June 3, 2020
By Michelle Farnham
ALYS BEACH – A drive down Scenic Highway 30A through Alys Beach offers views of unparalleled luxury and beauty, a vibe reflected in the community’s NEAT Tasting Room & Bottle Shop.
Situated right on 30A, NEAT is the definition of chic elegance, with its mostly monochromatic décor, sleek white marble, and leather sling chairs. Pops of red give visual interest against the driftwood-inspired woodwork, while upholstered cushions abound, softening the space.
During the day, the three-room complex is flooded with sunshine and palm tree views, while at night, the floor-to-ceiling windows reveal the twinkle of stars over the water. NEAT offers both indoor and outdoor seating, giving you the option of gentle Gulf breezes or the comfort of air conditioning – whichever the day calls for.
NEAT really is two businesses in one: the Bottle Shop is a retail space, with barware and impressive labels like Aperitivo Cappelletti, Southern Amaro, Michael Mondavi, obscure Chenin blancs from India, a budding organic section, as well as old standards. The Tasting Room serves as a bar area complete with a masterfully curated food menu.
Alys Beach Executive Chef Drew Dzejak oversees the provisions, keeping the direction of the food in line with the beach town’s sensibility. Manager Hunter Church said the menu generally stays the same, but they will work in a few seasonal foods – heartier entrees in the winter, more fresh vegetables and acidity in the spring.
“Our big sellers are of course cheese and charcuterie boards, which is a fantastic thing to pair with wine and cocktails,” Church said. “We work with some relatively local dairies and meat suppliers.”
He pointed to the selection of dips that always please, including a tzatziki-style whipped feta dip with olive tapenade. Smoked salmon has taken many forms since NEAT started offering food two seasons ago, as with the smoked salmon dip with créme fraîche, chives, dill, salmon roe, and kettle chips. Look for a handful of sweet treats to savor as well.
The hand-crafted cocktail menu rotates monthly, with half a dozen options reflecting the tastes of the season. Come spring and summer, you’ll see brighter flavors like watermelon and fresh citrus.
“That being said, we can always do any of the classic cocktails someone might be looking for,” Church assured. “A nice cosmo, old fashioned, Manhattan, classic daiquiris – and then riffs on those as well. There are a few fan favorites, like the Flight of the Concord: well-rounded whiskey, lemon, Amaro Nonino, fresh strawberries, basil and candied ginger.”
To give you an idea of the craftsmen and women behind the bar, Church alluded to drinks using jalapeño tinctures and seasonal sangrias. On this day, NEAT was offering a tequila flight – four half-ounce pours – of Riazul Plata, Codigo 1530 Rosa Blanco, Corzo Reposado, and Clase Azul Mezcal.
“Alys Beach as a whole is almost an art installment, and cocktails work in that same fashion. They are an artistic expression that is just really delicious.” – Hunter Church, manager
“Alys Beach as a whole is almost an art installment, and cocktails work in that same fashion. They are an artistic expression that is just really delicious,” Church said.
Wine tastings are held each Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. throughout the year. Guests enjoy live music as they’re led through four (or more) bottles by winemakers and distributors, along with suggested menu pairings. Whiskey and spirits tastings pop up a few times a year as well.
The team will roll out the red carpet for special Alys Beach events like the 30A Wine Festival in February and Digital Graffiti in May. They hold bar takeovers with spirit specialists, and are planning cocktail classes earlier in the day.
“People can come in, get a little hands-on, and actually pour and play with making cocktails,” Church forecasted. “We’ll choose a theme, like maybe whiskey drinks, one day will be stirred drinks, another day shaken.”
NEAT is located at 11 N. Castle Harbor Drive in Alys Beach. The staff is serving Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday noon to 11 p.m. Reservations are not accepted. Keep an eye out for special events on Facebook and Instagram. Find them on the Web at alysbeach.com/neat