Ocean’s 20th Anniversary

Tonight, we celebrate 20 years of food memories at Ocean Restaurant.

By Beau Gustafson & Jan Walsh

Kev and I have been dining at Ocean Restaurant since it opened in March 2002. I have reviewed dinners here more times than I can count. Yet we can never get enough of one of our favorite restaurants in the world.

The Place
Ocean is located at 1218 20th Street South in the Five Points district of Birmingham’s Southside. It is situated next door to its sister restaurant, 5 Point Public House. Both have valet parking at the curb. Ocean’s Bar is a happening in itself. No reservations are taken for the bar, so regulars get here early. Tonight, we are the first in the door. Yet even with the bar seats curtained, there is almost always someone who spots me here—most often from my hometown of Oneonta. And tonight, is no exception as Oneonta foodies line the bar alongside us. Bar Manager Robby Greenwood also knows us well and has a bottle of bubbly chilled and Baby Lobster Tails ready to order. In addition to the bar and main dining room with banquettes, booths, and tables, there is a large, covered patio and outdoor bar. Ocean is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday.

The Chef
Owner and executive chef, George Reis was born in the Midwest and raised in upstate New York. Thus, George experienced both farm fresh foods and global flavors. He also lived in Dallas, the Gulf Coast and Atlanta before opening Ocean in March 2002. He sources the finest and freshest seafood and is a master at cooking it—steaming oriental style, delicately pan sautéing, southern frying, or grilling over a hickory fire.

Ocean was also the first restaurant to become a member of when it launched 15 years ago this month. During these years he has graciously shared his skills and expertise in our Chefs Secrets cooking demos, such as Shucking and Frying Oysters at 5 Point and Thai Green Curry Bouillabaisse. Thus, the food memories here are many. My favorite 20 include those I reviewed for previous anniversaries, theirs and ours, birthdays, Valentines, and date nights at the bar. And my all-time favorite, Grilled Baby Lobster Tails.

The Food
Catches from the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, Pacific and the Mediterranean are found in Ocean’s wide net. George incorporates spices and techniques from the countries that surround these waters—including his own signature seasoning, “The Love.” This seasoning mix is applied to every piece of grilled fish at Ocean. But if you are not a seafood lover, Ocean’s turf, the steaks are as great as the seafood.

My 20 favorites through these years include the three dishes from the cooking demos and others from my review of Ocean’s 5th Anniversary: St. George’s Bank Seared Scallops, Spicy Lobster Rangoons (I miss these), Spicy Beef Sushi Roll, Lobster Bisque with Cognac Cream, PEI Mussels, Hickory Grilled Filet Mignon, and Chocolate Cake and Milk.

In the years that followed, I found more unforgettable fare from my reviews, including Ocean’s 10th and 15th Anniversaries: Greek Salad with Fried Feta, Watermelon Crab Salad, Gulf Coast Crab Cakes, Lobster Pot Pie, Whole Main Lobster, Whole Fish Red Snapper, Seafood Tower.

And for Ocean’s 20th Anniversary, in addition to the Baby Lobster Tails, we share crustaceans of Shrimp Cocktail, Chilled Main Lobster, and Crispy Gulf Shrimp, along with dessert of Lemon Bundt Cake, rounding out our 20 Ocean Favorites from 2002-2022. We pair our seafood with a bottle of Scharffenberger Brut Rosé Excellence from Mendocino County, California. Cheers and congrats to George as he stops by to reminisce with us. He recalls his first ticket he ran. He is humbled and grateful of all the patrons and staff who have made this happen for 20 years. He also made a long post on Ocean’s social media thanking everyone, even though he is not on social media himself.

The shrimp cocktail is cold, crisp, and sweet, as always. Bite after bite, we dip each prawn into house made classic cocktail and wasabi oyster cocktail sauces. Taking apart a lobster is an art. Thankfully most of the work is done before the lobster cocktail arrives to the bar. The only work left is to crack the claws. While Kev cracks the claws, wiggles the pincher of each claw, and gently pulls out the succulent morsels inside the knuckles and claws, I go for the lobster tail that is resting in its shell. Yet he feeds me the delicate, melt in the mouth bites from his efforts. As our hot dishes, his baby lobster tails are loaded with “The Love” and fire grilled to perfection—moist and meaty. And my crispy, curled shrimp arrive on a creamy bed of al dente coconut cilantro risotto, with gingered habanero butternut puree, leeks, and pepitas. This entire seafood spread is highly recommended!

And a thick, scrumptious slice of lemon cake makes a comforting and tart end to the evening. It is accompanied by a beautiful blood orange sherbet, and a taste of warm caramel.

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