Restaurant Review: Playa
From the Fisher family comes a beach shack atmosphere with Caribbean flavors.
Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau
The folks who first brought the attention of the prestigious James Beard Awards to our little stretch of the Gulf Coast are now injecting a jolt of Caribbean energy into Terry Cove in Orange Beach.
The talented Fisher’s team recently decided they were ready to tackle their next adventure, so they brainstormed about up-and-coming opportunities on the culinary horizon. What was missing at the beaches? And more importantly, what was this group of foodies and chefs jazzed up about eating? The concept started as a daydream about Havana between owner Johnny Fisher and executive chef Bill Briand (a three-time James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef in the South), then expanded to thoughts of Jamaican fares, mouthwatering Bahamian food and the vibrant culture of the Yucatan. All of these islands, cultures and flavors are rolled into one beautiful package at Playa, where beachgoers can enjoy a casual meal of the highest quality.
Fisher and business partner Bennett Long hired David McMurphy to redesign an existing restaurant space, an effort that brought in tons of light and added sweeping views across the water to Perdido Pass. Interior designer Cindy Meador added gobs of white paint, shiplap siding, oversized modern raffia light fixtures and cool touches galore. “The vibe is inspired by a renovated 1970s California beach shack,” describes Fisher, who has a great design aesthetic of his own that really drove the surfer look. His buddy Johnny McElroy, longtime owner of Blonde John’s Surf & Skate, loaned a vintage Ocean Pacific surfboard to the cause. Overall, the look is clean and bright, with plenty of Latin touches.
Briand keeps his foot in the kitchen of all three Fisher’s restaurants these days, so he hired chef Will Sams to run the fires day-to-day as chef de cuisine. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Sams sharpened his knives at Cochon in New Orleans before making the leap to the Alabama coast. The two chefs crafted recipes that offer both familiar and exciting new flavors that won’t disappoint die-hard foodies or laid-back tourists. With this culinary team, it goes without saying that the seafood is fresh and the produce is seasonal. Nothing is sacrificed, the flavors are nuanced and the cocktails are perfectly balanced, even though you’re dining in your flip-flops. “We have a ‘love all, serve all’ mantra here,” Fisher says. “We didn’t want this to be elegant and refined. We’ve got that covered at Fisher’s Upstairs. This place has something for everybody.”
The upstairs alfresco bar, where breezes from foreign shores drift onto the Alabama coast, will be the hangout spot of the summer.
On the Menu
Welcome to the islands, mahn! Crispy nuggets of Caribbean goodness, above left, rest on a smear of roasted pepper aioli, with a grilled lime half at the ready for the perfect pop of acidity.
Pink Pineapple Cocktail
A frosty tiki glass, above right, holds tequila and vodka blended with cactus, pear and pomegranate juices for a dreamy frozen island sipper, with an environmentally-friendly paper straw.
Tender roasted pork, charred corn salsa, fresh cilantro and lime sour cream are cradled in the softest flour tortilla, handmade on-site by Baldwin County tortilla queen Gabby Griffin. You choose your side.
A hearty grilled fish steak is served over a fiery blend of smashed Baldwin County red potatoes, bell peppers and smoky chorizo sausage. A tomatillo salsa verde adds a tangy and bright finish.