By Sarah Murphy Robertson
Sept. 29, 2022
ALYS BEACH – Making memories over a meal is a big ingredient in the pleasure of dining out. At NEAT Tasting Room in Alys Beach, sharing plates only further enhances and explores the dining experience.
Since March of 2021, Chef Kevin Cavanaugh has served as executive chef for NEAT Tasting Room. Cavanaugh worked in kitchens all over the South from Clearwater to Savannah before the last decade plus as executive chef in the Low Country and Raleigh, NC.
Growing up, Chef Cavanaugh’s parents owned a tavern and you could say this means “serving up” food memories are in his blood. Chef keenly remembers wafts of oxtail and corned beef as his mother cooked their homemade soups for the restaurant. Paying attention to how aromas affect a dining experience became second nature to him and still informs his approach as a chef.
Now he deftly oversees the dynamic intersection between his food’s flavor and aroma and the expertly-spun cocktails and curated wine list at NEAT.
The Tasting Room’s menu is composed of snacks, shareable plates and carefully-layered charcuterie boards. Year round, The Tasting Room’s food and beverage offerings are ever-changing.
“We have moved away from the comfort foods we offered this past winter. Summer is a season for dishes that are crisper and lighter,” Chef explained. “Yes we are very fluid with the menu – keeping it fresh and seasonal; we also make it fun.”
Using aromatics like lemongrass, herbs, and edible flowers as less-predictable drink components, Chef Cavanaugh works with the knowledgeable bartenders at NEAT when crafting new menus.
“We offer a Nicaraguan rum that has been filtered using volcanic rock, for example,” he shared. Choosing to echo those clean flavors with an ice-cold ceviche brimming with gulf seafood, brings a diner’s palate to a specific place and time. Sips crafted from fresh rosemary and grilled pineapple or charring the rind of a Grecian cheese, are other ways NEAT adds unexpected flavor to more familiar ingredients.
Since NEAT is both a retail shop for artisan spirits and wine as well as a cocktail bar and restaurant, they are in a great position to share what they know with customers and guests. Theirs is a creative team who is well-versed in their craft.
“Everyone here takes a lot of pride in what they do,” Chef emphasized.
While the menu at NEAT is absolutely thoughtful, unique, and elevated, you will also see familiar favorites like deviled eggs, pimento cheese, and even boiled peanuts offered. Though focused on showcasing innovative pairings, they always aim to stay accessible and focused on well-balanced flavors.
Along with striking Alys Beach as their backdrop, the “secret sauce” at NEAT is one their chef learned many years back at a tavern: bring people together sharing food and drinks and that experience will always be memorable.
Located at 11 North Castle Harbour Drive in Alys Beach, NEAT does not take reservations. NEAT Bottle Shop is open from noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and NEAT Tasting Room is open from 2 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information on their current menu selections visit, www.alysbeach.com/neat or phone them at 850-213-5711.