California chef John Taylor hadn’t been to St. George Island before December 2017, but his sister and her family have been visiting the island for 40 years. And through her tales and his own want to “bring the whole Mexican vibe to the panhandle,” the St. George Cantina was born.

Opened in June, the Cantina is located on East Pine Avenue and offers a lot that patrons won’t be able to experience elsewhere. Taylor, known as JT, has opened 52 restaurants throughout his career and decided now was the time to open one of his very own.

St. George Cantina Restaurant on St. George Island

“I’m excited to do it for myself,” Taylor says. “The biggest thing for me is guest service and food consistency, and I think the island could really use a step up in the way food is done. I want something really easy and clean.”

Taylor has tremendous respect for the chefs of Apalachicola and said he wants to create that standard at the Cantina. The menu is infused with diverse flavors and features pork, steak, vegetarian dishes, and lots of seafood. Taylor gets his shrimp and seafood from Apalachicola fishermen.

“We will feature a different fish every day,” Taylor says.

As a chef, Taylor has crafted the menu to include several fresh and homemade items, including his own hybrid corn-and-maseca-flour recipe for tortillas, which are used for the various tacos being offered.

An unusual offering guests will find at the St. George Cantina is the mac-and-cheese bar.

As Taylor puts it, “I love mac and cheese, and I want people to have fun when they come in.”

There’s a chef making cheese sauces and guests can add savory items like lobster and bacon. At the bar, the signature drink is the Moscow Mule, which has Taylor’s unique touch, adding passion fruit to the ginger beer and vodka that usually makes up the recipe.

Another distinct touch the Cantina offers is that only one item is fried — shrimp for the tacos — while everything else is sautéed or grilled.

Taylor is working with contacts in Tallahassee to bring in flamenco guitarists for folks who want a softer musical touch, but with plenty of beat to salsa or merengue dance to. He also offers the island’s only delivery service and has added catering services and cooking classes as well.

Another amenity he’s developing for the younger crowd is a teen night. He wants to put up a large tent over a grassy area and offer a DJ, hamburgers, and hot dogs for teens on the island.

“There needs to be something like that for them,” he says.

And it all benefits the greater island community, for locals and those here to enjoy a vacation.

“I hope everyone goes along with raising the bar,” Taylor said of setting a new standard. “It will increase traffic everywhere because if they can find it on the island, they’ll stay on the island.”

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There are a lot of great restaurants on St. George Island, and elsewhere along the Forgotten Coast. But visitors and locals alike love the challenges of preparing their own gourmet meals, and when it’s time to choose from the best area seafood, they usually have two names in mind: Dail’s and Doug’s.

The two seafood trailers have been staples on the island for more than two decades, and offer a wide variety of the fresh bounty harvested from local waters daily. They are usually parked within a couple of blocks from one another in the central business district, near the two grocery stores that sell the items every chef needs to complete the perfect recipe.

Most days you’ll find Doug McKinney sitting in his red chair under the awning of his Doug’s Seafood trailer. Around him are usually several coolers filled with the day’s catch, which often includes local oysters, shrimp, scallops, snapper, and grouper, among others.


“I try to be the best I can be and offer the best seafood money can buy, seven days a week,” McKinney says. The former millwright went into the seafood business more than 25 years ago, and said his seafood is “known around the world” because of the vast diversity of visitors who come to St. George Island each year.

“I have people who have been buying from me for 25 years,” he says. “They’re like one big extension of my family.”

Doug's and Dail's Seafood Trailer on St. George Island

Family, and the connection with their customers, is something that’s cherished across the way at Dail’s Seafood as well. There, Anna and PeeWee Carmichael man what they like to call “the Wagon,” and dish out as many stories as they do pounds of shrimp and oysters.

“We have quite a tremendous, loyal customer base,” Anna says. She loves to talk with the folks who walk up to the trailer, which was originally opened in the 1990s by PeeWee’s parents, Dail and Betty Carmichael.

Anna’s journey began away from St. George Island, but she remembers her family vacationing here when she was a child. Eventually those regular trips turned into something even more lasting when she “married a shrimp man.”

Dail’s Seafood offers many of the same staples you’ll find at Doug’s, with the addition of yellowfin tuna and scallops, which aren’t commercially caught in local waters. And Anna also makes several gallons of her now-famous fish dip each week, which has become a favorite item for visitors and locals alike.

“We do everything but catch the fish,” she says. Her dip is made of mullet or mackerel which they smoke at their fish smoker at home, and she mixes up the rest of the secret recipe herself. Dail’s also offers crab cakes made by another local fishing family, the Amisons from Apalachicola. That family operates a seafood warehouse across the bay and partners with the Carmichaels.

For Anna and PeeWee, success is all about connection. They get lots of customers from social media and web advertising, but it’s the stories they share with one another that breed loyalty and fellowship between retailer and customer, they said.

“We love our customers, they’re the ones who support us year in and year out,” PeeWee says. To which Anna adds, “Engaging our customers is one of the most important things we do. In this new age of interaction through technology, human interaction is absolutely necessary.”