Pensacola is full of hidden gems. I’m always pleased when I wander around and find reminders of that sentiment. Sure, anywhere gets boring after a while and we’re not exactly the fun capital of the world, but we’ve got some really nice stuff hiding in plain sight.
Shout-out numero uno for me goes to Yamato Oriental Cuisine, on New Warrington Road. With sushi so de rigueur these days it seems as if everyone’s vote goes to whatever is the newest restaurant to come along. I’m sticking with Hiro-san and a joint that’s been slinging Japanese food for as long as I’ve been alive. Where else are you going to find such an old-school sushi chef who claps his hands to ward off evil spirits each time he’s about to touch the rice? Much love for Hiro and Yamato.
Also on the restaurant kick for hiding in plain sight is Taco Mex, on the corner of 9-Mile Road and the Pensacola Boulevard exit. While the name is not terribly inspired, the food is the only, true authentic Mexican in town. None of that gringo ground beef nonsense, no pre-made sauces or suspicious cheese-like lakes poured over microwaved food, just good, authentic, real cusine. It’s a pretty good indicator of a restaurant’s authenticity when the tiny dining room is jammed full of Latino day laborers happily chowing down on whole fried fish and caldos de camarones. Order yourself some braised lengua and a tall glass of horchata and thank me later.
A dog’s age ago I got my leather jacket and almost immediately set out to customize it with what I thought was the proper “punk rock” look; spikes on the epaulets and studs around the lapels. It was while searching for the materials to achieve this that I found Ole Time Leather Shop, on Beverly Parkway. I bought myself a set of tools plus bags of steel studs and soon I was dyeing and making whole belts, bracelets and personalizing other friends’ jackets. So much more gratifying to turn your back on the big box stores and do it yourself. Even though it’s been a long time since I’ve been by, I always smile at the memories each time I drive past.
And not to put too fine a point on it, but our own Hopjacks Filling Station is a diamond in the rough. I meet people on an almost daily basis who don’t know we’re on Cervantes. In case you’re wondering, we’re a specialty bottle shop/café hybrid that’s always getting the latest and greatest rare and hard-to-come-by beers. Take Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball, for example. This winter warmer ale is copper red with a dense head that leaves behind whole sheets of sticky hop lacing. Wet forest scents lurk around the ample brown sugar and molasses notes while big flavors of caramel, toasted nuts and dried fruit dance around a nice hoppy bite.
Get out there and investigate. Pensacola is full of wonderful stuff and amazing beer.