One great aspect of cruising on the Gulf Coast is the history and culture associated with waterfront dining at restaurants and watering holes. Tying up to the piers puts you in touch with a culinary tradition that dates as far back as 1859 at Bruning’s in New Orleans’ West End. Others such as the Fly Creek Inn in Fairhope, Alabama, were known haunts of writers and poets who were drawn to the unmistakable ambiance and connection to the food and drink that comes from being on the water in the Deep South.
Today, there are hundreds of great local haunts for everything from fried grouper baskets to the freshest oysters, and while this space is too small to list them all, here are a few great seafood joints from west to east to keep in mind when cruising the Gulf.
Brisbi’s—New Orleans: West End was the home to seafood waterfront dining for over 150 years until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Today, the restaurants are coming back and Brisbi’s is leading the charge. Tie up and enjoy the relaxed open-air oyster bar downstairs, or head upstairs to what many call the “Yat Club” for great New Orleans seafood.
Morton’s—Madisonville: On the deepwater Tchefuncte River on northern Lake Pontchartrain in quaint Madisonville, the staff is never in a rush at Morton’s—but neither are you while you’re there. With the best crawfish on the north shore, everything is always fresh, even down to the mirliton dressing.
Trapani’s—Bay St. Louis: Located adjacent to the recently completed municipal marina, Trapani’s has been dishing out some of the best seafood and po-boys on the Mississippi Coast for 20 years. After lunch or dinner, stroll one of the cutest towns on all of the Gulf Coast.
JT’s Sunset Grill—Dauphin Island: Located on the western side of the island, JT’s is that sort of relaxed joint where you can get your fix of fried oysters and a side of fishermen’s tall tales. Slip space can get tight, so head over early for lunch or dinner.
LuLu’s—Gulf Shores: More like a destination, Jimmy Buffet’s sister owns LuLu’s, and it has the exact feel of the sort of place a sister of Jimmy’s would run. With a ton of adjacent slips on the ICW, eating at LuLu’s is more of an event with live music and volleyball, but always check out the daily specials.
Boathouse Oyster Bar—Destin: Sidle up to this waterfront joint and the staff will scurry out to help you dock. Inside this well-worn and casual joint are fantastic oysters prepared numerous ways. Call ahead and they’ll have fresh tuna steak sandwiches on French bread with chips in brown paper bags waiting for you on the pier.
Dockside Café—Port St. Joe: Fried grouper baskets, fresh oysters from next-door Apalachicola, and every type of rum drink imaginable await at the Port St. Joe Marina. It’s the ideal spot on St. Joseph’s Bay to watch the sunset and listen to lone wolf guitarists doing Jimmy Buffet cover bands.
By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating January 2015