Downtown Pensacola’s Palafox Street is well-renowned for its dining and nightlife, but locals know to look just off the main drag to the historic Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood for some of the city’s best Southern culture and fare.
Located just five blocks west of Palafox Street, the Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood is steeped in black history and home to what many consider Pensacola’s best burger and fried chicken, as well as a bustling music scene.
During segregation, Belmont-DeVilliers was the commercial and cultural hub of Pensacola’s black community. Known locally as The Blocks, the neighborhood was home to many black-owned businesses, restaurants and music venues, including Abe’s 506 Club where such musical legends as Louis Armstrong, James Brown, Ray Charles, B.B. King and Aretha Franklin all performed.
The Blocks slid into decline following the end of segregation as many of Pensacola’s black residents sought opportunity elsewhere. Much like the rest of Downtown Pensacola, however, Belmont-DeVilliers has undergone a revival in recent years.
Belmont-DeVilliers today is once again a vibrant community of professional offices, shops and restaurants, where historians and foodies alike can find authentic experiences in a culturally rich setting. The revitalization can be traced back to 2010 and the opening of one of the neighborhood’s most popular restaurants, Five Sisters Blues Café.
Five Sisters stands at the corner of Belmont and DeVilliers streets in a historic building that once housed the area’s premier record shop. The restaurant carries on the neighborhood’s musical tradition, hosting live blues and jazz several nights a week.
Five Sisters is a bastion of coastal Southern soul food, serving fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits and Aunt Sara’s Southern Fried Chicken seven days a week. The restaurant still uses the recipes passed down by the founder’s mother and four aunts, for whom the restaurant was named.
“This area has been known for Southern comfort food – things like fried chicken, mashed potatoes – something that grandma would cook on a Sunday afternoon,” said owner and general manager Jean Pierre N’Dione. “Some of those things we would have when grandma cooks and everybody gets together, that’s what we really try to replicate here.”
While the new energy from places like Five Sisters has helped to revitalize the neighborhood, one Belmont-Devilliers institution has been satisfying hungry diners for more than 70 years. When locals debate where to find the best burger in town, Blue Dot Barbecue is always in the mix. Founded in 1946, Blue Dot has survived the economic ebb and flow on the back of its signature, no-nonsense hamburger. While the recipe may be a secret, generations of Pensacolians have known that a Blue Dot burger is the standard for what a good burger should taste like. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Drop in before the lunch rush and bring cash, because this place is old school.
Like Blue Dot, The Dwarf focuses on doing one thing well. Located just around the corner, the small staff at this revived “chicken stand” are frying up some of the crunchiest, juiciest chicken in the city. The original Dwarf Chicken Stand opened in 1963 and served fried chicken and Southern sides to generations of loyal customers until Hurricane Ivan destroyed the building in 2004. The restaurant returned to Belmont-Devilliers in 2014, picking up right where it left off. Trying to pick between The Dwarf and Five Sisters for the city’s best-fried chicken can be a tall order, but attempting to do so can have delicious consequences.
The outlier of the neighborhood is Chizuko, a voguish dive bar and music venue serving vegan small plates. Since opening in 2017, the restaurant has quickly become the haunt of the city’s young artistic crowd and the venue where up-and-coming local bands cut their teeth. Chizuko hasn’t eschewed the neighborhood’s culinary traditions, however. The restaurant’s signature dish is a twist on boiled peanuts, a Southern favorite.
Like those that call it home, Belmont-DeVilliers is a diverse mix of cultures, influences and flavors. As the neighborhood moves quickly into the future, it continues to honor its rich history and culinary traditions. Be it classic Southern soul food, a late night snack or simply the best burger anywhere, Belmont-DeVilliers has you covered, just like it has the generations that came before.