Cafe Thirty-A is a Eclectic Mix Of Coastal Flair and American Fusion
All-American with worldly influences
30 A as we know it today is a bustling thoroughfare of al fresco retail centers, tight-knit neighborhoods and a bevy of coastal canteens, but 20 years ago, it was a different story.
Café Thirty A owner Harriet Crommelin recalls a sparse stretch of beachy bungalows, whose residents mostly had the option of eating at Bud and Alley’s or Criolla’s (now Grayton Bar & Grill) for a night out, or they could make the drive to Panama City Beach.
“People thought I was crazy,” recalls Crommelin. “There was absolutely nothing here, the neighborhoods weren’t that populated, but I knew it needed another restaurant.”
When asked what she says to those people today, the 72-year-old Southern belle simply smiles and shrugs, “Well, here I am now.”
Her late father, a Navy admiral, retired in Montgomery, Alabama, when Crommelin was 13. She went on to graduate from the University of Alabama in 1967, dabbling in the real estate field for a while before pursuing her dream of opening a restaurant.
In 1983, it came to fruition in the form Kat & Harri’s, a place Crommelin describes as a “Cheers-style joint where people could meet, drink and eat.” One day, a customer recommended she travel to Florida and check out the Seaside Seeing Red Wine Festival. It was an instant love affair, and, after several more visits, Crommelin established permanent residency on 30 A in 1994.
Crommelin immediately arranged for the construction of Café Thirty A, which first opened its doors in 1995.
Though built in the same vein as a beach cottage, the multi-level restaurant’s architecture is customized with design concepts Crommelin grew fond of during her many years of travelling the country.
She even incorporated a little piece of home with the front porch’s alabaster columns, inspired by a house she used to admire on her runs on Cloverdale Road in Montgomery.
Inside, you’re greeted with pastel blue and white hues that reflect the shore and cloth-covered tables.
Immediately, eyes raise to the ceiling, where several billowy beach umbrellas hang upside-down in lieu of chandeliers. Surprisingly, this helps absorb sound and doubles as a style Crommelin dubs “beach chic.”
Aside from the main dining room, glass doors open to a second seating area which was formerly an open-air porch.
The sultry summer air during peak season and, Crommelin adds, “those pesky yellow flies!” ultimately led her to enclose the space for a more pleasant atmosphere.
The same happened to the restaurant’s second story, which was previously a rooftop terrace. Now Café Thirty A’s private party space, its ballroom-style layout is ideal for arranging tables to whatever lengths your reservation requires.
While one wall is composed entirely of windows that showcase the seaside scenery, the rest are embellished with massive posters depicting vintage, French ads for a retro, opulent ambiance.
The stage is aptly set for Café Thirty A’s upscale menu, whose selections stray from conventional Gulf Coast fare. You can find Chef Derek Nowell in the kitchen prepping pizza for the kitchen’s massive, wood-fired oven, or searing fresh filets of seasonal catches and choice cuts of meat.
Originally, Willie McGehee, Crommelin’s chef at her Montgomery restaurant, formulated the menu back in 1995.
Tried and true, some of his recipes are still used today, like the Sesame-crusted Rare Yellowfin Tuna, accompanied by a nest of julienned, stir-fried veggies and a dash of wasabi to enhance the flavor.
Also, Café Thirty A’s Famous Creamy Grits with roasted quail: The ultimate comfort food.
Over the years, other staples have solidified themselves among the ranks. After trying a bite of Maine lobster and crawfish swirled into truffle macaroni n’ cheese, a customer proclaimed it was a “Lobster in Paradise,” and you can find it under that moniker on the menu today.
It’s also one of Crommelin’s personal favorites, in addition to the Beef Carpaccio with horseradish aioli. Oh, and don’t forget the pillowy, dulcet Banana Beignets topped with macadamia nut ice cream and caramel sauce.
“I would label our cuisine eclectic,” Crommelin states. “All-American for the most part, but we tie in other influences and we like to change the menu up depending on whatever strikes us that day.”
But, if it’s ‘Tini Night (every Tuesday and Thursday,) guests immediately head to the full bar and indulge in Café Thirty A’s signature martinis for $5 a drink.
With an extensive selection that ranges from the stiff n’ dirty to the tart n’ fruity, people pack in like sardines those evenings to quench their thirsts. There’s also an elaborate beer and wine list to complement your supper.
“I’ve always considered myself a bar fly …you know, for the entertainment, and the hospitality,” Crommelin says. “That’s what people find when they come here; I’ve always ensured my staff treats people as if they’ve just stepped into our home. Being here so long, we’ve gotten to know people to the point of being able