If you ever get down to Hollinger’s Island and are looking for a grand meal, there is one place that really cranks my engine. It used to be called The Mariner, and many of you have no doubt climbed those stairs and dined overlooking the marina. You can’t really see it from the main road, but turning off the Dauphin Island Parkway you snake through a neighborhood or two and find a true-blue “locals only” type of place known for its crab claws.
In recent years the joint has changed hands and is now The Grand Mariner Restaurant, so the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not those crab claws hold up to the originals. I found myself in need of something delicious this week when we were dog sitting at a house on the bay and the water line broke, forcing us to cancel our cooking plans in favor of table service.
Catherine and I made the three-minute drive to the legendary spot and were more than excited to find waitress Tiffany Bliss of Queen G’s fame escorting us to our seats. Apologizing for coming in so late, we were assured it would be fine and after ordering a glass of wine she asked if we’d like to start out with an order of crab claws ($18 per half pound). We informed our mind-reading waitress that that is exactly what we intended to do, and enjoyed the drink and falling temps as we waited.
When the fried claws arrived they were strikingly orange in color and very sizable. Usually in a basket of crab claws you find a couple of runts here and there, but across the board they were pretty large. Served with a generous bowl of cocktail sauce, the size and flavor was amazing. It was nearly a fight to get the lion’s share, unapologetically shoving these things into our mouths, and don’t think for a second that I didn’t consider ordering another round.
But there were more things we wanted to try. Catherine was in a shrimp po’boy ($11.75) mood and ordered hers dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise and pickles (which came on the side) and an order of French fries with honey mustard. The sandwich was not what some might call overstuffed but had plenty of shrimp. When you are on the water in Mobile, Alabama, a shrimp po’boy is comfort food. This one was very comforting.
While contemplating my next move, I slurped down a cup of gumbo ($5.75). They do something with this that I prefer: they don’t overload it with rice. It was soupy enough that I could enjoy a cracker or two. I don’t want my gumbo to be something I could eat with a fork. At that point you might as well call it étouffée (don’t bother messaging me the difference, I understand), so I appreciate it as a soup course. Without me asking, Miss Tiffany offered me a choice of Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce. For the record, I took the Crystal.
I’m certain you can imagine that I was on my way to getting full, but I couldn’t help myself. Boiled shrimp dinner ($15.75) was something I couldn’t turn down. I thought about keeping it simple with the appetizer version but the dinner came with two sides.
Corn on the cob and a baked potato with butter and sour cream were the classic choices for this. I’m talking old-school 1978 dining. Get this: Tiffany returns with my dinner and, looking at the baked potato, says “I told them you probably wanted cheese, too.” She really is a mind reader! There was a tiny cup of shredded cheddar next to the sour cream. I prep my potato in the usual fashion with lots of black pepper. Then I spread a pat of margarine on my perfectly cooked corn and dust it with a little salt. It was simple and great, but the shrimp are what we really need to talk about.
I love oysters. I am crazy about crawfish. Stuffed flounder, trigger, tuna, all of these things from the water that get most of us excited about dinner take a backseat to the wild-caught Gulf shrimp. These medium-sized headless were boiled the way everyone should. They weren’t overly salty and every shrimp was easy to peel.
This is what living on the Gulf of Mexico means to me. I’ll take a real seafood shack with an uncovered second-story deck nestled among a bunch of houses on a cool fall night over any heavily marketed tourist trap. I still love most of our Causeway, but this was the perfect departure.
As for our waitress, I believe Tiffany’s skills as a mind reader must diminish by the end of her shift. She tried to sell me a dessert and even suggested we could share, but Catherine and I were nearly in a food coma. We managed to squeeze in one more glass of pinot before paying our tab and washing our hands before going to our temporary house on the water, temporarily with no water.
Ask around and you will hear high praise for The Grand Mariner. I’ve even heard the hamburger steak is amazing. I had no idea they served breakfast! Open Sunday through Thursday 5 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday 12 to 10 p.m. and Sunday 12 to 9 p.m., these guys are doing good work.
If you ever had doubts that The Grand Mariner was not as grand as its old version, then let it go. I say it’s just as good or maybe better.