Chef Jim Shirley: Running a culinary empire
By Laura Holloway
May 18, 2022
SANTA ROSA BEACH – Something about 30A acts as an artistic magnet, drawing in talented artists in every medium, inviting in those drawn to inspire and be inspired. The culinary arts are no exception, with 30A enticing and keeping the talents of truly unique and creative chefs. Their food is just so good, and with an exceptional menu comes an area of mystique and celebrity surrounding the gifted culinary artists who have made 30A their homes and legacies.
Chef Jim Shirley is one of the most celebrated chefs in the area (and beyond), and for someone who started “flipping burgers in Gulf Breeze” when he was 14 and has now been invited to cook at The James Beard House four times, Shirley has more than earned his place in the history and growth of the 30A area. With seven unique locations and a line at each place, he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Great Southern Café
Perhaps most beloved and well known is the Great Southern Café in Seaside. Loved by tourists and locals alike, the casual-yet-special eatery is a favorite location for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and mojitos and bloody Marys in between. Described as “new-fashioned Southern cuisine,” the Great Southern menu offers something for everyone for every meal.
At breakfast, there’s Avocado Toast (buttered, grilled, and topped with avocado, red onions, tomato, spices, and EVOO), Crab Cake and Fried Green Tomato Benedict, and the ever-popular Chicken and Waffle (topped with crispy fried chicken and covered in Orange-Rosemary Glaze). Be sure to arrive early enough at breakfast for an order of Beignets, which tend to sell out quickly.
For lunch and dinner, try a steaming plate of Blue Crab Claws (served with garlic, cream, sherry, butter, and Romano cheese with warm pita bread for dipping), the Great Southern Seafood Platter (with fresh oysters, chilled shrimp, lobster tails, and West Indies marinated jumbo lump crab), or the wildly popular Grits a Ya Ya, made with blackened shrimp, sauté of smoked bacon, spinach, portobello mushrooms, and cream on a bed of smoked Gouda cheese grits. Shirley has a recommendation of his own: “Chef Innocent’s making Duck Call Rolls with confit and pepper jelly!”
Great Southern is located at 83 Central Square and is open 365 days a year for breakfast from 8 to 10 a.m. and lunch/dinner from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Reservations are suggested, but walk-ins are welcome. For more information, visit thegreatsoutherncafe.com or call 850-231-7327.
The Bay is Shirley’s answer to a need for delicious food north of 30A, a place that celebrates the Southern comfort of a bonfire and the gentle lap of water on bayside sand. This family-friendly waterfront restaurant offers a full menu of Southern gulf coast cuisine, 12 beers on tap, an impressive wine and cocktail menu, and a sampling of mouth-watering sushi found only in this special place overlooking Choctawhatchee Bay.
Offering brunch (like a Crab Cake Benedict served over fried zucchini with two poached eggs and hollandaise), lunch (like Point Washington Rolls filled with alligator Tasso and poblano served with Hog Island sauce), and dinner (like Pesto Snapper and Crab Cake, topped with an Asian fusion pesto and fresh mint, basil and cilantro), The Bay is everything your taste buds have been longing for. And if you’re a burger aficionado, don’t leave without a taste of the Bomber Burger, dripping with sauces, caramelized onions, asiago cheese crisp and a roasted tomato.
The Bay is located at 24215 Hwy. 331 and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with Happy Hour each day from 2 to 4 p.m. Live music and outdoor fun is a regular occurrence, and more information and reservation opportunity can be found by visiting baysouthwalton.com or calling 850-622-2291.
North Beach Social
Relaxing, photo-worthy, and delicious – all the things you are hoping to find in a coastal restaurant, and all found at North Beach Social, is Shirley’s second bayside culinary offering. Located downstairs from Farm & Fire restaurant, North Beach Social offers scenic sunsets, plenty of outdoor seating (bring your dog), and a large white sand beach for kids (and adults) to play.
The restaurant’s menu is a showcase of five of Shirley’s restaurants, featuring such favorites as the Grits a Ya Ya, the Bomber Burger, and a Pecan Stuffed Cheesecake so rich and creamy you may as well throw the culinary bucket list out the window because not much will top it. Live music five days a week, beach bocce, and a bonfire every night (weather permitting), North Beach Social is the place to unwind, catch up, and savor the area’s favorite menu choices.
Located at 24200 Hwy. 331 South, the restaurant is open daily (check website for current hours) and can be reached by visiting www.northbeach.social or calling 850-622-8110.
Farm & Fire
Shirley’s popular bayside restaurant and speakeasy exists as a Southern-style pizzeria, offering unforgettable sunset views and frequent dolphin sightings from its second-floor location on Choctawhatchee Bay at the foot of the 331 bridge. Using coal ovens, Farm & Fire presents coal-oven baked pizzas and whole-roasted fish; fresh, locally sourced salads and charcuterie; and a speakeasy bar that encourages laughter and lingering conversation. Along with a restaurant facelift, the menu is also getting an overhaul. Visit farmandfirepizza.com.
The Meltdown on 30A
For anyone who has ever dreamed of the perfect grilled cheese sandwich, this is your moment. Described as the “Best Flip-Flop Cuisine on 30A,” The Meltdown serves both traditional and gourmet grilled cheeses, soups, and chips, all with the whimsical and nostalgic flair that an Airstream restaurant offers. Located in Airstream Row in Seaside, this take-and-go restaurant is anything but fast food, with mind-bending flavor creations such as The Little Figgy (made with brie, bacon, and sweet fig compote), Strawberry Goat Forever (with Alabama goat cheese, strawberry preserves, and prosciutto), and the Cuban McConnell, made with pulled pork, brown bag ham, gruyere, pickles, and Billy’s mustard sauce.
The Meltdown on 30A is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and more information can be found at meltdownon30A.com.
Shirley has recently expanded his restaurant portfolio with the opening of C-Bar and the Great Southern Chicken Shack. He said, “The C-Bar is made from a recycled shipping container and will be filled with everyone’s favorite bartenders from the Great Southern and food from their kitchen, and The Chicken Shack will have some mighty tasty fried chicken!”
The 30A food scene continues to earn its place in culinary reverence, and Jim Shirley’s restaurant portfolio expansion is a gift to visitors and locals alike. He said, “I started flipping burgers in Gulf Breeze when I was 14, ran a pizza joint when I was 17. 10 years later I opened Madison’s Diner in Pensacola, and never looked back.”
And on behalf of foodies everywhere, we thank you.
To find out more about Chef Jim Shirley and his upcoming restaurant offerings, visit chefjimshirley.com.