It doesn’t much matter where you hang your hat these days, much less which side of the Mason-Dixon Line you live on; the one food all American cuisines seem to hold in high esteem is fresh seafood. This is especially true for Southerners, however.
Depending on which government agency you ask, the Gulf of Mexico provides 40 or 50 percent of the United States’ domestic seafood. As a result, Alabama has always played a significant role in the harvesting and distribution of the seafood caught along the Gulf Coast. That said, the great State of Alabama is invested tremendously in the future of the commercial fishing industry, not only in the Gulf of Mexico but also in the Mobile Delta.
Although commercial fishing is huge in our state, many of us wonder where to find quality seafood short of catching it ourselves. Have you ever pushed your cart up to the fish market in your local grocery store, expecting to see unprocessed Pacific salmon flown in overnight from Bristol Bay, alongside gag or black grouper from the deep waters off the Dry Tortugas. Maybe you had visions of whole red snapper with a twinkle in its eye from the Gulf of Mexico, heaping piles of pink and white shrimp straight from the shrimp boats that call Alabama home, or oysters straight from Mobile Bay so fresh as to still be covered in mud. But, instead of such tasty bounty, you find yourself staring into the abyss of frozen fillets of salmon from Alaska, farm-raised Atlantic salmon from Norway, processed steelhead from the Gulf of Alaska, shrimp from China, tilapia from South America, Chilean sea bass from the icy waters of Terra del Fuego. If you think you won the lottery, think again. Most seafood you see or smell behind the glass was caught, frozen and then stored on a processing ship, for God only knows how long.
Fresh seafood shouldn’t be that hard to find for those lucky enough to live along the Gulf Coast: Even better yet, we’re blessed with a string of excellent seafood restaurants lining the Causeway. All you have to do is stroll around downtown Mobile to find several excellent seafood restaurants and the occasional oyster bar. Most, if not all of them, either own commercial fishing boats or, at the very least, have a mutual relationship with the local fishermen, including the mom-and-pop seafood markets scattered along the coastline from Apalachicola to Atchafalaya Bay.
Furthermore, Bay residents can also drive to the various marinas along the coast. The commercial fishermen often sell their catch to the public at a little higher cost than what the fishmonger pays the commercial fisherman, but less than what the fishmonger would charge. If you bring a cooler filled with ice, the fishermen might even clean the fish for you. My advice? Take the time to scope out a bona fide fish market and embark on befriending your local fishmonger.
Given a choice, most consumers would buy fresh seafood if they knew where to find a local fish market, yet fresh seafood can be more expensive. Is it worth the time and energy and the additional cost? Only you can decide. Fresh meat, fish, shrimp, crabs, oysters, and even fresh fruits and vegetables are undeniably better. Maybe it’s not as convenient or readily accessible as frozen and imported seafood, but once you try fresh fish of any kind, hopefully, you will never go back.
By the way, if you happen to be one of those people who like fried fish, don’t hide your face in shame. I love fresh fried fish. A few years ago, my wife and I drove down to Lulu’s in Gulf Shores to celebrate my birthday. Unfortunately, Lulu’s is always packed, so we had to sit at the bar. A sign above the bar mentioned something about fresh red snapper. Immediately, I knew what I wanted for my birthday — fresh red snapper, of course.
When the server asked me how I wanted it cooked, I said “fried.” The poor dear almost fainted and asked me if I would not prefer to have it baked, broiled or grilled. Again, I said, “No, I want it fried.”
Faced with my obstinance on the matter, the waitress skulked away, mumbling something about “my precious.” I half expected Durin’s Bane, the demon of might, to come crawling out the kitchen and drag me deep into the mines of Moria. But, like Gandalf and his staff, I drew my credit card, stood my ground, and cried, “I want my red snapper fried with an order of crispy fries and a glass of sweet tea!” After all, we live in the South, and sometimes we want to embrace and celebrate our little quirks and stereotypes.
In case you are wondering, I finally got my fried red snapper, order of crispy fries, and several glasses of sweet tea, and, topping off my victory, I splurged and wolfed down a big piece of key lime pie to round it all off.
James Stenson writes about fly-fishing, surfing and culture, and he is the founder of Sweet Waters Adventure, an international adventure travel company catering to fly fishermen and wing shooters, based in Mobile.
