I’m not leaving my Midtown abode anytime in the near future, but I’ll say Fairhope ain’t too bad of a spot. The little colony that could has a lot to offer, with a wonderful downtown scene and stunning sunset views along the bay. A recent visit to the Eastern Shore found me wandering the streets and peeking into galleries of local art and independent bookstores as I passed plenty of eateries and bars.

I don’t get to review many restaurants on that side of the pond, so when this opportunity presented itself I had to choose between several establishments that have provided me with much culinary joy in days gone by. I had quite a list, but chose wisely by making my way to Thyme by the Bay.

I was first introduced to Thyme by the Bay at a farm-to-table event at which they were preparing the meal. I remember being as impressed with the creativity as I was the execution. I have yet to hear someone speak ill of this place, so I couldn’t wait to creep on down to Mobile Street to reignite the flame.

This particular evening was right after a short spell of rain showers, so dining al fresco was out of the question. The small restaurant looks as though it may have once been a diner, with an L-shaped counter and a handful of tables. It’s a tight fit, but the menu more than makes up for the small space.

(Photos | yelp.com) Thyme by the Bay’s chicken caprese flatbread with truffle fries and mussels.

(Photos | yelp.com) Thyme by the Bay’s chicken caprese flatbread with truffle fries and mussels.

Seafood paella sounded, looked and smelled amazing as the table to the right dug into theirs. Caramel cashew duck with duck fat potatoes, crimini mushrooms and charred kale is now on my radar. So are the braised pork cheeks with gnocchi and all the trimmings. The problem was narrowing down our order to a socially acceptable level. I figured the best way to go was to order a few appetizers and a chef’s special.

With the aid of our waitress and my dinner date, Catherine, we came to a decision over a couple glasses of La Galope rosé ($10 per glass) and were told we HAD to try the truffle fries ($7). For seven bucks’ worth of french fries, these are a steal. A large cone of Idaho potatoes with parmesan cheese, truffle oil and scallions could only be made better by a truffle aioli that I could swear had garlic in it. This could be a perfect snack for two over sunset drinks.

The Southern ($8) was another highly recommended dish, the house version of fried green tomatoes. A very crispy batter made this one a little different and the goat cheese, house bacon and pepper jelly served the tomatoes well over local greens. Not a morsel was left on the plate.

Getting into the thick of it, my third appetizer may have been the best. Tuna tartare ($12) blew me away. Matchsticks of lemon-pickled turnip topped this sizable selection while a cucumber-avocado puree and nori dressing really stood out. I couldn’t figure out what that sauce was until I reread the menu. To make sure you’re getting your money’s worth they throw in a little bit of blue crab for good measure. I was tempted to eat it without using my hands but they serve house-made potato chips for dipping.

(Photos | yelp.com) Thyme by the Bay’s chicken caprese flatbread with truffle fries and mussels.

(Photos | yelp.com) Thyme by the Bay’s chicken caprese flatbread with truffle fries and mussels.

The chef’s special ($27) was equally as good. A perfectly cooked piece of flounder with lemon pistou crab came with the same pickled turnips mentioned earlier as well as sautéed veggies. The pistou was kind of like pesto but substituted cilantro for the basil and lost the pine nuts. The whole plate was absolutely stunning.

Of course, with three appetizers and an entree of this size we were stuffed to the gills, so dessert, as it often has to be, was ordered to go. The description just said, “coconut cake” ($6). When I opened the box I found drizzles of caramel and thinly sliced strawberries. I wondered how this would work with my beloved coconut cake. Shame on me, for this chef had given me no reason to doubt. It was perfect. The cake was moist, the coconut was present and accounted for, and the strawberries and caramel were more like a garnish with unexpected complementing flavors.

That was a fantastic meal. I was expecting something good, but this was amazing. As we were waiting for our check, the sun was going down. The rain had subsided and the outdoor tables were patted dry for some lucky diners coming in for a meal after ours. I was a touch jealous as I watched the sunset through the window, but I really have nothing to complain about.

If you haven’t heard, Thyme is probably only a few weeks away from opening Thyme on Section. The new restaurant will be at 33 N. Section St. not far from other favorites such as Master Joe’s (amazing sushi), The Bone and Barrel, and Camellia Cafe. Keep an eye on both Facebook pages for updates and see the full menu at www.thymebythebay.com. The www.thymeonsection.com website is still under construction.

I’ll stay in MiMo, but if you happen to live near downtown Fairhope I won’t be feeling sorry for you. Make your way to Thyme by the Bay. I’ll return soon.

Thyme by the Bay
151 S. Mobile St.
Fairhope 36532