The Gulf Shores and Orange Beach areas of Alabama are fast becoming some of Alabama’s most popular destinations. Its miles of white sand beaches combined with attractions ranging from cruises to history are a big reason to visit, but its fantastic dining options are a big factor as well.
From fresh-caught fish to Cajun- and Caribbean-influenced fare, and from casual meals to upscale waterfront dining, here are some of my favorites from a recent visit.
They are not listed in order and I was hosted for this trip by Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism; all opinions are my own.
1. Brick And Spoon
If you’re searching for a creative breakfast or lunch with a Cajun flair, Brick and Spoon is the place for you. You can start your day with the Bananas Foster French Toast as I did, or go to the wild side and have the Wild Mary as one of my friends ordered. The Wild Mary is a bloody Mary served in a salt-rimmed glass topped with a small salad comprised of two slices of crispy bacon, a pepper, asparagus, okra, a carrot strip, and more veggies. Along with the typical coffee, tea, and soft drinks, they serve a nice selection of mimosas and cocktails.
2. Sassy Bass Amazin’ Grill
If you’re visiting Fort Morgan, Sassy Bass Amazin’ Grill is the place to stop for a tasty meal or forgotten supplies. Besides a full restaurant with a Caribbean feel, there is a market where you can pick up a jar of local pickles to top off your picnic sandwiches or a cute t-shirt to send back home to the friend who couldn’t make the trip.
If you do the breakfast buffet, I recommend trying the French toast or the biscuits and gravy. For 5 years in a row, Sassy Bass has made the “Top 13 Best Buffets in Alabama.”
For lunch or dinner, they are famous for their Navy Cove Bay oysters served on a half shell. They are harvested directly from their farm in Navy Cove Bay, Fort Morgan, Alabama. We shared a few for an appetizer and, while I am not a big raw oyster fan, these tasted good. I chose the peel-and-eat shrimp for my entrée and loved it.
The Caribbean influence carries over to their drinks. One is named Jamaican Me Crazy, with Captain Morgan rum, blue curaco, orange juice, pineapple, lime, and coconut juice. If you’re feeling musically inclined, just pick one of their guitars off the wall and start playing and singing.
3. The Gulf
If you feel like casual dining on a gulf beach, try The Gulf. The Gulf is the most environmentally-friendly restaurant I have ever eaten at. It’s built with skillfully re-designed shipping containers using recycled material for the counters and decorations. Their menu changes daily since they use local produce and the seafood they serve was swimming in the water the day before. I ordered at a counter, bypassed the patio, and joined my friends at a table on the sandy beach. They gave each of us a device that lets the server locate your table.
Seafood rules here. My peel-and-eat shrimps were huge and tender with seasoning I can only expect to find in my native Louisiana. Other local seafood choices when I visited were snow crab legs, lobster, and fish choices. For anyone who is not a seafood lover, they offer burgers, chicken, and other choices.
4. Fresh Off The Boat
Another more upscale waterfront dining spot I visited for dinner is Fresh Off The Boat. It’s at SanRoc Cay Marina and offers upper or lower decks and inside dining. As the name suggests, seafood rules here as well. Some of the menu items show their strong Louisiana influence, like NOLA barbecue shrimp, fried boudin balls, duck & sausage, or seafood gumbo, but there are many other choices ranging from burgers to steaks. If you’re a fisherman and caught your own food, they do a “hooked and cooked” option where they cook your fish and serve it to you family-style.
Thursday through Sunday, you’ll find live music here.
The most upscale white tablecloth dining I visited in Gulf Shores was Voyagers. This one’s dinner only, located inside Perdido Beach Resort — the largest privately-owned and operated Orange Beach, Alabama, hotel. Both Voyagers and the resort’s more casual family-style restaurant, Latitude, offer wonderful views of the gulf. Voyagers’ floor-to-ceiling windows and muted furnishing offer a relaxing atmosphere to enjoy mainly seafood or steak offerings paired with fine wines and cocktails. After the much-too-filling meal, we had to sample some dessert. How can you choose between caramel corn on the cob and chocolate-dipped strawberries?
