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Day Trip to Bayou La Batre – “Alabama’s Seafood Capital”

20 Nov

The sign says it all — and there is a lot of truth to this. I was expecting a little town dominated by the seafood industry. That is pretty much what I found. But there were plenty of surprises during my brief weekday visit. I was only in town for a couple hours. And part of this time was spent on business. However, I did find enough time to scout around, snap a few images, grab some lunch, and just generally get the vibe of this sleepy, little fishing community.

Even BBQ joints take on nautical themes in Bayou La Batre. Case in point: Capt. Frank’s Smoke Shack. I didn’t try the good Captain’s Q on this trip — I was holding out for some local seafood. I did take a moment to peek in the window. Cozy little joint. Wonder if the food’s any good? Drop me a note if you’ve tried them out.

They may want to work on that slogan – not the best we have seen.

I’m partial to this salty swine in the window at Captain Frank’s.

Seafood Gumbo — certainly a local favorite in these parts.

There is a pretty significant Vietnamese population in BLB. Many of these folks are employed in the seafood industry. Working on the shrimp boats, picking crabs, etc. Their presense becomes obvious as I motor thru town. I came across this Vietnamese grocery (above), which is located next door to a Vietnamese bar/pool hall. I popped in just to check out the ambience. To say it was authentic would be something of an understatement. Exotic fruits and veggies could be seen at every twist & turn. They had a fine selection of Asian DVDs. The owner barked at employees in a manner that oddly reminded of that scene in “The Deer Hunter.” Thankfully, no Russian Roulette was involved.  

Shrimp chips seemed right at home at Vien Dong. Especially in BLB.

The Eat Alabama Wild Shrimp campaign has recently morphed into Eat Wild Alabama Seafood. This latest, more inclusive strategy seems to be paying off. The organization’s marketing office is located in an older strip mall on the edge of Bayou La Batre. I spent about a half hour chatting with office administrator, Rosa Zirlott. Very nice lady. What a pleasant visit we had. Rosa really knows her stuff, that is for certain. And she is extremely passionate about her job. Rosa currently owns 2 shrimp boats and has been involved in the seafood industry for most of her life. She seemed fairly satisfied with the results her leadership is producing. Lots of work still remains and we are determined to do our part to assist Rosa and the countless area fishermen and shrimpers she represents. Learn more at http://www.eatalabamawildshrimp.com

As our brief meeting wrapped up, I asked Rosa Zirlott two quick parting questions:

1) “What is your favorite local seafood market?”

2) “Where can I get some good local shrimp for lunch?”

The answers followed, but not without some explanation. It turns out there are currently no retail seafood markets in Bayou La Batre. “How can that be?”,  I inquired. Well, Bayou La Batre apparently does not enjoy much traditional tourism — in part because of its rather remote location. Local residents either work in the seafood business or know someone who does. They tend to go straight to the source … cutting out the middle man. This also guarantees the exact origin of the product. Commercial fishing operations in BLB only tend to sell wholesale - and in large quantities.

As for my lunch plans, that answer was easier for Rosa to process. “We really only have 2 seafood restaurants in the vicinity. But one recently closed.” So process of elimination led me to The Lighthouse Restaurant, located a short drive away in nearby Irvington, AL. Rosa suggested I try the crab claws. She also urged me to stop by Jubilee Seafood on my way out of town … thinking they might sell me a couple pounds of fresh wild shrimp for the road. I decided to proceed directly to lunch at The Lighthouse. Maybe next time, Jubilee. I’ll be the dude with the flat top toting a giant ice chest.  

Jubilee Foods — “For All Your Seafood Needs”

The Lighthouse Restaurant is your typical Southern seafood dive … minus any water views. It is found a mile or so inland on Padgett Switch Road. The marquee out front (a scaled-down lighthouse that would be at home on a miniature golf course) was promoting the premiere of History Channel’s new BIG SHRIMPIN’ series. The show is sort of a DEADLIEST CATCH spin-off and it is being shot in and around Bayou La Batre.  

The hand-painted mural out front provides an old school touch.

The Lighthouse menu offers local seafood choices in abundance.

