Friday, January 1, 2010

Dew Drop Inn
Mobile, Alabama

A local institution since 1924 and Mobile’s oldest restaurant, the Dew Drop Inn on Old Shell Road specializes in hot dogs on toasted buns. More than just a sandwich shop however, the eatery serves fresh seafood, choice steaks, and a variety of southern side dishes.

With its rows of orange Formica tables and wooden booths, worn tile floors and wood-paneled walls, the Dew Drop Inn exemplifies casual. The place, in fact, hasn’t been remodeled in some 30 years, and it shows. But the dated surroundings only add to the restaurant’s character. Instrumental blues, piped through cheap speakers, sounds tinny yet fitting.

We arrive at 2:00 on a weekday afternoon—midway between lunch and dinner—to an impossibly crowded parking lot and a nearly full house. From construction workers to professionals in suits, all types patronize the restaurant. A smiling waitress dressed in denim shorts moseys toward our table. She explains the daily specials and even offers samples of the side dishes to help us decide. Dad and I have plenty of hot dogs back home in Chicago (on soft buns and minus the ketchup) so we bypass the house specialty and order an assortment of southern favorites at the Dew Drop Inn.

The dark gumbo, mildly seasoned and loaded with shrimp, oysters, and vegetables is an ideal southern coastal appetizer. We enjoy a breaded and fried catfish fillet—crisp and delicately spiced –and a 5-ounce, grilled hamburger steak covered with sautéed onions and brown gravy. Our sides include turnip greens with smoky bacon, creamed lima beans, tangy baked potato salad, white rice with brown gravy, and ordinary French fries. Sweet, warm finger-shaped hush puppies and crumbly corn bread complement our meals.

I usually skip restaurant desserts, but the peach cobbler served in a bowl sounds so authentic that I order one to share. Hot and sweet, with lots of peachy syrup and tender crust, this classic southern dessert provides an appropriate finish to our meal. The Dew Drop Inn serves beer and wine, and Coca-Cola comes in short 8-ounce glass bottles reminiscent of an earlier era. Entrée and sandwich prices are reasonable, but extra side dishes can increase the tab significantly.

The tasty southern cooking and informal atmosphere at the Dew Drop Inn add up to a satisfying and memorable dining experience. It’s no wonder the place has been around for decades.

from 2004

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