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Fla. Restaurant Puts National Politics On Local Stage


The Republican primary campaign has brought fame to a few eateries, where candidates have dropped in for a glad-handing and good grub. There's Lindy's Diner in New Hampshire, Tommy's Country Ham House in South Carolina, and just about any Pizza Ranch in Iowa.

It's not quite in that league yet, but in Florida, NPR's Greg Allen reports the GOP candidates' place to be is the Fish House in Pensacola.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The Fish House has been open since 1998, but in the last few years it's become a local political institution. Mitt Romney was there yesterday for a morning rally, joined by Senator John McCain and actor Jon Voight. They brought out a large crowd, one that filled the outside deck and the upper gallery. Some people even spilled onto the dock in the marina that the restaurant overlooks. Owner Collier Merrill says Mitt Romney is not the first candidate to grace the outdoor deck.

COLLIER MERRILL: Four years ago, we had a lot of them come through. We had Mike Huckabee here and Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson - had them all. So, Senator McCain being here was special. He was here actually one year ago today.

ALLEN: McCain was there for a party after his son, Jack, received his wings as a Navy pilot.

Warming up the crowd before introducing Romney, McCain said Pensacola holds many memories for him. He trained as a cadet and received his wings here.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: It's wonderful to be back in Pensacola. When I was a young Navy pilot I did my best to help the economy here, Mayor.


ALLEN: Every - my entire paycheck was always donated to cultural institutions here.


ALLEN: Along with politics, what The Fish House is best known for grits a Ya-Ya, homemade cheese grits made with bacon, mushroom, cream, garlic, topped with shrimp. Politics came along because of Merrill. He's an old friend of former Republican Congressman and MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough.

MERRILL: When we opened in 1998 - actually about '99 - he became our house band, and was the house band here for, you know, when he was home on the weekends, he would come in and played here. It was called the Mojo Band, and we had a good time with him.

ALLEN: Later, Scarborough brought his "Morning Joe" show to The Fish House and broadcast live during the region's recovery from the Gulf oil spill. Politics have helped this restaurant's recovery and Pensacola's Fish House hopes to sell the lot more grits a Ya-Ya before 2012 is over.

Greg Allen, NPR News.


MARTIN: And you're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.