Heading to Mobile, Alabama soon? Trying to figure out the best places to eat? Whether you’re looking for some pulled pork that's smoked for up to 30 hours or brussel sprouts you'll be dreaming about for days, we’ve got you covered right here with a list of the tastiest destinations to hit while you’re in town.
The Brick Pit
5456 Old Shell Rd, Mobile, AL 36608
This review of The Brick Pit originally appeared Jan. 26, 2015.
The Brick Pit has appeared on The Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food. It was featured on a Food Network show about tailgating. Maxim, in between lingerie shots of c-list celebrities, named the place’s ribs the best wet ribs in America. Yet last week, as owner Bill Armbrecht stood beneath the low-hanging trees that shade the restaurant he has run for 21 years, none of that notoriety could change the fact that it was noon on a Monday and the dining room was half-empty. “I’d rather be rich than famous,” Armbrecht cracked.
Armbrecht worries for the future of The Brick Pit, which serves pulled pork that is smoked for up to 30 hours (no, really) and ribs smoked up to 12. This may sound gimmicky, but thanks to Armbrecht’s choice of raw material, it produces juicy, bark covered pork and giant, moist ribs that the barbecue-eaters of coastal Alabama should be lining up to eat. Unfortunately, they aren’t. Armbrecht and pitmaster Jerry Edwards lamented the slowdown in business while pork butts destined to become the next day’s lunch lounged in their custom wood-fired smoker. Those butts, which have an extra thick fat cap on top because Armbrecht orders them that way from his supplier, become near-perfect pulled pork because the extended time in the smoker allows all that fat to render through the meat. It’s a self-basting prophecy, and it produces meat that doesn’t get interrupted by gobs of fat. (And even if it did, the hand-pulling process would eliminate nearly all of the fat and leave just the meat.) The ribs are bigger than the ones served at most places for the same reason. Babybacks wouldn’t survive this process, but the ribs Armbrect orders—which appear to come from elephant-sized pigs—are suited for the task.
This is why Armbrecht seemed shocked when I ordered a pulled pork plate with a half rack of ribs on the side. “You going to eat all that?” he asked. Of course I was. It was only a half rack, after all. But when I saw the half rack, I remembered that a half rack of Brick Pit ribs contains as much meat as a full rack at a lot of places. Unlike the ones I ate on my visit last year, these ribs were delicious even without The Brick Pit’s excellent hot sauce. The pork, just as before, needed nothing extra.
Unfortunately, The Brick Pit needs something extra to keep making that glorious pulled pork. It needs more people to venture out to the location near the University of South Alabama and commit to eating quality barbecue. Location could be part of the problem, though. If The Brick Pit were just off Interstate 10 on either end of Mobile, it might draw more tourist traffic. The Gulf coast doesn’t have a ton of great barbecue options near its main drags. There’s Lillie’s Q, a wonderful little shack on the side of U.S. Highway 98 in Miramar Beach, Fla. There’s The Joint in New Orleans. There isn’t much worth eating in between.
But even if The Brick Pit, which has already gotten plenty of publicity, doesn’t become a tourist haunt, maybe some locals will return, order pulled pork plates and fall in love all over again. Barbecue that good deserves saving.
167 Dauphin St., Mobile, AL 36602
This review of Dumbwaiter originally appeared Jan. 30, 2017
It still mystifies me as to how the Brussels sprout became the butt of every vegetable-related sitcom joke for the better part of three decades. While the preparations have become more plentiful, they had ovens back in the 1960s. Someone could have tossed some sprouts on a baking sheet with salt, pepper and a drizzle of oil and blown up the notion of a universally reviled veggie.
Of course, if the recipe and ingredients for the Brussels sprouts appetizer at Dumbwaiter had existed 50 years ago, we’d have been subjected to years of eggplant jokes instead. Rarely do I recommend an eatery based on one appetizer—the chicken fried bacon at Sodolak’s Country Inn in Snook, Texas, is a notable exception—but if Dumbwaiter only made its New South Brussels sprouts, I’d still tell everyone heading to Mobile to visit.
