Hartley Restaurant Group opening new restaurant Oct. 13
By Michelle Farnham
Sept. 29, 2023
WATERSOUND – A sneak preview of the long-awaited Watersound Town Market revealed just what the Hartley Restaurant Group has cooking at its newest venture.
Co-owners Ann and George Hartley are opening this location following 24 years in the restaurant business, including current South Walton eateries Seagrove Village MarketCafé and Surfing Deer. George was on hand for a Sept. 27 menu preview, sharing stories about 12 different dishes, taking guest from drinks to dessert.
The two featured cocktails of the night are namesakes of the ownership duo: Ann in the Sand, featuring vanilla rum, pineapple puree and ginger beer; and George the 3rd, a fruity bourbon drink with blackberry-vanilla syrup.
Gigi’s Pickled Shrimp, a recipe from Ann’s mother Gigi, started the evening off, followed by a crostini of their Curried Chicken Salad, a holdover from their days owning George’s at Alys Beach. In fact, the Watersound menu is greatest hits list of dishes the Hartleys have served in their many restaurants, borrowed from family members, or discovered during 40 years of travels.
“We went through all the stuff we’ve ever done, figured out what the favorites were, what our customers’ favorites were, and that’s how we formulated this menu. It’s the best of,” George said.
When introducing the Shrimp Po Boy, he explained their journey into the restaurant business was an unlikely one, following a visit to Seagrove Village Market back in 1999. An insurance man himself, Ann worked in women’s retail, but one bite had them adding to their professional portfolios.
“The shrimp po boy is the reason we got into the restaurant business. To this day, I say that’s the best fried shrimp I’ve ever had, and it literally changed my life,” George admitted. When handing over the keys, original owner Ernie gave the Hartleys their guiding principle: “Buy it fresh, cook it to order, and serve it with a smile.”
The Sweet Corn Chowder, expertly paired with hushpuppies, comes from the Seagrove location. Featuring fresh-roasted corn, this vegetarian and gluten-free starter combines potatoes, onions and poblanos, and is available by the cup or the bowl.
“It’s Ann’s recipe. It’s got a little kick, but just the right amount,” George explained.
From the salads menu, the kitchen offered the Fresh Fruit & Burrata Salad, topped with basil, mint and roasted pistachios. The Thai Beef Noodle Salad – spotlighting grilled marinated steak and a peanut dressing – comes from the brain of Chef Greggory Smith of Surfing Deer fame.
The Hot & Tangy Fish over Asian Slaw recipe dates back to a Texas spa Ann frequented years ago, combining the grilled fish of the day and ginger walnut glaze, that is also gluten-free.
A self-proclaimed “Texas boy,” George considers himself a connoisseur of steak, and the 6-ounce Filet of Beef Tenderloin gets his stamp of approval. Served alongside garlic mashed potatoes and bacon collards, the protein is topped with roasted red chimichurri sauce.
“We buy the best beef you can buy, the guys in the back do magic, and this red chimichurri sauce … you just can’t beat a good steak,” George laughed.
The couple loves to visit San Miguel, Mexico. The incredibly fresh, healthy food served there inspired their vegan San Miguel Bowl, tossing organic local greens with black beans, brown rice, avocado, pepper jack cheese, tomatillo salsa and chipotle vinaigrette.
Satisfying the sweet tooths in the house, the new gluten-free Salted Caramel Brownie is topped with Southern Craft sweet corn ice cream, chocolate sauce and a caramel drizzle. The Banana Pudding Cheesecake, however, hails from the Surfing Deer menu, and George learned the hard way not to mess with it.
“Twice a year we change our menu at Surfing Deer, rotate this off, put that on,” he recalled. “We took the cheesecake off one spring, and got so many comments, two weeks later we had to have all our menus reprinted to put the cheesecake back on, and it’s not coming off again!”
The eatery will also offer a Take Home Market, and offers patio and porch space for outdoor dining.
Watersound Village Market is located at 86 N. Watersound Blvd., and following the grand opening Friday, Oct. 13, will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Reach them by phone at 850-563-8110 or visit watersoundvillagemarket.com.