East Shore Café
1506 Main St. Daphne
It’s a shame I work so much in Baldwin County but don’t get to try as many of their restaurants as I should. I eat out a good bit over there, but most of my dining is restricted to a few mile radius of Picker’s Paradise. That translates to me having my usual haunts, creature of habit though I may be, but I’d love to stretch the legs a little more.
That desire coupled with a slow, post-Mardi Gras schedule led me to take a few hours off from a Mobile workday to cross the bay in search of a good lunch. It was a crapshoot. I stopped by Lagniappe’s downtown office to pick up Rob, and we blindly headed east, ending up on Main Street in Daphne.
There are more than a few highly recommended spots on that strip, let alone what you pass on Highway 98 to get there. I’d also say some of those don’t open for lunch. The one that caught our eye though was a hotspot neither of us had the pleasure of trying prior, but the packed parking lot and line out the door suggested we should give it a go. Thus began our first trip to the East Shore Café.
Once dropping a name on the list, we stood outside in the cool breeze and realized we would not be waiting if the weather were warmer. Plenty of outdoor seating was available on the front porch and the fenced-in yard, but the temperature was barely too low. The only outdoor table waiting to be bussed was the one with a glimmer of sunshine casting shadows from the salt and pepper shakers. I thought about it, but reconsidered.
Our wait was brief with just a couple of tables ahead of us and we were seated at a four-top in the dining room of what must have been an old house. Rob started with the soup of the day, a good old cream of mushroom ($4.95). In his words, it was thick, almost bisque-like, but not heavy. The excellent mushroom flavor was strong, but not overwhelming. He said it was a great soup for a cold day.
I was dying to try the Dauphin Island corn and crab chowder ($4.95). The waitress said this was her favorite, and I can see why. I’m not sure if the corn or the crab comes from Dauphin Island, but the flavor is great. I’ve had a lot of chowders of this nature. This ranks high, needing only a little pepper on my end.
For an appetizer, the East Shore crab cakes ($7.95) were a must. The waitress chimed in that I’d ordered her favorite meal with the soup and cakes. At that price I was expecting one, but two came out, drizzled with a light remoulade sauce and a nice pinch of alfalfa sprouts on the side. The cakes themselves were not heavy on the batter, and were sturdy and rich with meat. The sprouts mixed in with the sauce were a new experience for me, something I will consider doing at home. I loved it.
On to entrees, it seemed like more of a sandwich day. The special was a mushroom burger with all kinds of great additions, but to be honest I am burger-ed out. No matter how great it sounded (and it did sound great), I was in no mood. Neither was Rob.
Rob is one of those guys who is no fan of mayonnaise, but a huge fan of chicken salad. I had a feeling he was being torn by their two different types. Between the honey-pecan chicken salad and the East Shore chicken salad ($7.95), he chose the latter. You can imagine what the first one tastes like. The namesake sandwich was a bit of a twist. Celery, onions and a dash of curry powder complemented the thick chunks of chicken with a not-too-subtle mayonnaise. I honestly thought he wasn’t going to like it, but he crushed it. He also seemed to enjoy the potato salad that changed his mind from the fresh fruit he first ordered.
I am a muffuletta nut. I admit to being very particular about the sandwich. It is almost unfair for me to judge one unless it claims to be authentic. Most cafés around here try to skirt the tradition by passing off the sandwich on po’boy bread. Our waitress assured me they use real muffuletta bread, so I couldn’t say no. The muffulatta ($7.95) on the menu was spelled differently than how I was raised, with their “a” in place of my “e,” but we aren’t here to nitpick such things. The description reads, “Served hot, this is our own café version that you’re sure to love,” which gives them free reign to do as they please to the sacred sandwich.
I was served a whole sandwich on the good bread, quartered and hot, with ham and turkey. The cheese wasn’t provolone. The olive salad was just black and green olives. There was no salami or Italian meats. It had several strikes, but it would be unfair to say it wasn’t good. It was good. I had plain chips with my meal and nary a centimeter left for dessert.
We still got dessert. For the ride home, Rob and I split a cookie loaded with chocolate chips, macadamia nuts and a hint of coconut. It did not suck. That evening Katie and I enjoyed their heralded key lime pie, as good of a normal example of key lime as you will find on the Eastern Shore or otherwise.
I’d say this place is a hit. Open for breakfast from 7 a.m., with lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., you’d be hard-pressed to find this level of food at such a great price point. It’s got charm, speed and flavor. I totally recommend this place hidden in plain sight.
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