Sara Humpal is a vivacious 22-year-old who lights up the room. Like many college grads, Humpal opted to move back to her hometown after receiving her bachelor’s degree. But she has an important distinction from most of her peers: She’s the owner and operator of Gabriela’s Seafood + Tapas, the latest restaurant sensation bringing Spanish-inspired tapas to the Rockport area.
Humpal didn’t set out to be a restaurateur. She was following in her father’s footsteps by studying physical therapy when she realized she was meant to forge her own path. Throughout the process of opening a restaurant, she tried to channel her mother’s style and joie de vivre.
Gabriela Humpal, the restaurant’s namesake, passed away when Sara was only 11 years old. The feathers that adorn the walls of Gabriela’s and appear in its logo pay homage to the nickname Humpal’s mom gave her as a young girl, “Plumita.” Gabriela talked about opening up her own place before she passed; now, over a decade later, Humpal has brought that dream to life in the form of Rockport’s newest eatery centered around creating memorable experiences with loved ones.
The charming boathouse was previously home to the popular restaurant GLOW; Humpal has transformed the space to reflect a fine dining experience and expanded the dining room overlooking the bay. She imagines the space will be a unique venue for parties, weddings and events. The second story has retractable blinds to let in the breeze and take advantage of the beautiful views of Little Bay, and Humpal anticipates that an already planned expansion, which will increase the restaurant’s capacity to 100+ diners, will be completed by the end of the year.
As for the food, Chef Adam Gonzalez has created a collective menu of fusion dishes that celebrate local seafood and explosive flavor. Chef Gonzalez works with local seafood vendor Alby’s to provide fresh seafood for his chili-infused shrimp and decadent coconut curry mussels.
“I wanted to lean toward healthy options that are also delicious,” Humpal said as she reflected on narrowing down the menu. Her personal favorite is the Ahi Tuna Tostada, made from sushi-grade tuna marinated and topped with avocado, pickled red onions, jalapenos and spicy mayo on a crisp tortilla. The Ahi Tuna Watermelon salad is a refreshing plate, balanced with sweet watermelon and umami tuna on a bed of watercress. And the Miguelitos, featuring Spanish puff pastry filled with creamy goat cheese whipped with strawberry puree, is also a must-have.
Gabriela’s is quickly becoming the talk of the town. After enjoying their meal, patrons frequently approach Humpal with words of congratulations and thanks. She teared up as she recalled their often-repeated words: “Your mom would be so proud of you.”