Saturday, July 23, 2011

Down Home at the Gulf

Singing "Sweet Home Alabama" all summer long...
Last week I covered Madame Owner's (MO for short) antiquing and general nonsense while she and her friend were the guests of Holly Hobby come to life, living in a rustic beach cottage on the bay in Gulf Shores. This week let's talk food! You can find good food other than seafood in and around this area, but why?

In the tourist season, Memorial Day to Labor Day expect a long wait (2 hours) most places if you wait until dinner time. Parents start to round up kids from the water around 4:30. By the time everyone is convinced to head to the condo for baths and clean clothes and dad can round everyone up while mom finishes her make-up, it's six. Dad parks and you have arrived at exactly the same time as every other sunburned family with cranky kids who are suddenly starving to death though just two hours ago they swore off dinner altogether if they could just stay in the surf or pool a few more minutes.  Drag the kids out just an hour earlier and you can cut the wait time in half.

Original Oyster HouseOne of the landmark restaurants in Gulf Shores is The Original Oyster House. It is situated in an area with several interesting shops so you can contemplate what piece of the beach to take home with you while you wait for your beeper to summon you to the hostess stand. The food is reasonably priced and it is very kid friendly. Your little darlings will be amused by the plastic alligator on their plate. MO had the shrimp florentine: "Shrimp stuffed with spinach, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese then topped with cream sauce." It was fabulous and beautifully presented, if you want seafood but cannot eat another fried shrimp. They have just recently (as in this month) been featured on Man Vs. Food and now offer a platter by that title. So good luck with that if it's your thing to see devouring food as a challenge. Here's what OOH's Facebook fan page says about the platter:
You have got to try our new Man vs. Food Platter available at both restaurant locations. This platter was created by Adam Richman, host of Man vs. Food with Original Oyster House owners Joe Roszkowski and David Dekle. Our new platter is $27.95 and includes the following seafood selections: Grilled Ahi Tuna, Shrimp Scampi, Fried Oysters, Stuffed Crab and Fried Crawfish Tails along with your choice of two side dishes

The Shrimp Basket is another moderately priced restaurant, and though nearly everyone orders fried shrimp, MO ordered the grilled shrimp skewers in Caribbean sauce which is served with shrimp slaw and toasted french bread. She passed on the slaw not being a big fan, but thought the entree was excellent.  For a more traditional family dining experience you can try Desoto's. MO had the shrimp bisque which was fair (not the best she's ever had, by far, THAT was at a cooking school in Memphis) though she probably could have done with a cup instead of the bowl, and a house salad. 

When MO travels to Gulf Shores with her family everyone wants to visit Lulu's. It is a destination dining experience. If you cross the Hwy. 59 bridge and hear loud music you might think there's a rowdy bar below but Lulu's is more of a place where mom and dad have a drink (something fun and colorful) with dinner while the kids play in one of the many sand pits, as opposed to someplace singles are going to tie one on and hook up.
Following the business plan of her famous brother (Lulu is Jimmy Buffet's sister) there is shopping for fun t-shirts while you wait for that beeper again. Such a clever idea to make money on folks while they wait instead of making them mad. The music aside from Buffet, of course is more vacation fare;
Lulu's at Homeport Marina on UrbanspoonAlan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, and some oldies too. There is live music every night. Is there anything not delicious on this menu? See the complete menu HERE.  There is also a special food allergy menu available. MO's friend had the fried green tomato BLT which is outrageously delicious! MO had the mahi sandwich which is good but she should have gotten the mahi tacos which are unbelievable. One thing that is everyone's favorite is the pina coloda smoothie, which is non alcoholic . It is delicious and everyone is going to need their own because no one will want to share. MO tried the mango one this time. Don't do it. It wasn't any where nearly as good as the pina colada and she was mad at herself for wasting the calories. Lulu has a new cook book out also called Crazy Sista Cooking. Well, now you have to love that. Every Saturday during tourist season Lulu's also hosts a Fresh Art Market featuring arts and crafts by local artists and a portion of the proceeds is donated to the local county school's fine art departments

Personally MO's favorite thing from the gift shop, since she didn't really need a fan disguised as a crab was a sign that said:

              ASAP: As southern as possible. 

Happy travels and eating, y'all!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Foley, AL. Antique Mystique

 My owner and her friend headed down to the Gulf of Mexico earlier this month. There is a tiny strip of Alabama coastline that Southerners like to refer to as The Redneck Riviera as I've told you before. They have a friend (that's her in the center) who sold everything and moved down there a couple of years ago with her husband. MO dreams of such things so she is only encouraged by the fact that now she knows someone who has actually done it. The plan for the week was simple, bask in the sun, bathe in the water and help the local economy by eating seafood and trolling antique stores. Oh yeah, and they were going to eat healthy and skip carbs in all forms.

Which of course leads us to Krispy Kreme with that sign that is flashing "hot doughnuts now".  MO is quite weak in the face of temptation. What's more wonderful than walking in the door and having someone shove a hot doughnut in your face? Not a lot it seems since the place was packed. Most grown ups do doughnuts with coffee but My Owner has the taste of a middle class American ten year old so of course she is going to want milk.

