In 2012, the Alabama Tourism Department is celebrating our state’s greatest gift. It isn’t the white sandy beaches, the nationally recognized folk art, or the unbelievable music history. It’s the food. From fried green tomatoes to Belle Chevre goat cheese to Gulf oysters on the half shell, Alabama’s cuisine alone is worth a visit to the Heart of Dixie.
The Tourism Department is honoring “The Year of Alabama Food” with a book of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die along with five “culinary trails” that can help any foodie navigate the state. For seafood lovers, tourism officials recommend the southern-most culinary tour, which centers around Gulf Shores. The Coastal Cuisine Trail winds its way from the sunrise sights of Point Clear on Mobile Bay to after-hour locales in the peoples’ playgrounds of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
Each of the five restaurants featured on the trail offer dishes featured on the tourism department’s 100 Dishes. And the one constant linking most of those five signature destinations, besides guaranteed relaxation, is fresh Alabama Gulf Seafood. The Trail suggests starting with breakfast at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear for the lump crabmeat scramble. “This dish features fresh lump crabmeat pan fried to perfection and served with fluffy scrambled eggs,” according to the Year of Alabama Food website.
Next stop is LuLu’s at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores. Located prominently on the Alabama Intercoastal Waterway, LuLu Buffett’s home away from home is a must-stop for “anyone seeking that quintessential laid-back beach vibe and tasty food to boot.” As a trail stop, LuLu’s gumbo is highlighted as a dish “packed full of Gulf Coast flavor,” and its bounteous seafood. And just like her brother Jimmy Buffett, mayor of Margaritaville, LuLu’s is also known for great live music.
The first beachfront stop on the Coastal Cuisine Trail is the Hangout in Gulf Shores. Home of the now-famous Hangout Music Fest that brings tens of thousands to the beach each May, the Hangout is well known for its burgers – especially the Wipeout Burger. It also offers plenty of Alabama-caught fresh seafood.
Then it’s time for an afternoon palate cleanser at Hope’s Cheesecake, the fourth stop on the trail. Hope’s key lime cheesecake is a perfect fit for the seafood palette.
The last stop on the trail is Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar in Orange Beach. Located near Wolf Bay, Cosmo’s is known for its outdoor patio and live entertainment during peak seasons, though its menu is also a source of delight. Especially notable are the fresh Gulf-caught sea bass wrapped in banana leaves, the sushi, and their signature cocktails.
In recent surveys, “dining out and fresh seafood was a common theme that showed up with everyone, whether children or adults,” said Brian S. Jones, regional director for the Alabama Tourism Dept. “That’s one of the highlights of their vacation.” For folks with such aspirations, the Coastal Cuisine Trail fits right in, no matter where they call home. “Whether they’re in Huntsville, Nashville or Cincinnati, it allows people to get a great taste of the Gulf,” Jones said.
By MICHAEL DUMAS for ASMC