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Kitchen Adventures: Eating through the Gulf Coast

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Food column by Becca Owsley

By Becca Owsley

Like many who visit the Gulf Coast of Alabama, my family not only hits the beach, but also takes an eating tour of the region’s unique restaurants.

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Some are larger, touristy places and others are out-of-the-way nooks discovered by accident or on the advice of locals who haunt there.

Sometimes these places can inspire you to try to figure out recipes once you get home. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

One recipe I tried to recreate did not work. Because it failed, no recipe is included, just a description of the delicious meal. The last night of the vacation we ate at Shipp’s Harbour Grill in Orange Beach and it turned out to be the best meal of the trip.

The dish was Paneed Grouper topped with jumbo lump crab and spicy coconut butter served with smoked gouda mashed potatoes. It was absolutely delicious and plated like a work of art.

Paneed is a term used in New Orleans to refer to a pan-fried dish.

In an attempt to recreate the dish, I bought a pound of fresh grouper while still in Gulf Shores, not a cheap purchase. There was one problem, without a recipe, spicy coconut butter is hard to figure out. After making the dish, it wasn’t nearly as good without it. You can fry the fish in a panko crust and top it with toasted coconut, but it’s missing something.

Besides not having a good recipe, cooking fish in the kitchen can leave the house smelling fishy for days. In the future, I think I’ll leave the fish cooking to coastal chefs.

One of the more touristy restaurants in Gulf Shores is the Original Oyster House. After opting out of an appetizer on several visits to the restaurant, this time I tried Joe and Dave’s Alligator Bites. They are deep-fried pieces of gator. And yes, gator tastes like chicken.

Lulu’s is another fun place to eat in the gulf. It’s owned by Lucy Buffett, Jimmy’s sister. The food is good and the open-air dining atmosphere is fun. Along with fish and an allergy-friendly menu, visitors to Lulu’s often enjoy fried green tomatoes. For dessert, Krispy Kreme bread pudding is a favorite. I bought Buffett’s cookbook at the gift shop and am sharing that recipe.

Other stops on the eat-your-way-through-the-Gulf Coast tour were Mikee’s, Wolf Bay Lodge, Flippers, Sea-N-Suds and Café Grazie. Two I didn’t visit this time but enjoy are Villaggio Grille and Cosmos.

Many of these restaurants also have a “you hook them, we cook them” option for those who catch fish and want the restaurant to prepare it.

There’s also a neat little shop called Hope’s Cheesecake in the area.

Sometimes it pays to go off the beaten path to check out towns around the tourist stops.

About 30 to 45 minutes away from the beach is the town of Fairhope, Ala. It was a neat little town on Mobile Bay. The streets look historic and are filled with shops of all kinds and a variety of eateries.

Tamara’s Downtown is the one we stopped in for dinner. It is an old garage renovated into a classy restaurant. Like Shipp’s, it’s a bit on the pricey side, but the meal was delicious. The piece de résistance was an amazing Dulce De Leche Cheesecake. There is no picture of this desert because we dove right in and savored each delectable bite.

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

Websites for the restaurants in the Gulf Shores, Ala. area:
www.shippsharbourgrill.com

www.theoysterhouse.com
www.tamarasontheeasternshore.com
www.lulubuffett.com
www.mikeesseafood.com
www.wolfbaylodgeorangebeach.com
www.flippersrestaurant.com
www.sea-n-suds.com
www.cafe-grazie.com
www.villaggiogrille.com
www.cosmosrestaurantandbar.com
www.hopescheesecake.com

Lulu’s Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
6 egg yolks
2 eggs
½ cup sweetened condensed milk
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1¼ teaspoons ground nutmeg
1¼ teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup praline liqueur
2 dozen Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts, broken into 2-inch chunks
1 cup chopped pecans
Vanilla Custard sauce (see recipe below) 

Preheat over to 350 degrees.
Melt one tablespoon butter in a 13 x 9 baking dish, being careful not to burn the butter. Brush butter up along the sides of the dish and set aside.
In a large bowl beat together cream, milk, egg yolks, eggs, condensed milk, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and liqueur.
Place doughnuts in baking dish. Pour cream mixture over the top until all doughnut are covered, smushing them down.
Sprinkle pecans over the top. Cut the remaining tablespoon of butter into small pieces and sprinkle over the pecans.
Bake for one hour or until center is set and top is browned.
Serve with Vanilla Custard sauce spooned over each serving. 

Vanilla Custard Sauce
1½ cups milk
1½ cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar, divided
6 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 

In a saucepan, combine milk, cream and ½ cup sugar. Heat thoroughly but do not boil.
In a separate bowl, beat together egg yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar until smooth.
Add a small amount of hot milk mixture into egg mixture to temper. (If you add it all at once the heat from the milk will make something resembling scrambled eggs.) Gradually whisk remaining hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, blending until smooth.
Return mixture to saucepan, add vanilla and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the sauce coats the spoon. (This is when curdling can occur. Be careful not to let the mixture boil.)
Ladle 2 to 3 tablespoons over plated bread pudding just before serving. 

Recipe found in Lucy Buffett’s “Crazy Sista Cooking” cookbook.