Two big events on the Gulf Coast provide solid reasons
To quote those thoughtful philosophers, the Beastie Boys, “You gotta fight for your right to party.”
Yes, son, mom and dad know about the Beastie Boys–hip-hop band from the 1980s. No, we didn’t have to look it up on Wikipedia. We really did have a life before you.
Adults need down time, too. We work 10-plus hours away from home, then “relax” at home by paying bills, mowing grass, doing laundry–the extensive list goes on. It is time to take back the fun and fight for our right to have a good time.
Now that you're back to school, mom and dad are going away for a long weekend. It's not that we don't love you–we just need a break–and we're heading to Gulf Shores/Orange Beach in Alabama for the Hangout Oyster Cook-off and then we're off to the Frank Brown International Songwriters' Festival. We're going to suck down oysters, slurp a spicy Bloody Mary or two, and dance to the music. We'll text you when we get back.
Aw, shucks, we were just having fun
Sean O'Connell knows how to throw a party: great food, music, and location.
As director of the eighth annual Hangout Oyster Cook-off & Craft Beer Weekend, O'Connell delivers the goods. This year's event will feature more than 70 national and regional chefs who will prepare oyster dishes and give demonstrations. Chefs from Food Network include Anne Burrell, Marc Murphy, and Martie Duncan; Jason Roberts from The Chew; and Michele Ragussis from NBC's Food Fighters. Celebrated regional chefs also will cook up a storm on Saturday, Nov. 7.
“It's a very decadent day of discovering so many flavors created by different chefs,” O'Connell said. “And in early November, you couldn't ask for better weather–blue skies, 70 degrees.”
Showcasing chefs, crafted cocktails, and beer has been the core of the event from its beginnings, according to O'Connell.
The Hangout restaurant (101 E. Beach Blvd., Gulf Shores, Ala.) always has focused on providing fresh Gulf seafood to its patrons, O'Connell said. The idea for an oyster cook-off was spawned to bring more people to the beach during a traditionally slower season. Chefs from Alabama and northwest Florida were invited to participate.
“It started very local and it grew,” O'Connell said. “By 2014, we were getting visitors from all over the country.”
Chefs also come to the cook-off from different areas of the country. Chef Kevin Nashan, owner of Sidney Street Café and The Peacemaker restaurants, will represent St. Louis, Mo., at the cook-off. A 2014 James Beard finalist for Best Midwest Chef, Nashan opened The Peacemaker in August 2014. It is inspired by Nashan's time spent living and cooking in New Orleans, as well as his travels along Maine's rocky coast. The menu features creative interpretations on favorites like lobster rolls, Po'boy sandwiches, seafood boils, and gumbos.
He said festival organizers asked him to participate in the cook-off. Nashan said his restaurant team makes it possible for him to be away at special events, which helps his business.
“It's really beneficial. People don't think seafood when they think of St. Louis, Mo.,” Nashan said.
This year, in addition to cooking demonstrations by chefs, raw oyster fans will be able to try farm-raised oysters at the new North American Oyster Bar. Oyster producers from across the continent–including Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Mexico's Baja Peninsula, and the Gulf of Mexico–will showcase their oysters for judges and patrons. The judging panel will select the continent's best oyster.
Farmed oysters are raised in baskets suspended underwater, rather than in muddy beds or on reefs. Oyster producers have become adept at learning how to get the meatiest, tastiest oysters by controlling factors such as placement and wave action.
“You definitely can taste a difference as you suck one down,” O'Connell said.
And with a couple of tasting ticket booklets in hand, you'll be able to suck down quite a few oysters, as well as try other variations, including Cajun and Rockefeller. Taste some of the Bloody Mary cocktails showcased at the invitational that's also part of Saturday's lineup. Enjoy music by Lennon & Maisy of the Nashville television show.
Admission Saturday will be $10 per person; tasting tickets will be sold ($30 per book of 15 tickets; discounted advance tickets are available online). Admission to the Craft Beer Festival on Friday, which also features music of Pink Floyd performed by Black Jacket Symphony, is $40. Designated driver tickets for $30 are available for Friday's event.
The Flora-Bama bar is a beach legend. At the Florida-Alabama state line, generations of fun-seekers have stopped off at Flora-Bama for a cold one, a crispy fish basket, and a good time. And for 28 years, Frank Brown, the nighttime watchman at Flora-Bama, was a part of the legend. Named after the late Brown, the Frank Brown International Songwriters' Festival features about 200 songwriters performing their music at a variety of venues in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach and the Pensacola area, including the main listening room at Flora-Bama (17401 Perdido Key Drive, Pensacola, Fla.).
The festival – set for Nov. 5–15 – is a perennial favorite for music-lovers eager to hear songwriters not only perform their music, but also discuss how and why they wrote some of the world's greatest hits. The songwriters themselves may not be household names, but chances are you'll recognize the songs they've penned for musical icons such as Johnny Cash, Jimmy Buffet, and Tim McGraw.
The event has been recognized as the “granddaddy of songwriter festivals” by Billboard magazine, and has been one of the Top 20 Events by the Southeast Tourism Society. Most of the shows are free, although a few venues charge modest cover fees.
It's hard not to have a great time on the beach in the fall listening to great storytellers.
While in the area listening to great music, make time to have more fantastic Gulf seafood, including the grilled oysters at Flora-Bama Yacht Club (17350 Perdido Key Drive), which is also a songwriters' festival performance venue. Award-winning Yacht Club Executive Chef Chris Sherrill creates outstanding, creative seafood dishes, often using under-utilized Gulf fish.
Great music, amazing food, and a gorgeous beach – change of plans, son; we're staying a little longer.
Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Southern Traveler.
November/December 2015 Issue
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