The lightly fried shrimp at The Lighthouse were just as scrumptious as I had anticipated. There just weren’t enough of them! The lunch platter, which costs $9.95 plus drink and tip, included 6 shrimp and 2 sides. The shrimp were the first to go. That took all of 2-3 minutes. After that, I was left with some frozen krinkle cut fries, a boring side salad with thick Thousand Island dressing, a few Captain’s Wafers, and 2 average hush puppies. And I swear the iced tea tasted like water. Next time I’ll order the large shrimp platter for $13.95 or maybe spring the additional two bucks for $15.95 Seafood Platter (see menu above). I’m sure that’s great. Sounds great. I’ll also skip the tea and order an ice cold beer — unless it’s a work day, of course.    

Lighthouse Restaurant – 12495 Padgett Switch Road, Irvington, AL

(251) 824-2500

The Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar – Bon Secour, Alabama

18 Jun

The Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar is something of an Alabama tradition (they also have a location in Tuscaloosa). It takes a while for tourists to find it. Even locals are often late in discovering its many delicious charms. This is due in part to the eatery’s remote location off Alabama State Highway 10 in the historic fishing village of Bon Secour, Alabama. The Tin Top does indeed have a tin roof — but it is not rusted (that’s a B-52′s reference, friends).

A wrecked shrimp boat along the shores of the Bon Secour Bay

It was a very hot, steamy Saturday, but the outdoor patio seemed like a comfortable place to drop anchor for a few minutes. Fans circled rapidly overhead. That helped prevent things from getting too stifling. We settled at a well ventilated table with a good view of the TV and the massive daily menu chalk board. So many choices — so little room in my belly. 

The “Coco Loco Shrimp” appetizer looked tempting and it did not disappoint. In fact, it disappeared so quickly that I couldn’t get a picture of the dish. You might call it the culinary equivalent to the Bigfoot monster. The “coco” is due to an obvious infusion of coconut milk/shredded coconut. The “loco’ is likely used to describe the subtle, but noticeable spicy kick the dish delivers. The shrimp are fat and mega-fresh. It was all bowl licking good — and I’m not exaggerating, folks.   

Tin Top serves a retro Iceberg salad with ranch or blue cheese

I wasted no time in ordering the Tuna Steak Po-Boy topped with freshly sliced cucumber and a Wasabi ranch dressing. I couldn’t believe how much fresh-caught tuna came with this sandwich. And they only charged me $8.99! Now Tin Top is not often heralded as an inexpensive restaurant, but this was truly an amazing value. Tasted great too. The tuna was not overcooked (still a little pink inside). The veggies were crisp and farm fresh. The bread (buttered and grilled before serving) was authentic as well — New Orleans-style!

A closer look at one incredible Tuna Steak Po-Boy sandwich – YUM! 

When ordering sides at Tin Top, please don’t overlook their famous lima beans and andouille sausage combo. It’s a match made in culinary heaven. Trust me  … it’s really tasty … even if you are not a fan of lima beans. This dish may just convert you.  Tin Top owners Bob and Patty Hallmark have spent a lot of time in New Orleans and those influences show up in many of the restaurant’s offerings (including this one).

The Tin Top does collard greens right too. First and foremost, they are fresh — not canned. Please don’t ever serve me canned greens at a restaurant. I can eat those at home — and I NEVER do. There’s a reason for that, people. Tin Top’s collards, on the other hand, were rough chopped & smoky with a tiny hint of sweetness. That is definitely more my style.

All told, a strong first visit to the Tin Top. 

They get the little things right — and don’t miss on the big things either.

www.tintoprestaurant.com

Along the way back home to Fairhope, we took a brief detour for some homemade ice cream @ Joe’s Fabulicious in Foley. They are in a new roadside location this summer. But thankfully the quality and value remain sky high. I’d tried their homemade peach ice cream the weekend before and found it to be, well, fabulicious. Today I had a hankering for some old fashioned chocolate ice cream (sans cone).

Not sure about the Amish Maid, but the product speaks for itself

Joe’s Ice Cream in a cup — just $1.39 for one crazy good scoop!

King Neptune’s Seafood Goes Deep in Gulf Shores, Alabama

7 Jun

King Neptune’s has been a part of the Gulf Shores dining scene for quite some time now. I’ve lived in the general vicinity for over 2 years and I finally made the scene this past weekend. Cool looking little joint. From the outside it looks more like a seafood market than a restaurant.