This Krispy Kreme is  in the next town to the north of Gulf Shores is Foley, where there is a Tanger Outlet Mall. MO and her friends were interested in hitting all the antique stores and adorable shops so they were not tempted, but if you are wanting to hit Coach, Anne Taylor Loft, and Ralph Lauren, then here's the link: Tanger Outlet Mall, Foley Al. 

One of the few places where mass produced food can be made appetizing.
 Fortified by doughnuts (the breakfast of shopping champions)  they were ready to move on to the goal of the day, shopping. There are plenty of places to throw down a little cash around Foley. For the most convenient place to walk to all the shops park on the southwest corner of E. Laurel and McKenzie.

Here's a link to a list and map of the stores, MO and her friends spent the most time in Ole Crush where you can view a huge collection of vintage Orange Crush memorabilia, but don't get too excited, it's not for sale.

For new and completely charming things for the home visit Bungalow's. Interesting and unusual treasures, not to mention Vera Bradley, fragrances, and candles. The store had unique gift items. 
For lunch in the area don't miss Stacey's Rexall Drugstore with its original soda fountain and counter. More about that in a couple of weeks. At the end of the day when her wallet was lighter, the car was heavier and her feet hurt, this is what My Owner was looking forward to.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Just Wandering

My Owner not only likes to travel, but to read travel magazines and essays. Lately she has come across a new addiction for collecting photos and ideas of where she would like to take me--Pinterest.
What is it--you ask? Here's the explanation from their own website.

"Pinterest is a Virtual Pinboard.
Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes.
Best of all, you can browse pinboards created by other people. Browsing pinboards is a fun way to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests."

Here are few photos from her "Wanderlust" bulletin board...

Those are nice, but I like this one the best. That third one from the bottom on the right looks like my old buddy, Vinnie.

Hey Vinnie, where ya been?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On the Road Again

GPS is a wonderful thing. It allowed my directionally challenged owner and her friend to drive directly to where they were going this week. MO double checked the instructions with a map just in case that bossy woman --TURN LEFT NOW--decided to have some fun and send them into some godforsaken backwater.

Two women traveling together for a week and heading to unfamiliar accommodations resulted in a trunk that included several bags, 6 round hairbrushes, an air mattress, a box fan, and MO's famous leopard print straw hat . They headed out early and after paying too much for gas at their first stop MO's  friend stopped to buy some cheap gas (all things are relative). She had some trouble with the pump and couldn't understand the cashier's hand motions. She pumped the gas and began driving off when she caught a glimpse in her review mirror of the attendant chasing her car and waving her arms wildly. She hadn't paid. It was all so Thelma and Louise only they hadn't meant to do it and Brad Pitt was no where to be found.

This trip was one MO had taken with her family for several years. Every year along the way there are things she wants to stop and see but she gets overridden by the majority. So she did have one request of her friend which was to stop at an abandoned school she was fascinated by along the way. So somewhere in Mississippi they found it and pulled over. They got out and walked around wondering about the building. The architecture was art deco and MO really wished she could have added some of those glass tiles to the odd collection of items in the trunk.

The destination for this trip was Gulf Shores, Alabama or as Southerners laughingly call it "Redneck Riviera." A tiny strip of coast with white sand that went unnoticed and largely undeveloped until the mid eighties. A shoreline that used to be home to hundreds of brightly colored, quirky, original beach houses, but that thanks to Katrina is now rife with generic condos. Still, it is starting to give its coastal competition, Destin a run for its money.

Staying with friends is tricky, especially when they aren't MO's. But as we know she has an adventuresome spirit and a high tolerance for rustic abodes. She was completely charmed by the residence (and residents!) who would be hosting them for the week.  Across the street from Mobile Bay it is in a fishing village founded in 1860, and the house was originally built as a fishing shack around 50 years ago. The charming couple who live here with their 9 cats don't normally use air conditioning but were thoughtful enough to turn it on for their guests.

Next week: Where they ate, what they saw, where they shopped and what they did.

If on the way down the car was full of an odd array of female necessities, they multiplied for the return trip home: Box fan, a double air mattress that was only halfway deflated, several kinds of chocolate including fudge, 3 gallon containers holding water and cuttings from the hostesses potato vines, stacks and stacks of magazines, fabulous tans, the party favors for MO's daughter's upcoming wedding, books from antique stores, sand, fresh peaches, and boiled peanuts.

Somewhere in Mississippi they spied a Subway and pulled in. Next door there was a gas station and a large African American man in overalls and a straw hat tending two grills made from metal drums. When you see something like that in the south you stop. You stop because the food is going to be amazing. MO cursed her camera that died halfway through her trip. They went inside and struggled to decide between the ribs, sandwiches, or chicken quarters, but finally ordered the pulled pork sandwiches sat down to take a bite. They looked at each other. They agreed that it was the best barbecue they had ever eaten...and they've eaten a lot of it. The cook came in and sat down next to them in the gas station and they told him how much they were enjoying the fruits of his labor. It turned out that he had worked at the same plant for 32 years until it closed when the economy went bad and he decided to start his own business. The barbecue was tasting better and better as he talked.  So if you are traveling on Alternate 45 in Mississippi look for the smoking grills in front of the Exxon in Noxobee County. Tony will be out front there reinventing himself from employee to entrepreneur.
Tony's Bbq of West Point Urban Spoon Link HERE!

Tony's Bbq on Urbanspoon

Happy travels and eating, y'all!
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