Our first stop was at the Alabama Welcome Center, for a state map and a sack full of literature on what to do and see in the area. After handing us the state map, the Welcome Center host asked if there was anything specific we were interested in seeing or doing in Alabama. My answer? “We’re interested in eating! We looking for whatever is a local specialty.”
Boy, were they prepared for us. She whipped out a brochure called “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die”. Wow! This is my kind of state. Though we are planning to stay in Summerdale for a week, there are so many dishes listed for this area (the little boot heel around Mobile Bay that provides Alabama’s very limited Gulf access) that we can’t eat them all. We’ll do our best.
First on the agenda on Monday: walk two full loops around this huge campground, 8,000 steps. Thus exercised, we made the short (10 mile) drive to Fairhope, located on the shore of Mobile Bay and home to two restaurants featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (Food Network show) and FIVE of the dishes we are advised to eat before we die. Our target was Panini Pete’s, featured on both the show and the list.
It was a warm and cloudy day, and sprinkles began before we had any time to explore the appealing downtown of Fairhope, right on the shore of Mobile Bay. We scurried on over to Panini Pete’s, just before the lunch crush – and the rain – began.
The tiny restaurant held seating for around 18 people, with half again that many on the back deck, covered (mostly) with a canvas awning. Our particular outdoor table was only half covered, more noticeable when sprinkles turned to rain after we placed our order. The waitresses took care of us, scooting us back inside as soon as a table opened up. Here is Odel at our little corner table, happy to be dry and keeping his eye on the kitchen behind me. The wall behind him is a semi-shrine of the many accolades awarded the food.
Panini Pete’s is known (at least by Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives viewers) for their fresh mozzarella cheese and their specialty turkey: a boned, butter-flied turkey breast, seasoned and rolled, wrapped in three layers of foil and deep-fried! They also hand-cut potatoes for fries and chips. The lunch special was a Philly Cheese Steak Panini, highly recommended by our waitress.
We ordered a turkey panini (which included the mozzarella cheese) and a philly cheesesteak panini, with fries and chips as our sides. The “Thing to Eat Before You Die” is Panini Pete’s Muffaletta Panini. I LOVE Muffaletta… we really needed a friend along to make the meal complete!
This picture shows a half of each of the sandwiches (a un-named someone was too hungry while I got out the camera). Both were outstanding. The fries, on the other hand… we didn’t even eat them! They look good, but were very limp and bland. The chips were delicious, thin and crispy, so we concentrated on those (calorie management – it’s our new approach).
No lounging at the table after lunch, as other hungry diners eyed our table enviously. The sprinkles had stopped, so we walked over to the Fairhope Visitor’s Center for a map and local color, amply provided by the friendly senior staffing the counter. He touched on something I had read about briefly, the Mobile Bay jubilee.
Fairhope Welcome Center
Fish in shallow water during a jubilee
Sounds like a celebration of some sort, eh? A Jubilee is the phenomenon of fish and crab schooling up into the shallow water along the shoreline, ready to be scooped up by the dozens. Click here to read more about it… it is a fascinating event to me, and is said to occur only in Mobile Bay, Alabama and Tokyo Bay in Japan. I snagged the photo from the web, showing the jubilee at the Fairhope Yacht Club.
Our agenda today was not much different, except that we drove to the ocean for our exercise, to Gulf Shores State Park. This HUGE park includes several miles of gulf coast beaches, a golf course, a campground with over 400 sites (and all but a handful filled today), a large freshwater lake, several trails, and Alabama’s longest pier (1/4 mile).
After a stop at the golf course (where Odel made a tee time for Friday), we headed down to the beach for our day’s exercise. It was overcast, warm and humid… in keeping with the forecast for thunderstorms beginning later tonight.
Once we felt sufficiently virtuous, we were off to our lunch spot, recommended to us by our friends Jo and Fred Wishnie. The recommendation was offered when we wondered on Facebook about where we could eat the highly-touted local shrimp, Royal Reds. The Wishnies had sampled them at the Tin Top Restaurant in Bon Secour, which was on our route back home – and also close to Billy’s Seafood, where I wanted to purchase fresh grouper and shrimp for the new recipe I am trying out tonight, Moroccan Pan Roasted Seafood.
Royal Reds weren’t on the lunch menu – no problem, as we are planning to have them for dinner tomorrow night. A big “thank you” to Odel, who ordered yet another Shrimp Po’Boy so we could taste one here in Alabama (our goal is to have one from each of the Gulf Coast states). I ordered blackened fish (catfish) with two sides: collards, and lima beans with andouille sausage. Dy-no-mite! Good, good… all GOOD!
Buttermilk Chess Pie was on the dessert menu – another southern specialty that we rarely have the chance to sample… so of course we split a piece. We recommend lunch at the Tin Top whole-heartedly.
Then we were off another couple of miles down the road to Billy’s Seafood. Outside, fishing and shrimping vessels were docked a few feet from the retail store; inside, a long row of iced bins held over half a dozen sizes and kinds of shrimp, along with whole and filleted fresh fish. One pound of grouper, one pound of shrimp, all packed up in about 5 pounds of ice, and we were heading home.
The fishing fleet at Billy’s dock.
Billy’s retail shop.