Every time a disaster strikes, we who are seemingly untouched by the crisis always wonder what we can do to help those who are most affected by it. This time, luckily, the solution is easy: Go to the Gulf coast and eat fresh seafood! My family just got back from a long-anticipated and much-planned week at St. George Island, near Apalachicola, Florida, and ate our way through as much fresh seafood as we could find: Shrimp, oysters, crab and scallops were the stars, along with grouper. The water was gorgeous, the beaches beautiful and the rental houses full, as always. But, sadly, due to the oil leak, there are beaches where that’s not the case and people are hurting. If you still have some vacation time this year, head down to the Gulf. You’ll be treating yourself at some of the most gorgeous spots around — and helping boost an economy and industry that desperately needs some help.
I used to have a rule about only eating rare/raw seafood (and I’m talking mainly raw oysters here) when I actually can see the water it came out of, but after realizing that limits me to about (maybe if I’m lucky) five or so days out of the year, I decided to make exceptions for beautifully cooked ahi tuna. (And, OK, Appalachicola Bay oysters at Birmingham’s Fresh Market.) Good thing, too, because northwest Alabama is nowhere near tuna water and I would have missed out on this incredibly delicious Ahi Tuna Salad from Dish Gourmet Cafe in Florence. I promise you that it tastes as good as it looks — sort of sweet and salty and oceany all at the same time. I loved the mixture of the rich velvety tuna with the crunchy wasabi-coated peas. I told my friend that I’d give her a piece of the tuna so she could taste it, but somehow as our lunch progressed I looked down at my plate and there was none left to share. I am a bad friend. But a good eater. Learn more about Dish, a fun and friendly downtown lunch spot, at http://dishgourmetcafe.com
When winter is getting to you, isn’t it lucky to have friends with beachfront condos? Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mary Bonnie! She invited some of us to share one of her weeks at the Gulf coast condo she and her husband have — and just in time, too, since here in Alabama we’ve had enough snow and ice and cold to last us, thank you very much. We had a great time and I’ll tell you all about it, but first I want to give you a Florida wildlife report. No, not that kind of “wild life.” The nature kind — well, our version, anyway. One night we went to the Shrimp Basket in Perdido Key, Florida, when we all spied the most realistic statue of a blue heron ever and were in the midst of speculating why someone had placed such a statue so close to a parking space when suddenly the “statue” blinked its eye and we all jumped — and reached for our cameras. We got the distinct impression that the heron was posing for us and waiting for us to notice he (she?) had given us his (her?) best side for photography purposes. We didn’t see any dolphins/porpoises in the water while we were there, but we did spy an osprey perched high up in a tree next to its nest one day and walked along the beach with hundreds of twittering (in the non-online sense, of course) sandpipers. The weather was clear and sunny and gorgeous while we were there — too cold for us to get in the water although I did see a couple of energetic teenagers brave the waves one day. The sunsets were stunning — I caught a bit of the light in this photo. And the Shrimp Basket was great! Nothing fancy — just fresh good seafood and friendly service. It’s where the locals hang out and is about half the price of touristy seafood places (Crab Trap, we’re talking to you!). I had the blackened shrimp and fish with new potatoes, cole slaw (with shrimp in it) and hush puppies. Plus, I saved one of my oh-so-good raw oysters to show you. Other orders at our table were fried oysters, fried shrimp and tuna dip — everything was perfect. Check it out at http://www.shrimpbasket.com. There are locations all along the Alabama/Florida Gulf coast — just watch out for blue herons in the parking lot.
I love crabcakes. When we go out and there are crabcakes on the menu, I’m getting them, no question. My idea of bliss? The Crab Cake Cook-off in Pensacola, Fla., where restaurants offer their best crabcakes for sampling. Imagine tasting 20 or so creatively yummy crabcakes one one evening. Paradise! (Also: Thank goodness for Protonix. ) Some of our favorites included a less-is-more version that was all fresh lump crab, a thin and crunchy cake with a wonderfully smoky Cajun type of sauce (I couldn’t convince the chef to share his secret recipe) from Appetite for Life catering and a tasty effort with roasted corn and mango salsa from 600 South restaurant. My husband and I also were impressed with the Crab Trap, which went over-the-top with a bonus fried softshell crab. The cookoff raises money for the non-profit ARC Gateway, which serves developmentally disabled children and adults, so it’s win-win-win for everybody. Read more at http://www.pnj.com/article/20090708/LIFE/907080311/1053/NEWS12/The-claws-come-out–