In South Alabama, Chef Bill Briand can’t get enough of the
restaurant, Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina. This seemingly risky restaurant offering, where customers can hop off of chartered fishing boats that have docked at the marina and march right into Fisher’s—no matter how busy the kitchen may be at the moment—to have their freshly caught prizes prepped and served, is exemplary of the chefs-as-adrenaline-junkies stereotype. “It’s almost always when we are busy as all hell that a ton of people come in with their fish. But my guys and I love it. We do it all summer. It’s nuts…and really fun.” Though many people just want their catches blackened, grilled, or fried, Bill and his team are happiest when diners hand over their sea booty accompanied by those three magical words: “Whatever you want.”
For Briand, who cut his teeth in New Orleans, working first for Emeril Lagasse and then for the well-reputed Link Restaurant Group (Donald Link’s restaurants include Pêche, Herbsaint and Cochon), moving to the big fishing town that is Orange Beach came by way of family. Through his brother’s wife’s brother, Briand was introduced to Johnny Fisher, a Mobile, Alabama, native known for opening New Orleans’ House of Blues. In late 2012, Fisher invited him to the Oyster Cook-off event at the Hangout, an annual Gulf Shore festival illustrative of how well the sea and her bounty are celebrated in these parts. While in town, Johnny showed him the shell of the space that would become Fisher’s. It was a quick decision. Briand and Fisher immediately got to work on articulating what they both wanted in a restaurant.
“We decided to create a ‘beautiful beach house’ kind of feel, to juxtapose with the fried seafood places that are all over the place down here,” says Briand. Also of utmost importance to the pair was that they worked as much as possible with local fishmongers and purveyors. To their delight, that seemed to be a priority of their customers too. “People here want to eat seafood, and they want to eat a lot of it. More and more, our diners want to know where things come from, so we bring in local fishermen and oystermen and have them talk to our staff who can then tell our diners about what they are eating.”
Nowadays, the two restaurants under Fisher’s (Upstairs and Dockside) draw about 2,000 diners daily in the summer high season, most of whom are eager to try whatever delicious dishes Briand has happened to work up—whether his inspiration came from a backyard grilling session with buddies, arose from local tradition, or developed from a passing request made by a local. “You’ve got your old-school diners who will always want a filet mignon and you can’t change that. But most people will try anything. We can even get them to eat raw fish,” he says, clearly pleased. And of course, Briand can get them to eat what they caught themselves too, provided their fisherman’s confidence doesn’t fly into high gear before the fish finds its way into the chefs hands. “The only problems we have with the hook-and-cook program are when inexperienced people attempt to clean and fillet their fish themselves and it comes in all chopped up, just a mess,” he says, almost ruefully. Then that chef adrenaline kicks in, “But we always figure it out. We always make it great.”
Alabama Shrimp and Grouper Ceviche
Since freshness of the fish is so important when it comes to ceviche, make ceviche when YOU caught the fish. I would not just take a fish from the grocery store and try ceviche. I use grouper because it’s what I have access to right now, but you could do pretty much any white fish here—flounder, red snapper, halibut.
Any little neck clams will do for this recipe, we just want to source as locally as we can and Cedar Key grows clams here in Florida. It’s always better to know where all your fish is coming from. As for the pasta, I still recommend using egg noodles, even if you don’t want to make your own. The yellow color looks really bright and beautiful, but it also tastes great with this dish.
Alabama West Indies Salad
This is a traditional Alabama salad, invented right here on the Gulf. This place called Bailey’s is the home of the salad—it’s a super old-school thing. The crab just soaks up the vinegar and the water. It’s so simple, refreshing, and good.
I named this one after the owner of our marina. He is just crazy over roasted oysters. When I first came down here to be the chef at Fisher’s, pretty much all he’d say to me was, “You gotta have roasted oysters, Bill. We need some roasted oysters.” He was right; these oysters are a very popular staple on our menu.
Because we are located in a marina, we offer a “hook-and-cook” program. After fishing, people can bring their catch right into the restaurant and we cook it up. A guy came in with snapper, wanting to serve it family-style. We came up with this.
This story was originally published in the June.July 2016 Issue.
- by Erin Byers Murray