La Playa promises to offer dining with a Caribbean twist

Published: Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 05:01 PM.

By early spring, South Walton will be enjoying a new Caribbean café on 30A, if all stays on schedule.

When George Barnes closes the doors of The Smiling Fish Café Dec. 31, Café Tango owner Joe Morris will take possession of the prime property situated at the corner of County Roads 30A and 393 in Gulf Place Center.

Barnes brought his Cajun style with him to the restaurant he operated for a dozen years, and new lessee Joe Morris will bring his love of Latino/Caribbean food with him when he opens La Playa in early March.

Morris spent 33 years working in the financial investment realm — a job that took him all over the country, and frequently into Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. He grew to love the foods and style of cooking he found on those trips south.

Morris retired and moved to South Walton two and a half years ago, where he has owned a second home since 1987 and always knew he would end up. However, he found himself at loose ends in retirement and looked for a project.

With two sons working in the restaurant business, and Joe loving a good meal and wine, when he heard the owners of the fine-dining restaurant Café Tango wanted to sell, he moved on it.

"I bought in the middle of clean-up from the oil spill," he chuckles. "I had just retired in January of that year, but I like to stay active. Tango made sense to buy. I knew it had a wonderful reputation, as I was a customer there for years. And if I learned anything from being in finance, it's that you buy quality assets when things are down, not up."

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