Aug. 16, 2020
By Sarah Murphy Robertson
SANTA ROSA BEACH – The Bay is Chef Jim Shirley’s popular, family-friendly spot overlooking the Choctawhatchee Bay. It’s the place to head to have fun, enjoy live music, and watch the sun’s rays glint off the water. But when you dine at The Bay, guests will also find its menu offers a variety of dishes not seen elsewhere in South Walton.
This innovative menu all comes from Shirley’s time spent overseas.
“The Bay is definitely Chef’s creative outlet,” revealed Dan Tinghitella, director of culture and operations. “Chef’s extensive travels inspired much of this cuisine.”
One of The Bay’s entrees came about during a trip to Europe. His oldest daughter was craving his signature dish, Grits a Ya Ya.
“Chef sourced what he could find in Italy in order to cook her favorite dish … and the result was making polenta cakes instead of grits, aka our Faux Ya Ya,” Tinghitella recalled. The Bay’s version of shrimp and grits consists of fontina cheese polenta cakes served over arugula with pancetta, prosciutto, crimini mushrooms, topped off with Gulf-fresh sautéed shrimp.
Sushi is another specialty at The Bay.
“We have a dedicated sushi chef and team, so we can create a good variety of rolls – something for any sushi lover’s taste,” Tinghitella offered.
Two guest favorites include the Kelli Roll and the Hot Mess. The Kelli Roll is comprised of ginger-seasoned shrimp, spicy tuna, avocado, eel sauce, cream cheese, and spicy mayo. Named The Hot Mess, this description is certainly tongue-in-cheek; this masterpiece is filled with jumbo lump crab, spicy krab salad, and avocado and then panko crumb-breaded, deep-fried, and served with spicy mayo, eel sauce, green onions and sesame seeds. It’s Hot Delicious.
But The Bay’s Asian-influenced dishes go beyond sushi rolls, with starters like the crisp and refreshing Thai Shrimp Lettuce Wraps, filled with savory shrimp and garnished with chopped peanuts, toasty garlic and fresh mint served in butter lettuce. The whole table will love their take on hummus: edamame puréed with tahini, garlic, and lemon and garnished with kicky wasabi peas and ginger, served with naan bread.
Diners are often eager to try The Bay’s Point Washington Rolls for a taste of a fairly novel ingredient: alligator tasso. Tinghitella explains the alligator meat is prepared as a tasso in a smoky-spicy style. The creole-inspired spring rolls are then filled with the tasso and poblano peppers, fried, and served with a Hog Island sauce.
As you can imagine, having over a thousand guests for dinner each night in the high season requires a huge team effort. Along with the talents of Executive Chef Michael Mix, The Bay requires the dedicated teamwork of skilled chefs, waitstaff, and front of house crew. Leading all these moving parts, Chef Mix is also consistently pushing the envelope himself.
“He loves the idea of using different flavors to perfect The Bay’s standout dishes,” Tinghitella said.
The Bay is a place where guests can find their sweet spot. Beautiful bayfront dining with fresh seafood and a place to try new twists on familiar fare, is a welcoming port of call.