Tastings: Flora-Bama Yacht Club
Look no further for delicious upscale fare in a laid-back locale.
The Flora-Bama is hardly a hidden gem. Visitors to the Gulf Coast have been enjoying their cocktails and shots for more than 50 years. The bar on the state line definitely gets its share of the millions of tourists who visit the Alabama beaches each year. We natives either go regularly or avoid it completely, depending on what we consider a good time.
What is surprising, however, is the cuisine served up at the Flora-Bama Yacht Club just across the street from the original bar. Since the restaurant’s opening four years ago, Chef Chris Sherrill has been sourcing high quality local seafood and produce and preparing dishes in a way that is rarely seen at casual beach establishments. The menu features Southern coastal fare, with something for every taste and budget. Amid staples, such as fried shrimp platters and oyster po’boys, there are items such as Hawaiian-inspired yellowfin tuna poke, grilled shrimp nachos on crisp wonton chips, unusual fish options (tripletail, for example) and seasonal vegetables.
The extra steps taken in the kitchen set this place apart from the rest of the sandy shacks. Chef Sherrill makes his own shrimp stock for the base of his gumbo, and he then steals ladles of the finished gumbo broth to turn his plain rice into a creamy, Cajun risotto-like side dish. Locals and tourists alike enjoy the “you hook ’em, we cook ’em” menu option, and it can’t possibly get fresher than that.
From the get-go, Sherrill wanted to create a place that was unpretentious and relaxed, where guests could enjoy fine dining in their flip-flops. You can’t beat the view overlooking Old River toward the homes of Ono Island with paddle boarders and dolphins passing by. On jam-packed holiday weekends, the little beach at the Yacht Club is two boats deep with folks ordering up cocktails and enjoying the afternoon. But at other times, the place is as relaxing as it gets. A few kids dig in the sand while grown-ups relax in Adirondack chairs with their toes in the water. Lunch is long over, and yet they are unable to climb into the car; the urge to unwind is too strong. Huge sun sails stretch over the sandy patio area, providing shade and mirroring the colors of the sea in architectural angles. Music wafts from the outdoor stage seven days a week in season, and cafe lights twinkle above. Not much to complain about here.
Chef Sherrill, a member of MB’s current class of Forty Under 40, is a bottomless pit of energy who works long hours in the kitchen, competes in and promotes numerous chef cook-offs, and almost single-handedly lured the World Food Championships to the Alabama Gulf Coast. As if that wasn’t enough, he also cofounded the nonprofit NUISANCE Group with fellow chefs to promote the use of underutilized, invasive, so-called trash seafood. That’s about as local and sustainable as it gets.
Perhaps a fruity goombay smash cocktail and deep-fried shrimp are just what the doctor ordered for your vacation, or perhaps you seek something a little lighter and more refined. Either way (and we do love ’em both), the Flora-Bama Yacht Club should hit the spot for your next trip to the beach.
On the Menu
Greek Shrimp Nachos
This creative take on traditional snack food hits every flavor note. It’s a colorful platter of grilled Gulf shrimp over crispy wonton chips drizzled with decadent spinach feta cream sauce. The chef adds in some salty feta crumbles, peppadews, banana peppers, tomatoes, olives and more to create a rich and decidedly Mediterranean taste.
Yellowfin Tuna Poke
Fresh Gulf yellowfin tuna is chopped and marinated in a sweet and spicy sesame soy chili vinaigrette, then drizzled with wasabi cream and hoisin sauce. With a big pile of wonton chips on the side for scooping, there’s plenty to share and lots to love about this dish.
Blackened Gulf Tripletail
A favorite local fish, tripletail (or blackfish) is blackened and served over creamy Cajun dirty rice that Chef Sherrill prepares like a risotto. Throw in some seasonal vegetables with tasty grill marks and finish it with an “Orleans” sauce, and you’ve got a fresh but hearty dish with plenty of smoky flavor.
Fresh beignet dough is sliced thin and deep fried to perfection. This lily is then gilded three-fold with a dusting of powdered sugar, a drizzle of white chocolate ganache and a smattering
of caramel sauce. These addictive dessert fries are over the top.