Rise to the Moment of Truth Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Breathtaking Views, Chef-Inspired Dishes, and a Vacation for Your Vacation
Reporting by Erica Thomas

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COASTAL Orange Beach exterior. Photo by Brian Moats for 1819 News.

A stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico and a menu to please all your taste buds is exactly what you can expect at Orange Beach’s newest restaurant.

COASTAL is much more than a restaurant. It’s a mini compound with a restaurant, a beach bar and a retail shop.

John McInnis has been in the beach bar business for about 10 years with Cameron Price. The two are part owners of Flora-Bama, and they decided to come together for this latest venture a few years ago.

With inspiration from some of their favorite beach bars, including in the Bahamas and other parts of the Virgin Islands, the concept became a reality.

“We dreamed up the idea of taking everything we’ve learned and turning it into one restaurant, and that’s what culminated in the creation of COASTAL,” McInnis said.

COASTAL is more than a restaurant. The property offers serene sights and sounds that will turn an ordinary day or vacation into an unforgettable experience.

McInnis said he was able to come to an agreement with the city of Orange Beach to purchase the beautiful beachfront property during COVID jointly. It was originally zoned for 600 condos.

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Seating at COASTAL Orange Beach. Photo by Brian Moats for 1819 News.

“So, it was the largest residential-density property zoned on the Gulf of Mexico,” McInnis added. “For some reason, it was never developed and it being at the intersection of Beach Road and Highway 161, it’s really a main street. Every car that comes into Orange Beach comes to that site.”

Thanks to an agreement with Orange Beach, anyone can enjoy the area.

“The entryway to the city is now open to the public forever and it’s not big condos right there at the intersection, so it was a big win for all of us who live here at Orange Beach and for people that visit because they can now come down and sit and eat on the beach,” said McInnis.

Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said the investment was a win/win for the city and the business owners.

“It’s been a perfect example of a private/public partnership because neither one of us could have done it alone,” Kennon added. “But the two of us combining to split the cost of the property allowed it to happen. We have a public beach now just for our residents.”

From the beach bar to the restaurant, the décor is spectacular at COASTAL.

Palm trees, white umbrellas and a green space allow the mind to escape into vacation mode. The white, wooden buildings add up to 7,000 square feet of food, entertainment and fun.

“The architecture is a little bit Southern Living, a little bit coastal living, a little bit what I call 30A, from things we have learned over in that market,” McInnis said. “And so, it’s kind of a mixture of all the things we’ve loved and seen, all rolled into one.”

The restaurant also has large garage doors that can roll up and down. And, of course, there is a stage for live music.

“The views are unobstructed east and west,” Kennon said. “The site is elevated about 20 feet so you can have a really improved view of the water. I think it’s one of the best projects we’ve done.”

In all, there are 1,200 restaurant seats, and the property can hold around 2,000 people comfortably.

And what is a restaurant without a unique and “completely badass” menu? McGinnis left that part up to the experts while offering suggestions. Island Entertainment Corporate Chef Chris Dickens and Executive Chef Mark Smith took fresh and local to a whole new level for COASTAL’s ever-changing menu.

“It’s a mixture of items,” said McInnis. “It’s very, very nice food, very fresh food, nothing frozen. You can get anything from a fried shrimp basket to a nice filet or fish dish. So, you can get anything you want.”

Sourcing locally from the Gulf or the southeastern states, COASTAL offers the best versions of local catches.

“We’re in a very special region,” Dickens told 1819 News. “This little stretch is one of the few between Port St. Joe and into Mississippi, where we have a really great seafood availability. In particular, the fresh blue crab and we’re really the last places that still have guys that can put out these heavy traps. So, focusing on the resources that God and Alabama have blessed us with was important. That’s fresh coastal seafood like grouper, snapper, Mahi and fresh blue crab.”

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Dickens said the chefs also have partnerships with local growers of fruits and vegetables. He said that is what helps make COASTAL’s menu one of the best around.

The menu changes from time to time, depending on what is in season. However, there will be some top-quality items that will stay. Even the turkey club is unique. The entire process of making the club is done in-house.

“It’s a pretty extensive process,” Dickens explained. “We take the fresh turkey breast and we brine them out. After that, we smoke them in house. We’re doing all of our fabrication, all of our slicing and really people can recognize the quality of that.”

Even the beef is sourced out of Flatonia, Texas, from HeartBrand beef.

“It’s one of the best burgers, in my opinion, in the country,” said Dickens. “From the standpoint of the cattle breed, Akaushi cattle is the only cattle breed in the world that can be labeled potentially ‘heart-friendly’ because of the way it processes in the body. It is a really clean beef that we use in our burgers.”

Another hidden aspect of Island Entertainment is at Flora-Bama and at COASTAL, chefs are given the opportunity to develop their talents. The company is committed to education. Just two-and-a-half years ago, the company started offering apprenticeships. COASTAL is listed on the Alabama Office of Apprenticeships website, as well as the federal RAPIDS (Registered Apprenticeship Partners Information Database System) program.

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Outdoor seating at COASTAL Orange Beach. Photo by Brian Moats for 1819 News.

Dickens said that is what he is most proud of from his entire career of over 30 years.

“Someone can actually come there for three years and get some extremely high-level certification,” he said. “And it’s turned into something great for us.”

The chefs of COASTAL want people to come visit for the breathtaking views and incredible service, but they want people to come back for the food.

“This is just a great menu and it’s not overly expensive. Everything we do on there is going to be fresh. We have worked overnights developing items that go along with our partnerships with local farmers,” Dickens continued. “We are really focusing on what we can bring out of this local market.”

Kennon said guests at COASTAL have already been pleased with the new spot.

I’ve heard nothing but glowing compliments and reports. I mean, how much better does it get when the beach is basically yours? It’s like your own private resort. I don’t know of anything like it on the northern Gulf Coast.”

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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