A Mission in Every Meal: The Beach House Restaurant

By Sara Stovall / Photography By Jenny Acheson | June 22, 2017
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The Beach House Restaurant

Turn south after crossing the Cortez Bridge and today’s lunch destination soars into view. The Beach House’s facade gives the iconic impression of a concert hall or a modern art museum, rather than a waterfront seafood restaurant. I know, you were looking for jute finishes and driftwood painted with “Gone Fishin’” variations, right? But if you’re seeing what I’m seeing, the Beach House rises up like a landmark, the manifestation of someone’s vision of greatness.

Seated at our table, the obvious “someone” would be Ed Chiles, owner. After the Sandbar and Mar Vista, the Beach House is the youngest of the three restaurants comprising the Chiles Group restaurant family, though it’s been making an impression on hungry patrons since 1993. Pick up any Sarasota rag from the past five years; if Chiles’s name is in it, then you’re bound to find the word “sustainability” in a paragraph nearby. When you truly love a place, you leave it better than you found it. When possessed of a contagious passion like Chiles’s, you build an ecosystem of people and businesses equally afire in your mission to make positive impact.

That mission touches every inch of the Beach House. It’s there at your first crunchy step from the car onto the parking lot, disguising a filtration system that collects and cleans runoff rainwater, then returns it to the natural aquifer beneath Anna Maria Island. It hangs in the deck lights, amber-glassed so turtle hatchlings aren’t steered off their course to a moonlit sea. It’s in the low-flow restroom fixtures, your biodegradable coaster, and the fact that your sweating tumbler didn’t come with a straw.

But I digress—we’re here to eat. If the Beach House’s true nature hasn’t sunk in yet, turn your attention to your plate. There’s seafood bruschetta with domestic Gulf shrimp. Thai lettuce wraps with slow-cooked wild hog, an invasive species. Swimming in thyme-laden broth are ruddy striped clams whose shells you recognize from your last walk on the beach, but you’ve never seen on a restaurant table. And you wouldn’t have; Chiles Group boasts the first restaurants in the state to serve Sunray Venus clams. With a huge meat-to-shell ratio, a conch-sweet flavor, and seawater-cleaning superpowers, this unassuming clam has star potential in local aquaculture.

“That could be Florida’s next tomato,” Chiles says, clinking an empty shell into his dish, “and that’s a very bold statement, ’cause that’s a $400 million claim.”

Chef Will Manson is at our table too, and he points to green, crisp, and juicy parts of each dish sourced “from our own farm.” He means Gamble Creek Farm in Parrish, which the Chiles Group revived in 2014 in order to stock their kitchens with ingredients harvested less than 24 hours before a customer’s meal.

“It’s not coming out of a bag, prewashed,” Chiles chimes in. “You might find frogs.”

“You may have a ladybug land on you,” Manson adds, clearly speaking from experience.

Robert Baugh, the Chiles Group’s chief operating officer, speaks up before sinking his teeth into a cob of locally grown Silver Queen corn: “Every time we look at a product, we ask, ‘Is there one we can get that’s here, that makes more sense?’ We’re making work for ourselves. There’s an easier way: to have a truck pull up and open boxes. But that’s just not the mentality.”

Summer’s heat scorches most Florida farmland into dormancy, Gamble Creek included, so Chef Manson sometimes relies on Chiles’s gifts as a connector. Since getting the sustainability bit in his teeth, Chiles has handpicked a nationwide network of growers, ranchers, fisheries, wineries, and food artisans. You’ll see their names chalked onto the signboard by the front door when their products grace the Beach House menu. Each name stands for people who understand and share that aforementioned mission, and the Beach House is proud to support them as their goods come together on 475 tables each week.

The conversation takes a bittersweet tone as Chiles speaks of his decades (nearly four) in the industry, and moving into his “last lap.”

“What we do is special, because you’ve gotta have a place for the public to go. It can’t all be gated off and $10 million homes,” he says, his eyes on the water—today it’s almost viridian. “We don’t own it; we’re just stewards for, in the scope of time, a pretty brief period.”

It’s not morbid, the way he says it. You get more of a sense that Chiles’s loving wife would appreciate it if he took some of the fury out of his pace. Looking around the table, “special” doesn’t quite cover what it’s like to meet eyes with the very team, seated here in a corner of the very venue, to serve as actors and stage for the next act.

The Beach House doesn’t shove its mission down your throat. It’s awesome without being ostentatious. Absolutely, “wow” factors abound, but they’re purpose-driven: There’s the oven the size of an elevator, from which head baker Teddy Louloudes daily pulls the bread for the Beach House and the other restaurants, everything from the burger buns to the lavash. Then there’s the renovated deck, outfitted with ceiling slats and drop-down panels to make all-weather outdoor dining possible with one click—and you get to keep the view.

“I never, in my 37 years of being in this business, thought I could ever see anything that would make people want to come out to our restaurants in the rain,” Chiles says. Yet he’s adamant that no kind of renovation could compete with the Beach House’s setting. If anything, the restaurant is a frame for the big picture: Florida, its astonishing beauty, its natural abundance. How vital it is that we preserve it. What more delightful way to do so than share a meal?

Beach House Restaurant: 200 Gulf Dr, Bradenton Beach; 941-779-2222; groupersandwich.com

Article from Edible Sarasota at http://ediblesarasota.ediblecommunities.com/drink/mission-every-meal-beach-house-restaurant
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