By Wendy O. Dixon
Café Thirty-A has been a favorite gathering spot along Scenic Highway 30A since it opened Memorial Day weekend back in 1995. Over a decade and a half later, this casual fine dining restaurant that serves up “contemporary eclectic” cuisine, as owner Harriet Crommelin describes it, is still going strong. Whether for a delightfully creative martini and quick bite at the bar or an outstanding meal in the main dining room, Café Thirty-A adds a bit of panache to the easygoing beach lifestyle of the area.
Rated a Diners’ Choice 2012 winner in multiple categories by OpenTable.com users, Café Thirty-A touts itself as a casual fine-dining restaurant featuring grilled and fire-roasted seafood, meats, and poultry, as well as wood-oven pizza, vegetarian fare, and “architectural” desserts. The menu is unique, thoughtful, and ever changing, making the most of the season’s freshest foods. “Each dish is unique,” Harriet said. “Every choice has the appropriate accompaniment, and doesn’t need additional seasoning when it comes to you.” One thing most patrons agree on is that the quality is stellar—consistently. “We’ve converted a lot of Northerners to eating grits,” Harriet related. “They say they’ve never liked grits until they tried ours.” With an extensive and varied wine list that includes several half-bottle selections, the establishment was also given Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence in 2012—an award they’ve been given every year since 1996.
Each dish is unique. Every choice has the appropriate accompaniment, and doesn’t need additional seasoning when it comes to you.
Reservations are suggested, as Café Thirty-A’s popularity is evidenced by a full parking lot many nights. That said, the valet parking is a nice hint of the level of service awaiting you inside. From the hosts to the waitstaff, it is apparent that extensive training goes on before the doors open. Experienced servers gracefully carry large trays with platefuls of food high overhead, even when going up and down the steps to and from the second-floor dining area. It’s obvious, as well, that there has been some taste testing of the day’s menu. My server, Sam Smith, handsomely dressed all in black, was knowledgeable about each and every dish he brought out.
The casual yet sophisticated ambience has a slightly tropical feel to it: bright green and white tiles accent the half-wall dividers; the chair backs are painted with whimsical designs; and large white market umbrellas dangle from the high vaulted ceiling of the inviting main dining area. The upstairs Fishbone Room, with its spectacular Gulf views and vintage art posters, is ideal for private parties but serves the general population as well. Downstairs on display are New Orleans artist Bekye Fargason’s frameless painted canvases—her 30-A Before series—depicting serene scenes of the landscape along the highway on which the restaurant sits.
I tried a sampling of several dishes. First, the Mac Farms heirloom tomato and watermelon gazpacho—a refreshing, cold soup on a hot day. The arugula salad, with one shaved slice of Pecorino Romano, toasted pine nuts, and Harriet’s lemon-garlic vinaigrette, was immaculate and fresh, full of zest and peppery flavor.
While crab cakes at some restaurants tend to be overly breaded, Café Thirty-A’s jumbo-lump version was full of crabmeat and served with simple greens and a creamy mustard sauce. This appetizer was phenomenal.
The seared diver scallops—served with summer vegetables atop Israeli couscous tossed with basil and topped with beurre blanc (butter sauce)—were flawless. And the pan-seared snapper, with a delectable crust, andouille and scallion risotto, and charred heirloom tomato salsa, was absolutely perfect.
Each dish continued to impress, from the excellent presentation to the talent shown in the taste of every bite.
The banana beignets, three sweet pillows of sugar-crusted dough with a warm bite of banana tucked within, all atop a bowl made from phyllo dough.
Save room for dessert. The banana beignets, three sweet pillows of sugar-crusted dough with a warm bite of banana tucked within, all atop a bowl made from phyllo dough, is perfectly paired with a scoop of fresh, homemade vanilla and macadamia nut ice cream. Enjoy it with coffee and Baileys Irish Cream.
Plan to pay $9 to $13 for starters, soups and salads, and $30 to $40 for entrées. The restaurant offers two-for-one entrées from 5 to 6 p.m. each night, has a kids’ menu, and serves $5 martinis on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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Café Thirty-A 3899 East Scenic Highway 30-A Seagrove Beach, Florida Open daily for dinner at 5 p.m. Reservations suggested.
Attire is “nice casual.”
Cafethirtya.com (850) 231-2166