The Redneck Riviera: A Delicious Surprise

Forget spring break excess; try the frogs' legs meunière and the rainbow cake

The movie The Truman Show was filmed in Seaside, Fla. in the Redneck Riviera.

I flew back to New York, and, the very next day, got the best news of my life: I was pregnant. So I associate the Redneck Riviera with happiness, and from the moment I left I couldn’t wait to get back. And back I went and went, through nine years and two little boys.

"I guess the place just bit you," as Charlie Modica, of Modica Market on 30A in Seaside, put it when I was in town not long ago.

Modica’s folks are Sicilian immigrants who had owned a small neighborhood grocery in an Italian neighborhood in Bessemer, Ala., when they decided to retire to Seaside in the early 1980s. Having vacationed for years with their three children in Destin, they took a huge gamble putting their savings into Seaside, which was then little more than blueprints.

According to Modica, developer Robert Davis, who founded Seaside in 1979 on an 80-acre parcel of land he inherited from his grandfather, approached his father about opening a grocery, and it was decided on a handshake. (At the time, the nearest Publix supermarket was more than 20 miles away in Destin.)

Modica came to join his parents when he was 21 years old; today he’s pushing 50. Much of the success of his family’s market has to do with the teeming prepared-foods case. The Modicas visit the Fancy Food Show in New York every year to scour the high-end condiments and make sure they’re stocking the wasabi mustards and hot sauces that their increasingly food-obsessed customers expect.

But most folks down here like to be in the market in the early afternoon, when Lisa Black, a baker who has been with the shop for more 10 years, rolls out the sweets. Usual suspects include "rainbow cake," each of the four layers a different color bound together by dense buttercream; enormous blueberry and chocolate chip muffins; chess pie; and, if you’re lucky, a fresh batch of banana pudding. Yes, it’s a Southern staple, but Modica’s has its own version. The so-called pudding is, in fact, a gigantic mountain of meringue made from 30 egg whites spun through with banana crème. For something so massive, it’s surprisingly sophisticated and silken.

Modica can remember the Redneck Riviera before the sprawling developments and planned communities, but he doesn’t pine for it.

"We all work really hard to maintain the integrity of the area," said Modica. "We’re ambassadors of this place, and there is not another one in the United States like it. You’ve got to use a passport to find a prettier place."