Stan West, who owns Time Out Sports Bar & Grill and Time Out Sports Saloon & Oyster Bar, has carried over a few of his recipes from Time Out, such as the dry rub wings (my favorite), but he also has come up with new items.
“The Bong-Bong is just a recipe I was playing with quite a while,” Stan said. “I originally was going to make it a wing sauce but it was too thick, so I thought we’d try it on shrimp.”
The popular appetizer features lightly hand-breaded shrimp dipped in the smoky sauce with a little kick in the back of the bite. The customers’ favorite wing flavor has been South of the Border.
“It’s not too hot; it’s a creeper,” Stan said.
The kitchen also includes a four-tier pizza oven for 12- and 16-inch pizzas.
“As I’m getting older, usually about 10 wings and half a pizza and I’m good to go,” said Mark, who laughed and added, “Now, Stan, that’s a different story.”
Oysters are served raw or baked; you can even build your own. “You tell us what you want on them,” Mark said.
For those looking for a little heat, the Cap’t Jack Burger is loaded with jalapenos and topped with pepper jack.
“The Cap’t Jack burger bites you back,” Mark said.
Smugglers also is becoming known for its hand-cut steaks: “Once people try them, they come back pretty often,” Stan said.
The popular Prime Rib Sandwich usually is served on a hoagie roll, but the pretzel roll is available by request. Layered with thinly sliced tender meat and melted Provolone, the highlight was the savory au jus for dipping. The pretzel roll’s crust was just enough of a barrier to keep the sandwich from being soggy.
Live music on Friday nights has been pushed back to 8 p.m., when most families are finished dining for the evening. KonKrete Soul will play from 8 to 9 p.m. tonight.
Stop in during Monday night football to watch the game on the 35 TVs and 120-inch big screen and wash it all down with 75 cent drafts or $3 pitchers of Rolling Rock, a special available all day, every day. Buckets of beer with six cans of PBR are $7.50.
“We have some crazy drink specials,” Mark said.
On Wednesday nights, ladies drink free domestic drafts and house wines from 6-9 p.m.
“Everybody says that we have the largest bar in the county. We built it to be that,” Mark said.
You have to sign a waiver to enter the Monday night wing eating contest with a competition ghost pepper sauce. The three-minute contest will continue each week until Super Bowl in February, when all of the weekly winners will sit down during half-time and go for the big win. So far, 15 wings is tops.
“This is truly a sauce we can’t put on the menu,” Stan said.
The wing champion will receive a flat screen TV, recliner, mountain bike and a $100 gift card.
SMUGGLERS SPORTS BAR & EATERY
- Specialties: Steaks, seafood, sandwiches, pizza
- Where: 532 N. Tyndall Parkway, Panama City
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-until Friday through Sunday
- Details: 215-7691, Smugglers-FL@Live.com or SmugglersSportsBar.com or Facebook: Smugglers Sports Bar