I’ve been doing this job for a while. It is a source of great pleasure for me, as I’m someone who loves to eat, experience new foods, visit new restaurants and try to get my finger on the pulse of what is happening in this area’s food and beverage scene. What’s that? You do, too? I’ve got some bad news for you, sunshine. We all do.

We are all food critics. We all like to think we know the best thing to eat and where to get it. We all want to know we have a hidden gem we’d love to tell you about, and we all wait with bated breath for someone we trust to turn us on to something the likes of which we’d never heard. I am no different from you in that respect. The only difference is that my job is to write about those experiences and hope you trust my judgment.

Much in the same way, when we print the list of Nappie winners we trust the judgment of our readers and allow you to decide who deserves the top honors. This year’s winners were all so random and different it was a fresh look at what Mobile appreciates. By analyzing the final results, with no knowledge of runaways or “wins by a nose,” I got the feeling there was less ballot stuffing in the food categories than usual. Maybe the new system is a success. That is not for me to decide. There are a few of my favorites that didn’t make the cut, but I’m not a voter. However, I am very happy with the broad range of winners.  

There seem to be fewer multi-category winners this year, lending to a greater variety. Butch Cassidy’s won for best locally owned restaurant as well as best hamburger. Flour Girls grabbed a couple, including best bakery and cupcake. Foosackly’s got some support for best chain, hangover food, ice, and sweet tea. You can’t fake the Foo. Wintzell’s received top honors for raw oysters and gumbo.

One of the big surprises was the Downtown Cajun Cook-Off’s nabbing of the “Best Annual Food Event” award. This year’s was the first, and it took Downtown Mobile by storm with live music and plenty of competitors, all doing something a bit different. A title usually held by American Cancer Society’s Chili Cook-Off, it makes you wonder if its move to The Grounds this year had an influence. Lagniappe readers do love Downtown events. The way I see it, we now have food events Downtown and in West Mobile that are worth supporting. Add to that the St. Mary’s Crawfish and Bluegrass Festival in Midtown and the whole city is covered as far as food festivals go.

In barbecue, best restaurant went to Moe’s, best sauce went to Brick Pit, Dick Russell’s got best biscuits and best ribs went to Dreamland. What a way to spread the love! I certainly don’t turn my nose up to any of those places. Make a list, throw a dart and pick me up for lunch.

A lot of newbies got some representation this year. “Best New Restaurant” went to Dumbwaiter for the fine dining category. Sunset Pointe at Fly Creek Marina won for casual dining. Noble South won for its innovative menu. Pour Baby got some ink for best server Emily Muncaster. Briquettes Steakhouse is this year’s most underrated restaurant. Half Shell Oyster House has your favorite po’ boy and Mirko is your Italian restaurant of choice. The ink is barely dry on the Melting Pot’s menus, but that didn’t stop them from winning for best first date.

Old favorites like Carpe Diem and the Coffee Loft reemerged as victors for Mobile and Eastern Shore coffeehouses. Alan Tolson is still roasting up a mean cup over on Old Shell Road at Carpe Diem. The menu has changed and will continue to seasonally.

If you’ve never tried Cakes by Judi you owe it to yourself. Sure, she won for best wedding cake, but I don’t see the need for matrimony when it comes to those bad boys. Order a cake for any occasion. If you must have an actual wedding cake and you are already married, then make an excuse by renewing your vows. Do it just for the cake.

Greer’s really took some big steps this year and came out on top for best local grocery store. I’ve been very proud of what they’ve accomplished in MiMo and Downtown. Rouse’s deserves the award for grocery chain and Fresh Market won the gourmet category. Though Winn-Dixie and Publix weren’t awarded, they are still going strong and making our grocer community much more than it was a decade ago. And to think we even have a Whole Foods coming soon!

My friend Mike Bailey says Mobile is going through a restaurant and musical renaissance. I hope he’s right. His guess, however, is not an uneducated one. When I think about all of my favorites that didn’t make the cut, I’m in no way upset. This list has some deserving winners, and it shows how great our culinary scene has become. Nurture it, Mobile! Let it grow to epic proportions.

Congratulations to all the winners.