Chef Brody Olive, who was named 2020 Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association (ARHA) Restaurateur of the Year, stopped by our table to ask how we enjoyed his food. He got a resounding “Oh, yes!” from all of us.
6. Safari Club
One of the most unusual new restaurants in Gulf Shores is Safari Club at the new Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. The zoo became famous after it’s heroic efforts to move all its inhabitants to safety when Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004. It was featured in an Animal Planet documentary called The Little Zoo That Could. In 2020, it moved to a larger, safer location and the Safari Club adjourns it now. One of the first things I saw when entering the restaurant was a life-sized giraffe sculpture. The back deck overlooks the zoo grounds. Where else can you dine with lions and tigers roaring in the background and the zoo’s carousel spinning just yards away?
It’s Alabama’s first certified “green restaurant.” Executive chef Greg Buschmohle has created a full line of vegetarian and vegan offerings along with the tapas and main dishes for carnivores; artisan pizzas, my favorite, are cooked in a wood-fired oven, and steaks and chicken on an open-fire grill. Like almost all other Gulf Shores restaurants, they serve lots of seafood, all locally-sourced.
Their full-service Bar Tusk donates a percentage of profits from each drink to a conservation to protect elephants. Safari Club is mainly a lunch and brunch restaurant. On Sunday, it serves brunch from 10 a.m.–3 p.m., Monday–Wednesday it’s open from 11 a.m.–4 p.m., and Thursday–Saturday it’s open 11 a.m.–8 p.m.
Woodside is one of two restaurants in Gulf State Park. It’s very casual and open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can dine inside or outside. There are games outside on the green and normally firepits to roast s’mores. When we visited for dessert, the fire pits were being upgraded so we had to settle for a s’mores jar, a combination of the s’mores ingredients in a small mason jar. There’s live music in the evening in the small amphitheater outside.
Probably the most famous restaurant in the Gulf Shores area is LuLu’s, owned by Lucy Buffett, the little sister of singer Jimmy Buffett. After cooking her way from her hometown in Alabama to New York, New Orleans, the Caribbean, Key West, and Los Angeles, plus working as personal chef and assistant to a couple of movie stars, Lucy opened her first small restaurant on Week’s Bay in Fairhope, Alabama. She called it LuLu’s Sunset Grill. I first visited many years ago and loved the food and atmosphere.
This visit found her in a new location with an even more expansive restaurant, shop, and amusement venue on the Intercoastal Waterway. The food is still just as great. Lulu creates all her recipes incorporating from her vast experience of cooking around the country. I sampled some appetizers. The smoked tuna dip was my favorite, but the Crazy Sista’s crab dip and fried green tomatoes tied for a close second.
My fried oyster entrée served with French fries, cole slaw, and corn and cheddar hushpuppies was fantastic but left little room for dessert. The key lime pie tempted us all, so we made the effort and shared a slice. Creamy heaven on a plate best describes it.
Cobalt is on the waterfront in Orange Beach. It specializes in seafood but holds its own with chicken and steak dishes. We went for something not on the daily menu, a cooking class with sous chef Nick Norman. From a station set in front, he demonstrated how to cook his version of a popular Lebanese dish, shish tawook.
The dish consists of cut up chicken thighs marinated in lemon juice, yogurt, olive oil, tomato paste, and assorted seasonings. He showed us how to create the marinade. They had already marinated the hunks of chicken he used to cook the sample dish for 24 hours. He then threaded them on a skewer and grilled them. Next, he created a garlic sauce and a potato dish called batata harra. For the fun part, we got to eat the previously prepared dishes paired with a white wine.
The cooking classes are held on Tuesday. Thursday through Sunday are music nights.
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