Cajun food has always played an important role in Michael and Melissa Lee’s life, from their childhood upbringing in Louisiana to their 15 years spent working at a southern seafood restaurant. The brother and sister teamed up to open Mikey’s Grill, pulling from their combined talents and years of experience to craft a menu filled with contemporary takes on classic Cajun dishes that have been lauded by reporters from Birmingham Weekly. Chef Michael “Mikey” Lee commands the kitchen, slicing steaks and grating cheese himself while ensuring only the finest seafood is used in his innovative pastas and specialties, turning away catches that aren’t fresh enough. Michael’s mother Donna can also be spotted in the kitchen, whipping up the restaurant’s freshly baked desserts from scratch and pinching any exposed cheeks in her visual range. Out in the dining hall, Melissa takes the lead, cheerfully greeting guests and captaining a team of friendly servers, who place plates of gourmet dishes, baskets of rolls, and glasses of colorful cocktails on red-clothed tables.
Chuck’s Fish shells out fresh seafood from the Gulf Coast and hand-cut steaks from local markets. Chuck's procures all its succulent seafood from a wholesale market in Destin, Florida, using hook and line catching methods rather than luring fish to patrons' plates with the promise of a Hawaiian timeshare. The Tuscaloosa location’s extensive dinner menu showcases entrees such as surf 'n’ turf with an 8-ounce filet mignon and stuffed shrimp or jumbo lump crab cakes ($32), hickory-oven pizzas ($10–15), and sushi.
George Sarris likes to know where his food comes from. In the case of his olive oil brand, named after his hometown of Tsitalia, he personally knows the Greek families who grow the olives. As for his seafood, much of it is "caught" inside his restaurant—lobsters and even rainbow trout are all kept live in Fish Market's advanced tank system. Anything that he can't pluck from the water himself gets fetched from the coast by the restaurant's own trucks, dispatched twice weekly for maximum freshness. There's shrimp from the gulf and oysters from Louisiana, among others.
All of these ingredients come together on a menu of Mediterranean and Southern specialties. It's an unusual but tasty merger: po' boys share tables with Sicilian mussels, and crawfish etouffee sits beside Athenian-style grouper. Some dishes, like the fried snapper throats, are Fish Market signatures that are hard to find elsewhere in or around Birmingham. Others still are limited to the restaurant's Sunday menu, such as pork chops drizzled in a citrus marinade.
There’s no shortage of renowned oyster establishments in the South. But TripSmarter.com pegged Wintzell’s Oyster House as its #1 destination for the specialty. “Fried, stewed, or nude,” they come served in every way imaginable at Wintzell’s—oysters are, unsurprisingly so, the trademark dish. And they’ve been the trademark dish since the eatery’s flagship location opened in 1938.
Regional seafood favorites also dominate the menu, from low-country boils to Cajun seafood fettuccine and bacon-wrapped shrimp. While the original location became something of a landmark in historic Mobile, the restaurant has since expanded to multiple locations. Each one, though, retains the original’s decorative signature: several dozen whimsical signs on the walls. The website even features some of their slogans: “Never kick a man when he is down—he may get up.”
With a delectable selection of chophouse favorites from land, sea, and sky, Austin's Seafood and Steak gives premium proteins new homes on plates and palates. Each of Austin's certified Angus steaks—from the 8-ounce top sirloin ($12.99) to the 14-ounce cajun ribeye ($20.99)—is hand-cut daily by kitchen beefmasters, preserving freshness and appeasing the cravings of the restaurant's eager-to-help meat cleavers. Fish and fowl round out the menu, as tender scallops ($16.99) bring familiar comfort to tables of off-duty mermaids. The Mardi Gras chicken ($12.99) throws a tablecloth Carnival with a colorful assortment of peppers, onions, and sauces served in the shape of a smiling-jester float.
In 1938, J. Oliver Wintzell opened a tiny seafood joint on Dauphin Street in historic Mobile, Alabama. With room for just six customers to hop up on barstools and sample oysters prepared in three signature styles—“fried, stewed, or nude"—the eatery harbored modest ambitions and kept itself in check with walls strewn with Oliver’s homespun sayings. Oysters this great can’t remain a secret for long, though, and Wintzell’s Oyster House began to grow at such a rate that Oliver was compelled to expand to new locations throughout Alabama.
Despite the restaurant’s rapid growth, remarkably little has changed since those early days. Oliver’s wit and wisdom still covers the walls, and the menu still tempts with its stuffed crabs, USDA-certified steaks, and signature oysters. In keeping with the cozy atmosphere Oliver cultivated by necessity more than 70 years ago, shuckers stationed at the oyster bar chat with diners as they garnish half shells with hickory-smoked bacon and slap away the tentacles of sneaky krakens. Tom Bross of Delta Sky Magazine has some helpful words of advice for first-time visitors to the restaurant: "Let the Southern hospitality, laid-back tempo and maybe a cold one help you unwind."