It’s summer, and the sun is sizzling, the waves are lapping, and your stomach is calling, “Feed me!”
This means it’s time for island food, which in this case means American/Seafood/Asian fusion at one of Port A’s most beloved restaurants, Irie’s Island Food. We talked to the owner, Marty Frannea, to get the lowdown on his down-home fare.
Originally a sculptor, Marty earned a fine arts degree in college but quickly decided it was no way to support himself and be creative! Since age 9, he has had a love for cooking, so in 1996, Marty went to Chef’s school in New York and then began his tutelage in the culinary arts. He worked his way across the states, including Hawaii, before settling into Austin’s fine dining scene. Ten years ago, Marty and his wife, Nicole Horton, decided to move to Port Aransas to open a new restaurant. After some research in the area, it became clear that there was no casual Asian food available, but they also wanted to have sandwiches on the menu, and they wanted to take advantage of Mustang Island’s coastal vibe by featuring seafood and coastal classics. Thus, the concept behind Irie’s Island Food was born, and the doors opened in June 2013. Irie is Nicole’s daughter’s name in case you were wondering, and she works at the restaurant too, which makes it a family-run business.
One of the biggest culinary influences in Marty’s life was his grandmother, Elizabeth Brownewell, a college Home Economics professor, and splendid cook who taught him to cook everything from Svenska Pannkakor (Swedish pancakes) to 1950s classic casseroles. Elizabeth cooked good, hearty fare that must also have been healthy given she is now 103 years old and still going strong!
Marty cooks foods he loves to eat himself; simple, flavorful, coastal foods, but also offers tacos featuring homemade flour tortillas, imaginative dishes like Mahi Mahi po’ boys, chicken fried rice, and “Kahuku shrimp”, inspired by a shrimp farm in Hawaii, and dripping in real butter, garlic, and herbs. At Irie’s, Marty prepares fresh custom tacos loaded with your choice of stuffing like curried shrimp, or try the vegetable spring rolls, panko-fried shrimp or, depending on the season, a basket of oysters. You can also get sides like mac n cheese, fried okra, and hushpuppies. and don’t forget dessert, like their creme brûlée. It’s a large,
time-consuming, and diverse menu, but Marty likes it that way; offering the same foods he likes to eat and cooking to order whenever possible. The menu at Irie’s changes 2-3 times a year, though the ever-popular po’ boys, rice dishes, salads, and burgers will remain in some form. You can find specials sometimes and if Marty scores a beautiful fresh seasonal catch, you can be sure it will make it way to the menu.
Chef Marty couldn’t do without some of his favorite cooking essentials, a Misen Knife, toasted sesame to flavor dishes and small bath, estate grown olive oils from California. He also loves to eat squab, poached halibut, and steamed artichokes with fresh butter, salt, and herbs, and at home he makes his own ‘Miracle Bread,’ similar to a crusty, chewy baguette but made with only 3 ingredients. More Marty faves include Gosling’s Black Seal Rum from Bermuda, a good Barolo, and an Imperial Stout on occasion. Fittingly, Irie’s serves both wine and beer, so the adults are just as happy as the kids!
Marty and the team at Irie’s, pride themselves on a being a family-friendly place where you can bring the kids and eat delicious simple foods in a casual coastal environment. Irie’s exterior and inside is painted a hot turquoise and there are tropical hued flamingoes and saucy sea creatures frolicking throughout, along with wall murals by local artists, and custom-designed clip art by Marty. You cannot help but be happy in this coastal café brimming with an island mood, from its wave-textured wall panels to the ocean art on the walls, and the splashes of Caribbean pink.
Irie’s has evolved from a 300 square foot eatery in 2013 to its present day 3,000 square foot space that seats 140 people both inside and on its pretty patio.
One of Marty’s favorite aspects of owning a restaurant is seeing his employees succeed, whether that means gaining new skills or opening their own eateries. Marty believes in investing in staff, and training enthusiastic workers, and is always looking for reliable, ambitious, employees to join the Island team. In 10 years, Marty sees himself still owning Irie’s and still cooking and we can’t wait to see that too! When in Port A, make plans to go to Irie’s and enjoy a unique island feast in an original eatery that can be found nowhere else.