Santa Rosa Beach Down Island Gulf Seafood Restaurant features a raw bar

SANTA ROSA BEACH — Chef Brannon Janca of seafood restaurant Down Island Gulf is a firm believer in the concept of eating where you live.

Janca, a 20-year-old Santa Rosa Beach resident of Pascagoula, Mississippi, along with his wife Stefani and other business partners, marked the grand opening of Down Island with a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Jan. 11 . The restaurant, located at 2780 US Highway 98 serves modern American cuisine in a modern, casual dining experience.

“Our menu is determined by the products we can get,” Janca said. “I wanted it to be a Gulf seafood restaurant because all the produce we get here in our area, I know how fresh those ingredients are here.”

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The menu

At Down Island, freshness tastes like cioppino (tomato and fennel stew, made with fish, prawns, clams, mussels, Pernod butter, and served with toast and rouille) and the grilled chicken breast that accompanies the homemade pasta alla Nerano, smoked tomato, hand-chopped pistachio pesto and charred lemon. If you crave even more freshness, try the apple and watercress salad which is topped with Point Reyes blue cheese, candied pecans, shallots and a sherry vinaigrette.

Always a big request in any American restaurant: a burger. And while many restaurants brag about their patties, the Down Island Drive-Thru Burger is made with homemade brown butter potato buns – something even Janca hadn’t experienced before planning the menu for the grand opening of the restaurant. Be sure to try it (it comes with American cheese, pickles, red onion, special sauce and Belgian fries).

And perhaps the most local, freshly caught fish of the day joins various selections of raw sea bass as Down Island staples. Oysters cooked over a wood fire, such as half a dozen creamed leeks, shrimp, pork belly and garlic, butter and herbs create a special experience for the vigorous Gulf mollusk.

The location

Janca said Down Island is the realization of a vision he had after witnessing a resurrection of local, family-owned and chef-owned restaurants in the first moments after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where he attended culinary school.

“They were just small neighborhood restaurants with great world-class food and great service,” he said. “Truly unique restaurants have popped up all over town – and I’ve loved it.”

Noting that some restaurants in northwest Florida are also drawn to the locally caught seafood offering, Janca went on to say that Down Island will reflect more than local food, but the residential vibe and culture represented in the Santa Rosa Beach area.

For this reason, the restaurant is not hidden on 30A; it is located on the highway, he said. The Jancas purchased the building from a former stained glass maker who modeled it after homes found in the then fledgling community of Seaside, Florida.

Janca retained the original design as much as possible, transforming the space from a two-car garage into the main dining area.

“It’s an old beach house,” he said, adding that the building had been brought up to code and an elevator had also been added. “It adds a lot to the environment and adds to the culture of the restaurant.”


The fluidity of the menu and the creativity of the construction make room for connections with different types of guests. After a long day at work, someone craving a beer and shucked oysters could find respite on Down Island as easily as a family of four looking for dinner each month.

Stefani Pall hugs her husband, chef Brannon Janca, after the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony held January 11 for their Down Island Gulf Seafood Restaurant.

“And that’s what I wanted to bring to Santa Rosa Beach — a family, community, or neighborhood restaurant for everyone, for families, for one-on-one dining, and for tourists,” Janca said. “I really wanted to bring something to our local community that I wanted, and wanted to go eat and spend my money on.”

Really, there’s no limit to who a possible Down Island restaurant is. Stefani Janca, Brannon’s wife, is a registered dietitian and certified and plays an active role in the creation of the menu. A press release announcing the restaurant’s opening said cooking from scratch lends itself to easy modifications that will accommodate special diets. Stefani recommends customers with unique dietary restrictions to call ahead to speak to her so the meal can be properly prepared.


And, if you’re looking for a dessert, your appetite is in the hands of chef Janca. That is, he prepares all the desserts himself in-house, however, he is looking for a sous chef and possibly a baker.

Chef Brannon Janca, owner of the Down Island Gulf Seafood restaurant, currently prepares all of the restaurant's homemade desserts.  The desserts are prepared with fresh and seasonal ingredients.

Some of the homemade desserts include: a blueberry tart made with seasonal blueberries baked in a wood-fired oven, lime pancakes fresh daily and served warm, and a chocolate mouse with poached pears served in a martini glass . Janca is also testing a pineapple upside-down cake recipe for spring, when pineapples come into season.

All the effort put into the kitchen at Down Island Gulf Seafood Restaurant is a testament to where the heart is.

“I really wanted to do this for our community,” he said. “We have great restaurants here like Stinky’s Fish Camp and The Red Bar (Grayton Beach) and they have really great people working there…but we need more restaurants like those and mine to that we can begin to develop this region.”

“I’ve been extremely lucky to have an amazing group of people join us. It’s truly a family business, an aspect that people really love, to come and see the same faces every day,” Janca concluded. . “We had a great grand opening. I’m really proud of our team.”

Down Island Gulf Seafood Restaurant, 2780 US Highway 98, is open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information and to see a menu, go to

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