If you’ve been in town for a while, you’ll remember St. Augustine Beach’s Panama Hattie’s. Whatever your impression, though, I’m telling you now – banish all those memories from your mind and reintroduce yourself to the newest kid on the beach block. The old Panama Hattie’s was a mainstay on the beach since its opening in 1981, so when the new owners bought the property in 2015, they had some big shoes to fill. Well before those shoes could be rightfully filled, Hurricane Irma came along in 2017 and necessitated a major renovation project. That process now over, Panama Hattie’s is back in business.
Panama Hattie’s is owned by Alex Mavris, Nico Mavris, and Lambros Kokkinelis (who you’ll also find with his chef coat on in the kitchen), and together they’ve turned the restaurant into a stunning and welcoming dining destination. The new blues, whites, and dark woods of the interior are a perfect blend of cozy and coastal, inviting everyone from families to friends to date nighters through its doors. But one quick glance into the restaurant would show you the delight of the newly-renovated interior, so the important part here is the food. And we’re happy to report, you won’t be disappointed. Panama Hattie’s has garnered a reputation for a variety of specialties, but mostly you’ll see people gravitating back to their steak and seafood. In a town that knows and reveres their seafood, it’s not easy to impress local palates, but the ocean proximity has inspired much of the menu.
Exhibit A? The Seafood Cavatappi, where wild-caught local shrimp, littleneck clams, and mussels are served in a basil tomato sauce over cavatappi pasta. With the essential garlic bread on the side, the pasta is served in a heaping bowl that is the perfect example of the portion sizes you’ll encounter here. Rich and hearty but delectably fresh, this classic dish is beautifully prepared and presented by a kitchen with an eye for detail.
A quick departure from classic Italian dining to classic bar food, we next have the Goose Island IPA Fish & Chips. Atlantic Cod is covered in a Goose Island IPA batter then served with the essential accoutrements – French fries, coleslaw, and tartar sauce. These enormous pieces of cod are perfectly fried in a seasoned batter that doesn’t overwhelm the fish (as many fried foods often do) but rather acts as an accompaniment, an enhancement. Arranged almost upright on the stack of fries, the fish is practically a monument to the definitely-not-healthy but oh-so-delicious dish.
Another dish whose height practically qualifies it as a structure is the Hattie’s Nachos. Don’t judge me, but I consider myself a nacho connoisseur. My partner and I have tried dozens of nacho preparations at a variety of restaurants, and despite it seeming like such a simple dish to construct, many fall short of expectations. Not here. The ingredients are traditional nacho fare – house-made pico de gallo, pickled jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, and cilantro cream over crispy tortilla chips – but the flavor is mouth-watering. The ideal shareable, don’t be surprised if you don’t want to share at all.
Just to prove their culinary range, the last dish was the Chicken Cremini. This sautéed chicken breast is served in a cremini mushroom marsala sauce – equal parts sweet and savory with the complexity that good marsala always offers. The mushrooms give the dish a rich earthiness that will keep you wanting more.
Panama Hattie’s has come back with a bang. “We strive to continue the legacy of great food, drinks, and entertainment,” says owner Alex Mavris. “Panama Hattie’s has been a staple in the community for many decades, and we too look forward to many years working hard to create a landmark restaurant in beautiful St. Augustine Beach.”