It helps that everything else I tried there was excellent, but the sprouts alone would bring me back. Like many of the sprout dishes that now dot menus across the country, they’re cooked in vinegar. In this case, it’s a honey balsamic vinaigrette. And just like most of the others, these sprouts share space in the pan with small, thick chunks of bacon. In this case, it’s bacon confit made with Bill E’s Small Batch Bacon from nearby Fairhope, Ala. But even though this recipe shares DNA with every sprout recipe at every gastropub in America, something makes the taste of this dish float on the tongue for days afterward.
Perhaps it’s the fact that this particular bacon gets serenaded as it gets cured. (No. Really.) Maybe it’s the blend of this particular bacon fat with this particular type of vinaigrette. Maybe it’s the hint of shaved red onion. But something makes these sprouts different. Similarly prepared versions in other places are tasty. This one made me want to lick the bowl clean. I would have done it with no shame had the baked oysters not arrived when they did. Judging by the way other diners were eyeballing their sprouts as they were passed around tables, I wasn’t alone.
Those baked oysters, crusted with artichoke and spinach and meant to be eaten off a hunk of crusty bread, calmed the sprout craving. I momentarily forgot about the sprouts when I saw a sextet of lamb chops arranged like the Faraglioni just off Capri. I typically avoid lamb chops at restaurants because they require an awful lot of work for very little meat at a fairly high price. But these were thick and juicy and a perfect medium rare, and I felt quite full when I laid down my knife.
Unfortunately, later that night, the cravings came. I want more of those sprouts. I want them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I’m going to dream about them until I taste them again.
1709 Main St., Daphne, AL 36526
This review of Guido's originally appeared Feb. 1, 2016.
The server had answered all my questions, but I remained paralyzed. The chalkboard menu at Guido’s changes daily and sometimes hourly, and the iteration of the chalkboard facing me on this particular Tuesday lunch was particularly daunting. Almost everything looked excellent, but there is only so much available space in the stomach and only so much money in the wallet. But how big could these plates be? The most expensive item was a scallop dish that cost $10.95. A sampling of several dishes wouldn’t dent SI’s travel budget, and at those prices, it would almost certainly be a manageable meal. So I rattled off three dishes.
“That’s going to be a lot of food,” my server replied.
I chuckled, because how much would they really give me when every dish I ordered cost $9.95? Every one contained some manner of seafood. While Daphne’s location on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay probably gives Guido’s access to cheaper fresh seafood than most places, they still had to turn a profit. Besides, how could I be expected to choose just one entree? I’d left a lot I’d wanted to eat on the board when I picked the trio I ordered.
Then the plates arrived. She wasn’t kidding. These weren’t small plates. They weren’t lunch portions. These were full-on meals. My stomach tightened a little, because even though Guido’s,which is ostensibly an Italian restaurant, can fatten up dishes with pasta or rice, how good could it really be for $9.95? The row of pans hanging in the kitchen looked well-used, but how could this place offer fresh seafood in this quantity at these prices without cutting some corner? I remained skeptical. Then I took a bite of the oyster penne with bacon, mushrooms and spinach in a spicy alfredo. No corners had been cut. I had simply found one of the best deals I’ve come across in my travels. The sauce had just enough kick, and the bacon provided a savory counterpoint to the oysters. Over the next few minutes, I would learn that the oyster penne, while excellent, was only the third-best of the three dishes I’d ordered.
The duck jambalaya featured huge chunks of duck breast that combined beautifully with the sausage and crawfish. The triggerfish, pan-seared with a crust of crab meat, took the gold medal. Even though the actual fish is much smaller when alive and swimming, the meat tastes like a thicker, heartier grouper. Any sauce that falls off the fish gets sopped up by the mashed potatoes, and the green beans—also cooked with bacon—provided an excellent palate cleanser as I switched between dishes.
I couldn’t finish. I was on my way to cover a Senior Bowl practice, and SI doesn’t have the budget to hire someone to push me around in a wheelbarrow. But I know I’ll be back through Daphne every so often because work takes me that way every year. The next time I’ll come armed with friends and a plan. Guido’s simply has too many delicious options for one man to tame. So I’ll be ordering the triggerfish—and maybe one more dish because, hey, $9.95—and I’ll make sure my friends order one of everything else.