Before arriving in Mobile, Ala. for a weekend trip to see that the city’s not actually a miserable place, I received dozens of emails from Mobilians telling me I had to try the seafood while I was in town.
Mobilians take pride in their seafood, and with good reason: Crabs, oysters, shrimp, and fish arrive fresh from the Gulf of Mexico, a short trip down the Mobile River. There are dozens of restaurants in and around the city that serve seafood from the Gulf, and many have become famous for their preparations of dishes like gumbo, fried shrimp, and oysters Rockefeller.
The commercial seafood industry is major local employer, providing 11,000 jobs in Alabama in 2011, according to the Alabama Seafood Marketing and Testing Program. And fishing is also a popular hobby for people who live around Mobile Bay.
I love seafood, and was blown away by some of the local delicacies (how come they don’t serve West Indies Salad up north?). But I also recalled reading some scary stories about Gulf seafood after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and wondered about the safety of the local seafood three years later.
Alabama started testing seafood from the Gulf shortly after the spill, and continues to conduct monthly tests of oysters, crabs, shrimp, and fish from local waters. So far, none of those samples have shown oil or dispersants above a government-mandated “level of concern,” said Chris Blankenship, the program administrator for the ASMTP (created through a grant from BP) and the director of marine resources for Alabama.
Despite stories about mutated shrimp — including a disturbing report from Al Jazeera — Blankenship said he hadn’t seen any deformed specimens, or heard complaints from local fishermen.
“Early on, testing was a major part of our marketing campaign,” he said. “But after a year, few people even asked about test results. Especially along the [Gulf] coast, people don’t have as much of a concern and continue to enjoy their seafood.”
But it may still be too early to see the long-term effects of the spill on sea life, because the biggest impact is often not on stronger adults, but on juvenile populations and eggs, said John Hocevar, a marine biologist and the Oceans director at Greenpeace.
“One of the difficult things is that it can take a really long time to fully assess the impact of something like this,” Hocevar said. “We still don’t know what we’re dealing with, and we won’t know for several more years.”
But he did reassure me that I had no reason to worry after eating three straight days of seafood. Click through to check out some of the fantastic seafood I ate on my trip to Mobile, including some local specialties.
Disclosure: A couple of months ago, I included Mobile, Alabama on a list of the “most miserable cities in America,” based on Gallup data. Sandy Stimpson, a mayoral candidate in Mobile (#3 on the list) objected to my characterization, and offered to fly me down and show me how great the city really is. After a little prodding, I agreed to a visit. Stimpson paid my travel expenses and arranged my travel in the city. I’m not covering the mayoral race, but will be writing about my trip here.
A ton of people emailed me about Felix's Fish Camp, a popular spot overlooking Mobile Bay that serves some of the best seafood in town.
First up was a West Indies Salad, a Mobile specialty that is almost impossible to find outside the area. The simple crab salad contains white onion and vinegar, marinated overnight.
I tried the 'One-One-One' soup sampler at Felix's. The turtle soup and gumbo were tasty, but the crab soup with lump crab straight from the Gulf (bottom) was my favourite.
Crab claws are a popular appetizer that one person I ate with likened to hometown 'potato chips.' Felix's serves them a few ways, including sauteed...
The fried seafood was tempting for a main course, but I opted for the grilled Gulf shrimp, which was fresh and sweet.
A Moon Pie sundae — made with Mobile's favourite sweet, ice cream, and hot fudge — was the perfect way to cap off the meal.
Another iconic Mobile seafood restaurant is Wintzell's Oyster House downtown. The walls are covered with famous quotes and the shells of abnormally large oysters.
It's slogan is 'Oysters - fried, stewed, or nude.' The 'nude' oysters came on ice, and were extremely fresh.
I tried some other preparations that I'd never heard of before, including Monterey, with jalapenos, hickory smoked bacon, and melted cheddar cheese; and Bienville, covered with shrimp, crabmeat, and parmesan sauce.
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