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Everyone knows that surviving in the restaurant business can be brutal. Vacation towns, in particular, see a steady flow of new ventures. Even when the name outside remains the same, it’s no guarantee that the owner or the chef hasn’t migrated elsewhere. For this reason, rating restaurants is not what Snapper Cheeks is about. If it’s up-to-date critiques on food and service you want, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and OpenTable are at your service. If you want to learn more about the story behind the restaurant, you’ve got us. 

Island Epicurean Restaurant

The Island Epicurean on Perdido Key specializes in breakfast, lunch, and catering. Considering Perdido Key has just one main road, you would think it would be easy to spot, but it isn’t. To find it, drive to the rear of the Villagio shopping plaza, then turn left.

The Epicurean is a family business. It is owned and operated by Stacey Certain and her son, Chef Jordan Scott. Scott started his career working in restaurants in Memphis, Tennessee. Later, he graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. When he came to the Gulf Coast in 2014, Scott began working with fellow Chef Johnathan Kastner. Initially, the two designed the menu for the Orange Beach Brick and Spoon and got it off to a great start. Later, they continued to collaborate when Kastner launched his own restaurant, the Anchor Bar and Grill.

In 2016, Jordan and his mother, Stacey, teamed up to start a gourmet catering service in Orange Beach, calling it the Island Epicurean Food Company. Two years later, the pair decided that expanding their business to include a restaurant would provide several advantages. For one thing, more people could enjoy Chef Scott’s cooking.

Poached eggs, bacon and grits

With his training, Scott could easily stick to complicated, fancy fare. But, both he and his mother also love Memphis-style cooking and comfort food. Their menu reflects this with choices that range from Crab Cakes Benedict to biscuits and gravy and avocado toast to wings. Many of the dishes that aren’t Scott’s creations come from old family recipes. The menu changes seasonally, particularly the sides, which are always fresh and local.

The Epicurean’s mix of luxury and family carries over from the menu to the place itself. Step inside, and the first thing you’ll see is an elegant dining table topped with orchids and candlesticks. The table is made from the former doors of St. Thomas by the Sea Catholic Church in Orange Beach. The weathered mahogany doors were given to Certain when the church replaced them. They stayed in her garage for two years until Jordan and a friend refinished them to create the centerpiece of their new venture. The table seats 14 comfortably and is used for communal dining. For those who don’t want to join in, the Epicurean has plenty of smaller tables in the adjoining dining room.

The pottery used by the Epicurean reveals another local connection. Many of the serving pieces used in the restaurant are the work of Maya Blume-Cantrell. A local artist, Maya’s clay studio is located at the Coastal Art Center in Orange Beach. There, she creates both functional pieces and artistic sculptures and also teaches the art of pottery to locals and visitors.

The Epicurean serves breakfast and lunch between the hours of 7 am and 2 pm, Tuesday through Sunday. This schedule leaves time for Scott and Certain to work with clients on their catering needs and to prepare dishes for their ‘Gourmet-to-Go’ cooler. Specialty orders and cooler items can be picked up Tuesday through Saturday until 5 pm.

Jesse’s Restaurant

When dining out, people want more than good food and friendly service. They want atmosphere.  Around here, that usually means nautical themes, salt breezes, and Gulf views. But not always, and Jesse’s Restaurant is a great example.

Thirty miles west of Gulf Shores is the tiny town of Magnolia Springs,  population 723. Small, yes, but it isn’t one of those places where if you blink, you’ll miss it. The town is so lovely; you won’t let yourself blink. It’s a serene place, and the most activity you’ll see will be at Jesse’s.

One hundred years ago, the building now known as Jesse’s Restaurant, housed Moore’s General Store.  You can find it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2012 Steve & Angie Coltharp purchased the property. Although they incorporated as the Magnolia River Restaurant, they chose to name their new venture Jesse’s, in honor of Jessie King, who managed Moore’s General Store from 1922 to 1933.

Steve came to Magnolia Springs from Colorado but was no stranger to the South. He attended both Ole Miss in Oxford and graduated from the Culinary Arts Institute of Louisiana in Baton Rouge in 1999. After a decade out west, he and his wife were inspired to return South. Their opening of Jesse’s restored the historic property to its long-held prominence as the hub of the town.

