Published May/Jun 2007

These eateries in Alabama are sure to please your palate and
top off a great summer beach getaway.
By Suzanne Corbett

Beyond sugar white beaches, warm gulf waters and southern hospitality, the Alabama Gulf Coast offers visitors a smorgasbord to savor, the main course, seafood. Here, oysters, grouper and shrimp are the center of the plate. Restaurant menus to roadside markets and bars reflect a diversity of regional flavors, ranging from Creole to English, French to African. Yet no matter where or what you eat, Alabama Gulf Coast cuisine has a Southern accent.

To plot your Alabama Gulf Coast culinary excursion, start at Mobile and head east on Interstate 10 to U.S. Highway 98, then follow the signs south on state Route 59 (also called Gulf Shores Parkway) to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Culinary delights are found everywhere, and foodies won’t be disappointed.

Signature seafood

Alabama’s Gulf Coast is seafood central. Oyster houses, seafood markets, beachfront restaurants and bars pop up around every bend in the road.

To start your seafood feast, consider fresh gulf oysters that are abundant in Alabama. Wintzell’s Oyster House and the Original Oyster House top the list for this favored food.

Wintzell’s Oyster House (805 S. Mobile St. in Fairhope) has been shucking oysters since 1938. There are four locations along the coast, including the original in downtown Mobile. Each restaurant is decorated with roadhouse kitsch and signs plastering every inch of wall space. Shucking is a non-stop operation, as mountains of oysters are opened at Wintzell’s each day.

Half shell “nudies” (raw oysters) leave the bar by the dozens, perfect alone or with a splash of Tabasco and a saltine cracker. If this taste is too bold, then choose from nine different preparations including Rockefeller, Bienville and my favorite, the Alfredo, oysters topped and broiled with a thick, spiced Parmesan cream sauce.

For crab aficionados, a plate of fried blue crab claws can satisfy your craving, or opt for the West Indies Salad–a half-pound mound of blue crab lump meat that’s been marinated with onion and vinaigrette dressing and served on a few lettuce leaves.

At the Original Oyster House (701 Gulf Shores Parkway), classic Southern and Creole recipes stand out on the menu. Seafood gumbo is slow-simmered with a Cajun dark roux and filled with the local catch: flounder, shrimp and crab claws. Alligator Bites, an appetizer, are worth sinking your teeth into. Dusted with a Cajun spice seasoned with cayenne pepper, the gator arrives tableside sweet and tender. Order it up with a side of red beans and rice for a perfect lunch.

Indulgence best describes another special, Southern fried grouper with cheese grits. Grouper, a versatile fish, is found on most menus. When prepared Southern fried, nothing complements grouper better than a side of grits swimming in sharp cheddar.

King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant (1137 Gulf Shores Parkway) has built its reputation on another famous Alabama Gulf delicacy, Royal Red shrimp. Royal Reds are crimson colored, deep-water shrimp that taste a little like lobster. These large, red shell crustaceans have only been available since the 1980s when they were discovered once shrimping techniques allowed for deeper catches. Royal Reds’ unique flavor and meaty size make them a favorite at King Neptune’s, where they’re steamed and served by the bucket full with an ample supply of lemon wedges and cocktail sauce.

For visitors craving to carry a cache of seafood back to the hotel or home, check out Blalock Seafood & Specialty Market (24822 Canal Road) in Orange Beach. This gem of a grocer features an assortment of fresh and cooked items. Royal Red shrimp, blue crab and oysters, either sold shucked or in shell, are also sold online. Blalock’s will ship most anywhere in the United States via next day air. There’s also a location in Gulf Shores on East Second Avenue.

Margaritaville à la Alabama

“Parrot heads” looking for an alternative hangout in Gulf Shores can stop at Lulu’s at Homeport Marina (200 East 25th Ave.). Jimmy Buffet personally gives his blessing on the establishment run by his younger sister, Lucy.

Called the other Margaritaville, it’s no surprise the margaritas flow freely. In fact, as of last August, more than 95,000 of these drinks have been mixed and poured. The JB Perfect Margarita is a blend of Gold and Silver Margaritaville Tequila, Triple Sec, Orange Curacao and lime juice. It’s a must for any Buffet fan.

If you’re ready for something other than seafood, consider Lulu’s cheeseburgers. Thick, juicy and cooked to order with your choice of cheese make these burgers nothing short of paradise.

After finding that cheeseburger in paradise, head for the ultimate beach bar, the Flora-Bama Lounge (17401 Perdido Key Drive). Straddling the state line, its delightfully trashy architecture resembles a multi-level beach shack and houses three music stages on uncluttered beachfront.

Beyond the drinks, oysters are the Flora-Bama mainstay, but I urge you to experience another Southern snack–fried dill pickles. It’s not your typical bar food, but then again, Flora-Bama isn’t your typical bar.

Fried green tomatoes

No matter the season, fried green tomatoes–a classic Southern dish–usually are on the menu at Jesse’s Restaurant, 14770 Oak St. in Magnolia Springs. Thickly sliced and turned in a light cornmeal batter, green tomatoes are pan fried and garnished with a sprig of parsley.

Moore Brothers gourmet market next to Jesse’s offers the finest collections of wines, imported cheeses, aged beef and local produce. However, its claim to fame is homemade smoked sausages. Pick from country-style, smoked pork links, Kielbasa, Italian, German and Cajun sausages. Add cheese, a bottle of Alabama wine and presto–gourmet picnic to go.

Foodie-friendly festivals

Alabama’s Wine and Culinary Festival is held at several gulf area locations throughout the year. The festival at Orange Beach’s Waterfront Park is scheduled for May 18–20.

Attend the winemaker’s dinner on Friday that will spotlight regional chefs. More than 100 wines from boutique wineries across the country are available for tasting and purchase during the grand wine tasting on Saturday. Also on Saturday, take one of two wine classes presented by the prestigious Atlanta Wine School. A walkabout champagne Sunday brunch serves as the festival’s finale

The 36th Annual National Shrimp Festival will be held Oct. 11–14 in Gulf Shores. Attracting more than 200,000 during the four-day event, shrimp shares the stage with music, arts and crafts.

The Original German Sausage Festival will be Oct. 27 in Elberta. Begun as a fundraiser by the local fire department, the festival draws 30,000 people who consume and carry off 7,000 pounds of wurst.

The Gulf Coast Culinary Institute at Faulkner State College in Bay Minette opens its Frederic’s Restaurant to the public on select evenings during fall and spring semesters. Enjoy a five-course meal for just $20. It’s the best gourmet deal on the gulf coast. Check out the school Web site, www.faulknerstate.edu, for dates or call (251) 968-3101.

Pick a restaurant or festival and enjoy all the bounty offered by Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

Suzanne Corbett is a new contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

Above: Mountains of oysters are shucked at Wintzell’s Oyster House in downtown Mobile each day. There are four locations along the Gulf Coast. Tad Denson/www.myshotz.com photo

Below: The Southern Breeze Wine and Culinary Festival features delicious wines and local cuisine at Orange Beach’s Waterfront Park. Southern Breeze Wine and Culinary Tour photo

Before You Go
For more information, contact Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 745-SAND (800-745-7263), or www.gulfshores.com.

For tickets to the wine and culinary festival in May, call (800) 239-9880 or click on the Web site www.southern breeze.com/winefest.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

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