The owners and chef behind the Magnolia Springs landmark Jesse’s Restaurant are dropping anchor at Fort Morgan with a new casual fine dining concept.
Every table has a view of the water at Jesse’s on the Bay, which opened April 26 on Crosswinds Court along the stretch leading to the historic fort and tourist attraction.
The executive chef over both Jesse’s, Larry Agnew, pays painstaking attention to detail. He sources the restaurants’ produce and proteins as nearby as possible. The kitchen ages its prime beef, heritage pork, and even Gulf fish to enhance its flavors.
The new location in Fort Morgan boasts a raw bar featuring Alabama-farmed half-shell oysters and house-made fish ceviche. Both join the cast on the bayside restaurant’s ornate seafood tower.
Jesse’s on the Bay is a new adventure for owners Steve and Angie Coltharp, who took over the original Jesse’s Restaurant in 2012.
The Magnolia Springs original occupies a historic structure that was built in 1922. For decades, it was the town’s general store, run by a man named Jesse King. When Charles and Janie Houser bought the building and converted it into a restaurant in 1999, they named it Jesse’s in King’s honor. Under the Coltharps and Agnew, Jesse’s Restaurant has established a reputation for fine-dining-level service and top-quality food that is imaginatively cooked and generously portioned. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
Their newest venture in Fort Morgan, initially open for dinner only, premieres to great anticipation. While menus at the sister restaurants share some common elements—hearty steaks, signature versions of baked oysters, and shrimp and grits—the two Jesse’s have their own personalities. Jesse’s on the Bay has a casual downstairs and a more formal upstairs.
Starters include beef tartare made from dry-aged beef, crab and spicy tasso gratin, blue crab and crawfish gumbo, and a grilled meat that changes weekly.
Shareable sides go beyond the norm, such as crawfish mac and cheese, and corn spaetzle with roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, and gruyere cheese. Fish, pork, lamb, and steaks round out the main-course choices. Steakhouse-style enhancements range from bone-marrow butter and sauces like bearnaise to the “Magnolia Style” option with jumbo lump crab, fried green tomato, and hollandaise. The more extensive menu at Jesse’s Restaurant in Magnolia Springs changes regularly based on what’s growing or swimming nearby. It is a showcase of Chef Agnew’s creativity and Creole-Cajun-inspired cooking.
During the transition from winter to spring, Gulf grouper has been smeared in schmaltz (chicken fat), crusted in meal from spent grains from brewing beer, and then roasted. It is stacked on a bulger-kale combo and topped with maple-candied pecans and shaved winter squash that’s been smoked. The final touch is a bordelaise-style wine sauce cooked with fish bones.
Since Jesse’s Restaurant is an upscale steakhouse at heart, the meat is prime and portions are substantial. Ribeye and Delmonico steaks weigh in at a pound each. Luxe beef choices include well-marbled Wagyu, and Jesse’s signature 30-day aged ribeye. Oysters might include premium Alabama-farmed half-shells like Murder Point, Admiral Shellfish, Point aux Pins, and Grand Batture. Prefer them cooked? The house specialty, Oysters Jesse, is baked with Creole-seasoned compound butter and gruyere cheese.
Salads are thoughtfully composed, including a take on the classic Caesar salad with roasted garlic croutons, anchovy, parmesan crisp, cured lemon, and sunflower seeds. The current dessert menu includes an intriguing in-season offering, Strawberry Soup, made with macerated strawberries, goat cheese frozen semifreddo, and corn cookie crumbles.
A separate menu for happy hour includes New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, crab and pancetta dip, and fried green tomatoes. The lunch menu is more basic, with burgers, smoked brisket au jus and other sandwiches, and entrees like beef tenderloin stroganoff. Or go haute with the steak frites—grilled Wagyu flat iron steak topped with a sunny-side-up duck egg, and hand-cut potatoes.
Next time you visit Alabama’s beaches and want to treat yourself, either Jesse’s Restaurant or Jesse’s on the Bay is only minutes away.
(This story originally appeared on SoulGrown, an affiliate of Yellowhammer Multimedia)