The restaurant has outdoor seating under the shade of magnificent live oaks. Inside, it is much larger than it appears, with several different dining rooms. Despite its capacity, you will want to make reservations for dinner. You’ll find most patrons dressed in casual to special occasion clothing depending on why they are there. Wear shorts, a tee-shirt, and flip flops, and you’ll feel under-dressed, even for lunch.

Jesse’s is most proud of their steaks, including dry-aged and wet-aged options. Their Whiskey Steak specialty is a 16-ounce cut that soaks for 24 hours in a concoction of Jack Daniel’s, Cajun seasonings, ginger, and soy sauce before it hits the heat. Chef Rebecca Jordan focuses on local produce and makes sure there are offerings for vegetarians and those looking for gluten-free selections. Their BLT incorporates fried green tomatoes and bacon that they cure on site. They even make their own butter.

If you are here for a while or come so often that your once magical beach vacation has become routine, take a trip to Magnolia Springs. A nice meal, a bit of history, and a slow cruise under the canopy of live oaks will rejuvenate your sense of romance.

Tips for visiting Jesse’s Restaurant

  • For dinner, make reservations. Do not be surprised if there is still a wait after you arrive since its the type of place people like to linger after they’ve finished their meal.
  • For a special occasion, ask for your favorite dining room.
  • Don’t go on Sunday’s, they’re closed. They also don’t serve between 4 pm and 5 pm.
  • Check the website for holiday hours. They are open for several, but with particular hours.
  • Let the server know if you have a fish or shellfish allergy in case the recipe includes these and the menu doesn’t make it obvious.

Hub Stacey’s at the Point

Hub Stacey’s in the afternoon will make you say, ‘Aah.’ The shady live oaks and water-borne breezes make it a great place to escape from the summer sun. In the early evening, you can watch the sun take its colorful dive into Perdido Bay. And later, when the sun goes down, the musicians show up.

Hubbard and Donna Stacey opened the original Hub Stacey’s Restaurant in downtown Pensacola in 1998. Five years later they launched Hub Stacey’s at the Point. Both have persevered. They’ve survived Ivan, Katrina, and the BP oil spill. Considering the impact these events had on area residents, the local economy, and tourism, that’s saying something. Read the messages on the thousands of dollar bills that patrons plaster onto the walls and you’ll get to know the place a little better.

Hub Stacey’s at the Point opens at 7 am seven days a week. This makes it one of the few restaurants in the Perdido Key area serving breakfast. In case you want a little Bailey’s in your coffee, the bar opens at 7 am as well. Sunday through Thursday they close at 10 pm. But on Fridays and Saturdays, Hub’s keeps it going until midnight, nearly always with local musicians. (See calendar.)

If your taste buds are crying out for more fish and seafood, this isn’t your place. Hub’s is known for custom-designed sandwiches, homemade potato salad, burgers, wings, and other assorted “bar food.” You can bring your kids, your dog, and if the spirit moves you, your dance moves. It’s a great place to relax, be entertained, and meet new friends.

Our favs: The Ono (original chicken salad on a pita) and The River Road (Hub’s take on the Rueben

Tips for visiting Hub Stacey’s at the Point

  • Be prepared for outdoor seating. All under roof.
  • If you hate the smell of cigarettes, ask where the smoking section is before you settle in.
  • If you want to see, not just hear, the musicians, go bit early. 
  • If you feel like singing, go on Tuesdays. Karaoke starts at 6 pm (check calendar)
  • Sandwiches and portions can be pretty big. Take a look around before ordering, you might want to split an order with someone in your group.
  • When ordering drinks, ask about the bump.
  • If you don’t know where it is, use an app. It’s off the main road.
  • You can go by boat to Galvez Landing.
  • Dogs must be on a leash.

Royal Oyster Bar

You can find the Royal Oyster Bar sitting just below the southbound lane of Gulf Shores Parkway (aka Hwy 59) on the edge of the Little Lagoon. Go a few hundred yards farther south, and you’ll end up at its much larger neighbor. Both specialize in oysters, but they offer very different experiences.

The Royal is small. Its got that beachy, dive, “I discovered it,” feel that so many travelers love. Except when it’s jam-packed, this is a good thing. Then, you might find yourself waiting for a table. But, that’s true of nearly every area restaurant during ‘the season.’ Go when it isn’t busy, and you’ll come away thinking the place is run by friends rather than ‘staff.’ You won’t be far off.

