Food with a View
BACK IN THE DAY, you could have summed up a lot of coastal dining establishments with a simple maxim: The better the view, the worse the food. I’ve experienced this phenomenon everywhere from South Carolina to Southern California—paying a fortune for the exact same red plastic baskets of bland fried shrimp. I remember one restaurant (which shall remain nameless) where you could watch dolphins frolic in a tidal creek at sunset as you sipped a gin-and-tonic. It had the best views for miles, but the food was that deadly combination of horrendous and expensive, from mushy crab cakes ($28) to tough, tasteless swordfish ($33, on special). There have always been exceptions, of course, such as The River Café, under the Brooklyn Bridge, which since the mid-1970s has served an exquisite menu just across the river from glittering downtown Manhattan. But for years, finding a truly great restaurant on the water was as rare as finding a pearl in an oyster.
Thankfully, times have changed. One of the most fun things we did at Coastal Living this year was to partner with Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina, an elegant restaurant with outstanding food on the Alabama coast. We joined owner Johnny Fisher in hosting a “Southern Grace” dinner series with some of the best chefs in the country—Hugh Acheson, Ashley Christensen, Cassidee Dabney, Emeril Lagasse, Steven Satterfield, and Fisher’s Executive Chef Bill Briand, among others. Every one of the six dinners was proof that you can have an extraordinary meal on the coast, even as you gaze out onto the milliondollar yachts bobbing in the marina. Like Johnny, there’s nothing stuffy or pretentious about Fisher’s. Downstairs, it’s beachy and casual, with fried Gulf seafood and room for kids to run around; upstairs, it feels like a well-designed home, with pale blue walls, gorgeous lighting, and world-class dishes like a crispy red snapper over sweet corn risotto. Fisher says a lot of locals doubted whether he could succeed with truly fine dining in a beach town that’s home to beloved dives like the Flora-Bama, but his staff was determined to prove them wrong. These days, they’re one of the hottest tickets in town.
There’s a lot of great food and wine in this issue, from chef Katie Button’s culinary tour of Spain (page 30) to chef Michael Gulotta’s New Orleans secrets (page 27) and Food & Wine Editor Chris Hughes’s story about the return of the Chesapeake bay scallop (page 64). Our cover this month was photographed at Timber Cove Resort on the Sonoma Coast, where you can drink award-winning local wines and have a James Beard–quality dinner at the beautifully designed Coast Kitchen while you watch the sun set over the Pacific. I have nothing against a good shrimp basket, but it’s nice to know that there are options. Bon appétit!
With Johnny Fisher (left) at his eponymous restaurant in Orange Beach, Alabama