As a kid, I would run all over downtown Fernandina on bicycles with my cousins. We would ride up and down every street and eventually end up at the Welcome Station for a Coke and to play on the waterfront. As it happens, my dad did the same thing with his friends. I got to hear several such stories recently when I sat down to dinner at Brett’s Waterway Cafe with the handiest man in Fernandina, my father Bill Gass.
Dad grew up in Hardee Brothers Hardware Store, which once inhabited the southwestern corner of 3rd and Center streets. Working there, he learned to fix just about anything; conversely, all I can fix is dinner. Tonight, however I was off the hook, as Chef Brett Carter was at the helm. Chef Brett grew up in his grandmother’s kitchen, turning out his first batch of cornbread at age five and getting involved in whatever she was cooking.
When I was cutting my culinary teeth as a teenager, Brett was setting the bar for culinary excellence in Fernandina Beach. His sense of style and flavors were fresh and a little ahead of their time in what was still a sleepy little beach town. These days, his restaurant sits at the head of Center Street on the Amelia River, and his food is still garnering rave reviews. Tonight, we would enjoy several of Chef Brett’s special dishes.
We started with a glass of Fleur de Mer Rose to accompany a Thai Shrimp Pizza and an order of Escargot with Shrimp in a Gorgonzola Butter Sauce. With brilliant color, the rose had aromas of Mediterranean herbs, faint citrus, and melon. Soft-textured with a mineral finish, the acidity accented perfectly the earthiness of the escargot with its savory, tarragon-scented sauce, while also bringing to life the fresh flavors of the local shrimp with cilantro and peanuts. Afterwards, we shared a beautiful salad of mixed greens tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette topped with candied walnuts, chevre, and fresh beets.
For our entrees, we both chose seafood. I opted for sea bass, fresh from New Zealand, while Dad opted for the flounder from local waters. The flounder was baked, stuffed with fresh crab filling and lobster, and served over asparagus with a lobster cream. This was the perfect choice for the sentimental traditionalist.
The sea bass was pan-seared and served atop an herb potato cake with a sweet pea hummus with heirloom carrots. Our server, Audra, suggested a glass of the Martin Codax Albarino from Spain with our entrees. The wine was perfect, vibrantly acidic but delicately fruity, bringing out the silty flavor of the flounder and the buttery flake of the sea bass. We finished every bite.
Satisfied, but interested in something sweet to finish the evening, Chef Brett sent out another secret he had learned from his grandmother: a silky smooth banana pudding with sliced bananas and vanilla wafers topped with elongated slices of banana bruleed with caramelized sugar.
Traditional favorites and cuisine nouveau are available at Brett’s Waterway Cafe daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to close. They are closed on Sunday for dinner.