They sell a lot of fried seafood & a lot of cold beer here at the King’s place.

It was HOT the day we stopped in. We had spent the morning on the beach and the 100 degree plus heat had pretty much zapped us of all our mojo. But the prospects of a great lunch put a slight spring back in my step. I walked in wearing my still-damp swim trunks, a pair of flip flops, and a baseball cap. I fit right in with the rest of the diners. Nice, cozy dining space — air conditioned too! 

Fried Shrimp (12) Basket with krinkle cut fries & a hushpuppies ($7.99). Quite a bargain, for sure. The prices jump up a bit at dinner time, but value is certainly the name of the game at King Neptune’s. The shrimp were not exactly huge. Probably classified as medium to large if you were buying them uncooked at your local seafood market. They were extremely flavorful. Butterflied and obviously quite fresh.  Not overcooked. I devoured every last bit — crunchy little tails and all.  

The dozen shrimp were delicious & gone too fast. Must order 24 next time.

Cole Slaw is done right at King Neptune’s. First of all, it’s nice and cool — like it was meant to be. It’s also light with just a hint of sweetness. The tiny flecks of celery seed are another traditional (and welcome) touch. Little things like this are noticed by food geeks like yours truly. My wife Eileen commented that she preferred white cornmeal in her hushpuppies. You see, that’s the kind of stuff we worry about in my family.

My first visit to King Neptune’s left me pretty impressed. We travel Highway 59 to Gulf Shores quite a bit during the summer months. King Neptune’s has earned its place on our short list of beach lunch stops. It was a pleasure, your salty highness. Long may you reign in the briny deep!

King Neptune’s – 1137 Gulf Shores Parkway (Hwy. 59), Gulf Shores, AL

www.kingneptuneseafoodrestaurant.com

Queen G’s Fries ‘Em Up Fresh

9 Apr

State-of-the-art fried oysters can be hard to find — even here on the Gulf Coast. We found them this week at Queen G’s Cafe on Mobile’s Old Shell Road. They open at 11 am. I arrived about 11:40 am. Just in time to beat the lunch rush. It’s a tiny little place with a limited indoor seating capacity. There are some additional seats outside, but that can be hit or miss depending on our rather fickle coastal weather patterns. I grabbed a small indoor table and shared the dining room with a single middle-aged couple. Their conversation was spirited and their food looked appealing.

Queen G’s is housed in an old circa 1950s drive-in. It used to be called “The Rebel Queen” back in the day and they have the photos inside to prove it. The bright teal paint job would have looked right at home on a 1957 Chevy. The black and white exterior awning preserved some of the retro vibe.  

I was tempted when I read about the Chicken & Dumplings special, but ultimately stayed strong and ordered a small plate of fried local oysters. I say small only because they call it that at Queen G’s. It’s actually pretty substantial with about 10 meaty cornmeal-coated oysters on each platter. The market price for this dish (with 2 sides) was $12. Order the large oyster plate and you may be ready for a mid-day siesta. Be forewarned.

The menu at Queen G’s is very cool looking. I’m a sucker for that old meets new look. Each meal (as you can see above) comes with a poofy square of cornbread and more than a couple of pats of real creamy butter. None of that greasy margarine or Country Crock crap. I notice these little things, so restaurateurs take note. The cornbread was just fine. Not really noteworthy in any way, but OK.

The fresh oysters are fried up to order at Queen G’s. Nice. A cornmeal coating really makes a difference. So much better than flour (if you ask me). They are prettied up on the plate with a few flecks of chopped green onion. I had my cocktail sauce and Tabasco at the ready and the oysters magically disappeared in just a matter of seconds. What a treat — especially on a weekday afternoon. For just a brief moment, I felt like royalty. I asked my server about the oysters point of origin. She informed me that they are farm raised in nearby Coden, AL. That explained their amazing sweetness. The local waters have been chilly due to some cool nights. That, from what I’ve been told, helps to deliver those sweet flavor notes.

My side of deviled eggs seemed like a good idea, but they could have been a little more devilish in my opinion. The presentation was nice – gussied up with paprika and parsley. The lime green serving bowl gave it a true elementary school cafeteria feel. I could tell the eggs had been sitting in the fridge for a while and the flavor was, well, just  a tad on the bland side. Nice effort, but they fell a little short this time. Not a big deal though.

