Author : Alexandria Strong
It’s obvious, listening to Johnny Fisher, that the man is passionate about food.
Not in the way that a chef is passionate about food, but in the way an explorer is passionate about a journey. He may not be the one steering the boat, but he’s the one driving the vision.
And what vision. Fisher has, in his own words, always been “a wanderer and an adventurer. A seeker.” What Fisher seeks might not be treasure in some people’s eyes, but to the creative genius of this man, there is priceless value in something as simple as a well-made dish, a meal made with care. So he seeks. He finds. He creates.
And what he creates becomes an experience to be enjoyed and shared.
An adventure embarked, a vision executed and somehow contained by walls, delivered on plates and given life by the people who gather to taste. To laugh. To be.
“I’m naturally a very creative person, and I have a really strong sense of intuition, especially about what works and what people want and what people have as standards. I’ve always had a lot of ideas,” Fisher says.
Simply having ideas, however, is not enough. It’s knowing how to make those ideas work in the real world. Clearly, Fisher knows how to do just that.
After logging time at the House of Blues in New Orleans and seven years at LuLu’s, Fisher joined forces with Shaul Zislin to develop The Gulf in Orange Beach, an innovative restaurant made of four shipping containers that opened in late 2012. It is a space exemplary of Fisher’s forward-thinking mind, his desire to provide diners with an experience unlike any they can find elsewhere. Once it was complete, however, he was once again struck by his need to create.
And thus begins the story of Fisher’s newest endeavor, whose concept is as visionary and unique as The Gulf was. Fortunately for Fisher, he found a setting to match at Orange Beach Marina, along with partners that shared the same vision. “This is one of the most beautiful marinas on the whole coast,” Fisher maintains. “The Long family has worked hard for over 30 years to build a first class marina with an outstanding reputation. Our restaurant will continue this same ethos and provide a home away from home for all of the boat owners.” In addition to all that natural beauty, Fisher’s got some tricks up his sleeve when it comes to the actual restaurant itself. Or, to put it more precisely, restaurants––plural. “We’re going to have one brand, with two separate restaurants. Upstairs is going to be probably the nicest dining experience on the coast,” he says. “Not stuffy, since we’re at the beach, but it’s going to be really nice,” he continues. “It’s absolutely gorgeous, with antique heart-pine floors; gorgeous light fixtures; and beautiful leather barstools. In the center of the room is a big sofa with four chairs around a marble coffee table that [provides] a very friendly, yet unexpected atmosphere––almost like you’re in someone’s really nice house.” Or perhaps evoking the whispered memories of more poshly appointed men’s-only cigar lounges of days past? White linen table cloths are balanced out by porthole windows into the kitchen and “an incredible collection of yachting photographs,” Fisher describes. “You’re going to know you’re in the mecca of big game fishing.”
Incredible doesn’t stop with the decor.
“It’s really, really luxurious and beautiful, with food that’s prepared slowly and just really good,” Fisher says. One can almost picture him making the requisite finger-tip kissing gesture as he speaks. “Our chef is from New Orleans, and he worked for Donald Link of Herbsaint and Cochon for the past nine years,” Fisher boasts. “Before that, he spent several years with Emeril. His pedigree is just incredible, and he’s making really great food.” Building on that pedigree, the menu at Fisher’s restaurant will be largely focused on offering meats cut and ground in-house, locally-sourced seafood, and dishes inspired by the tastes and traditions of New Orleans. “Chef Bill’s food is simple and not overly-complicated. He doesn’t take shortcuts and uses the finest ingredients available, which usually means they’re fresh and local.”
Upstairs or down, the standard of excellence will be the same, simply offering an atmosphere of polar opposites. “Downstairs is going to be the sister restaurant, but it’s going to be much more casual and fun and relaxed,” Fisher says. “It’s beach, with flip-flops and great food, but a lower price point and more family-type food.” That designation, of course, doesn’t mean any less attention to detail in the decor. True to form, the downstairs space is a show-stopper in itself. “It’s very clean and stylish. Open-air. We’ve got these really beautiful modern chairs with pecky cypress walls, stainless steel bartops, basket light fixtures. It’s an eclectic blend of different surfaces; but there’s this really clean, almost nautical style atmosphere,” Fisher says. Outside, surf meets turf. Literally. “It’s got an area that’s all grass, the same turf used by the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins,” Fisher says. “[It’s like a] a little backyard, surrounded by citrus trees.” A perfect foil for the eclectic menu, which will include a variety of burgers, gourmet hot dogs, smoked ribs, seafood, salads, and sandwiches. “Casual, freshly prepared, really great food,” Fisher pronounces.
“We want to stand out, we don’t want to blend in,” Fisher asserts. “I [love] to create these spaces where people enjoy themselves; that’s my gift, and that’s my satisfaction. To create this space where people come and enjoy good food, good company, good views, good hospitality, and they leave feeling better about the world.”
In his own way, Fisher is changing that world, one restaurant at a time.