The Scenic Route: Culinary Tour of Coastal Alabama
Day 1: Mobile to Fairhope (20 miles)
Start out in Mobile, with an "L.A. Burger" (Lower Alabama, of course) from Callaghan's Irish Social Club (251/433-9374), a pub-style restaurant in the Oakleigh neighborhood. This juicy hunk of meat is a hearty mix of ground beef and Conecuh sausage (the state's unofficial smoked link). The kitchen makes only a handful each day at lunch, so get there before noon. For dessert, swing by the Visitation Monastery Gift Shop (251/471-4106) on Spring Hill Avenue, where the cloistered nuns make the best Heavenly Hash this side of the confessional. Creamy milk chocolate, pecans, and their secret weapon—homemade marshmallows. Continue on to Fairhope and check in to Emma's Bay House (251/990-0187), a recently renovated historic home turned light-drenched inn overlooking Mobile Bay, just above South Park. For dinner, it's The Wash House (251/928-4838), a rustic sort of place where staff know regulars by name (and wine preference) and more attention goes to the food than the decor. Rightfully so. Don't miss the Key Lime Bread Pudding for dessert: a tangy hybrid of Key lime pie and rich bread pudding that will have you practically licking your plate.
Day 2: Fairhope to Dauphin Island (71 miles)
Drink your morning coffee on the bay-front porch upstairs at Emma's before making your way down to the dining room for breakfast. Owner Betty Rejczyk does a meansherry-hinted grits and grillades that might make you stay another night. Once you hit the road, follow U.S. 98 to the Foley Beach Express into Orange Beach. Join Captain Skip aboard Sailaway Charters (251/974-5055) for a two-hour pontoon cruise through Wolf Bay and Longs Bayou, where he teaches you—hands-on—how to harvest oysters, shrimp, and crab straight from the bountiful waters. It's a veritable seafood sampler. Get your land legs back at the Flora-Bama (251/980-5118) over an order of royal red shrimp, a local Gulf variety that's dense and sweet like lobster. This beachside dive bar, best known for its annual mullet toss (the fish, not the hairdo), cooks the best royal reds on the coast: perfectly steamed, and served with nothing but melted butter. Unadulterated awesomeness. Load up for Fort Morgan to catch the Mobile Bay Ferry (45 minutes; $16 one way) to Dauphin Island. From here, you can head north to Bellingrath Gardens and Home, a 65-acre estate lush with azaleas (the Bay area's unofficial flower), such as the deep pink ‘Pride of Mobile.' Or stick around the island for some beach time. En route to the sand, pick up a loaf of fresh-baked French bread at Lighthouse Bakery (251/861-2253), then go to nearby Skinner's Seafood(251/861-4221), where the slogan is "The seafood you buy today was swimming in the Gulf last night," to purchase blue crab and shrimp steamed to order. Take your fare over to the public beaches off Bienville Boulevard, the island's main thoroughfare, for a sunset picnic to cap off the trip