Paella Nights at 87 Central: A Culinary Journey with Chef Joyce

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Chef Joyce pushes butter around the three-foot paella pan, dropping in garlic, building the base. It’s Tuesday, Paella night at 87 Central, Seaside’s newest wine bar, and the scents of Spain fill the air around the amphitheater. Joyce competed against the best paella maker in Madrid, “I had 15 ingredients, she had five. I lost. She took me back to her village to teach me to properly make paella and I brought it to the Gulf Coast, incorporating fresh ingredients from this area. I love the process of cooking paella and seeing people’s reactions as they take that first bite, savoring all the flavors.” Community members greet Joyce as they walk by her workstation. She has been a fixture in Seaside since her wine bar Fermentations opened 20-plus years ago. Madison Shirley, Vice President of Jim Shirley Enterprises, added, “She was established in Seaside and that’s how my father met her. Fermentations closed, she was in a transition period and my father offered her a job. I remember he said, ‘You make some damn good paella, any interest in doing it for me?’ The rest is history.” Initially, the Shirleys made the paella part of their catering events, but it was such a big hit, they decided to try it at 45 Central Wine Bar and Sushi. “When 45 Central closed we still wanted to keep going so we brought it to the Chicken Shack and now 87 Central,” Shirley said. Silver canisters filled with chorizo sausage, Gulf shrimp, olives, peas, mussels, and a pitcher of Joyce’s secret cooking liquid surround the pan. There’s saffron adding depth of flavor, but Joyce holds the rest close to her vest, keeping her paella recipe tightly guarded. She does divulge one secret though, paella must always be made with love. In addition to the pan she works with tonight, she has “Pantiki” and “Panzilla” waiting in the wings. Shirley shares that Panzilla feeds 1400 people and often comes out for emergency relief. She added, “Whenever there is a need, we load it up, pack everything in, and take it to wherever people in emergencies need food. We cook paella and then serve the community.” Chef Joyce helped build their 92-bottle wine list, spending hours drilling down to the wines worthy of highlighting. Most bottles on the list rank heavily on Wine Spectator with many in the top 100. Except for a few well-known names like Opus One, Caymus, and Joseph Phelps, all bottles are from small producers. The global selection offers the opportunity to introduce wine drinkers to their new favorites. “Many of the wineries send their winemakers to us to do training here with our staff. Since we opened,  we’ve had 10 winemakers come from places like Argentina, Sonoma, a few from Oregon, some from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It’s been a cool learning experience for ourselves and our staff, and we have tasted some amazing wines,” Shirley said. 87 Central offers a concept where the Shirleys can interact with people in a different way than their other restaurants and bars. “We wanted to create a space in Seaside that’s a little more adult, but also flexible. People are so built into their routine when they come to Seaside. They’ve got a week and they have it planned, but for us every week is an opportunity to introduce something new to those routines. That moment when someone sits down, decompresses, and watches the chaos around them while sipping their glass of wine, is my favorite moment.” “It feels like the vision I wanted to recreate here, that experience of being on the streets of Paris at a cafe and watching the busyness going by—Everything happens around you, but you can feel calm and collected sipping your glass of wine.” In addition to Tuesday and Thursday paella nights, be on the lookout for Friday night low country boils, and afternoon tea on Sundays from 3-5 p.m. The Southern Afternoon Tea is an homage to English High Tea with the tagline: “Delicious, Delightful, but not always Dainty.” Instead of English small bites and finger foods, the menu has Southern twists. There are little veggie rolls with locally sourced greens; brie, ham, and apple sandwiches with fruit and cheese from the Seaside farmers market; deviled eggs; housemade scones, and other little treats. The showstopper though is the serving vessels, hand-milled boards crafted from salvaged wood from the tornado in Freeport, another community connection. On the horizon are book events and some exciting, but secret for now, Chicken Shack news. Until then, there are low country boils, Southern afternoon tea on Sundays, and chef Joyce’s paella with rice just al dente enough, Gulf shrimp perfectly cooked, spicy chorizo sausage, and luxurious lobster tails steaming in the center—that’ll tide me over. For more info and updates, visit 87 Central Square Wine Bar or follow them on Facebook.

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