By JAY REEVES
2014-03-11 11:42 PM
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- It's easy to miss some tasty seafood restaurants on Alabama's northern Gulf Coast: They're hidden on a string of islands and peninsulas in the Mobile Delta.
Located along Battleship Parkway, which connects the eastern and western shores at the northern end of Mobile Bay, "Seafood Row" is a collection of more than a half-dozen restaurants with something for anyone who likes seafood in an informal, family setting.
Felix's Fish Camp Grill offers a signature combination of gumbo, crab soup and turtle soup. Despite a rusty metal roof and an old fishing boat in the parking lot, Felix's has the reputation of being the upscale spot on the parkway, even though its priciest dinner entrees are less than $20.
Less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) east is the Bluegill Restaurant, which has been in operation since 1958. Destroyed by Hurricane Fredric in 1979 and again by Katrina in 2005, the restaurant rebuilt after both storms and still serves Gulf shrimp and fish in a ground-floor dining room with an open-air back patio and a stage for bands along the bayou.
The Bluegill -- where Elvis Presley ate -- is beside the Original Oyster House, a mainstay of causeway dining since 1985. With a lifeboat out front, the restaurant is a popular stop on Mobile's "Oyster Trail" and now features big, juicy oysters grilled over open flames.
Co-owner Joe Roszkowski said as much as 85 percent of the Oyster House's business is local, partly because it's not easy for visitors to find "Seafood Row" without the help of a local. Many tourists drive right by on Interstate 10, which parallels the parkway.
"If you're not familiar with the causeway and how to get there and the history of the route across the bay it can be a little difficult to navigate," said Roszkowski.
For decades the parkway was the main way to cross the Mobile Delta, a marshy region at the northern end of the 32-mile-long (52 kilometers) bay. The road, which links the cities of Mobile and Spanish Fort, was busy with a constant hum of cars passing seafood restaurants, bait stores, fishing camps, bars and the USS Alabama, the old World War II battleship and museum that gives the road its name.
The area began changing after tunnels constructed under the Mobile River opened in the early 1970s and funneled traffic to I-10. Some businesses closed and then Fredric leveled much of what was left on the parkway, which also is called the causeway locally.
Roszkowski said there were only three restaurants when the Original Oyster House opened at another location in 1985. That building lasted 20 years, until Katrina.
"Katrina took out two-thirds of our restaurant and blew it up into the delta," he said. "We remodeled another restaurant and we reopened at the current location two months after Katrina."
The Original Oyster House is one of the largest restaurants on Seafood Row with seating for 250, a banquet room for 100 and a private conference room that seats 18. Windows facing the west offer a colorful view as the setting sun turns the sky orange and red over downtown Mobile, about 6 miles away.
But there are plenty of other places with gorgeous views including Tropic's, Ed's Seafood Shed, R&R Seafood, Tacky Jack's, John Word's Restaurant Jazz Cafe and Lap's Grocery and Grill, which has entrees including stuffed flounder and also sells bait. Diners might see a fishing boat, shore birds or an alligator at any one.
If You Go...
SEAFOOD ROW: Half-dozen restaurants located along Battleship Parkway, a causeway that crosses the northern end of Mobile Bay in Alabama, connecting Mobile to Spanish Fort. From downtown Mobile, take I-90/98 East through a tunnel that puts you on the parkway; the restaurants are straight ahead. (Don't take I-10, which parallels and bypasses the parkway.) Eateries include Felix's Fish Camp, 1530 Battleship Parkway; Bluegill, 3775 Battleship Parkway, and Original Oyster House, 3733A Battleship Parkway.