Salute to Soldier Creek

Soldier Creek locals know that a day on the water isn’t complete without the essentials: bushwhackers, rib crowns and good company.

Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

There’s a formula to boarding David Ellis’s lobster boat. The rib crowns stuffed with apple slices are loaded first. He carries the main course down the sandy footpath from his family’s century-old beach house and places the sheet tray at the bottom of the deep chest cooler affixed to the stern. His wife, Kerry, meets him on the pier with the corn and boiled shrimp, and they check one more time to confirm that they have enough Dorito kindling for the charcoal grill to keep it burning for the entire afternoona. His friends amble down to the water with their beach bags and a cooler full of beer and bottled water. The dogs jump aboard the boat, signaling to the human passengers that the captain is ready to set sail. David tells everyone in a booming voice to grab a drink and make themselves at home, but they already have. They’ve done this enough times to know the routine. It’s just another day on Soldier Creek with the Ellises.

No one would be surprised if David had brackish blood. The Soldier Creek native was effectively born with a boat tiller in his hand. He spent his youth mastering the arts of fishing and boating, and his college years were devoted to studying the foliage that skirts the shores of his aquatic domain. Experimentation with spices and the seafood he caught begot his culinary talents. He’s a briny renaissance man wearing a mariner’s cap and a chef’s toque amalgamated in the guise of a wide brim straw hat. His abundance of wisdom helps him elevate offshore excursions to days of paradise on fiberglass.

Just before departure, David inspects the Big Green Egg grill he bolted to the center of his boat. He’d already meticulously cleaned it that morning, but it’s just part of the process. The vessel drifts away from the pier to the tune of “Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield, David noticeably away from the helm. He looks up with a deadpan expression and squints to see who’d appointed themselves as his co-captain, but he can only see shadowy figures through the tinted windows of the cabin. He shrugs and turns back to the grill’s firebox. 

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The 45-foot-long lobster boat David bought in Canada floats toward the Point at Soldier Creek, operating exactly as it should. Not trawling for lobsters, of course. The Flauna II (a portmanteau of flora and fauna) was redesigned as a party barge with a deck spacious enough for passengers to move around freely and circle their folding chairs around the Big Green Egg. He’s always invited friends to ride with him up and down the Creek, but his old catamarans and fishing boats never had enough space in one area for everyone to be together. He had a vision of himself driving a conversation pit into open waters. His lobster boat transformed that vision into reality. 

Ashei the mini goldendoodle sidles the narrow rim of the craft and takes her place as the figurehead on the bow. One of the men crowding the air-conditioned cabin pokes his head out of the sliding glass door and announces, “Y’all, we’re comin’ up on an osprey nest on this pole up here. We’re gonna circle around and take a good look at it.” Everyone flocks the port side of the boat to fawn over the enraged, screeching mother and places benign wagers on how long it’ll be until the babies hatch. No one expects to profit from their bets, though two men shake on a deal to buy the winner a beer. 

David ignites his Dorito kindling and places his rib crowns over the flames. “Alright, y’all, we’re gonna head on over to Pirate’s Cove for some bushwhackers,” the chef captain proclaims. “I wasn’t sure we were gonna be able to find parking with this big ol’ boat, so I went ahead and called the owner. He says we should be fine to park on the Bay side. Ribs are gonna take about three hours. We have boiled shrimp, watermelon and hummus in the cabin, so y’all eat up. Kerry, you want to get the salad going?” She nods and grabs the cutting board from behind a pillar of pool noodles. 

The long pier to Pirate’s Cove is a familiar sight for the group.

Regardless of the task, it’s a painful thing for a Southern woman to relax while another labors. Kerry shouldn’t have to assemble a salad by herself— that’s a three-woman job. Her sister, Kelly, and her neighbor, Nancy, stand alongside her at the deep chest cooler, grab whatever ingredient they can reach and wait for instruction. Kerry places the greens on the platter, Nancy arranges the tomato slices and Kelly scatters the feta cheese. In the absence of a fourth party, Kerry drizzles the vinaigrette. The other two, feeling guilty about the uneven distribution of work, take hold of whatever else they can find— one a whole watermelon and the other a chef’s knife. The wind picks up and threatens to blow the salad away, so Kerry places it back in the cooler. The other women finally feel comfortable enough to lay down their props and raise their drinks. 

