Whenever Mart and I crave an evening where we can enjoy a walk on the sand, take in the sunset, and enjoy a delicious dinner — be it a casual grouper sandwich, or a more gourmet dish of Seafood Capellini or Stuffed Gulf Grouper, there’s really only one place to go . . . The Beach House, with 650 feet directly on the Gulf, in North Bradenton Beach.
A regular winner of the Reader’s Choice Award for Favorite Waterfront Restaurant, as well as a Hall of Fame Award from The Knot – Best of Wedding’s Venues, The Beach House went under a spectacular renovation last year, enlarging the interior bar area, updating the décor to a more modern, chic design, and reducing (that’s worth repeating,) reducing the number of seats to allow every table a waterfront view and a higher level of customer service.
Even locals feel like they’re on vacation at The Beach House. The exterior patio retains the beachy vibe we all enjoy, welcoming beach-goers to stop by and enjoy the live music and a tropical cocktail or a waterfront meal while the kids romp in the surf.
We recently met with Ed Chiles at The Beach House, owner/operator of The Chiles Restaurant Group, who also owns the Sandbar Restaurant on Anna Maria Island and Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub on Longboat Key. To tell you that this man is a walking encyclopedia of all things “Florida foodie” would be an understatement.
We were joining Ed, and his marketing ace, Caryn Hodge, to sample a few of the newest menu items at The Beach House. Since it was raining that night, we settled into a table inside, where Ed began an enthusiastic conversation on how some of the new, delicious menu items featured at The Beach House Restaurant not only please the palate but also contribute to the local economy and help promote a healthy marine environment.
Ed poured me a glass of Lola Riesling, a California vineyard that he co-owns with Seth Cripe, a local guy with deep roots in Manatee County (his family owns Central Café.) Seth became a winemaker and started Lola Wines, which Ed owns a minority share. I really enjoyed the crisp taste of the Lola Riesling, and was enamored with the new “cap” on the wine bottle. Now that guests are allowed to take home unfinished wine from their dinner, this new cap makes much more sense than trying to force a cork back in the bottle.
Mart congratulated Ed about his newest venture, The Healthy Earth – Gulf Coast: Sustainable Seafood Project, which was recently awarded The Gulf Coast Community Foundation Innovation Challenge “Blue Economy” X Prize.
Mullet, according to Ed Chiles, is one of our most sustainable seafood, and historically the #1 fish coming out of Cortez, one of the oldest continual fishing villages in the state of Florida. Up until recently, our fishermen were harvesting the female mullet roe and shipping it overseas at $10-$20 a pound to Europe and Asia, where it was processed into the much-desired delicacy, bottarga. These countries then shipped the finished product back to the states at up to $100 or $200 a pound!
“That model was broken,” Ed explained. “We were underselling our product! That has been a commodity based model, instead of a value added one. We are trying to change that model by showing that we can add the value here by processing and finishing the product locally. Ultimately, we would like to flip the script and have the people in Asia and Europe buy the finished product from us. This keeps all the value here and helps the fishermen within the local fishing industry support their families and also promotes economic development at home.” Being awarded the Innovation Challenge X Prize will enable Chiles’ and partners to fulfill the ultimate goal of building a state of the art processing plant in Manatee county which will promote value-added, full utilization of native and aquaculture seafood. Ed continues, “This keeps those dollars in our community, creates jobs, and effectively protects and brands our area’s high quality, sustainable seafood.”
Pretty cool, right?!!
Ed started us off with an order of Sunray Venus clams, harvested off Pine Island, just up the Gulf from us. Served in a large bowl, each of us was provided an extra bowl of the broth, with a small crostini and a sample of bottarga – grey striped mullet roe. “I suggest you do this, ” Ed explained. “Dip your crostini in the broth, get it good and wet, and then spread of little of the bottarga over it. You’ll love it!” (We did!)