My second side was rough chopped rutabagas. People love ‘em or hate ‘em. I dig ‘em. Really! They look unadorned in the above image, yet I am happy to report that they tasted fresh and well-seasoned. I only wish the portion size was larger. You don’t find rutabaga on many menues these days — even in the Heart of Dixie. They can be tedious to prepare and the canned variety just aren’t near as delicious.

Clean your plate at Queen G’s and you’ll be rewarded with a free scoop of ice cream. Pretty good incentive, for sure. But you probably won’t require any additional motivation here. The food is good and fresh and the surroundings cozy, yet comfy. I’ll be back and I hope to rub elbows with you at Queen G’s one day soon.

QUEEN G’S CAFE – 2518 Old Shell Road, Mobile, AL – 251 471 3361

Gulf Coast Foodways Organziation is Officially Unveiled

24 Mar

 

Gulf Coast Foodways is a new community of foodies on a mission to preserve and promote the rich culinary culture along the US Gulf Coast through education, events, documentaries, seminars and more. Gulf Coast Foodways will be a member driven organization and we’re currently looking for charter members and sponsors.

How exactly are we going to do all of this, you ask?  Through the development of thematic maps and tours, we can drive food tourism to our region. Through video documentation, we can capture and show off the unique culinary culture of our coast.  Cookbooks and published compilations of local food writings and treasured family recipes will draw attention to the traditional foodways of our area. 

We plan to hold periodic meetings for members to make connections and network. These events will include guest speakers on local topics and you can always count on a good meal or two along the way. Our annual symposium weekend is now in the initial planning stage.  Hotel and restaurant industry members will always benefit from the trails, meetings, and symposiums.

We’d like for you to play a key role in the creation of this tasty “gumbo.” 

 Your annual membership or sponsorship will:

 *Help finance research projects

*Promote food-related businesses along the Gulf Coast

*Document local traditions & businesses preserving them

*Promote and grow food tourism along the Gulf Coast

*Underwrite any necessary administrative costs

 In return, your benefits will include:

 *Bi-annual e-newsletter

*Profile feature on the Gulf Coast Foodways blog: www.gulfcoastfoodways.wordpress.com 

*10% off all Gulf Coast Foodways event registration

*Priority registration for events

*Discounts at participating restaurants/shops

 We urge you to join this worthy cause today.

Contact Eileen or Gary Saunders at gulfcoastfoodways@yahoo.com.

***Pass this note along to your friends and LIKE us on FACEBOOK.

Our Return Visit to Apalachicola, Florida

2 Jan

The Coombs House Inn (above) was once again our home base on this brief visit to the FL panhandle. Apalachicola is Florida’s seafood capital and the Coombs House, along with the historic Gibson Inn, is a great choice for overnight accomodations. Lizette, our hostess this go around, was very helpful — from booking our stay to serving breakfast to offering up local dining tips.

Asian accents inside the Coombs House Inn. It is a tastefully decorated estate.

The Raney Room — our accomodations for the evening. Comfortable!

Our breakfast of Egg Souffle, fresh fruit, & hash browns. This picture doesn’t do it justice. It was delicious — especially on an unseasonably chilly, overcast morning along the Gulf Coast. We were also on the receiving end of some tasty snacks and good wines during their Saturday evening guest reception.

That Place Off 98 was suggested by Lizette as a favorite dining spot for locals. It once was on Highway 98, but is now relocated to downtown Apalachicola. The name stuck — that must mean people liked it. Right? It looked cozy enough, so we hit it for lunch on a Saturday afternoon. It was something of a late lunch for us and the crowd in the dining room was light. Guess that’s to be expected since they were missing the weekday business crowd.

The doors were decorated for the holidays. Beautiful colors, huh?

The dining room at That Place Off 98. A casual place – as is Apalach in general.

Panhandle Stew — the highlight of my meal. In fact, I might even say the dining highlight of the entire trip. Yes, it was that good. Think a really good clam chowder … minus the clams … plus loads of taters, carrots, and fresh Gulf fish. Huge chunks of fish rising out of the creamy stew like gigantic icebergs of moist, flaky deliciousness. The cup was not enough. I needed a bowl. Check that — I should have ordered a bucket full. Amazing stuff. If only I could score the recipe.

