Strange how freezing cold weather and dreary gray days cause those of us living in the American snowbelt to dream of warmer weather. It’s wintery times like these when I recall the clear blue skies and fun in the sun on the white sugar-sand beaches of Alabama’s Gulf Coast: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. However, there’s more than just great weather and turquoise waters on Alabama’s Gulf Coast as this area is a foodie haven for good eats – especially fresh and fried seafood – a staple in this region.
Located about halfway between Tallahassee, Florida and New Orleans, and about an hour from Pensacola, is a 32-mile stretch of Alabama beaches that are lesser known from their pricier resort counterparts to the east. This is precisely why it is one of the best values on the Gulf, offering an affordable selection of spacious resorts for those times you just need to escape the cold for the sun and warmth of the south. This is where you want to come if you want to bask in luxurious comfort for a lot less money: this is all about value.
During a recent getaway trip for some of my friends and me, we stayed at the spacious Turquoise Place. A Spectrum Resorts (www.spectrumresorts.com), this place offers panoramic views on the Gulf with plenty of space to spread out and toast the sunset with friends. A central location, accommodations range from luxurious 3 to 5-bedroom residences with balconies that contain private hot tubs and outdoor kitchens. TIP: Because everything is rather spread out, including the many great places to eat, a car is a must if you intend to get around.
It’s All About Seafood
There’s no way I can come to Alabama’s Gulf Coast without getting my seafood fix of shrimp (especially the prized Royal Red Shrimp), oysters, crab, clams, flounder and catfish. A good place to start is at The Hangout in Gulf Shores, a place where you can enjoy food, festivities, and family. It’s a foodie destination; here you can groove on live music, dance in the sand, play a game of volleyball, or watch a magician. Fun and food are meant to be mixed.
For starters, try the Wild Frickles – lightly breaded pickle slices fried to a golden brown and served with ranch dressing. Then follow it with an appetizer of “Shaka-Shaka” Shrimp, where you can have grilled or fried Gulf shrimp blessed with their specialty “Shaka-Shaka” sauce. Fish Tacos are a mainstay and should be followed with Key Lime Pie made by Hope. Be sure to save room for the bread pudding, which is made from scratch and served with a warm whiskey sauce. One of the best for miles around!
Though the Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar in Bon Secour is a tad off the beaten path; nevertheless, it is well worth the drive to dine in the ambiance of their Spanish-moss covered patio. Owners Bob and Patty Hallmark prepare fresh local seafood with a New Orleans twist and southern coastal flare, topped off with large doses of southern hospitality. You just can’t go wrong here as everything is delicious. First try the Seafood Gumbo, followed by The Tin Top Platter – a winning combination of crab cake, fish, oysters and shrimp served, either broiled or fried. You choose. Then share desserts with your friends, (so you can try several), and try the ubiquitous Key Lime Pie, Buttermilk Chess Pie, and the Strawberry Bread Pudding with White Chocolate Sauce.
My favorite for shrimp is King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant, an institution since 1993. Some call it a hole-in-the-wall but I call it a local place oozing with character, simple in décor, with some of the freshest seafood around. Owners Al & Diane Sawyer have been around food most of their lives, and claim that their passion and years of experience are what set them apart. “We’ve just always focused on providing our guests great food,” says Al Sawyer. “That comes easily to us, because of our experience and our love of fresh seafood from the Alabama Coast.”
This is the place to come for the royal reds, deep water shrimp that are known for their ruby coloring and their delectable taste that lingers on the taste buds with a long, sweet, buttery taste. Don’t hold back here – just go ahead and order the Combination Seafood Platter, either broiled or fried, with an order of ruby reds as extra. With butterflied shrimp, deep sea scallops, extra select oysters, filet of flounder and crab cake, you’ll think everything was caught the same day since the taste is as if it just came off the hook or from the net. It’s truly that fresh.
Desserts reign supreme here so order it for take-out if you must. More preferable is sharing several dessert choices with friends. The Key Lime Pie is wonderfully tart yet smooth and the Fried Cheesecake is so sinful, so decadent that you might have to offer some prayers afterwards for transgressions with rich food. After all, this is a New York style cheesecake rolled in cornflake crumbs and fried crisp with a topping of toasted pecans in a praline sauce.
The Round-Up of Winners
After comparing notes with my friends, here’s a list of the best eats on the Alabama Gulf Coast. The winners are:
- Best Seafood Gumbo – Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar
- Best Combination Seafood Platter – King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant
- Best Fried Shrimp – The Hangout
- Best Key Lime Pie – Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar
- Best Bread Pudding – The Hangout
- Best Fried Cheesecake – King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant
IF YOU GO:
Tin Top Restaurant and Oyster Bar
King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant