Monday, May 30, 2011

Whoever first said "Fish are friends, not food" lied. Fish are totally (good) food.

I think I mentioned it before, but last week, I was on vacation with some friends.  What I don't think I mentioned was where I was vacationing.  We were in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Aside from the obvious benefits of being right on the Gulf of Mexico - white sand, warm water, lots of sun - my favorite benefit was the plethora of restaurants serving fresh fish. And by fresh, I mean "caught that morning." Unfortunately, we were pretty busy for the four days we were there, and so didn't get to try any of these hole-in-the-wall type places.  It wasn't until we were headed back to Columbia, that we had time to stop and sample the local fare.  Indulging our slight Parrothead tendencies, we headed to LuLu's, a spot owned by Lucy Buffett, sister to one Jimmy Buffett.

There were five of us, so it took us quite a bit of time to get through the menu.  Everything looked delicious, and well, after four days of eating nothing but snacks and the occasional pop-tart, I think we were all ready for a full meal.  We bought ourselves some time by ordering appetizers.  And yes, we each had one.

Yep.  Just  a bowl of black-eyed peas.  Simple and tasty.
E started with the L.A. Caviar.  Sound revolting?  Trust me.  No fish eggs were harmed in the making of this dish.  See, "L.A." stands for Lower Alabama, and the "Caviar" portion was actually black-eyed peas.  So really, it was a bowl full of black-eyed peas soaked in balsamic vinaigrette.  Still sound revolting?  It wasn't.  Black-eyed peas are one of those foods that are hit-or-miss for me.  I don't seek them out, but I don't hate them.  I liked them this way.  They were garnished with a slice of lemon, which I'm not sure E used, but I imagine a bit of lemon juice would have been a great addition.

Can you see the giant pieces of everything in this gumbo?  It was outstanding.
Two of us decided to be totally unoriginal and order the same thing.  D and I both had the Seafood Gumbo.  I, of course, had to be careful not to munch on a shrimp, but the rest of it was fabulous.  Even the okra blended in nicely.  There wasn't too much rice, the spice level was outstanding, and the ingredients were tender. I may or may not have debated licking the bowl when I was finished.  I very strongly recommend that you try this if you ever find yourself in Gulf Shores.

They truly don't look like much, but man, were they delicious.
In keeping with our location, M went for a Southern specialty, and ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes (Kathy Bates not included).  When I announced that I had never tried fried green tomatoes, there were four identical expressions of shock staring at me across the table.  Needless to say, I made it a point to try one.  I've become a fan.  The tomatoes seemed sweeter than normal red tomatoes, at least to me.  The breading was light, but not so much that it didn't serve a purpose.  Everything was lightly seasoned, and the Fun Wow sauce that accompanied this dish added a bit of a kick.  Don't ask me what's in the Fun Wow sauce - it's a LuLu's specialty.

Last, but certainly not least, our tuna connoisseur friend L, had the Smoked Tuna Dip.  Before you question my reference to L as a tuna connoisseur, let me assure you that she NEVER passes up the opportunity to try something that involves tuna.  Although, come to think of it, I've never actually seen her eat a tuna salad sandwich.  Hmmmm.....
It looks like tuna salad, but I promise the two taste nothing alike.
Anyway.  I'm pretty sure that the tuna making up this dip was caught that morning, or perhaps the night before.  Even smoked, you could tell just how fresh it was.  Like everything else, the dip was huge on flavor.  Spreading a little bit over a cracker, or just eating a spoonful, was like a small bite of heaven.  There most definitely wasn't any of this left at the end of the meal.

Onto our actual meals, which were every bit as delicious as our appetizers.  E ordered the one thing I couldn't try (probably a very smart move on her part): the Shrimp Loaf.  Our server likened it to a Shrimp Po' Boy, and that's what it looked like.  Just a whole bunch of shrimp jammed onto a long hoagie roll.  Lettuce, tomato, and red onion optional.  You can order the shrimp loaf grilled, blackened, or fried.  I think E went with blackened, but I'm not absolutely positive. At any rate, it looked fantastic, and I know that E enjoyed it.

