A Central Truth: In Vino Veritas

By Liesel Schmidt
April 23, 2024

SEASIDE – While Chef Jim Shirley has built himself a reputation for creating restaurants whose menus become familiar comforts to their patrons, driven by fresh ingredients, flavor and various inspirations that seem to strike Chef Jim’s fancy. His newest venture defines itself by being – in a word – unpredictable.

87 Central Square

The unpredictability of the menu at the newest comer to the Jim Shirley Enterprise portfolio has nothing to do with lack of direction or undefined concept. What you receive in terms of service and experience is patently what one would expect from Chef Jim; rather the unpredictability lies in the menu itself, as 87 Central Square is designed to differentiate itself in big ways.

“Though this menu has some items that fans of Chef Jim Shirley will recognize and love – such as sushi, paella nights every Tuesday and Thursday, and charcuterie – what is truly unique about this concept is that it is designed to be ever-changing for seasonality and in tune with the personal interests of Chef Jim himself,” explained Madison Shirley, vice president of Jim Shirley Enterprises and Chef Jim’s daughter. “Many of the menus at Chef Jim’s restaurants have become long-held traditions and don’t have the flexibility to change often. The menu at 87 Central will change and evolve regularly and will consist mostly of menu items that Chef Jim is craving himself at the moment.”

At the moment. It’s an interesting way to work, and one that gives Chef Jim an incredible amount of creative license and no shortage in freedom. Favorite menu items thus far for the new restaurant have included the duck poutine: a decadent dish featuring shredded duck confit in demi-glace, served over pommes frites doused in a light duck gravy.

“We’ve been jokingly calling it ‘problematically delicious,’” Madison noted.

87 Central SquareThese menu items, while they may become wildly popular, are here but for a season – though some change weekly, on occasion. The rule of thumb in how often the menu changes seems driven by three major factors: seasonality, freshness of product and “Chef Jim’s whims,” as Madison explained.

What doesn’t change at whim is 87 Central’s overarching desire to exist as respite from the busyness of 30A, an “adult space” that provides guests an opportunity to experience excellence in the simplest things and indulge in good food and drink.

“The concept here is a challenge to us to be ever-changing and fluid in an area steeped in wonderful traditions,” Madison said. “We were inspired by places across the globe where people break bread together and create memories: the courtyards of New Orleans, the terraced bars of Amsterdam, the piazzas of Italy…What we offer here is an atmosphere that is relaxing, staffed with educated servers, where diners can sip and sample from a wide selection of carefully chosen wines while watching the Seaside hustle and bustle go by.”

Indeed, the wine selection is wide and curated with precision, comprising over 90 wines, making the venture not simply a restaurant, but a wine bar. In fact, the tagline at 87 Central is “In vino veritas” – “In wine, truth.”

Each of those 90 different wines has been individually chosen from boutique or small growers from around the world, through close relationships with a collection of different distributors.

87 Central Square

“We’ve made sure we have the greatest reach possible to engage with suppliers from across the globe,” Madison said. “Oftentimes, suppliers will travel to meet us and let us sample their product, giving us the opportunity to learn not just about their product but to build valuable relationships directly with the owners or winemakers.”

Since opening in mid-November, 87 Central has become a newly embraced darling of the 30A restaurant scene, garnering a remarkable turnout. And while it may be replacing Chef Jim’s beloved Chicken Shack, 87 Central is sure to prove that sometimes, unpredictability and change can be incredible.

87 Central Square is located at 87 Central Square, Santa Rosa Beach. Open daily: Bar hours 2:30 to 9:30 p.m.; restaurant hours 4 to 9 p.m. No reservations. For more information, call 850-231-7327 or visit 87centralsquare.com.