By Susan Benton
As a food writer and blogger living by the water’s edge of the Emerald Coast, one of the first questions locals or people ask when they visit our area is how they can be certain that they are buying or being served fresh seafood. It would appear that answer would be a simple, but many restaurants do not serve fresh fish and shellfish.
According to Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation that was founded in 2001, over 59 percent of the tuna sold in the United States was mislabeled. Tilapia lovers might want to take notice that their dinner could be farm raised on pig feces that then traveled from Vietnam or Thailand. Today, more than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, and less than 1 percent of that is inspected by the government for fraud.
If seeking fresh, never frozen, or mislabeled seafood straight from the Gulf, keep up with “Gulf to Table” on Facebook and Instagram. There you will meet the farmers of our local waters, like one in particular, Trey Nick.
Frank III, aka Trey Nick, was born into his grandparents’ fish camp and restaurant business that was built in the early 1900’s but changed to their family’s hands in 1956. Tucked between the Choctawhatchee Bay and Basin Bayou in Freeport, Frank and Hattie Nick sold bait, beer and rented fishing boats for a dollar a day.
In 1963, Frank’s Italian passion to cook for others took over and a new building was erected. Nick’s slowly honed its reputation for serving only the freshest homegrown seafood, and became the popular place to enjoy raw oysters tonged from their own state leased beds, plump shrimp and mullet plucked from the Gulf and bay before being dredged and fried in their secret batter, in addition to hamburgers and ice-cold beer sold for a fair price.
In 1979 Nick’s Seafood Restaurant was passed on to Trey Nick’s parents, Frank Jr. and Bonnie, and by 1998 he became the third generation to take over the reins with his wife Jennifer.
“We have always kept the tradition of a family atmosphere. My daughter might be bussing tables like last night, while my son is on oyster washing duty. Millionaires to fisherman are our continual customers. People have their favorite days to come to the restaurant and we treat customers like family too. Those that grew up eating here are now bringing their own kids. This is more than just a restaurant, it’s a way of life,” said Nick.
Living right off the local waters, along with the day-to-day operations of the restaurant, Trey Nick also runs three commercial inshore fishing boats and is the largest blue crab commercial harvester in the Choctawhatchee Bay with his son pulling traps by his side. Nick says, “We do our own fishing and crabbing. I sell blue crab, mullet, speckled trout, shrimp, and flounder for the most part. We will not buy anything overseas when you can get the best right here. It’s about putting the freshest product on the plate.”
Seafood traceability, or tracking fish from boat to plate, significantly reduces seafood fraud, while providing consumers with more information about the seafood they are purchasing.
Harbor Docks, Sexton’s, Camille’s and Destin Ice & Seafood in Destin, along with Willingham Seafood Company in Valparaiso, Bayou Bill’s Crab House in Santa Rosa Beach and Johnny’s Shrimp Shack in Defuniak Springs are just a few of the businesses that buy and support Trey Nick’s sustainable seafood. “With quotas, the seasons, whether or not the fish are biting, along with other varying factors, fresh local seafood isn’t going to be cheap, but you will know what you are eating, and it will taste terrific!” said Nick.
Nicks Seafood Restaurant is located at 7585 State Hwy 20 West, Freeport, Florida, 32439. For more information or to reach Trey Nick call (850) 835-2222, or visit nicksseafoodrestaurant.com.
Susan Benton is the owner of 30AEATS.com and GulfCoastRestaurants.com where she shares her passion for food, travel, and her commitment to promoting regional farmers, fishermen, chefs, artisans and restaurants along the Gulf Coast. Follow 30A Eats on Instagram.