“Oysters Apalach” with garlic and parmesan cheese. Small but mighty in flavor.

The Hole in the Wall Raw Bar was our dinner destination. Cool little place — and I do mean little. It is very clean inside and the help made us feel right at home. We were seated at the tall boy tables in the center of the dining area. A young couple next to us were already hard at work peeling the shells off some freshly boiled shrimp.

Menu specials at Hole in the Wall. The price was right for raw oysters!

I started with a very meaty cup of gumbo. It was delicious … especially after adding a dash of salt and a splash of Tabasco sauce. They sure don’t skimp on the ingredients. Much like my Panhandle Stew earlier in the day, the gumbo at Hole in the Wall featured huge chunks of meat and vegetables. Really hit the spot on a bone chilling evening.

Eileen ordered this delicious boiled shrimp platter. Just $10.95 for all this!

Gator mural inside The Hole in the Wall. A fine example of coastal folk art.

Little Mom & Pop seafood markets like this can be found all over the region.

The Owl Cafe is another popular downtown eatery. Maybe next trip???

The main entry at the Owl Cafe. Nice looking place for dinner & drinks.

Don’t miss this wonderful antique store. It is chock full of nautical delights.

Vintage scuba helmet — glub, glub, glub. Would look great on my mantle piece.

Life preservers — not the candy kind — but still SWEET!

Other nautical finds to be discovered at The Tin Shed in Apalachicola.

This old graveyard is directly across from the Coombs House Inn.

Another old seafood market. My colorized version for added affect.

Sunset over the Apalachicola Bay — such a lovely part of Old Florida!

www.apalachicolabay.org

Blessing of the Fleet 2010 – Bayou La Batre, AL

14 May

Eat Wild American Shrimp — please!

27 Apr

Are you and your family being bamboozled???

Learn more at www.wildamericanshrimp.com

Our First Visit to Bon Secour, Alabama

18 Apr

Scenic and sleepy Bon Secour, AL is just a short hour ride from our home in Fairhope. It’s an even shorter drive from Gulf Shores, which is a big tourist destination during the late Spring and Summer months. The signs you see above are typical of ones you will view as you cruise AL State Highway 10 to little Bon Secour (French for “Good Help”).

We spotted this beautiful little church along Hwy 10. I had to stop to take a picture, which was made more difficult by a gentleman on a riding mower who was circling the church at Talladega-like speeds.

Bon Secour has a rich history. It was originally a French fishing village settlement dating back to the late 19th century. Currently it is a waterfront community that serves as a safe harbor to a current commercial fishing fleet. Named by Jacques Cook, a French Canadian from Montreal, a member of Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville‘s colonizing expedition of 1699. He was a participant in the founding of Mobile in 1702.

Billy’s Seafood, along with Bon Secour Fisheries, pretty much make up the bulk of the Bon Secour economy. Some folks assume Billy’s is a restaurant, but it is not. It is strictly a fresh seafood market. However, that doesn’t stop some people from grabbing a pound or two of boiled crawfish and chowing down while sitting on the hood of their car or back of their boat.

Oysters are king in Bon Secour. Look at all the discarded shells!

This old shrimp boat has obviously seen its better days.

Entrance to Billy’s Seafood in Bon Secour.

Looks like a scene right out of the film “Forrest Gump.” Bon Secour is a very Southern gothic, picturesque place, with huge live oak trees dripping in Spanish moss, great blue herons, brown pelicans, ever present bottle-nosed dolphin pods and the potent smell of salty gulf waters everywhere.

Other than the relatively small, family owned, seafood processing plants, Bon Secour is primarily made up of many rural neighborhoods, most of which enjoy beautiful vistas of the Bon Secour River and Bon Secour Bay. Brown Pelicans are everywhere and locals often see aligators from time to time, plying the waters of the estuarial system from the head waters of the Bon Secour River to the bay. One can see baby bottle-nosed dolphins playing near the mouth of the river at any time.

This crate of blue crabs was being circled by a very wise cat.

No lie … they do have a great selection of water critters!

These Royal Red shrimp were massive — and cheap!

Religious messages are seen throughout the property.