An armless 12-foot skeleton materializes in the distance — the Pirate’s Cove beacon. It surveils a kingdom of watercrafts, sand-crusted patrons and sopping-wet dogs. They can see from afar that the restaurant is busier than everyone expected for a Thursday, but it’s still Pirate’s Cove. They don’t have slow days, only slower ones. David emerges from the cabin once again. “Everybody, I’m gonna pull up the right side into Roberts Bayou and whip back around, and then we’ll get out. Bear with me,” he says. He artfully moors the lobster boat and takes orders for bushwhackers. Kerry and the other women take it upon themselves to be drink runners while the men tend to the rib crowns. 

Left to right Kelly and Nancy enjoy their bushwhackers at Pirate’s Cove. David’s friends visit while watching over the grill. The rib crowns have been placed over burning coals and Doritos kindling.

Pirate’s Cove feels otherworldly to many, but Kerry knows it intimately. She strolls the serpentine pier pathway past swimmers and a haggard old heron to the bar, her friends and Ashei in tow. Her determined movement through the sand past sunbathers and racing children is almost graceful, as if she can predict the other beachgoers’ every motion and see every obstacle on her course to the bartender. A voice calls to her from the dark interior of the restaurant. She doesn’t have to see their face — she knows the manager well. Kerry hugs the woman and introduces her sister and neighbor, and they discuss the Easter Sunrise Service Kerry missed at the Cove while dogs run past them through the dining room’s dogtrot. “It was so wonderful,” the manager reminiscences. “The sermon was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s kind of funny, though. Some people said they got to watch the sunrise come up right there through the skeleton’s ribcage. How about that?” Kerry chuckles, collects her bushwhackers and says a fond farewell. They’re only stopping by for a minute.

The trio returns to the boat to find David recruiting another passenger. “Come on, Al. We’re kidnapping you. Hop on,” he tells the man. Al reluctantly declines. He’d join if he weren’t going straight to a wedding when he leaves Pirate’s Cove. The two visit for another moment before the rest of the crew pushes off from the dock. The ribs are nearly done, and the smell has been taunting them for hours. David, needing a break from balancing chef and mariner duties, points the bow of the boat toward Soldier Creek and passes the wheel to one of his co-captains. He sits in one of the lawn chairs near the grill, threads his fingers over his chest and watches dolphins surface in the distance. Bear Point catches his eye. “That’s where Kerry and I had our first date,” he says. “Kelly’s husband got hit in the head with the sailboat boom. It worked out alright, though. Hey, Kerry, we should go back for our anniversary sometime.” 

Left to Right David docks his prized lobster boat. Kerry and Nancy slice open a watermelon on the deep chest cooler attached to the stern of the boat.  Live oaks that lean over Soldier Creek create a canopy of shade for frequent outdoor gatherings. 

The boat pulls into Soldier Creek, does another circle around the osprey’s nest and idles past the point. “Y’all wanna go over there to the point and set up? Doesn’t look like anybody’s there,” he says. “Or we could go back out on the Bay and float. We do that a lot of the time. What do y’all think?” Considering their hunger and proximity to David’s beach house, they elect to return to port. It’s generally easier to eat on stable ground anyway. 

The passengers disembark and take their seats on the porch swings. David lifts the dome of the grill, admires his good work and moves his crowns to the cutting board on the cooler. The charcoal king lifts his serrated scepter and glides through the tender rack. All the men reboard the lobster boat and arrange the folding chairs in a line so they can throw rib bones over their shoulder into the creek. They’re biodegradable, and the party is sure the fish will enjoy them. While David plates the meat, Kerry and Kelly bring their salad, shrimp and cookie cake to the picnic table. Everyone descends on the meal at once, trying to maintain order and decorum but failing to hide signs of ravenousness. They’ve waited half a day for this, but their patience is rewarded. Every bite is exquisite. 

