Tucked away among the shops of Seaside and located in the central heart of town, is Crush, a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Crush is known for delicious small plates of food, beautiful selections of wine, its friendly staff and a stunning location for people watching.
The covered outdoor sidewalk dining, reminiscent of a European café, led Crush Wine Bar to be selected as Best Outdoor Dining by VisitSouth.com. With complimentary wine tastings and daily happy hour specials, Crush is the place to see and to be seen, especially on a beautiful Seaside afternoon.
I stopped by Crush recently to visit with the newly hired executive chef Travis Reese, who was hard at work putting his stamp on the fare served in the restaurant. Reese says, “I call my style Caribbean, as that is what I am most familiar with after spending seven years in Key West. I enjoy the fresh flavors and spices it brings to the food.”
Reese grew up in Tucson, Ariz., working in many restaurant kitchens with plans to attend culinary school in Dallas. But prior to culinary school, Reese decided to take the opportunity to visit a friend in Key West. Reese says, “He convinced me to stay, and it didn’t take much, as it was such a great place to be.”
The Conch Republic Seafood Company, an award-winning restaurant that overlooks the Historic Seaport and Key West Marina, hired Reese as a line cook and quickly moved him to sous-chef. With an impressive raw bar, Reese became skilled at working with fresh oysters, crab, shrimp and stone crab. Reese says, “I worked seven days a week in a very fast paced, high-volume restaurant, and did catering. I basically became tired and needed a fresh start.”
Though he did not attend culinary school, Reese learned on his feet by jumping in, asking questions, and working diligently. Seeking a change of pace, he moved to the Destin area to pursue other passions and landed a position with Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Searching for a managerial role, he came across the opening at Crush in Seaside for the executive chef position, submitted his resume, and interviewed with general manager Kevin Moran. Moran told me that he had been interviewing for the position for more than two months and says, “It was the perfect opportunity in Chef Reese’s career to take on a restaurant of our size. Chef Reese wants to discover new dishes, food styles, and flavor profiles in his cooking. As he evolves, we are evolving, and it was a good fit for us all.”
Meeting the unique challenge of cooking alone in a smaller kitchen enticed Reese who says, “I needed to be creative and try something different. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get the job done. I am thankful to be the executive chef at Crush”
While at Crush, I spent an hour in the kitchen with Reese watching him produce menu items for the crowd descending on the restaurant for lunch. Reese works at lightening speed, quickly and efficiently, and prepared some delectable dishes for me to try. The crab cakes with Asian slaw were a favorite. The cakes contained fresh crab, corn, and finely diced onion and red pepper; they were perfectly balanced, moist, and yet spicy. The braised beef short rib quesadilla served with corn salsa and lime sour cream had a nice kick and was satisfying. The quesadilla, normally on the dinner menu, had lunch patrons drooling at the mere sight of mine. Many began requesting the dish and Chef Reese graciously met their demands.
Lastly, I tasted the tuna nicoise salad, in which ahi tuna was crusted with white and black sesame seeds, and plated on a bed of local greens served with baby Yukon potatoes, eggs, olives, small tomatoes, and dressed with red wine vinaigrette. It is a dish I have enjoyed many times, as it is enormously fresh and flavorful.
The salads are popular among diners, and Reese says, “I recently added a Caesar salad to the lunch menu. I am trying new recipes and also added jerk chicken to the dinner menu. I am planning to switch up the sandwiches and panini, and will be adding a lobster panini. Other items will include a Caribbean shrimp cocktail with mango salsa, as well as a goat cheese and roasted fig tart.”
Moran is thrilled with the changes taking place, and the new menu items. Crush will soon be working with a local baker offering artisan breads with creative spreads prepared by Reese. Moran says, “We are calling it Breads and Spreads. We will also offer incredible Basque olives and our own unique blend of nuts that will be seasoned and candied in house. I want guests to feel comfortable sitting and enjoying a nibble with a glass of wine in a relaxing atmosphere, or before ordering from our menu.”
Reese and Moran are working as a team to have Crush revered as a food and wine lovers’ destination. Moran says, “I am very happy with the new and interesting flavors coming from the kitchen. Chef Reese has even taken the current menu and enhanced the dishes adding his own twist.”
Crush offers lunch and dinner with menus of small plates made for sharing. Sushi, a daily cheese board, and 24 wines by the glass with almost 100 bottles of wine are available with exciting wine flights. Monthly wine dinners are also offered.
Crush Open Daily
Noon–3 p.m., 5–10 p.m.
Happy Hour includes half-price wine, beer and sushi 4–6 p.m.
25 Central Square, Seaside
Susan Benton is the owner of 30AEATS.com where she shares her passion for food and travel, and her commitment to promoting local farmers, fisherman, chefs, artisans and restaurants along the Gulf Coast.