Jesus does love you — and so do the fine folks at Billy’s.

The historic Swift/Coles home (1882) draws visitors to Bon Secour.

The light blue porch ceilings help to keep the wasps away.

http://www.swstir.com/color-smarts/article/the-whys-behind-the-blue-porch-ceiling/

Right out of a Tennessee Williams script, don’t ya think?

Florida’s Forgotten Coast

27 Oct

We just returned from a wonderful weekend along Florida’s panhandle. Our home base was the historic fishing village of Apalachicola. What a great little place — lots of history and character. Also lots of characters! The area is inhabited with very prideful, down to earth folks who are clinging to their time honored ways of life. Development is rapidly encroaching around them, but these residents remain hopeful that their delicate eco-system will not be spoiled. They celebrate the slower pace and older ways of doing things and are fighting hard to protect it all.      

The economy here has always been based on the seafood industry. Apalach oysters and Alligator Point clams are quite famous to foodies everywhere. The area boasts countless seafood markets, oyster houses, bait & tackle shops, and the like. But there are also a growing number of trendy book stores, elegant cafes, and coffee shops. Oh yes — and antique shoppes — everywhere you turn. It certainly appears that the yuppies are coming.

We witnessed a beautiful Saturday sunset on the Apalachicola Bay. There is such a simple charm to watching the sun disappear in the evening … especially when you’re also looking at boats and shorebirds of all kinds. Herons, gulls, pelicans — they’re all here in bountiful numbers. They are no dummies, these feathered friends. If I was a bird (or a cat for that matter), this would make for a pretty nice hangout.

We got a chuckle out of this diver chilling out on a downtown sidewalk. This snapshot was taken just outside the entrance to the Apalachicola Sponge Company. Yes folks, there is a store here that caters to all (well, virtually all) of your sponge needs. The sponges are all-natural and harvested from the surrounding brackish waters. You can pick up a shower sponge and an oval of magnolia-scented goat’s milk soap for about $8. Put a few of these combos on your Christmas list for those loved ones you deem either in need of a good bath or “spongeworthy.” 

Room 309 in the Gibson Inn is said to be haunted by an old sea captain. We learned that he booked that room so he could keep an eye (Get it? Eye??? RRRRRRRRRRR!!!!) on his ship, which was usually docked just a block or so away on the waterfront. The old salt once dated one of the early innkeepers and he’s said to have quite a sense of humor. For example, some guests have sworn that someone was tickling their feet at night. Room #309 is the most asked-for unit in the inn, so make your plans well in advance if you wish to spend a night with this friendly sea-faring ghost.  

The town’s graveyards are shaded by live oaks & creepy hanging moss. We learned that a number of the graveyard’s “residents” were victims of shipwrecks and other ghastly ways to go. Our two sons were a little spooked and didn’t stray too far from us that night. It’s a good thing. Our bed & breakfast (the exquisite Coombs House Inn) was situated directly across Avenue E from the cemetery. OOOOOOO!

We came across this star fish on the secluded beach of St George Island. It was huge and still very much alive. We admired it for a while and then let it slowly move on. The white sand beaches of St. George Island were simply loaded with great shells and all varieties of tiny sea creatures. We spotted horseshoe crabs, slimey sea cucumbers, clams, sponges, coral, olives, sea pansies, cockles, tortoise eggs and scallops. A fellow adventurer even spotted a black bear roaming nearby as we were combing the shores of Alligator Point on Sunday morning. That news sent all of us scurrying for the comfort of Momma’s Ford mini-van. Sorry, I don’t mess with bears or snakes.   

This oyster boat was floating off the deck of The Boss Oyster restaurant. Look for my review of the Boss in the next few days. This trip provided so much great material — it will take me days .. maybe weeks to get it all out. The caption on the side of the boat stated, “Shut Up and Shuck!”

I snapped this sign on the facade of the historic Indian Pass Raw Bar. This is an awesome old place located way, way out in the boonies. You will pass a gazillion (no lie, I counted them) towering pine trees on your drive from beautiful downtown Apalachicola. Grab a cold brew from the cooler and then watch with admiration and awe as a master shucker prepares your heroes on a half shell. This joint is rumored to be haunted as well, so slurp quickly before the house goblins re-develop a taste for these fresh, briney bi-valves.

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