Last month, Alabama Gulf Seafood and Southern Living teamed up and invited Gulf seafood fans to post their food photos with a dinner destination at the luxurious Barnsley Resort on the line.
Dan and Lauren Gavin were one of the lucky entrants that made the cut. We asked them to recap their experience for us. Here’s what they had to say.
We had dinner at Dixie Fish Co. in Birmingham right around the time this contest began, and when we order a dozen raw oysters, we got some of the biggest we’d ever seen. Seriously, the one we took a photo of was a two-person oyster. It was amazing.
Thankfully, we weren’t the only ones who were impressed with that humungous Gulf oyster, and we got enough votes to make the list for the Barnsley dinner!
It was tough waiting for the weekend to finally roll around, but when it finally did, we were a bit overwhelmed by the whole experience.
Simply put, Barnsley is like nowhere else you’ve ever been.
It was so quiet and peaceful and very detail-oriented. Everything was well-manicured. Everyone was extremely nice. You would expect that from a hotel or a hospitality service, but everyone seemed really genuine about it. I was totally blown away when we got there. It’s this beautiful, hidden little peaceful oasis in the middle of nowhere. The type of place that never stops amazing you.
When it was time for dinner, we ate inside their town hall, which was an all-wood interior, floor to ceiling. Décor was spot on. Very Southern. Farm-to-table-esque. Mason jars for everything. Old windows as place setting items. The drinks were great, you could order anything you wanted really.
Personally, I loved the community-style seating. It’s really great to be put into a situation with people you don’t know and be forced to have conversation. In fact, the photos we submitted that won the contest were our place cards, so we got to check out everyone’s photos. There were some really great ones.
We had a brief talk with Chef Hayes about the dinner before it began. He has an awesome personality, and you could tell his food was very focused. Chef Hayes told us that everything had been caught the day before, and the fishermen were able to find the food that they needed for the menu.
Chris Blankenship [director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division and program administrator for the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission] was there, and he thanked the Barnsley Resort and Chef Hayes for putting it on. Chef Hayes was talking about how he really wanted to do the seafood justice. He was really thankful that the Alabama Gulf Seafood stuff is going on because it makes his job a lot easier; people see it as a stamp of approval or a seal of quality.
When the dinner began, we started with a pecan-crusted flounder with redneck curry and Wonder Bread.
Then he had a yellowfin tuna with baby kale and white BBQ sauce, which was really interesting. A yellowfin tuna crudo. Really good, really light.
He did huge grilled Gulf shrimp with chimichurri and corn salsa. All community, family-style plates, where you passed it around and grabbed one or two. Nice way to open up the meal and get people talking to each other.
It was really cool to hear him talk about how he did his dishes; for example, his family served the flounder on Wonder Bread dish when he was young, and they would always snack before dinners.
Then they brought out the main courses. They did a blue crab salad with garden greens, house pickled peppers, heirloom tomatoes, avocado purée, and mojito vinaigrette. It was all really fresh. You could tell that they’d packaged it the day before.
The main course was the red snapper, and it was the best fish I’ve ever had in my life, hands down. It broke apart and melted in your mouth like butter. It was served with garden vegetables, all grown and grilled at the resort.
Had a sweet potato purée with an awesome hot sauce and field pea greens. Then the dessert was really cool. He did a cornbread pudding with sweet corn custard with dulce de leche ice cream and caviar. The cornbread pudding wasn’t what I expected; it was straight up whole kernel cornbread, really light, very buttery. And the caviar was a nice touch, because it’s something you would never expect to see on a dessert, but it worked really well with this flavor profile. Maybe that was his way of sneaking seafood into the dessert? It added a really interesting texture to the dish.
After we all ate, the musician that had been playing (he apparently worked on the grounds a few years back) told us the whole story of the Barnsley Resort and all the family members. That part to me was awesome because I didn’t expect to get the history of the place.
After the dinner, we went outside, and the weather was beautiful. There were fire pits every 20 feet. We hung out there for an hour or so, then they brought out s’mores stuff for everyone.
Then we called it a night.
All in all, we had an amazing weekend getaway. I wish we had been there another night so we could’ve eaten at Rice House (Chef Adam Hayes’ restaurant). Many thanks to Southern Living and Alabama Gulf Seafood for hooking us up!