Top Local Seafood Markets
DIP Seafood – Mudbugs
1870 Dauphin Island Pkwy, Mobile, 479-0123
Although it is known for its crawfish, the market carries oysters, shrimp and fish with live and cooked seafood. It also boasts a large supply of seasonings as well as potatoes, sausage and corn, making it easier than ever to plan your next crawfish boil!
Lad and Dad’s Seafood Market
3319 Demetropolis Road, Mobile, 666-6610
Lad and Dad’s Seafood Market is the definition of surf and turf. Fresh tuna, boiled shrimp and crab legs are on the menu next to rib eyes and bacon-wrapped filets. Also find stuffed chicken, jams and jellies, house rubs and spices and sides to pair with your entrees.
Trans Gulf Seafood
710 S Broad St., Mobile, 432-8819
Trans Gulf Seafood provides fresh-off-the-boat seafood. Live blue crab, shrimp, fish and oysters are customers’ favorite items. The family-owned business is known for its friendly customer service and reasonable prices; those who frequent the store appear to love the owners just as much as the seafood. Trans will cut fillets to your specifications and has a large variety to choose from.
472 Azalea Road, Mobile, 378-5625
Crawfish, snow crab, shrimp, clams, oysters and mussels are available by the pound at competitive pricing. If you simply can’t wait to dig in, all options at the family-owned emporium are also available fried or steamed to order in or carry out. Dishes are served with homemade signature sauces or other add-on options.
Mudbugs at the Loop
2005 Government St., Mobile, 478-9897
Founded in 1993 by a father and son team in Mobile, Mudbugs has grown to become one of the most recognizable local seafood markets. Catfish, scallops, flounder, swai, crab fingers and more are served fresh by the pound daily. It also showcases live crawfish with all the ingredients for a crawfish boil. You can order at the store or call ahead of time for pickup.
Fresh Seafood Distributors, LLC
9910 Milton Jones Rd., Daphne, 626-1106
The retail arm of this company offers a wide variety of fresh seafood, including red snapper, salmon, catfish, mahi, crab claws, scallops and more. Locally owned and operated for 41 years, the market also provides seafood to a large list of local restaurants, including Ralph and Kacoo’s, Felix’s Fish Camp, Dragonfly Food Bar, Dew Drop Inn and Callaghan’s.
Market by the Bay
29145 US-98, Daphne, 621-9664
Market by the Bay, owned and operated by the LeJeune family, has been blessing the Eastern Shore with seafood for 18 years. Their fresh oysters are available for purchase in a pint, quart or gallon, and fresh shrimp and fish are available by the pound. You can get the shrimp steamed for an additional fee and the market also sells clawmeat and lump crabmeat. Their adjoining restaurant features all these and more either grilled or fried.
Heritage Seafood, LLC Patrick Gormandy
Fairhope Docks Marina, 366-4564
This family-owned business specializes in Alabama wild-caught shrimp fresh from Mobile Bay. Patrick Gormandy, captain and owner, docks his boat at Fairhope Docks Marina where locals can purchase their shrimp as well as some fish and crabs in season straight off the boat. Loyal customers appreciate being a part of the sea-to-table experience.
Ahi Seafood Market
18874 Section St., Fairhope, 517-7533
If you’re looking for a market that provides local seafood alongside specialty offerings, Ahi Seafood Market is the place to visit. Ahi has many staple items as well as seafood it stocks seasonally. It also teams up with fishing partners to bring non-regional items such as snow crab, lobster, salmon and king crab to the Gulf Coast.
Lartigue Seafood Market
Located in Piggly Wiggly stores in Fairhope, Loxley, Spanish Fort and Foley
Fairhope location: 100 Plantation Pointe Road, 298-3423
Lartigue Seafood Market is a boutique within a grocery store. The vast array of fresh seafood options includes oysters, blue crabs, lobster claws and crab meat, and Lartigue’s will steam your seafood for you. Its menu, which is handcrafted daily by the in-house chef, lists many mouth-watering dishes such as crab-stuffed mushrooms, seafood casseroles, gumbo and seafood potatoes, to name a few.
Fairhope Fish House
Fairhope, 377-7135, [email protected]
The routine at Fairhope Fish House may be different, but it ensures the freshest seafood. After a day out on the water, this seafood distributor emails its subscribers to let them know what they have available. Orders are typically fulfilled the same day or the next morning. Fairhope Fish House not only catches its own seafood, but processes and delivers it as well. For a unique, as-fresh-as-possible seafood experience, this is your place.
