There's an oft-repeated saying that the early bird gets the worm, but what some of Panama City Beach’s most popular restaurants are giving the early birds who take a seat at their tables is far more palatable than the proverbial wriggling invertebrate. Offering a wide array of beautiful dishes full of prime-time flavor at lower price points, these off-peak menus are clear confirmation that getting in early really does taste good.
A sprinkle of fireflies might come out after dark, but from the pre-dusk hours of 5 p.m. until 6, it’s the early birds who flock to the dining rooms at Firefly restaurant in Panama City Beach. Since opening in 2007, owners Dave and Stacy Trepanier have been tempting guests to their romantic venue with an innovative menu of fine dining fare and beautifully crafted sushi that enchants the eye and titillates the tongue, and their Sunset Specials are yet another illumination of their culinary skill. Offering a menu of slightly smaller plates whose excellence is fully lit, the Sunset Specials offer seasonally inspired guest favorites like juicy beef tenderloin medallions, succulent short ribs, and meaty salmon and crab cakes. With their standard of brilliance and attention to exquisite detail shining through in every dish, Firefly is one restaurant that will definitely light up your evening.
Running from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., the Early Bird Specials at Runaway Island make the early hour something to savor, offering fresh fare that’s seasonally driven and often a way to get some preview reviews on dishes being newly introduced. Since opening in 2014, owner Neel Bennett and managing partner Rob Hammer have been offering guests a casual place to dine on some of the area’s best coastally inspired cuisine, with Gulf views and great on-deck seating that keep things relaxed and breezy. Serving up price points that fall a bit below what one might expect from entrées like tender wood-fired New York strip steaks and golden-fried Chicken Parmesan, the early bird menu at Runaway will make a clock-watcher out of you, proving that being early can be deliciously rewarding.
Coming in ahead of the tide of hungry dinner hour, diners certainly have their perks, and at Saltwater Grill, one of those perks is avoiding the often-lengthy wait for a table. Luring guests in from 4 p.m. until 5:30 p.m., the Early Bird menu offers pre-sunset prices for dishes that don’t go light on flavor, featuring specially created plates that showcase the talents that have made this restaurant a local favorite for more than 15 years. Having come under the ownership of father-daughter duo Rick and Christy Spell in 2016, Saltwater is no less dedicated to providing an excellent experience for every guest they serve — and the early birds get a taste of that excellence before anyone else.
TRIPLE J STEAKHOUSE
With a menu full of steakhouse classics worthy of any New York social scene, Triple J Steakhouse has been serving guests tender steaks paired with all manner of accouterments and proving with every dish that this beachside institution of perfectly cooked grinds, strips, ribs and roasts definitely has some chops in their besting of the beef. But rather than focusing solely on the steak, owner Peter Sostheim wanted his restaurant to pay equal respect to the elegant cuisine local to this area, including locally caught seafood, which guests have been enjoying for the better part of two decades. Plating up for the early crowd, their Early Bird Specials offer a guest-driven menu of popular dishes like the 6-ounce, center-cut sirloin as well as other beef, chicken and seafood entrees that pair perfectly with Happy Hour drinks mixed fresh from the bar. From first bite to last, Triple J’s three hours of early eats are prime time for prime dining.