Archive | June, 2011

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!

Government Street Grocery Burger’s True Greatness May Require Beer Goggles

11 Jun

The internet buzz about the burgers at Ocean Springs, Mississippi’s Government Street Grocery is quite impressive. Lots of glowing commentary about the Grocery Burger’s deliciousness. It eventually peaked my interest — I must admit. I don’t eat a lot of burgers … especially the red meat variety. But a really well made hamburger is a hard thing to resist.

The Government Street Grocery is perhaps best known as a bar and a live music venue. It’s located in a quaint neighborhood in Ocean Springs, which is one of our favorite little Gulf Coast towns. This is a very arsty, fartsy community. World renowned artist Walter Anderson played a major role in putting Ocean Springs on the map. In fact, the Anderson Museum is a must-see attraction when you’re in this part of the world.

Where there’s cold beer, there is normally a good hamburger lurking on a nearby grill. Burgers are classic American pub food. And it is no different here on the Gulf Coast, even though the region’s fresh seafood overshadows just about everything else on local menues. With good reason, too!

I sat down with my good friend and Coastal Mississippi native Lloyd Hebert for a Friday afternoon lunch. I ordered the Grocery Burger and a side of fried okra. Lloyd opted for a Roast Beef po-boy with a steaming hot bowl of brown dipping gravy. Our waitress applauded my decision to go for the burger. She even recommended the okra. The burger was so-so … the okra was more like medi-0kra. The burger wasn’t bad. And I did finish it. But it was not unlike hundreds of burgers I have eaten before. Not a thing special or unique about it. Edible but forgettable, you might say.

The okra, to my shock and horror, was the pre-breaded, frozen junk. Now I am an okra-holic and this is JUST — NOT — ACCEPTABLE. Restaurants in the Deep South serving frozen, pre-breaded okra should be required by law to post a warning in LARGE TYPE on their menues. It’s just wrong on every level. So doggone wrong.

Summation: Government Grocery = cool, funky bar. Memorable dining it is not.

“Persian” made with potato flour from the Tato-Nut Cafe

So just when I thought we were looking at a missed opportunity, Lloyd steered me to a very cool little doughnut shop just a few doors down Government Street. It seems Tato-Nut is a remnant from the old SpudNut franchises of the 1960s. SpudNut was all over the U.S. map back in the day, but pretty much all of those stores are now a distant memory.

Tato-Nut somehow hung on — changing its name along the way, but not its special dough made with potato flour. Lloyd suggested the “Persian” (sort of a cross between a cinnamon roll and a honey bun). It was fresh, packed with cinnamon flavor, and pretty darn dee-lish. So we ended our dining adventure on a positive note after all. Good work, Lloydster!

Government Street Grocery – 1210 Government St., Ocean Springs, MS

www.myspace.com/govtstreetgrocery

Tato-Nut Cafe – 1114 Government St., Ocean Springs, MS

228 872-2076

www.facebook.com/pages/Tato-Nut-Cafe/67854397723

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