When the weather outside is far from frightful, grab a place at the table at these Gulf Coast faves with dining options in the great outdoors.
By Mark A. Newman, Courtney Austin, and Catherine Neill Juchheim - photography by Jack Gardner
If you’re looking for a great place to relax and grab a bite, look no further than Boss Oyster Restaurant in downtown Apalachicola. The eatery in this scenic river town invites residents and visitors alike to slow down and enjoy the view of the meandering boats and lingering waterfowl while you dine on delicious Gulf seafood fresh from local waters. Located on the banks of the Apalachicola River, this little jewel offers its famous Apalachicola Bay oysters 30 ways—from raw on the halfshell to baked and smothered in just about any ingredient you can imagine, including bacon and jalapenos! And they don’t just stop with oysters. Boss Oyster is also famous for its blue crab, bay scallops, and jumbo shrimp.
For diners with slightly different tastes, you only need to take a few steps across the courtyard to Boss Oyster’s sister restaurant, Caroline’s. There you can help yourself to pasta, steak, or the best breakfast menu in town, all with the same great outdoor view. And being in animal-friendly Apalachicola, your pets are welcome to join you for your outdoor dining experience.—Catherine Neill Juchheim
Boss Oyster Restaurant, Apalachicola, FL, 850-653-9364, www.apalachicolariverinn.com
Outdoor dining on the Gulf Coast usually conjures images of sunset views over the crystal water – often with high prices and long lines. How about dining on a quaint cottage porch shaded by century old oaks overlooking a historic park? If you feel the need to escape the hustle and bustle of tourist “hot spots,” go to Dharma Blue -- where the locals suggest enjoying an outdoor meal on the Gulf Coast. This colorful landmark located across from Pensacola’s Seville Square offers dynamic cuisine in an animated atmosphere.
The rose-colored Victorian cottage is accented with a sweeping front porch that invites diners to stop in and stay a while. As a breeze blows, diners can enjoy the views of the historic park while feasting on the restaurant’s wide variety of award-winning cuisine. Ranging from freshly prepared sushi to the soup of the day to rich, sumptuous steak dishes, the food served up at Dharma Blue will hit the spot no matter what a diner is craving.
Dining outdoors is a must during a visit to Dharma Blue, but if the weather doesn’t permit, there’s no need to be discouraged. Indoors, the restaurant features vibrant artwork from regional folk legends, creating a funky yet refined atmosphere that all guests (even those dining outdoors) must see. Of course, the main treat is the meal, and you are guaranteed to enjoy it wherever you eat, but a helping of atmosphere always adds to the meal, and this is one that definitely won’t disappoint! —Courtney Austin
Dharma Blue, 300 S. Alcaniz St., Pensacola, 850-433-1275
The Original Oyster House
Visitors to and residents of the Alabama Gulf Coast are lucky; there are two locations of the Original Oyster House to choose from—one on the Bayway leading east out of Mobile and the other situated on a small bayou in the heart of Gulf Shores. And it’s the Gulf Coast location—which is celebrating 25 years of serving the best lip-smacking seafood on the Gulf in 2008—that has a nice deck where you and 40 or so of your friends can enjoy their mouthwatering shrimp and grits while getting eyed suspiciously by eager egrets, soaring seagulls, and even a timid turtle or two! If you’re a seafood fan, you’ve found your nirvana as there’s literally nothing under the sun missing from the Original Oyster House’s menu. —Mark A. Newman
The Original Oyster House, Bayou Village Shopping Center, Gulf Shores, 251-948-2445
Battleship Pkwy., Mobile, 251-662-2188
Cosmo’s: an epicurean experience
Picked by Courtney Austin
Close your eyes. Imagine sitting at a table overlooking the beaches of Jamaica with a cold drink in one hand and the freshest seafood around in front of you. Does it get better than this? Actually it does! You can experience the tropical flair of the Caribbean without the distance. Cosmo’s in Orange Beach offers the food and atmosphere you would expect in a tropical dream right on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. After experiencing Cosmo’s, you’ll see why their sushi was voted best on the island. Tantalize your taste buds with appetizers like the spicy firecracker shrimp or sample Cosmo’s savory cheesecake. Move on to entrees with the sesame seared tuna salad—a favorite among diners—which is light, yet filling, and undeniably delicious! Another favorite is the banana leaf-wrapped fish, a Caribbean flair to a Gulf Coast favorite. It’s hard to put your fork down, but be sure to save room for the famous banana fritters. Cosmo’s is a great place to gather with friends. Weather permitting, the deck is full of diners and dancers, swaying to the sounds of the island’s best bands. Grab some specialty drinks and spend the night catching up in the warm island breeze.
For a taste of the Caribbean, visit Cosmo’s and enjoy the tropics without the plane tickets.
Cosmo’s, Orange Beach, Alabama, 251-948-9663, cosmosrestaurantandbar.com.