I wasn't kidding when I said it was a ton of shrimp.  This thing is packed.
M had been talking about a cheeseburger since we first decided to go to LuLu's.  And really, if you're not going to get seafood, I'd say that a burger from the woman whose brother made Cheeseburgers synonymous with Paradise would be a good option.  The burger, which is made from all natural, grass-fed beef from White Oak Pastures in Georgia, comes standard with lettuce, tomato, red onion, sweet pickles, your choice of cheese, and french fries.  Plus there are a slew of additional toppings to choose from.  M chose the jack cheddar cheese, and added bacon, mushrooms, and pineapple.  I didn't actually taste the burger, but I was a bit overwhelmed just looking at the size of it.  The fries were probably the best fries I've ever had.  And I've had a lot of fries.  All in all, M was exceptionally satisfied with her order.
I wasn't kidding when I said this was huge.  I can't even see the beef under the toppings.
We'd been talking about LuLu's for days.  I can tell you that L and I were beyond excited for some fresh seafood.  When it came down to it, L, D, and I all ordered a variation on the same thing.  Well, D and I ordered the exact same thing, but whatever.  We all ended up with the Fresh Gulf Red Snapper Sandwich.  The red snapper used a LuLu's is tracked by Gulf Wild, which is a basically a way to track your fish from the Gulf into your mouth.  It's a pretty cool thing, so I urge you to check it out.

Right.  The red snapper.  You can order the fish grilled, blackened, or fried. It comes with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles, and is served with Golden Flake (i.e. local brand) potato chips.  L got her fish fried.  Good choice.  Even after being dipped in batter, the fish was flaky, the breading wasn't overpowering, and it was crunchy.  I don't usually do fried fish (I figure I eat enough fried food in my life so I can try something different), but I would order this in a heartbeat.  It was awesome.  And big.  L didn't quite manage to finish it.
Trust me.  Under that layer of breading was a very tender fish, just waiting to break free.
D and I also got the red snapper sandwich, but we both ordered ours blackened.  As much as I would love to try all of the other offerings on LuLu's menu, I would be hard pressed to keep from ordering this again.  And again.  And then again after that.   The fish was just so tender.  The seasonings used in the blackening process generated a lot of heat.  Heads-up: If you don't like particularly spicy foods, you probably want to avoid the blackened fish.  I like spicy, but this would probably be too much for someone who only goes for moderate heat.  I squeezed a bit of lemon juice onto mine, and the acidity really brought everything together.  The only complaint I had was that the bun got a little bit soggy.  But that was really ok, because I ate this so quickly that the sogginess really only impacted my last few bites.  Also of note, the side of potato chips isn't really necessary.  I think I had three of them, and I don't think L or D even opened their bags.  Just absolutely wonderful.
Add a bit of the tartar sauce to the bun for a truly incredible food-gasm.
Obviously we had a fabulous time at LuLu's.  The atmosphere was very relaxed.  The restaurant actually reminded me of someone's beach house - bright colors, great views of the water (really.  It's in a marina.  You can pull your boat up and grab a sandwich), lots of laughter, and people enjoying themselves.  LuLu's also does live music.  And, once you're finished with your meal (or probably before, so your clothes still fit), you can shop.  LuLu's has tons of t-shirts for sale, some of the sauces and seasonings for sale, knicknacks, and cookbooks.  It seems like it should be a tourist trap, but at the same time, it doesn't have that vibe.  And I say that as a tourist.  Clearly, leaving was the last thing on my mind, as I sat outside and waited for everyone to finish their shopping.
Yep.  Getting in the car is clearly the last thing I wanted to do.
Final Rating:
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  1. I have also eaten at Lulus...and if you are ever in the gulf shores MUST go!!!!Fantastic, worth the trip,and yummmmmmmmmmmmyyy!!!!!!

  2. The best Tuna Salad Sandwich? Bubba's Marina in Virginia Beach, VA. There, I said it.