Even though I claim not to travel all that much, Martha and I decided to squeeze in a six-day visit to friends in southern Alabama a few weeks ago.
We first flew to Pensacola, Fla. and then drove about 60 miles west to Point Clear, Ala. It’s adjacent to Fairhope, along the east side of Mobile Bay. There we enjoyed a five-night stay at the Marriott Point Clear Resort and Spa, a picturesque spot on the shoreline.
Our arrival coincided with the brief visit of the Carnival Triumph (the giant pleasure ship that had gone adrift in the Caribbean for several days) across the bay. Like the Triumph, we arrived on a Friday evening, but by the time we searched the far shore for the ship the next morning, the company had moved it to another spot.
We went to Point Clear for two reasons – on our last visit to southern Alabama two years ago, we visited the Marriott to see what the place was all about, and thought we’d enjoy time there in the future. But more importantly, this trip was a chance to be with four of Martha’s former college classmates – folks we see at least a few times a year, and whose company we really enjoy.
One of Martha’s classmates also happens to be her cousin, Ann. She and her husband, John, live in Huntsville – about as far in Alabama as anyone could get from Mobile Bay. The other couple – Larry and Elaine – moved a couple of years back from Paducah, Ky. to Foley, Ala. – about 10 miles to the east of our resort.
Late February is an iffy time to visit the Gulf Coast because the weather generally can be cool. On one morning during our stay the mercury dipped to 29 degrees, but we also experienced temperatures in the 60s on most days – a lot more comfortable than Stevens Point in late winter.
One unpleasant thing along Mobile Bay at this time of year is the winds. On one day they reached 40 miles an hour, making it uncomfortable to enjoy a stroll along the shore. But on our final day, the winds had subsided sufficiently and allowed us to plunk down on beach chairs, bask in the sunshine and watch pelicans and shore birds.
John and Ann also stayed at the Marriott and we did most everything together during our stay. As you already know if you’ve read this column with any regularity, I tend to love food and during this trip, a few eating adventures stood out.
Without question, our top epicurean experience came at Larry and Elaine’s house when Larry prepared his specialty – a shrimp boil – for the six of us. He shopped at the fresh market for large shrimp and along with spicy kielbasa, added baby red potatoes and corn on the cob to the boiling pot. The result was a flavorful dinner and, with the addition of good wine, it was a superb treat.
On the evening of our arrival, we didn’t particularly enjoy paying $15 for a hamburger in the Marriott lounge – even though the menu noted the burger was Kobe beef. Two hamburgers and a couple of drinks – including gratuity – for $60 seemed over the top.
So rather than have expensive breakfasts there (room service offerings from $7.50 for cereal to $25 for the All-American), we went to downtown Fairhope on three mornings.
A longtime favorite local eatery, Julwen’s Restaurant, an unpretentious diner, did a fine job with breakfast. I made the mistake of ordering the special – a big breakfast – on our first visit, and could barely finish it. It included three sizeable pancakes, eggs, bacon and toast and grits. I downsized on the other two visits.
On our final night, the six of us enjoyed an outstanding dinner at Jesse’s Restaurant in nearby Magnolia Springs. Steve and Angela Coltharp operate the fine dining establishment – Steve, a southern Mississippi native, said they took it over last fall after moving back to the area from Denver.
Martha and I chose something unusual from the newly-revised menu – Jesse’s Whiskey Steak. The restaurant marinates the 16-ounce ribeye in Jack Daniel’s, giving the juicy cut of meat a wonderful flavor. The entrée also featured locally-grown vegetables and the diner’s choice of garlic mashed potatoes, smoked Gouda grits or risotto of the day.
It was difficult to choose our meals – the signature menu also featured smoked half duck, pale ale braised beef short ribs and shrimp and grits, among other offerings. Our server was witty and attentive, and Steve checked in to make sure our meals were satisfactory.
Since our visit included a weekend, we looked for a church at which to attend Mass. We spotted one about a mile up the road from our resort, and as we drove by quickly, noticed the sign telling of an 8 a.m. Mass on Sunday. When we arrived on the appointed day, we found the gate closed, so we checked the sign again only to notice an appended sign we’d missed seeing before – that the church was closed for the winter.
So we drove around for a half-hour looking for another place to worship before thinking it might be good to check our GPS device. We got lucky and pulled up to St. Lawrence parish at 8:28 a.m., just in time for the 8:30 service.
So perhaps the most fitting way to end this column is to say, “Amen.”