SOCU Southern Kitchen and Oyster Bar
455 Dauphin St.
Mobile, AL 36602
Downtown streets were mostly filled for a Thursday night. Much like the term “business casual,” Mobile was “pandemic loose.” I wouldn’t say caution had been thrown to the wind. Our good people seemed socially distant while participating in mostly masked revelry. The bars and restaurants may not have been packed, but you could tell there was a decent amount of activity at the usual hotspots.
We were on a double date. I’m not exactly comfortable enough to go bar-hopping, but dinner with the same friends with whom we’ve quarantined this entire time feels OK. In search of something better than burgers and beer, we made reservations at SOCU.
The short story is Mobile native Erica Barrett returns home to open a brick-and-mortar after success with her Southern Culture Foods in Atlanta. These high-quality products found their way to market shelves after a boost from the television show “Shark Tank” and attention from Oprah Winfrey. Open since the fall, this would be my first visit to SOCU. Same for Rob. But our wives had already eaten here back in October.
I know this building very well. It was the first Mobile bar in which I played music when I moved here in 1996. Back then it was called Southside. Lots of great shows came out of this room, and here I was, all these years later, seated where the wedge monitors once screamed back at me. It was a bit of a homecoming. Where the crowd once stood sat a table of three women who had obviously been into the drinks prior to our arrival.
After welcoming us and directing the conversation toward oysters, our waitress happily brought us a bottle of La Crema pinot noir ($40) when our first choice was unavailable. The aforementioned oysters were soon to follow. SOCU ($12 per half dozen) was the recommended signature style, chargrilled on the half shell with bits of over-the-top seafood and cheese with a lemon juice finish. Impressive, but they paled in comparison to the simpler truffle butter ($14 per half dozen). This less-is-more approach didn’t mask the oyster with its garlic butter, truffle oil and Parmesan. Put me down for a dozen next time.
Next up were the shrimp and grits martini ($12). We assumed it would come in a martini glass, but a sizable bowl appeared that we passed around the table. The creamy, stone-ground grits with jumbo shrimp in a rich gravy were definitely a hit, and enough for four as an appetizer.
Fried lobster deviled eggs ($16) were too tempting to not try. The creamy filling was piped into the eggs with the fried lobster spiking out of the top. I would have sworn mine was a fried oyster in its cornmeal batter, and Rob thought shrimp, but all were good, either way.
From the large plate section of the menu, Rob and Beth shared the SOCU hibachi ($38). The fried rice was filled with seafood, as the shrimp and prime beef were the featured acts. A side of garlic smashed potatoes was an unlikely choice, but we had to try it.
Katie and I were leaning toward more seafood, though we wanted the fried chicken. We settled on Ocean’s 11 ($35). Over a mashed potato base, shrimp, scallops and salmon rested under a smothering of crawfish gravy. I thought the salmon would be a little odd with the rest of the dish, and it was, but not as out of place as you might think. The shrimp and scallops were perfect, as was the gravy. We had a side of braised collards that had just the right bitterness I crave with the cutest little sweet corn muffin. We paid extra for a side of charred jalapeño cream corn ($5), a dish of naturally sweet corn that was delicious and creamy, but we could not detect any jalapeños. We still finished all of it.
There was no way the girls would let us skip dessert. There wasn’t a chocolate option, the usual kryptonite, but there was Hennessy VSOP peach cobbler ($7). In a tiny, cast-iron skillet, the best peach cobbler I think I’ve ever had arrived at my table. We couldn’t eat it fast enough. Remember we were sharing, so the race was on, lest one of us got more than the other.
After dinner drinks were in order. As the gals sipped White Russians, I had a black coffee and a Basil Hayden neat on the side. This is a bourbon I don’t keep enough of. It’s smooth with a little bit of spiciness that soothes the soul and opens the eye.
We relaxed our way through the rest of the dinner, winding down as our dining neighbors from the dance floor tripped and stumbled their way out the door. We took our time, letting them clear out before we asked for the check.
SOCU is well worth the visit. We may have experienced a slight hiccup here and there, but the food is delicious. I liken it to going to a really great family reunion meal. It’s not delicate by any stretch. It’s bold. There is a lot of sauce. The sweet things are very sweet. But if you are tough enough to handle that sort of thing, you are going to enjoy this place.
Friendly staff, clean as a whistle, give this place a try if you haven’t already. Peruse the full menu at socumobile.com and plan your next outing.
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