Only corn husks, shrimp shells and the ladies’ rib bones remain on plates after supper. Kerry collects the platters her guests brought and rinses them off in the creek. They’d need to be washed later anyway, and it’s nice for her friends to not have to worry about bits of food getting dislodged in the car when they go home. The sun starts to fall in the sky, casting gilded rays across the water. David plays the blues on his Bluetooth speaker and props his feet on the edge of the boat. For the first time all day, everyone is still. Kelly breaks the silence and thanks David for the wonderful trip. “Hey, that’s just what we do,” he says. “We like to go out and have a good time. I’m glad y’all could be here for it.” Everyone basks in the bliss of a perfect afternoon. For David and Kerry, it’s just another day on Soldier Creek.

Tomato and Feta Salad

Tomato and Feta Salad

Serves 8-10 

16 ounces spring mix
2-3 Bradley or heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1/2 -inch slices
1 cup feta cheese
Balsamic vinaigrette (recipe below)
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic Vinaigrette 
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. For the vinaigrette, whisk together honey, Dijon mustard, sea salt and balsamic vinegar to combine. Add the olive oil and whisk until completely emulsified. Set aside.

2. Place spring mix on a large platter. Layer the tomatoes over the greens, edges slightly overlapping. Scatter feta cheese over the tomatoes. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Flag Cookie Cake

Serves 16 

34 ounces refrigerated cookie dough
24 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups salted butter, room temperature
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pinch of kosher salt
50 blueberries
20 strawberries, thinly sliced
1 pound raspberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Line a 9×13 baking tray or cookie sheet with parchment paper, and press cookie dough into it. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden and fully cooked. Allow to cool completely.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, sour cream, vanilla and salt. 

4. Spread cream cheese mixture over room-temperature cookie. Place blueberries in the upper left corner of the cookie in a single layer, creating a square.

5. Make a straight row of raspberry slices across the bottom of the cookie. Add a row of strawberries, leaving a 1-inch space between the rows. Repeat once, or until the cookie resembles an American flag. 

6. Cut into 16 squares and serve.

Beer-Boiled Shrimp

Beer-Boiled Shrimp

Serves 4-6

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
1 cup amber ale
1 cup water
1 onion, halved
1 bay leaf
2 pounds large Gulf shrimp
Lemon wedges and cocktail sauce, for serving

1. Melt butter in a large pot over high heat. Add Old Bay seasoning, ale, water, onion and bay leaf and bring to a boil.

2. Add shrimp and stir. Turn the heat down to medium and cover the pot with a lid. Cook, stirring once halfway through, for 3 – 6 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and cooked through.

3. Remove shrimp using a slotted spoon and transfer to a platter. Serve hot or cold with lemon wedges and cocktail sauce. 

Rib Crowns

Rib Crowns

Serves 10-12

3 racks of baby back pork ribs, 4 pounds each
1 1/2 cups dry rub of your choice
2 cups jalapeno mustard
3 apples, cored and quartered
Barbeque sauce for basting and serving

1. Trim excess fat and membrane from the rib racks and pat dry. Spread dry rub over the entire surface of the meat, followed by a coating of the jalapeno mustard. Store in the fridge for 24 hours.

2. Preheat the grill to 250 degrees.

3. Remove the rib racks from fridge and bring to room temperature. Form the ribs into a crown shape and secure by pushing skewers through the center. Place apple slices into the center.

4. Place rib crowns on the grill and cook for 2 1/2 hours. Baste the rib crowns with barbeque sauce, wrap loosely in aluminum foil and cook for an additional 20-30 minutes. 

5. Allow rib crowns to rest for 15 minutes. Remove apples and skewers and cut the crowns into individual ribs.

6. Serve hot with barbeque sauce on the side.

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