Playa /ply-uh/ – Spanish for Beach

It seems as though culinary fans of the Gulf Coast are waiting with baited breath for the opening of the new restaurant, Playa, at Sportsman Marina in Orange Beach, Alabama.

I’ve spent the last 26 years of my life in Coastal Alabama. I enjoyed coconut shrimp at Bayside Grill and cocktails at the bar with friends and brunch with my family at Shipp’s Harbor Grill – both former residents of the space. Suffice it to say, I am as familiar with the restaurant space as anyone. So I was delighted recently to enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of Playa with local restaurateur, Johnny Fisher.

Amidst the sounds of hammering and sawing, Johnny humbly shared the vision he and his team have for Playa. I followed him around the construction site while he painted the picture of what will be. He moved quickly, laptop open in one arm, and described the vision.

It’s not surprising that Johnny Fisher has created outstanding restaurants because as he spoke it was as if the bare studs on which I stood turned into Cuban tile and the scent of cut wood became fresh house-made tortillas. It truly will be unrecognizable from its predecessors.

Playa will feature lounge areas, a retail space, Cuban tile, vintage leather, and expanded views of Perdido Pass. Johnny Fisher has the ability to predict exactly what people want and Playa will exceed all expectations. Pair this visionary with the talented Chef Bill Briand, and you’ve got a true power duo.

Restaurateur Johnny Fisher at Fisher’s Dockside in Orange Beach, Alabama

Chef Bill Briand

Chef Bill Briand is a very busy man but to talk with him you almost wouldn’t know.  Almost – except the phone buzzing non-stop in his pocket. I had been waiting a short time at the bar at Fisher’s Dockside when he suddenly appeared, leaned against the bar and talked to me as if we were old friends and needed to catch up. There is a lot to talk about: from menu testing for the opening of Playa to the recently released Southern Grace Dinner line-up at the successful Fisher’s, the three-time James Beard Foundation nominee for Best Chef South has A LOT going on. But he filled me in quickly, silencing his ringer every minute or so.

Then he asked, “You like oysters? He was already three steps toward the kitchen to get them before hearing my enthusiastic affirmation. He doesn’t seem to slow down very often.

Three time James Beard Foundation Nominee for Best Chef South, Bill Briand at Fisher’s at the Orange Beach Marina

Chef Briand and his team have extensively tested the menu for Playa, and it will bring true dining diversity to the area. With Playa’s stunning views of Perdido Pass and Sportsman Marina will come a menu that celebrates the flavors of the Caribbean.

Expect to see authentic Caribbean ingredients, fresh salsas, tortillas and local seafood. True to Chef’s signature upscale comfort food vibe, dishes are straight-forward, but feature complex flavors. When I asked Chef Briand what dish he is most excited about, he paused a moment and replied “A cactus, crab and melon salad. The cactus really intensifies the sweetness of the crab. And the melons will vary depending on the season.”

Sold. As far as I’m concerned, that’s going to be the first thing I order.

The cocktail menu will also offer both classic and inventive creations using a wide range of seasonal ingredients. Choosing between the refreshing options may prove difficult. Among the options at Playa are margaritas, mojitos and sangria prepared with the freshest ingredients available. Any choice of cocktail at Playa sounds like the perfect way to relax on a coastal summer day with the beautiful waterfront view as your backdrop.

Perdido Pass and Sportsman Marina view from Playa

Southern Grace Dinners at Fisher’s

Food enthusiasts will have to wait a little longer for the opening of Playa, but they don’t have to wait to purchase tickets to one of the most anticipated culinary events of the South: Southern Grace Dinners at Fisher’s.

The announcement for the Southern Grace series was made in March by Coastal Living and Fisher’s, and it features some of the South’s most talented chefs. The 2018 lineup includes Steven Satterfield, Ashley Christensen, Cassidee Dabney and Roy Milner (Blackberry Farm), Adam Evans, Alex Harrel, David Bancroft, Robby Melvin and Rob McDaniel (The Alabama Boys), Hugh Acheson and Emeril Lagasse.

In light of this year’s all-star line-up, I asked Chef Briand a tricky question: “Who have you not had at Southern Grace that you would love to see participate?”

He replied, “That’s hard. We’d love to see Mashama Bailey from The Grey [in Savannah] and maybe the Louisiana Boys to balance out the Alabama Boys.”

If you’ve visited Fisher’s or attended a Southern Grace Dinner, you’ve probably come to expect thoughtfully prepared, classic Southern cuisine with a heavy coastal influence. Chef Briand and his team have consistently delivered fresh, delicious and imaginative dishes at the restaurant and special events alike. With the addition of Playa, diners will now have this same level of excellent food and service they have come to expect from Johnny Fisher and Bill Briand projects, but with a Caribbean flair.

Tickets to Southern Grace Dinners can be purchased on Fisher’s website, fishersobm.com and proceeds from the event will benefit the Fuse Project. The Fuse Project invests in the children of the Gulf Coast with initiatives promoting the health, fitness, education and social responsibility.

When planning a trip to Orange Beach this summer, be sure to spend some time at Fisher’s Dockside, Fisher’s Upstairs and Playa (opening early summer). You will find the best food, drinks, atmosphere, and hospitality that Alabama’s Gulf Coast has to offer.

by Angel Lanier-White, Events Coodinator