All About The Bay restaurant in Santa Rosa Beach
The Bay in South Walton is so much more than just a restaurant. It’s a highly unique property on the Choctawhatchee Bay where locals and visitors alike gather to enjoy amazing food, drink and all around atmosphere. The Bay is perfectly located off of highway 331 at the foot of the bridge in Santa Rosa Beach, FL. No matter if you’re staying in Rosemary Beach, Seagrove Beach, Dune Allen Beach or anywhere else in SoWal, The Bay is just a short drive away.
We recently had the awesome opportunity to interview a couple of The Bay’s best in Chef Benjamin Steeno and General Manager Joe Beane. Both Benjamin and Joe were extremely gracious hosts and they kindly shared their unique stories with us, the 30A Prime team.
Questions and Answers from our Interview with Chef Benjamin Steeno of The Bay restaurant in South Walton
Question: Please tell us about your role at The Bay and how you started working here…
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: I’m part of a team of chefs here at The Bay that includes myself, Michael Mix and Josh Rockstead and we’re all under Chef Jim Shirley who is the owner of the restaurant. When I was presented with the opportunity to work for Chef Jim Shirley the timing was perfect because I was sort of in limbo with where I was working at the time in Destin, FL. The Bay is in such a beautiful location and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with one of the best chefs in the area, Jim Shirley. He has the best reputation in regards to being a top chef that I know of.
Question: What does The Bay mean to you?
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: The Bay to me is a place where friends and family can gather together and just relax. You can come in flip flops, you can come in high heels, either way, we’ll have something for you. People can enjoy our great appetizers and you can sit down inside with a wonderful bottle of wine. Jim has one of the best wine selections I’ve ever seen.
So… there’s really something for everyone here and it’s a place where you can feel comfortable and not be in a hurry. When you’re done with your meal, we have this great terrace area where you can extend your stay and just hang out and relax with an enjoyable view.
Question: How did you become a top 30A area chef?
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: Early 2000’s I studied at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin. I took every elective course that I could and did my culinary internship in Turin, Italy. Before that, I’d been in the kitchen my entire life whether it was at my grandmother’s house, my mother’s house or managing a deli when I was 18, I’ve just always been around food.
Question: From where does The Bay source the high-end ingredients that make up its delicious dishes?
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: We try and source as much as we can from our local farmers. The Greenman’s Garden, Coastal Blue Farms right across the street, and Covey Rise Farms who collect from Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and they drop once a week.
In addition, I try to feature Lionfish as much as possible because it’s an invasive species along Florida’s Gulf Coast. It is detrimental to our Snapper fisheries so whenever I can get those I put them on the menu. We mainly source our Lionfish via Captian Michael Valentino of Trigger Happy Fishing Charters which runs off of Grayton Beach. Captain Mike dives down usually once a week, spears them and drops them off here at The Bay for us to cook up.
Question: What does Lionfish taste like?
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: I would liken it to Triggerfish as it’s a nice light fish. Lionfish are not very large and they are a flakey fish with almost a sweetness to them. It’s really super light, it’s wonderful and sears up great. The presentation with the whole fish is impressive but I find the flavor best when you fillet it off and pan sear it.
Question: In addition to great seafood we noticed you have a variety of burgers. Which burger is your favorite?
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: The Bomber Burger is my favorite… I mean, it’s a huge 8 oz patty dripping with our special street sauce and super sauce. It has a soy roasted tomato, caramelized onions, asiago cheese crisp. I mean, it’s massive, it’s messy, it’s simply wonderful.
Question: Tell us about desserts at The Bay.
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: Desserts are all handmade here at The Bay. We typically feature 3 or 4 Creme Brulees which are white chocolate, dark chocolate, pistachio and traditional. We use a 100-year-old recipe for our peanut butter pie. We make our own banana pudding and serve that with homemade vanilla wafers. The key lime pie at The Bay is second to none. It’s Chef Jim’s own personal key lime pie recipe, it’s gigantic and it’s simply great.
Question: Tell us about specialty cocktails at The Bay.
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: The inventive cocktails here at The Bay rotate based on the seasons. For example, in the spring we use locally sourced Mayhaw berries to make a syrup and feature it with Gin. Pretty much whatever fresh products we can get at the time, we will try to incorporate into our specialty cocktails. So yes, our drinks do rotate, they’re not always set but they’re always going to be great.
Question: We see a there’s a big smoker out here on The Bay’s beach. How often do you use it?
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: Typically when we have an event I’ll fire up the smoker even if it’s not used for that particular event. To have a party in this special setting, you gotta have some smoke in the air, you have to have some pork on that grill or some chicken or something… I mean it’s just part of setting the tone, setting the pace for the party. If people walk in and they see this gigantic smoker and there’s nothing coming out of it they’re just going to ask… Why aren’t you using the smoker?
We do use it for smoked oysters for certain events if the client requires. Smoked oysters are absolutely delicious. We’ll smoke them on there and then transfer them to a hot grill to sear them up and caramelize the cheese. But pretty much anything from brisket to onions and peppers… We’ll smoke anything we can.
Question: Tell us about your SoWal famous Thai-Mollys.
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: The process for our Thai-Mollys begins over 1000 years ago with a recipe for liming corn that is all but lost. We get fresh, dried corn from Wisconsin so it’s a nice large kernel. We lime it and run it through a process that takes the husk off so you can grind your own masa.
From there, we fill one with red curry and pork, one with green curry and chicken and we top them with fresh herbs. Our herbs are grown in our own micro-climate that we have inside behind the bar. Every morning we clip our herbs so it’s just not going to get any fresher than that.
Question: Is The Bay a kid-friendly restaurant?
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: Of course… We have a menu for kids and typically have a nice selection of toys for them to play with here on our private beach.
Question: How would you describe the atmosphere here at The Bay restaurant?
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: It’s wonderful, it really is… Looking out at the Choctawhatchee Bay in the morning you can’t beat it. Then in the afternoon, especially in the summertime with the sunsets rolling right over it, it’s a great place… it really is.
Question: Would you like to give a closing statement inviting people to visit The Bay?
Chef Benjamin’s Answer: Please, on your next travels down or if you’re a local in the area feel free to stop by at any time 11 am to 9 pm, come on by and enjoy.
Q and A’s with The Bay’s General Manager Joe Beane
Question: What is The Bay and where is it located?
Joe’s Answer: The Bay is a wonderful 30A area restaurant located on highway 331 at the foot of the bridge on the south side in beautiful South Walton County.
Question: Tell us about the layout of this unique SoWal property.
Joe’s Answer: We have a beautiful bar on the outside patio and another bar inside along with our sushi bar. The Bay is just a great spot to spend a little time. Allot of our guests will spend an hour or two just enjoying the grounds as well as having dinner with us.
Question: What is your favorite dish at The Bay?
Joe’s Answer: The Pesto Snapper and Crab Cake is wonderful and we have fantastic sushi that we start serving at 4 pm daily. I love sushi so that’s what I have most often. We serve fresh local seafood and some nice, nice burgers… Steaks as well.
Question: Can we come to The Bay via boat?
Joes’s Answer: Yes, of course, people can bring their boats, absolutely. Just come right up, dock, tie off, come in get yourself a drink and something to eat.
Question: Would you like to give a closing statement?
Joe’s Answer: Yes, I would just like to invite folks to come see us at The Bay, you’ll have a great time and we’d love to see you.