“Why ship our treasure all the way across the world to have the people in China process bottarga from grey striped mullet that is caught off of Manatee or Sarasota when we can do it better here?”, he asked. Why indeed!
The Sunray clams are another example of the “Blue Economy” opportunity. A native clam that is abundant in the local waters, Ed explained that each single clam filters 10 gallons of water a day, making it unique as an aquaculture product that has no negative environmental impact but conversely is beneficial by cleaning our bay and gulf coast waters and promoting seagrass growth. If Sunray Clams were introduced into other areas of the Gulf, and more people ordered them in restaurants, an entire industry of locally sourced Sunray Clams would be created, while improving our Gulf waters.
So how do they taste? Well, pretty delicious is a start. Steamed with just a touch of white wine, chicken stock, garlic and fresh herbs, these beautiful clams also include tasty chunks of Bob Wood’s Tennessee Chipotle Sausage. Sweet and supple, the Sunray clam is about as tasty as any we’d ever tasted. We were meant to share the bowl of clams, but I was tempted to pull the bowl closer to me, so I could gobble up the majority of them. “What’s interesting about the Sunray clam,” Ed continued, “is they have a 100% “Open Rate,” even after being frozen, making them ideal for shipping long distance and exportation.” That means if you purchased a pound of Sunray clams at the market, you could enjoy every single one of them!
Soon a colorful Mackerel Crudo was delivered to the table, showcasing another local fish, Spanish Mackeral, served with tangerines, oranges, fresh pears, cilantro, and watermelon radish. The bright, crisp and acidic flavors of the citrus and sweetness of fresh pears, complemented the slightly briny flavor of the fish, adding a refreshing taste to the palate.
But Mullet was also a feature of the conversation, and the dinner, so Mart was excited to taste The Beach House’s Mullet Fingers. Served with a side of Bradley Store Stone Ground Grits (yum!) and a pineapple coleslaw, these crunch grey striped mullet filets were dusted in corn meal, deep fried, and served with a yummy homemade tartar sauce.
Having never had Mullet Fingers before, we were pleased with the flavor of the fish itself. A lot of times fried fish has a bland, almost “nothing” taste to it. The mullet, however, tasted like fresh fish, which (of course) it is, having come from the Gulf locally! Here’s to hoping more local restaurants add mullet to their menus!
On the side was one of our favorites, The Beach House’s “Soon to be World Famous” Hush Puppies, a recipe original to the restaurant. Homemade, with a rustic charm loaded with chunks of corn, minced onion and a little kick of jalapeno peppers, they may soon have to change the name of these puppies, from “Soon to be” to just “Famous.” Served with a side of honey butter made with honey from local Pine Avenue bee hives. They were an absolutely crunchy delight!
Taking us off the sea, inland for another locally sourced dish, we were introduced to Hog Thai’s, their rendition of a lettuce wrap using wild boar harvested from local areas around Punta Gorda and Myakka. Like the hush puppies, the Hog Thai’s had just a bit of heat to them, which was cooled by the crisp bibb lettuce, pineapple, and Gamble Creek Farm heirloom cherry tomato chunks, red onion and peanut sauce. And those little balls of crunch on the Hog Thai’s? That’s a Japanese BuBu Arare seasoning, and add an extra dimension to the dish. I’ve always been a big fan of lettuce wraps, so I am happy to say these Hog Thai’s are as good as it gets!
While we were thrilled with the quality and tastes of our dinner, as well as the new décor of The Beach House, we were so excited to learn of all the possibilities coming our way through the Healthy Earth – Gulf Coast Sustainable Seafood Project. Who wouldn’t like a job out on the gulf, fishing for mullet or harvesting clams? Who wouldn’t enjoy a regular paycheck while creating a brand for our local economy’s seafood industry? And who wouldn’t want cleaner Gulf waters?
It’s not every day you learn something new at dinner. Thank you, Ed Chiles, for sharing your obvious passion with the SarasotaFoodies. We can’t wait to see what the future brings!