Friday, September 25, 2015

Beach Eats at Bill's By the Beach

It started out with a suggestion from my mother-in-law. She had recently been to the beach and noticed a new restaurant near our beach condo. She didn't get a chance to eat there, but she thought Luanne and I might want to check it out. We were on the look out for the restaurant and when we found it, the sign out front immediately grabbed our attention. See us on Food Network? Luanne and I had to check this out!

Bill's By the Beach is located on West Beach Boulevard in Gulf Shores. It has a spacious outside deck, so diners can enjoy the beautiful view while they dine. Lu and I could not resist sitting outside.

Inside Bill's By the Beach
The outside deck

Here is the view from our table. We were right across the street from Gulf Shores' public beach. 

After we studied the menu a bit, one menu item really grabbed our attention. It was Bill's Loaded Bloody Mary. The libation is more meal than drink with Bill's homemade Bloody Mary mix and loaded with a slider, Gulf shrimp, Conecuh sausage, cheese skewers, bacon, cherry tomatoes, olives, pickled okra, cocktail onions, spicy green beans, celery and carrots. It is served in mild, spicy, extra spicy or atomic variations. We so wanted to get one of those "drink meals", but neither of us like Bloody Marys. This beautiful creation certainly made us want to love Bloody Marys. If you are a Bloody Mary fan, you should definitely come to Bill's and try one of these beautiful and extravagant works of art. While you are checking out the beautiful Bloody Mary, take a look at this seafood tower Chef Jon is considering adding to the menu. Wow!

We decided to begin with a bacon crab cheesecake made with blue crab, Conecuh bacon and cream cheese, topped with a tomato onion jam and served with crunchy crostinis. I was a little skeptical...until I took my first bite. The cheesecake was surprisingly good, chock full of sweet crab and salty bacon. But the tomato onion jam was what really put it over the top. Luanne and I ate every bite. 

While we were polishing off our cheesecake, we asked the server about the sign out front. What was this about Food Network? She explained that the restaurant had been chosen to be featured on a new Food Network show called Beach Eats starring Chef Curtis Stone. We talked a bit and then she said she was going to send the chef out to meet us. In the meantime, we decided to split an order of coconut shrimp. When the shrimp arrived, we were completely surprised! Neither of us had ever ordered coconut shrimp that weren't fried. These Gulf shrimp were grilled and topped with garlic chile sauce, toasted coconut and grilled pineapple. It was delicious! Because nothing was fried, you could really taste the fresh shrimp. The flavors of the sweet pineapple, the toasted coconut, the spicy sauce and the briny shrimp were a match made in beach heaven and it was so much healthier without all the frying. Luanne quickly said it was her favorite dish of the week, which was saying a lot!

We were still oohing and aahing over the coconut shrimp when Chef Jon Gibson appeared at our table. We told him how much we were enjoying the shrimp and we were curious about the Food Network show featuring Bill's By the Beach. He told us the restaurant was contacted by Food Network along with about five other restaurants in the area and, of those restaurants, Bill's was chosen to be featured in the new show. He also told us Chef Stone and the Food Network had been there for two days about two months earlier to film and that the actual show was going to premier that very night. The restaurant was hosting a viewing party to watch the episode, sample some of the foods that would be featured and, in general, celebrate being chosen to be part of the show. Then he invited us to come back that night and join the preview party! Oh, wow!

While we were talking to Chef Jon, he mentioned his dedication to serving locally caught, fresh, sustainable seafood. Bill's only serves wild American caught seafood from the Gulf of Mexico and other ingredients are locally sourced whenever possible. Chef Jon is one of only two Alabama chefs who serve as Wild American Shrimp Ambassadors for the American Shrimp Processors Association. Our meeting with Chef Jon was quite a lesson. We learned that restaurants must tell you where their seafood is from. We also learned just because a restaurant touts gulf seafood does not necessarily mean the Gulf of Mexico. It could be the Gulf of Tonkin. So, you have to ask to make sure that the seafood is local and sustainable. We encourage you to do that so that more restaurants will make a commitment to supporting our local fishermen, farmers and businesses. It is a small thing we can do that can have a big impact on our economy and our health. 

The preview party at Bill's By the Beach was so much fun. Everyone was really excited to see the premier of Beach Eats and to see Chef Jon and Bill's By the Beach featured on the show. Both Chef Jon and the restaurant's owner, Bill Henry, spoke to the small crowd of invited guests, thanked everyone for coming and told us all about the visit from Chef Curtis Stone and the Beach Eats crew. 

The owner, Bill Henry, welcomes the guests.
Then he introduced Chef Jon.

We were all snapping pictures like Gulf Shores paparazzi! 
We were lucky enough to share a table with the special guests for the evening, Joe and Patty Lambrecht of Oakview Farms in Wetumpka. The Lambrechts supply the stone ground grits Chef Jon uses to make his delicious version of shrimp and grits. They shared their story of how they got started in the stone ground grits business which, it turns out, was a case of perfect timing. Apparently, Joe had retired from a career at a car dealership and needed a hobby. By a happy coincidence, he chose to grow and grind his own corn about the time chefs like Emeril Lagassi and Bobby Flay started promoting the use of stone ground grits on television. Pretty soon, the Lambrechts were getting orders for stone ground grits from these chefs and others and the rest, as they say, is history. Now the stone ground corn business has become so much more than a hobby. With orders coming in from all over, the Lambrechts are busier than ever. 

We enjoyed meeting, Joe Lambrecht, the owner of Oakview Farms.
As we waited for the show to start, servers brought us out samples of the foods that would be highlighted in the episode. We enjoyed Chef Jon's shrimp and grits flavored with red-eye gravy, as well as some more of the delicious bacon crab cheesecake. Then we were served delicious shots made with Rum Chata and Patron XO Cafe Dark. It was a amazingly good with a rich coffee and cream flavor.  

Finally, it was time for the show to start. Bill's had set up a large screen so we could finish our appetizers and watch the show at the same time. As the camera rolled, we watched as Chef Jon showed Chef Stone how to make the shrimp and grits and bacon crab cheesecake.  Chef Jon also prepared a fish caught and brought in by some of the restaurant's guests. Yes, if you catch a fish and bring it to Chef Jon, he will cook it for you. At the end of the segment, we got to see Chef Jon and Chef Stone scurry over to the beach to do some fishing of their own. Chef Jon was a television natural!

The night ended with a giant Food Network cake made by one of Chef Jon's friends. It was beautiful and a tasty way to end a fun night. Thanks for the invitation, Chef Jon!

Chef Jon and Bill Henry cut the cake.

Three Friends and a Fork give Bill's By the Beach and Chef Jon Gibson 3 famous Yums UP!

Three Friends and a Fork
Three Friends and a Fork

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