Area residents David Thompson and Marissa Wilkins opened the Royal Oyster Bar in the spring of 2017. Early on, they began purchasing oysters from Lew Childre, a mechanical engineer who started farming oysters on the Bon Secour Bay just a year earlier. By 2019, Childre’s Shellbank Selects along with the Royal Oyster found their way into a Forbes.com article about preserving Gulf coast oysters.

The Royal Oyster doesn’t limit itself to regional harvests. They also offer fresh boutique oysters from around the U.S. and Canada. The chef, Tim Hensley, competed in both the 2018 Hangout Oyster Cookoff and Pensacola Peat and Pearl events. He’s got some creative ideas when it comes to toppings that you won’t run into elsewhere. Try a flight of six oysters, and you’ll find truffle oil and shiitake mushrooms, Chipotle honey butter, creamed spinach, ginger, and Buffalo Trace Bourbon waking up your tastebuds.

If you don’t love oysters, there’s more on the menu. The Royal offers burgers and other dishes, including coconut curry crab claws, shrimp Yakamien, and fried Brussels in Ponzu sauce. The bar has some surprises as well. Their take on the Bushwacker and other creations such as a Pumpkin Pie Martini alone may make the Royal Oyster Bar worth finding.

Our favs: Chipolte Bourbon baked oysters, Shrimp Yakamein,  and Delta Slaw

Tips for visiting The Royal Oyster Bar 

  • The food is delivered when its ready. If your friends order items that take longer to prepare you might not be served at the same time.
  • Rustic doesn’t mean cheap. Check the pricing on the menu so you’ll know what to expect.
  • Be prepared to eat outside since indoor seating is limited.
  • The entrance is shared with David’s Gallery. It’ll be easier to turn in if you approach from the southbound lane of Gulf Shores Highway.
  • Haven’t tried it, but they do show delivery is available via Gulf to Go

Fishermans Corner

Sitting just over, and almost under, the northeast end of the Theo Baars Bridge is a little place called Fisherman’s Corner. Aptly named, it was once a bait and tackle shop. But that was before the BP oil spill in 2010.

Later that year, businessman Jim Green took an interest in the site. A Louisiana native, Green had owned restaurants before. He had also once owned and operated Tipitina’s, a famous New Orleans jazz club. Partnering with local Willie Brown, a retired tugboat captain, the two opened Fisherman’s Corner in January of 2011.

Chef Andrew Brown helped create the Creole-influenced menu. The nephew of Capt. Willie Brown, Andrew Brown has had an impact on several other area restaurants. He was instrumental in the startup of both the Grayton Seafood Company in Grayton Beach and the Southern Pearl in Pace, Florida. Each is independently owned and has different menus.

 

If you plan to eat at Fisherman’s Corner, be prepared. It’s not much to look at from the outside, and the view isn’t going to wow you. But, if you arrive after five, you might find yourself waiting a couple of hours for a table. Did I mention that you’ll be waiting outside? In the elements. On the small back deck. Maybe even in the parking lot.

By now you might be ready to strike it from consideration — no lovely facade, no breathtaking view, no Bushwhackers. They only sell beer and wine. On the other hand, you’re curious.

The place is a bit of a surprise inside. The table cloths are white, the napkins are linen, and the wine list is extensive. Fisherman’s Corner has been on Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Awards since 2012. The menu is free-ranging – burgers, Po Boys, shrimp and grits, bone-in pork chop with blackberry barbeque sauce, and plenty of fresh seafood selections. If you go, be sure to save room for a bread pudding dessert. 

Our Favs: Gumbo and the New Orleans Praline Pecan Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce.

Tips for visiting the Fisherman’s Corner

  • Before you go scroll Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Zomato.
  • Make reservations for dinner, but be prepared for a wait no matter what.
  • Read our post Eating Out or Being Eaten? 2 Mosquito Repellants that Work
  • Avoid the wait by going for lunch or calling in a take-out order.
  • To Go – Ask about service charge up front. After 5 p.m. call an hour before you want to pick up. Don’t call after 7 p.m. during peak season. 
  • Dress casual. Just because they have a $245 bottle of Champagne on the menu doesn’t make it fancy.

Anchor Bar and Grill

If your navigation of Orange Beach consists of turning left onto Canal Road after crossing the toll bridge, hanging a right at the Tom Thumb, and then spending the rest of the week trolling east and west on Perdido Beach Boulevard, you’ve probably never set eyes on the Anchor Bar & Grill. Here’s how to get there. Venture east down Canal Road. Turn right on South Wilson Boulevard. Stop when your tires get wet. 

