Photos and Words by Gaige Davila
Editor’s note: This feature is from the Parade’s November 2020 issue.
If any word should come to mind when discussing F&B, it should be “intent.”
There’s intent behind every facet of F&B (for “Food and Beverage”), a joint venture between owners Walter Greenwood, executive chef, Brandi Hackett, general manager, and restaurateurs Bob and Scott Friedman.
From the interior design to the plating and wine, dining at F&B is to experience hundreds, if not thousands, of calculations to make guests comfortable while pushing their culinary boundaries.
Since opening in July 2018, F&B has become one of South Padre Island’s most sought after dining experiences for its consistent food quality and homage to what lives on and off its coast.
Greenwood and Hackett, before moving to South Padre Island, both worked at Bartolotta, Ristorante Di Mare, in Las Vegas, Nevada, at The Wynn, a luxury resort on the Las Vegas strip. Greenwood, who lived on South Padre Island in the early 1990s, and Hackett would visit the Island regularly after Greenwood’s parents retired there. They both saw an opportunity.
“We just noticed there was a niche on the Island for something like this.” Hackett said. “Something a little bit more elevated, and a little bit unique.”
“Each trip I saw the Island growing,” Greenwood said. “Not slowly, but steadily, in my mind, and I think the locals here are very well travelled.”
Greenwood believed the concept would be well received by locals who’ve experienced fine dining across the country, or those who haven’t and were ready for something that was different from the Island’s usual fare. F&B applies European cooking techniques to local flavors, in what Greenwood calls an “open platform” of creativity, whether it’s with their cocktails or food.
The products that compose F&B’s menu—70 percent local, 30 percent from out of state, Greenwood estimates—feature ingredients well known to residents. Proteins are butchered in-house and the pasta is made on-site. But F&B’s presentation of these ingredients is what differentiates them and the rest of the Island’s food scene.
“We have amazing products down here, especially if we talk about the red snapper,” Greenwood said. “It’s so pristine on its own. In my mind you don’t need to mask that with a lot of blackening seasoning or fry batter.”
Greenwood’s ingredient philosophy is evident in dishes like the red snapper crudo: raw red snapper, sashimi style, sitting in a citrus marinade painted with aji pepper and cilantro oil drops and pickled onions. Indeed the raw red snapper is pristinely clean, but with the surrounding ingredients, the snapper’s flavor and texture range expands beyond what is expected from the deceptively simple dish. This experience extends to every dish at F&B, whether on their dinner or brunch menus.
The seafood risotto, a dish Greenwood says will likely never leave the regularly-rotating menu, starts with 500 little neck clams. Specifically, 500 little neck clams boiling in reverse-osmosis purified water, creating a stock that turns sky-blue. That stock is used to cook the rice for the risotto, creating a pronounced—but not overbearing—ocean flavor throughout the crab, clam, scallop and shrimp-adorned dish.
This attention to product should be no surprise from someone who worked under Paul Bartolotta, head chef and owner of the namesake restaurant where Greenwood and Hackett met. Bartolotta famously imported live langoustines to his Las Vegas restaurant from the coast of a secret island, along with (literally) a ton of live or fresh European seafood weekly. Greenwood’s attention, and appreciation, for the product is the same.
F&B’s menu, which changes seasonally, is sometimes guided by ingredients the restaurant’s distributors have available. A storm in the Gulf of Mexico that disrupts waters for fisherman could mean a last-minute menu change from grouper to halibut. Events like these can become a teaching moment for F&B’s cooking staff, where Greenwood shows them how to filet a 40-50 pound non-local fish like a halibut. From there, those dishes are served to guests who may otherwise never have the chance to enjoy.
“You shouldn’t have to fly to Dallas or to Las Vegas to be able to have a piece of fresh halibut, so I’m going to bring it to you,” Greenwood said.
Of course COVID-19 impacted ingredient availability too, Hackett said. As meat, dairy and fish distributors experienced COVID-19 outbreaks at packing facilities across the country, expected shipments of products would either arrive in smaller portions or not at all. Greenwood and Hackett would rewrite the menu an hour before dinner service, using whatever was fresh and available that day.
F&B’s airy dining room is a nod to the Island’s coastal breeze, Hackett said, with shades of white, grays and blues that, aided by the restaurant’s skylights, make the dining room seemingly expand past its walls. The top-to-bottom renovation was completed between January and July 2018. The glassware is from Mexico, adding a color splash to the shades of white and gray throughout the dining room. To comply with COVID-19 guidelines, a few of the tables were removed, but it’s hardly noticeable: there was gratuitous space between tables before COVID-19, for a more intimate dining experience.
The kitchen houses a Wood Stone live-fire grill, with a separate ventilation system for its continuously rolling flame. It’s one of the few indoor, live-fire grills on the Island, so foreign to the area that Greenwood had to show the Island’s fire department photos of Wood Stone grills from other restaurants he’s worked in to get it approved.
Lately, that grill is getting considerable use. Hackett says since COVID-19 made its unwelcome presence in the Laguna Madre area, F&B crafted a curbside and to-go menu to meet an increasing take-away demand.
“When COVID hit, we really put our heart and soul into it,” Hackett said. “We created a menu we knew was going to carry well home.”
And carry well home it does, regardless if not everything on their menu can be made to-go (for example, the egg yolk in F&B’s black truffle carbonara will clot if left in a container too long). Inside F&B, business is steady, and has been since Texas Governor Greg Abbott began gradually lifting COVID-19 restrictions across the state.
“We haven’t died down at all since Labor Day,” Hackett said, motioning to a nearly-full dining room on a Friday evening.
For the fall season, guests can expect the Texas Ragú—a Bolognese-style pasta with eight different cuts of rabbit, chicken and pork stewed for hours in a tomato reduction—and a porchetta, a roasted pork belly cut to order, embellished with Mexican spices and chilis rather than traditional Italian flavors.
With dishes like these, F&B is a simultaneous rebellion and praising of local cuisine that could come only from the hands and minds of those who appreciate and challenge its existence. Regardless of F&B’s niche-filling presence on the Island, Greenwood hopes the restaurant doesn’t change what’s good about the Island’s cuisine.
“I don’t think the cuisine around South Texas or South Padre is going to change because of us,” Greenwood said. “We’re lucky just to be offering something a little different.”
Find F&B at 3109 Padre Blvd. on South Padre Island. For more information, call (956) 772-8114.
To read more from the November issue of the Parade, click here.