New restaurant Thirsty Hooker brings back essence of Slick Mick's to Fort Walton Beach

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — Don’t look for seafood on the menu at Thirsty Hooker.

It’s not there.

Jeffrey Winget, the owner, said that while the bar and restaurant occupying what was formerly Slick Mick’s in Fort Walton Beach has a fishing inspired name; it has stayed true to the building’s former menu with such items as muffulettas, pizzas and Philly cheesesteaks. That decision came after a fishing trip Winget took September of 2020 in Miramar Beach.

“We tried to give the crew all the fish we caught and they were like, ‘We are so sick of fish. Our freezers are full of fish,’” Winget said. “So I’m thinking these guys need a bar to have cheeseburgers, wings, beer and no fish. It’s funny I came up with the name that I did because everybody thinks it’s seafood. There is zero seafood on the menu.”

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Nautical items adorn a wall at the Thirsty Hooker restaurant in Fort Walton Beach. It replaced Slick Mick's on Eglin Parkway.

Thirsty Hooker opened on St. Patrick’s Day at 19 Eglin Parkway NE.

Winget came up with the name because of his love for fishing.

“I was trying to think of nautical terms and something catchy, witty that I could come up with a great logo that would sell T-shirts and draw attention when people are sitting here in traffic,” Winget said.

People have found the name amusing, he said. It’s gained mostly a positive reaction.

“They love the sign,” Winget said. “I can sit here, and if 20 people walked in the door right now; 10 of them would stop and take a picture of the sign. It’s catchy. It’s fun. I think I fell into something amazing here.”

Some of the menu items at the Thirsty Hooker restaurant in Fort Walton Beach include from left,: Supreme Pizza, Club Sandwich with homemade chips, White Pizza, Smothered Burrito, and the 12 inch Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich.

The T-shirts are popular and customers now request bumper stickers and hats, Winget said.

Winget never planned to open a restaurant. His first idea during his fishing trip was to open a taco stand on the Destin harbor.

“I mulled it over,” Winget said. “We went fishing and I said, ‘I’m going to come here and open a taco stand.’ I went home to (Las) Vegas, packed my stuff and was back here in 10 days.”

He immediately began to search online for a space.

“I found this (building) for sale on the site I was looking for the food trucks,” Winget said. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute. This is what I do.’”

Over view of seating and numerous televisions inside the Thirsty Hooker restaurant in Fort Walton Beach. It replaced Slick Micks on Eglin Parkway.

Winget has been in the food and beverage industry for more than 40 years, he said. He started when he was 14 as a dishwasher at Village Inn in Lincoln, Nebraska; progressed into a fast-food manager and it spiraled from there, he said.

“I’ve always cooked — even at home,” Winget said. “I have five brothers and one sister. My mom always made sure we all knew how to cook. She’d say, ‘If you shack up with some floozy and I can’t get a meal, I’m kicking her ass and then yours.’ We always cooked growing up.”

Winget is a rare restaurateur, he said, in that he likes to work in the front and back of the restaurant.

“I love the people part,” Winget said. “That’s something I got from my dad from day one. I could talk to this table if it answered me. Then my passion for food comes from my mom. I believe in me and I believe in what I do.”

Winget’s mother was a native of Mexico, so he has some Mexican on the Thirsty Hooker menu. His smothered burrito is one of the most popular items, he said.

“I make everything from scratch; I make my own chili,” Winget said. “I’m waiting for season, August, to get the great chili from Hatch, New Mexico. I’m going to see if I can get one of the farms to come down here and roast chili out front and sell it by the bushel.”

Another of Winget’s specialties is gourmet wing sauces, but he is getting attached to the pizza now, he said. He also gives staff members the opportunity to conjure up new menu ideas.

“One of my guys has come up with this fantastic French onion soup we have,” Winget said. “A couple of them have done wing sauces as well. We actually do a twice baked potato skin and it’s a family recipe, so he brought that.”

The restaurant offers a full bar, but a specialty cocktail menu is in the works, Winget said.

While the menu has changed in some ways — for instance, the Philly and burgers are made with prime rib — the interior hasn’t drastically changed. Winget removed some wall dividers and traditional booth seating the restaurant had before. The space also features pool tables, dart boards and many TVs.

“This gentleman came in, ‘What did you do with all the old stuff and where did you get all this cool new stuff?’” Winget said. “I said, ‘This is the old stuff. I just moved it from the white wall and put it on this wall.’ All this stuff except for the (Denver) Broncos stuff and the flags — everything else was here.”

Thirsty Hooker is starting to take on the reputation of a place that is bringing back the essence of the original Slick Mick’s, Winget said.

“People are saying, ‘This is how I remember it when this place first opened,’” Winget said. “For people to compare me and my team and this place to something that’s been historical to Fort Walton Beach is a huge, huge compliment. He was very successful and it was a great product. Some how, some way, without meeting Mike Galvin, I’ve managed to come full circle.”