One slog is over: the years of endless negotiations with the Flagler Beach City Commission, of securing permits, of battling the state over environmental regulations, of discovering how much of a ruin the old place had been and how much work was needed to get it back in shape, have led to this: Funkatizers, Funky Martinis, pesto funk, the “Big Doggin” (that’s the half-pound hot dog), seafood paella, all the fried seafood your arteries can bear, and a flourless chocolate cake that, by itself, is worth the price of admission.
On Wednesday, the Funky Pelican opened its door in the softest of openings (“Come On In” was written in big letters, in chalk, on a giant blackboard-like wall fronting Oceanshore Boulevard).
“We’re doing a Paul Revere sort of opening,” owner Ray Barshay said, “sending people out in the country on horseback saying, come on in, come on in.”
Flagler Beach is experiencing a restaurant renaissance of sorts. The demise of Hurricane Patty’s and another short-lived bar partially named “pelican” aside, the town has seen the re-emergence, after big moves or major refurbishing, of Blue and the Beachhouse Beanery, and of Kokomo’s, where the Beanery used to be, with more coming.
The Funky Pelican was always going to be a main course, because of its location, because of the Pier Restaurant’s history, and because of the epic negotiations that preceded its opening, including a good deal of displeasure from local restaurant owners, including the Flagler Fish Company, who thought they should have been given more opportunities to make a pitch for the location. The restaurants were not given that opportunity because Barshay already had a deal with the previous owner. The deal was not binding on the city commission. But the commission wanted as close of a sure thing as it could get, and to get it with the promise of six-figure investments in a property that the city itself had woefully neglected as much as the previous restaurant owner had.
The Funky Pelican replaces what had been for to many years to count the once-iconic Pier Restaurant. Once iconic, because in its latter years the Pier Restaurant had become a living ruin, its owner no longer interested in running the place, what was left of its legacy starved for a savior.
In came Barshay, the deceptively unassuming owner of the River Grille in Ormond Beach, whose remarkably even temper through those harrowing sessions with the Flagler Beach City Commission—which owns the restaurant property and the pier—belied a steely, sometimes wily shrewdness that secured him an enviable deal (at $3,000 a month in base rent) and allowed him to say on Wednesday: “It was always going to work out.”
And so it has. Gone is the tired grime of the old Pier Restaurant, the ancestral smell of oil dating back to the Reagan administration, the Dutch-school-like interiors of dark corners contrasting with pockets of light. Gone, too, is that refectory-like food that ensured more vacant tabletops than raves in these last years.
To enter the Funky Pelican Wednesday was like stepping into the third verse of Genesis: “And then there was light.”
The old place’s alternating square-and-circle windows that had kept more light out than in have been replaced by wall-to-wall large, angular bay windows, letting not only light in but the ocean, whose waves as if lap at your feet at high tide even though the space just beyond the windows has been filled by a new deck, with bar. The interior of the restaurant is redolent of that unfinished-wood feel from floor to ceiling, including table tops made to look like freshly sliced lumber. It’s the work of the guys at Zafari Studios–”awesome, great people,” Barshay said, taking a moment to take it in this afternoon, before heading down to the River Grille for an event there. “They’re funny guys besides, kind of creative, as you can see.”
It’s in the name: Funky Pelican, a brand already nesting t-shirts of psychedelic colors and caps, and art work full of mysteries to decode. Mysteries Barshay himself has yet to decode. The menu will be familiar to River Grill patrons: a mixture of meats, seafood (including gigantic shrimp), sandwiches (“hand-helds”), salads, soups (including an earthy concoction of corn and potatoes more evocative of meatless stew than soup), and those desserts mentioned earlier (cardiologists, rejoice: the Funky Pelican’s fortunes are also yours). Aside from a $27 filet mignon, the fare is relatively reasonably priced, with breakfast in the $4 to $12 range, appetizers in the $10 range, main courses in the $12 to $19 range.
Breakfast is served daily from 7 to 11 a.m. By contract with the city, the restaurant will have to be open all but two days a year, with Thanksgiving and Christmas as the exceptions.
George Hanns, the Flagler County Commissioner and the only local politician in office over two centuries, had known the restaurant under its old incarnation—going back far enough to have known it when it was a reputable place—and has been, with his companion Sophie, a frequent patron at the River Grille in Ormond Beach. The couple was at the Funky Pelican Wednesday, sampling out the Minorcan clam chowder and three appetizers. They liked what they had for the most part, although—as with a sampled burger—the kitchen was obviously still working out a few kinks.
“We were very pleased with the décor, the service is superb, everyone is so friendly,” Hanns said. “I’m looking forward to coming in for that hot dog.” The service was notable: the ratio of waiter-to-patron seemed to hover around 2-to-1 despite brisk business, though much of the staff is at full blast to get trained. The restaurant will account for a few dozen new jobs in the area.
Barshay said he was a little tired, but happy with the outcome. He’s planning a grand opening sometime in March or April.
Barshay hadn’t lost his wry humor, tinged with that business acumen, when it was suggested to him that it was difficult to sample more than a few plates at a time. “You don’t have to do it all today,” he said. “We’ll be here for 25 years or so.”