When I visit a new place, I tend to research food first and foremost. I want to know the “must-eats” of the region. Downtown Mobile is enjoying a boom. There are new restaurants and establishments popping up every month, it seems. Two Mobile residents, Chris and Laney Andrews, of Bienville Bites Food Tours, have a unique and tasty way of showing some of the best of what downtown Mobile has to offer to tourists and locals alike in their food tour. The three hours of this Bienville Bites Food Tour passed like minutes in the stroll down Dauphin, as we listened to Chris tell fascinating stories of the history of our fair city and its most famous dishes.
The idea for running a downtown Mobile food tour came to the couple while playing a game of cards with friends, “as all great ideas do,” Chris said. The friends were gushing about a food tour they had taken of Savannah, Georgia. The appropriateness of a food tour in a city known for the motto “Born to Celebrate” was not lost on Chris. The idea literally kept him up at night. He did his research, spent a weekend in Chicago training with a tour company, and Chris and Laney launched Bienville Bites Food Tours in October of 2017.
The three-hour tour meets up in the charming courtyard of The Royal Scam. Although I always order the fantastic Pimento Cheese Burger with house fries and their addictive spicy mango salad, this time we were there for the seafood gumbo. We ate with gusto while Chris informed us about the origins of gumbo and how it just might have been created in Mobile, not Louisiana, as most assume. That was pretty fascinating, and new information to me. How was the gumbo? Spicy and rich and packed with crawfish, crab, and shrimp, just the way it’s supposed to be.
We proceeded to Panini Pete’s, home of the best beignets this side of the Mississippi River. Yes, I said it, and they will, too. They are pillows of sweet, airy, crispy perfection, and the lemon is not optional. Founder Pete Blohm wasn’t there. He was, naturally, hanging with Guy Fieri shooting an episode for the Food Network. We were greeted by his business partner, Nick Dimario, who affirmed what I always had suspected: their beignets seriously are the best. We also munched on an assortment of panini, including their muffaletta panino, named one of Alabama Department of Tourism‘s 100 Things to Eat in Alabama Before You Die. It was not my first time eating it, and it certainly won’t be my last. Another favorite is the fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil, a classic.
We strolled over to the A&M Peanut Shop, one of our favorite spots to grab a snack. I haven’t been to a lot peanut shops with 100+-year-old roasting machines–have you? My five-year-old son often begs me to take him to A&M Peanut Shop for their impressive array of gummy candy in all shapes imaginable. Gummy butterflies? Yes, please. We sampled their delicious assortment of mixed nuts and went along on our merry way to Three George’s Candy Shop.
Although I’ve never made pralines, I’ve eaten my fair share. We were greeted by Tasha Thompson, who invited us to watch her make pralines in giant copper bowl over a heating element. For those of you who are unfamiliar, pralines are a candy made from a mixture of brown sugar, butter, pecans, evaporated milk and vanilla. Stirring the mixture the entire time, Ms. Thompson entertained her guests, eliciting giggles from the children. The highlight of our visit with the delightful Tasha was the VIP experience (one only available on Bienville Bites Food Tour): scooping the praline mixture from the copper bowl ourselves and depositing it on the parchment-lined sheet pan. After a few minutes of cooling time, we plucked the still-warm pralines from the paper, which melted in the mouth. Tasha invited us to grab one for the road as we said our goodbyes and thank-yous to our hostess and proceeded across the street to Heroes Sports Bar and Grille.
Mobile is a seafood city. Heroes’ Crawfish and Spinach dip was a welcome savory addition to our day’s menu. Creamy and rich, packed with succulent crawfish meat and verdant spinach, and served with fluffy pita bread, this dip is one I’d definitely order again. While we ate our dip, we chatted and basked in the much-anticipated sunshine (after having weeks of nearly arctic weather). We couldn’t have picked more gorgeous weather for our tour.
Our next stop was Kazoola, an eatery that also hosts live jazz and blues. Kazoola was named to honor the memory and heritage of Cudjoe “Kazoola” Lewis, the last survivor of the Clotilde (the sunken remains of which may have just been recently discovered), the last recorded slave ship that entered the U.S. via Mobile Bay. Kazoola’s portrait hangs in the back room of the restaurant, as well as prints of other historic documents like early 20th century census reports. Kazoola’s cuisine is best described as soul food, and its patrons enjoy a brunch buffet (with bottomless mimosas!) every Saturday. We indulged in the fried fish and grits. The fish was hot, fresh, and flaky, and the grits were seasoned perfectly. As fried fish counts among my son’s favorite foods, I can’t wait to return with him in tow.
We strolled back down Dauphin to our last stop of the tour: Von’s Bistro. Von’s, a fusion of Asian and Southern cuisine, is a personal favorite lunch spot of mine, especially on Mondays and Wednesdays, for pho and ramen noodle bowls, respectively. We ended our tour snacking on wontons and spring rolls, two of their most popular appetizer. They were hot and crisp, paired perfectly with a sweet and spicy chili dipping sauce, and a perfect ending to such a sumptuous food tour. We often have visitors from out of state, and I cannot wait for them to join us on this valuable and delicious cultural excursion.
Tours start at 11AM and end at 2PM every Saturday. The LoDa Stroll, recounted here, is $55 per person. For the next three weeks, they will be running a Floats and Food tour for Mardi Gras which includes a private balcony on the parade route. Call (251) 406-8008 to book or visit their website to book. They also offer private tours for events and parties.