Historic Pensacola Neighborhood Eateries Home to Unique Casual Dining
Most visitors find their way to all the fabulous beach restaurants and downtown eateries that make Pensacola a savory destination. But sometimes, you just want to eat like a local. Where do you start? So come on down to my neighborhood, East Hill.
Hundred-year-old homes and southern mansions are dotted along a grid of streets that lead to beautiful Bayou Texar. It’s a real neighborhood. Doctors live next door to schoolteachers and college students — and there’s a hipster or a hermit living over every garage.
It’s eclectic and cool, old and new. It’s shady dog-walks with a cacophony of birdsongs. You can run and bike anywhere. You can run the Bayou Hills 10K — all in the hood!
A weekend favorite here is a cruising slow ride bike tour of the casual eateries, mostly along iconic 12th Avenue. It’s about two miles from Cervantes Street north to our local dive, Wisteria Tavern, which hides under the famed 12th Avenue Tree Tunnel.
Let’s start with the new place on the blocks…
What’s with all the Brew Ha Ha?
Brew Ha Ha Neighborhood Eatery - 2435 N 12th Ave, Pensacola - 850.857.9350
Brew Ha Ha Neighborhood Eatery opened March 2 at 12th Avenue and Scott Street. Owner Angela Thames Walker wanted to share the history of Pensacola through the eyes of the generations who lived it.
The decor is a quirky, fun tribute to the many flavors of East Hill. Eclectic art and artifacts honor the San Carlos Hotel Bar, an Indoor version of the Graffiti Bridge, the L & N Train Crossing, a 1970s Blue Angel Hangar sign and more. Try out the telephone kissing booth! Acclaimed local artist Lindsey Gray painted reclaimed fallen oak from the famous 12th Avenue Tree Tunnel, creating a replica tunnel leading to the lighted dog-friendly patio.
So let’s eat, shall we? It’s Southern-inspired Pensa-culinary, reflecting a Southern take on the Five Flags that flew here during Pensacola’s 450+ year history.
As Executive Chef for the Blue Wahoos baseball team, Travis Wilson won a Silver Spoon Award for Best New Menu Item for his “Cracker Jack Chicken and Waffles.” He brings it to Brew Ha Ha.
He concocted an ode to the neighborhood and the restaurants that call (and called) it home. The 12th Avenue Cruise, a platter appetizer, pays homage to Historic 12th Avenue. It includes pulled pork BBQ honoring the now-closed City Grocery, a deli that ended its 45-year run in Pensacola in early March. Next are the Wisteria Tots, homemade tater tots cloaked in Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cheese to honor our favorite “dive,” the Wisteria. There are the O’Zone Sliders — laced with pizza sauce.
You’ll find plenty of taps with locally brewed beer and tasty cocktails. It’s closed on Sundays and Mondays!
O’Zone Pizza Pub’s Iconic Pies
O’Zone Pizza Pub - 1010 N. 12th Avenue (on Gonzalez Street) - 850.433.7336
Tucked in the basement of the historic and spooky 102-year-old former morgue at the Old Sacred Heart Hospital, O’Zone Pizza Pub creates a pie to die for. Oops, I punned. The neighborhood favorite boasts Imperial pints (20-ounce) of craft beers and exotic cocktails and brave flavors of pizza.
Yes, I normally go for the pub pie — loaded with the usual pepperoni, mushrooms and such— or the Carnivore (no description necessary) but there are some twists. Try the Crazy Horse pizza — it packs a flavorful punch with chipotle marinara, cheddar & Monterey jack cheeses, house-made chorizo, fresh Roma tomatoes, and red onions. You can also add fresh jalapeños too… Beer me!
Weekends are a great chance to experiment, and there’s a special deal with the Weekend Pie. It’s a 10-inch off-menu pizza dreamed up by the creative pie makers for the weekend. It comes with an Imperial pint brew for about $15 bucks.
Starlight, moonlight at the Vineyard
The Vineyard at 12th Avenue - 1010 N. 12th Avenue - 850.435.4567
Another resident of the Old Sacred Heart, The Vineyard at 12th Avenue offers two worlds.
Inside, cozy tables offer lunch and dinner in a warm ambiance. Tucked away behind the dining grotto is a subtle man-cave/bar plastered with TVs and an extensive wine menu.
But outside is where it’s at. Dine under the stars, relax in the shade on Adirondack chairs and even a pergola — or devour lamb lollies while you listen to lively live music and pet your leashed dog.
The broad menu includes steaks, crab cakes and cheese plates, and yes, there are burgers, hand-helds and small plates. Beef Wellington is the big deal here. It’s an English prep of steak with puff pastry and smothered in sauces. (Leave your calorie counter at home.) The wine list is geared for the neighborhood — no need for a ton of money, but you’ll still get good quality wines — from $5 a glass to $24 a bottle to bottles costing $100.
Thursday is movie night, with a cinema-style airing of classic or quirky flicks under the stars. Brunch? Yes, there’s brunch too, with disco music and chicken n waffles! (I like brunch. Maybe too much).
J’s Bakery and Cafe
2014 N 12th Avenue Pensacola, FL (850) 439-6546
Pensacola’s grandfather-of-all bakeries first opened in 1946 in the heart of East Hill. New owners Ryan and Erika Thomas added their influence from Portobello Market to create J's Bakery and Cafe. J's serves lunch alongside the classic bakery recipes that made it a Pensacola institution.
So, yes, they satisfy your sweet tooth with delectable fresh doughnuts, petite fours, crème horns, and create special order cakes for weddings and special occasions. But they also serve up a tasty burger!
Fresh Mexi-Cali cooked up at Cactus Flower Cafe
Cactus Flower Cafe - 3425 N. 12th Ave - 850.432.8100
Cactus Flower first opened its doors in East Hill in 2001 and has secured its place as a favorite in Pensacola. Inside and outside dining is available, and Cactus Flower has grown to five locations around Pensacola.
And now the East Hill anchor has renovated its cafe Maximilian to create Tia’s Tequila Bar, a full-service bar with guess what, lots of primo tequila and other cocktails. You can still get a latte, or, my favorite, the Cafe Mexicano, a chocolaty, coffee spiked with spices. But a genuine margarita makes happy hour happier.
So let’s eat! Cactus starter: Try the mango shrimp — fresh jumbo Gulf shrimp wrapped in mini hard flour taco shells and topped with fresh guacamole, cilantro, pico de gallo and a sweet, spicy mango salsa.
The So-Cal Burrito: Born in San Diego, this beast is packed with steak carne asada, natural fries, melted cheddar cheese, fresh guacamole, salsa verde, and pico de gallo. Bring a go-box!
Quick bites: Family-owned East Hill Market and Chubby’s Pizza N Wings
Market- 1216 N 9th Ave - 850.469.1432 - Chubby’s- 2030 N 12th Ave - 850.435.4553
East Hill market is a family-owned grocery market and cafe located on bustling Ninth Avenue at Gonzalez Street. A local favorite for lunches, the market offers craft beers and gourmet wines, and you can even pick up some local fresh produce as available.
Tony's Meatball Special sub is spectacular and zesty — wrapped in a delicate, flaky loaf. Delicate appetite? They’ve got plenty of salads and a yummy avocado sandwich.
Family-owned Chubby’s Pizza, serves up a massive 18-inch pizza and cheese-laced stromboli, but their chicken wings are a pleasing surprise: baked to perfection in the pizza oven. Pizza ovens for wings? I got to get me one of those for the house.
Dang, now where did I park my bicycle?