Café Thirty-A Still Surprises After 18 Years

February 19, 2013 by Jill Tanner

Harriet Crommelin is the author of one of SoWal's greatest success stories. Her restaurant, Café Thirty-A in Seagrove Beach, has pleased the palates and filled the bellies of thousand of locals and vacationers for 18 years.

The story really began when she opened her first restaurant, Kat and Harri’s, in 1982 in Montgomery, Alabama, which she ran until 1995. Kat and Harri’s provided a casual, Cheers-type atmosphere on one side, and fine dining on the other, and amazingly shared a kitchen. Harriet sold Kat and Harri’s in 1995 to move to the beach. She brought her successful mix of casual freedom and upscale sophistication with her to the coast and created Café Thirty-A. 

In 1994 Harriet began to build Café Thirty-A and by June of 1995 the doors were open and business was underway. As Hurricane Opal swept through in September of 1995, tensions ran high as everyone worried about the damage that could happen to this brand-new restaurant. 

Luckily there wasn’t too much damage, and Harriet hired a contractor to get things back in tip-top shape. Back then "the porch”, just off the main dining room, was actually an open porch, and "the Fishbone", upstairs, was an open-air bar. Harriet decided to close the porch in after a terrible yellow fly season and Fishbone was enclosed in 2007 to accommodate the growing number of private parties.
A rarely-heard fact which I love about Café Thirty-A is that employees rarely leave. General Manager Dave Kessler started in 1996 as a server and moved up through the years.  Jim Joy, bartender extraordinaire, has muddled, shaken, and stirred at Café Thirty-A for 13 years. And Ken Duenas, the crème de la crème of chefs, has been inventing creative, memorable dishes for nine years. Many staff members have stayed for the long haul and even if they leave, they seem to come back eventually. The staff has a bond that is rarely found in a restaurant. I believe this is why the service is so fantastic - everyone gets along.
When I think of Café Thirty-A, I think of a happening place, with a casual, fun atmosphere and impeccable service, and that is exactly how most people see it. Consistency is the key to a business’ success and Café Thirty-A is consistent through and through - even though the menu changes depending on the season. The seafood is always fresh, the veggies are seasonal, and the uniqueness of each dish will make each experience just different enough, without changing the heart of the place.

I recently enjoyed a generous private tasting there with a friend. The Prince Edward Island mussels in the coconut cream broth were absolutely off-the-charts delicious. Served with grilled bread for dipping, this dish was a real treat, which I will return to indulge in again. We also tried the grilled diver scallops, which are so rightfully served over red Himalayan rice and spring vegetables, surrounded by a citrus beurre blanc. While the scallops were divine, the rice was like nothing I have ever tasted. Its rich, robust flavor is hard to describe - something you must try for yourself.

SoWal locals and visitors alike know about the excellent drinks flowing from the bar at Café Thirty-A. The hand-muddled martinis like the James Bond, the Pineapple Cosmo, and the French Kiss are what make the bar such a happening place. ‘Tini Night, every Tuesday and Thursday, never disappoints with crowd or creation.  
I have frequented Café Thirty-A for many years and have yet to have a meal I didn’t go gaga over. Plus, there is always something new and fresh, which means Café Thirty-A is still able to surprise after all these years. 


Jill Tanner's picture

Jill is a long-time SoWal local transplanted from Georgia. Jill enjoys writing movie scripts in her bit of spare time.

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