16780 River Road, Bon Secour, 949-6288
Boats are lined up right outside the door, making Billy’s Seafood a go-to place for fresh findings. Shrimp, including head-on, oysters, flounder, snapper, grouper and tuna steaks are just a small sampling. The market also has its various seafood dips and frozen gumbo available. Not in the area? Place an order and Billy’s Seafood will ship it right to your door!
Bon Secour Fisheries
17449 County Road 49 South, Bon Secour, 949-7411
One of the oldest establishments in the business, Bon Secour Fisheries has been in operation since 1892 and is in its fourth generation of family ownership. Fresh oysters, Gulf Coast shrimp and fresh crab meat sit firmly on the menu, accompanied by an extensive and ever-changing supply of specialty seasonal seafood items. Open on weekdays from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., the retail shop is the perfect place to see the offerings in person. If you’re not able to stop by the shop, Bon Secour Fisheries also accepts orders by phone.
Aquila Seafood, Inc
17309 River Road, Bon Secour, 949-6658
Several varieties of fresh fish, shrimp and lobster are predominant at Aquila Seafood, with live crabs, oysters, crawfish and other seafood available on a rotating basis. The market is known for offering Royal Red shrimp, which are larger than regular shrimp and available seasonally from January to June. Known for their rich taste, they have often been compared to lobster or bay scallops and are individually quick frozen to preserve freshness. For Red Royal shrimp alone, Aquila Seafood is worth a visit.
Safe Harbour Seafood
5822 Heritage Circle, Bon Secour, 949-7442
Safe Harbour Seafood has been family owned for 30 years. They work with local fisheries to provide fresh shrimp, live crabs, mullet, oysters, crawfish, flounder, white trout and more to its customers. Caught daily, the seafood is as fresh as you can find, and Safe Harbour supplies an assortment of seasonings that will complement whatever you order.
Foley Fish Co.
321 South McKenzie Street, Foley, 943-6461
Foley Fish Co. has an extensive list of fresh seafood caught and delivered daily. Squid, crab legs, shrimp and boneless fish fillets, including cobia, shark and mahi-mahi, make the perfect entrees to accompany the array of hushpuppies, etoufees, crab cakes, seasonings and sauces also at the market. Foley Fish Co. will also steam shrimp, crawfish and crab legs for an extra dollar per pound, and coolers are available to purchase for an easy trip home. You can call ahead to have your order ready for you when you arrive.
Blalock Seafood, Inc.
24822 Canal Road, Orange Beach, 974-5811
Blalock Seafood may be a one-stop shop for your next seafood dinner! Fresh fish, including seasonal varieties, oysters by the dozen and four different kinds of blue crab meat abound here. It also offers seasonings to complement your seafood. While there, pick up some shrimp bisque, smoked tuna dip, a few premium cheeses and a bottle from the large selection of wines in stock, and you’re all set!
South Mobile County
Royal Lagoon Seafood
5208 Mobile South Street, Theodore, 844-6972
The vast assortment of fresh fish is reason enough to give this market a visit. Anything from swordfish to halibut to speckled trout is available and, besides fish, the menu sports a sizable selection of crab, oysters, shrimp and specialty seafood items. The market even has sushi, soups and meat items such as boudin and different types of sausage, including alligator, shrimp and crawfish. Its market menu includes mouth-watering items such as crab-stuffed jalapenos, crab cakes, crawfish pie and salmon petit fours.
4411 Saint Stephens Rd., Eight Mile, 456-9462
Red fish, oysters, live blue crab, flounder, live crawfish — the list of fresh options at 45 Seafood goes on. The market offers to boil or fry seafood at $2 per pound.
Skinner’s Seafood, LLC
1012 Bienville Boulevard, Dauphin Island, 861-4221
Gary Skinner started Skinner’s Seafood after running his own shrimp boat for nine years. Family owned since 2004, the store sells fresh, wild caught seafood — never farmed, never frozen. Fish, crab and oysters are offered, but Skinner’s Seafood is best known for their shrimp. Most of the shrimp comes directly off the A.S. Skinner shrimp boat and is transported to the store. The store is equipped to steam seafood onsite for customers to take home. It also sells steamed plates to go.
One of the perks of sourcing local is that you are able to see first-hand signs of freshness. If you are paying a little extra at a bonafide fish market, not only are you able to examine the fish before you buy it and ask questions about where and when it was caught. To make the effort of getting fresh fish worth your while, when you take it home, put it in the refrigerator right away and bake, broil, or grill your fresh fish that very night.