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New pizza restaurants, including Section Street Pizza, proliferated on the Eastern Shore in 2018, while Mobile welcomed The Cheese Cottage and other notable offerings.

Pop the bottles and sing the song, light the last of the fireworks and say hello to another year. 2018 was not an exceptionally bad year in the world of food, although I personally closed it out with a terrible stomach virus, the likes of which I had not seen in the better part of a decade. It always happens around the holidays, doesn’t it?

I should be good to go for the 8th of January, a Mississippi holiday, of course, otherwise known as Elvis’ birthday, where the streets of Tupelo welcome dad bods in jumpsuits with pork-chop sideburns driving gilded Cadillacs. Hoping to be 100 percent by then.

The downtime had me thinking of what the past year gave us, so before we get to the usual reviewing of restaurants, let’s take a look at the 365 days that led up to this one.

Give us the good news first

We began the year with Arroy Thai Cuisine debuting on Government Street. It actually opened just before the year began, but 2018 was when it really got its legs. Much was the same for The Cheese Cottage, which showed us just what we were missing in cheeses. El Papi found its footing around the beginning of the year, too. We knew you’d be crazy for it. We all love Chuck’s Fish and Five Bar, so why not higher-end Mexican?

The Dublin Irish Pub came to Old Shell Road, spreading shamrock love to the USA campus area. Baumhower’s Victory Grille opened at the Shoppes at Bel Air long before Texas de Brazil made its mark there.

West Mobile benefited from LoDa Bier Garten opening at the corner of Schillinger and Cottage Hill. Kraver’s Seafood opened a spot not far from there, to much acclaim. Flipped Out Kitchen sneaked in with a unique concept. Closer to Interstate 65 we found Walk-On’s Bistreaux to be an exciting spot knowing Drew Brees has some interest in it.

Pinebrook Shopping Center got a shot in the arm from Poke Luau and MOD Pizza for the “create your own” savvy.

The Eastern Shore was ripe with new offerings such as the Cactus Cantina and Section Street Pizza of Fairhope, Yinzer’s Pizza fronted by Mark Bentz, Buster’s Brick Oven next to Manci’s Antique Club, and Southwood Kitchen, all within spitting distance of downtown Daphne. Farther south, the OWA amusement park was privileged to get Crazy Donuts, plus the second location of Spanish Fort’s Trattoria Pizza and Italian. Tex-ar-bama Barbecue opened a new brick-and-mortar spot in downtown Fairhope after a successful debut on the outskirts of town.

We saw a rise in popularity of food on the go with the Hotdoggery and Tin-tin’s Rock and Roll Food Truck as well as the nifty Cuppa Go, a pedal-powered coffee shop. In other coffee news, Chaleur made a move from Glenwood and Airport to Dauphin and Semmes in the old Mobile Popcorn building, affording them the ability to do some baking to go with their good java, something they had planned all along. 

Ruby Slipper Café slipped into a cozy spot on Royal Street, giving Mobile the second location in South Alabama. Those biscuits are incredible. Trust that the St. Charles Chicken is the best of the Benedicts.

After all the hullabaloo of everything that was torn down at the corner of Old Shell and Florida Street, we finally got our Publix. This fostered in more restaurants, including Taco Mama and Simple Greek, just in time for the clusterfudge that is the Florida Street road construction that nearly sank it all, but we still push forward.

World Market got to the Springdale Mall just in time for the holidays with superior candies, wine at great prices and the oft forgotten Clearly Canadian.

Now for the bad

I won’t dwell on the negative too much, but we did lose a few this year. Chat A Way Café in Spring Hill, Grimaldi’s Pizza in the Bel Air mall and Fuzzy’s Tacos didn’t make it through 2018. Neither did PDQ, just around the corner from Fuzzy’s. Old Shell Growlers shuttered when the owners shifted focus to LoDa’s western location but will soon reopen as Nixon. El Camino Taco Shack was full of promise in Fairhope, but didn’t last long.

Closer to home, Jonelli’s couldn’t cut the mustard despite those wonderful Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago-style dogs. In the OGD, Cream and Sugar said a heartfelt goodbye but it was the abrupt closing of Kitchen on George just before the holidays that got the neighborhood chattering.

Finally, the sad

Mobile icons left us this year. Chief Oyster Shucker Willie Brown of Wintzell’s fame passed away in the spring. The oyster bar now bears his name so that we have a place to sit and remember him. Mary Scarcliff, owner of the Lighthouse Bakery on Dauphin Island, left us a bit later. The bakery is now run by her daughter, who has gone to great lengths to keep her spirit there. Most recently we lost beloved Gaynell Mathers, otherwise known as Queen G.

Outside of our reaches, the world lost Anthony Bourdain, writer, chef, television personality. I guess the 2018 food world was not without tears.

I’m sure to have missed a few, but by my calculations our local food scene seems to be on a positive path. I’m for more of the shorter menus and fewer tables. Give us more places to eat and fewer seats to fill. Let your 2019 resolution be, “Go small or go home!” That’s our best way to continue to grow.