The Anchor is a small place with mostly outdoor seating. The menu is short and seasonal. Give it a glance, and you’ll see typical bar fare – big burger, Cuban sandwich, fish tacos, etc. But eyeball the ingredients and you’ll see that Chef Johnathan Kastner has a creative streak a mile wide — caramelized onion and tomato jam, Tobacco smoked pork, pickled LA crawfish salsa, and refried butter beans.

Outdoor dining at the Anchor Bar & Grill overlooking the water

A native of Lafayette, Louisiana, Kastner studied culinary arts in Chicago. After gaining experience at several Gulf Coast restaurants, the events that led him to Orange Beach began. In 2013, two friends asked Kastner to develop the menu for their new venture, the original Brick & Spoon restaurant in Lafayette, LA. Just a few months later they opened a second location in Orange Beach. Kastner came to help with the launch.

It wasn’t long before the Louisiana chef decided he wanted to stay. The opportunity to open a restaurant at Hudson Marina quickly followed and the Anchor Bar & Grill opened in 2015. It’s been a favorite of locals and visitors ever since. In 2018 his regulars along with the rest of Orange Beach got to cheer him on as he competed in the Food Network’s Ultimate Summer Cookoff.

Here’s the kicker. What’s better than eating fresh seafood made by someone who knows what they’re doing? Eating your own fresh catch prepared by someone who knows what they’re doing while bragging to your friends about how you reeled it in. That’s right. If you hooked it, but don’t want to cook it, the Anchor will do you the honors.

Our favs: Tile-fish tacos and the Cuban

Tips for visiting the Anchor Bar & Grill

  • Out on the water? Come by boat. The Anchor has a beach and dock tie-up for boats of all sizes.
  • Check hours in the offseason. Winter menu changes weekends.
  • Clean your fish before you bring them. Call ahead to be sure the service is available and what the cost and preparation options will be.

The Gulf

If I’m going to blog about Gulf coast restaurants, there’s no better place to start than The Gulf. This quirky, re-purposed freight container establishment sits at the west end of the Perdido Pass bridge. ‘Location, location, location,’ certainly applies. You won’t find a better, more entertaining view of the Gulf of Mexico than at The Gulf.

From your car window, the place hasn’t much appeal. But the chunky blue containers hide a waterside oasis and an Alabama success story. The brainchild of Shaul Zislin, owner of The Hangout in Gulf Shores, and Johnny Fisher, former general manager of Lulu’s. Fisher later opened Fisher’s Upstairs and Fisher’s Dockside. The original plans for The Gulf included a 600-seat restaurant with a parking deck, boardwalk, and shops. In 2012, however, the seawall at Alabama Point, where the 4.5-acre property is located, needed $7-$10 million in repairs. This meant that the original concept would have to wait.

Picnic tables and palm trees looking out over the Pass between Cotton Bayou and the Gulf of Mexico

Enter Courtney Brett. An architectural phenom, Ms. Brett started her college career in Virginia at the age of 14. At 16, she transferred to Auburn University, graduating with a degree in Architecture in 2007. After working for several years on projects around the globe for a firm out of New York City, Ms. Brett returned to Alabama. At 24, she became the youngest architect in the U.S. to start her own company.

The 2012 opening of Casburn Brett Architecture, in Daphne, Alabama came at just the right time. Brett’s commitment to sustainable architecture and Zislin and Fisher’s desire to open The Gulf sooner rather than later led to the intriguing locale we all now enjoy. What was supposed to be temporary will hopefully be here to stay.

Enjoy a meal or a mojito at The Gulf, and you’ll find a lot more to look at than your smartphone. From dawn to dark you’ll be treated to a non-stop parade of boats. Sailboats, private vessels, fishing charters, dolphin cruises (and dolphins), parasailers, and even the local ‘black and white’ police boats provide continual entertainment as they slide in and out of the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico.

Tips for visiting The Gulf

  • Go early for lunch or expect to wait in line to order your food.
  • You can order food at the bar if you are seated at the bar.
  • Expect for there to be kids playing in the sand and randomly running around having fun.
  • There are two bars & two kitchens. Check the menus at both because they offer different choices.
  • Wear sunscreen and watch the weather forecast. There is no indoor seating in case of rain.
  • Check out the vinyl record collection in the gift shop. That’s the source of the tunes you’ll be hearing.
  • Plan to stay a while because you are going to love the view and the vibe.