By: Wade Tatangelo | Herald Tribune | Published on: May 5, 2015
The teal and blue exterior melds perfectly with the azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico that surround The Seafood Shack. Patrons are seated on the dockside patio sipping umbrella drinks while noshing on shrimp and grits, grouper sandwiches and blue crab cakes alongside an Intracoastal Waterway bustling with boats, birds, dolphins and the daydream fantasies of folks crossing the bridge to Anna Maria Island. At the seating area adjacent to the front entrance there are more tables with a waterfront view and a crowd of locals putting away fresh oysters with bottles of beer pulled from a cooler of ice.
The Seafood Shack neighbors The Historic Cortez Fishing Village and brims with authentic nautical décor. Antique fishing nets, floats, vintage signs and myriad more seafaring treasures adorn the exterior and drip from the walls and ceiling of the main dining room and the newly renovated upstairs Neptune Room, which will be unveiled Sunday during a special Mother’s Day brunch. The event will feature many of the popular items from The Seafood Shack’s new breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, which reflects the cuisines that circle the Gulf of Mexico, from the Yucatan Peninsula to New Orleans and down to Key West, with Cortez itself serving as a wealth of inspiration and supply.
“We highlight local product whenever possible,” says Gerard Jesse, The Shack’s new chef. “Dishes are rich and full of flavor with lots of love put into them. Ingredients are handled with care and a less-is-more approach. I am proud to be sourcing and serving local product whenever possible. Oh, and our seafood is fresh, not ever frozen, good-quality seafood.”
Gerard Jesse is the fresh 29-year-old face of The Seafood Shack, a restaurant that had already achieved landmark status before its chef celebrated his first birthday. Ham Jones, who died at age 81 on February 14, built the marina in 1971 and in 1972 added a 150-seat restaurant. Canadian developer Vandyk Group acquired The Seafood Shack for $4 million from Jones late last year.
The sale of the six-acre property included the shoreline, the 100-slip marina, the restaurant and banquet hall, lands currently hosting Annie’s Bait and Tackle Shop and other related marine amenities. Locals worried new owner John Vandyk would have no use for The Seafood Shack and replace the iconic structure with condos. Instead, he has renovated the restaurant with the enthusiasm of the locals who fondly recall birthday and anniversary dinners at The Shack.
“I’ve always based my business strategies on passion, a passion for inspired design and a commitment to quality, passion which extended to building extraordinary homes until now,” Vandyk says. “In a nutshell, it’s about being an entrepreneur. I surround myself with good people with the same passion, with knowledge and experience in the field. This goes for any business venture I take on.”
Vandyk is happy to report the new menu and management is being well-received and he’s seeing about a 25 percent increase in sales over last year in the restaurant. The marina continues to be renovated and enhanced, with the current emphasis on providing full power to boaters, since only limited power is available now. Vandyk was attracted to The Seafood Shack because of the opportunity. “The property desperately needed the boost of life we are providing,” he says.
As for the food, Vandyk has put his trust in Jesse, one of many who responded to the ad for a new chef. “There was something special that allowed him to rise to the top,” Vandyk says. “Food and beverage people typically live in the now. Gerard can look forward with vision and drive.”
Chef Gerard is originally from Hamburg, Germany. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, graduating in 2009. He continued his studies working in New Orleans at the French Quarter restaurant Stella, considered one of the best in the Crescent City before closing last summer. Locally, Chef Gerard has held positions as culinary supervisor at The Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club in Lakewood Ranch, sous chef at Jack Dusty and executive sous chef at Michael’s on East. He was selected to represent The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, and cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City in 2013.
“I like to use local, regional product whenever possible,” Chef Gerard says. “We are currently using fresh-caught fish from local fishermen, grouper, snapper, and more. Also Gulf oysters from Suwannee Sound, Cedar Key and Apalachicola. We’ll use as much local produce as we can until the summer when it will be more difficult to grow some staples like onions, mushrooms, green beans and some other items like herbs that are available year round here. We’re currently talking with some area producers of ice cream and coffee, and looking forward to bringing them on as well.”
He adds, “In the next month or so, we will roll out a new menu. Many of the items have proven to be keepers like our shrimp and grits, the lobster and shrimp Cobb salad and the fisherman’s platter. We also have a terrific burger and will be adding items such as oyster po’ boys, fried clam strips, (the famed New Orleans) muffuletta sandwich, fried chicken plate, pork chops, seafood gumbo and blackberry pie.”
So, if Chef Gerard had to recommend one Seafood Shack meal – appetizer, main course, side, dessert, and accompanying drinks – what would it be?
“Fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, side of collards, baked apples with ice cream and caramel sauce,” he says. “With some Knob Creek bourbon.”
The Seafood Shack Marina, Bar & Grill
4110 127th St. W., Cortez; 794-1235; seafoodshack.com
Mother’s Day Brunch Buffet
The Seafood Shack is hosting its first annual Mother’s Day Brunch Buffet from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday in its newly renovated banquet space The Neptune room on the second level of the restaurant. The cost is $21.95 plus tax and gratuities for adults, $10.95 for children ages 5 to 12 and free for children age 4 and younger eating with paying adult.