Story by Natalie Haddock
If you can’t stand the heat, get over to the Kitchen. The Summer Kitchen Café, that is.
Aptly named after the small outbuildings that were designed to keep the heat of cooking out of the main house, the Summer Kitchen began as just a 300 square foot little red shack, catering to the workers and residents of the developing Rosemary Beach. As the community grew so did the “café” and it is now an ideal lunch or dinner spot for those with a hankering for quick, quality cuisine.
“I would describe it as southern, casual, coastal food and atmosphere,” says James Dillion, owner and founder. “We have a good mix of healthy and not so healthy which allows everyone something to pick from.”
The Boston native has been in the kitchen since his teens, but Dillion’s culinary education began in 1988 at the Culinary Institute of America. There Dillion had the opportunity to work with 20-30 chef’s with varying expertise in an ever-changing curriculum. “It was a fantastic education as there were always new chefs to teach constantly.” After graduating and honing his skills as a sous chef in Cambridge, Dillion got his first taste of the south when he moved to Atlanta in 1995. Soon he found himself in the artistic, funky community of Grayton Beach, Florida and 30A had him hooked.
When it opened in April of 1999 the Summer Kitchen offered a limited menu and was strictly counter service. “I tried to do what I could with a small space and somehow it worked.” Over the last 15 years Dillion’s restaurant has grown to a family friendly 1100 square feet, expanding the menu’s breakfast options and adding a cozy inside atmosphere for dinner.
Adorned with local art and a few historic photographs, the dining room invites guests to seat themselves while scanning the flavorful wine and craft bar menu. A large chalkboard lists the evening’s features and each table is set with bread service dressings including pink Himalayan sea salt, olive oil, and fresh ground pepper. Be sure to ask for their “secret” aged balsamic when deciding among the appetizers such as the tangy hummus appetizer or house made guacamole.
Popular menu items include Pan Fried Grouper, lightly dusted with cornmeal and salt and pepper. It is served with organic stone ground cheddar cheese grits, asparagus, and a savory saffron butter sauce. The Shrimp and Penne Sauté also delights taste buds with its pinot grigio butter sauce, hints of garlic, capers, Italian parsley, feta cheese, and sundried tomatoes. And while Dillion boasts his mouthwatering Zuppa Inglese, an espresso and chocolate dessert much like tiramisu, locals cannot miss the sweetly decadent Upside Down Key Lime Pie.
“It is exciting to be in an area where we get a great variety of seafood. Preparation is simple based on the type of fish we have and specials include triggerfish, scamp, stone crab claws, and cobia.”
Summer Kitchen remains a favorite for both lunch and dinner, but Dillion wanted to expand on his creative menu and offer a full service restaurant all day. He partnered up with Chef Chris Joyner and recently opened Coast Food and Wine in Grayton Beach, Florida. The new location offers a few finer touches but still remains casual with a simple yet interesting menu. “Chris has done a fantastic job of hitting the right notes and flavors that are unlike much of what we have come accustomed to locally,” says Dillion and mentions the Spicy Korean Chicken Wrap as a personal favorite.
Dillion is also proud to embrace the ideals of sustainability and responsibility in day to day operations. Use of compostable materials is implemented as much as possible and includes items in the restaurant such as trash bags, cups, to go containers, utensils, mop heads and cleaning agents, and menus printed on 30% recycled paper. He continues to look for new methods for further this green initiative and hopes to add a solar hot water heater once Summer Kitchen café has found a more permanent home. “I love where we live and it is truly our choices and mindset that will provide the same landscape to the future generations.”
To read more about the Summer Kitchen Cafe including their menus, conservation efforts, charity work and restaurant news, visit their website at: http://summerkitchencafe.blogspot.com/