The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar
351 George St., Mobile, 251-408-9562
You know the corner. If you don’t, then where’ve you been? The intersection of George and Savannah streets has been a great place to get a meal for pretty much all of my time spent scribbling on this page. It made sense that after the closing of the successful Kitchen on George (post-downfall of Virginia College’s Culinard program) that we would eventually see a return to finer dining in the Oakleigh Garden District.
Enter Jim Smith. Coming off of a stint as the executive chef of the state of Alabama, when Smith wasn’t cooking for the governor he was busy with his duties as chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission. His accolades go back even further. The crowned “King of American Seafood” won the 2011 Great American Seafood Cook-Off and became the national spokesperson for Alabama Seafood, American Sustainable Seafood, Gulf Seafood and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Oh, and by the way, he was also a top 10 finisher on a little show called “Top Chef.”
Smith’s coming to the OGD was big news for Mobile’s growing food scene. So, we waited, counting the days for the dust to settle, looking for the perfect time to try out our newest neighbor.
Badly in need of a date night, my wife and I could stand it no longer. We’d given up drinking for Lent with the exceptions of events and restaurant reviews, so we called for reservations, hired a cheap sitter and arrived at 7:30 p.m. on the dot. Seated at my favorite table up the steps, the familiar building looks as good or better than it ever has. Good enough, in fact, that Katie is planning on changing the colors of our ceiling and den to match.
Cocktails were in order. It’d been a while, so I’d have been happy with diesel fuel, but a taste of Katie’s Bunny Reviver ($12) made me happy we eased into it with something a little more upscale. Carrot, ginger, lemon and white balsamic married to gin was a perfect fit for my bride. I had the slightly sweeter Never Pear Us A “Poire”t ($12), a fantastic gin, pear, white wine syrup and lychee concoction with my favorite name. Expect to see more pear pairings this summer.
From the oyster bar came three different samples: Grande Batture (AL, $3 each), Piney Island (FL, $3) and Wild Texas (TX, $2). We had a pair of each. All were great, but if we are being honest, our favorites in order were: Piney Island, Wild Texas and then Grande Batture. We dipped them in the incredible vinaigrette served in the center of the presentation, neglecting the crackers and notably great cocktail sauce until after the oysters were gone.
Those of you not close to me should know if I see a chicken liver on a menu, I’m eating it. Fried chicken livers ($12) needed to be tested. Served with marinated satsumas and lettuces, the house ranch really set it off, and I was happy to see my date as excited as I was.
With that excitement we ordered a split bowl of roast carrot soup ($10). This is a milder soup spiked up with chili oil, smoothed out with yogurt crème and served with some of the best shrimp I’ve ever tasted. This is where the chef’s seafood expertise began to shine amidst an already bright field of flavors. We knew the next course would be special.
Katie loves seafood as much as I do, but when you put hanger steak ($28) on any list, she’s more likely to bite. Served with petite potato wedges, she got what she asked for when she requested it closer to rare. With a garlic and arugula sauce under the meat (almost like a chimichurri) and a smoky aioli topped with chives, this plate is more than suitable for the carnivore in the seafood store. The Requiem Cabernet ($12, Columbia Valley) was not a mistake, either.
I was hooked on the grouper en papillote ($34). Served in a parchment paper bag, the fish was firm but tender, a little bit of citrus sliced atop and a sprig or two of thyme. It was perfect. The accompanying salad was a mix of sturdy lettuces, shaved carrots and radishes with a barely noticeable dressing that left it refreshing. I loved it with a Domaine Frank Millet Sancerre ($13, France).
As usual we split dessert with the pots de crème ($10), a cup of cardamom chocolate with chantilly cream and a wonderful biscotti. A small French press coffee ($4) yielded about a cup and a half for each of us. They don’t carry my favorite bourbons, so I had a shot of Jack Daniels ($8) neatly on the side.
There is such a thing as biscuit service here. Even the strawberry shortcake is a biscuit. With strawberry season upon us, that may be the route to take at the end of your meal. I also hated to miss out on hummingbird cake, but the chocolate got the best of me.
The menu revolves, but looking at past menus it appears to stay fairly similar with maybe pompano replacing grouper or pork shank standing in for lamb. And though the entrées all sound wonderful, the appetizers have me most intrigued. I could see myself going through that entire section of the menu pretty quickly. Don’t forget these guys have old-fashioned seafood platters with slaw and potato wedges if you get too fancied out.
Our rare date night was worth it. Chef Jim Smith has impressed me immediately. You will be, too. I look forward to how the summer menu may change and the seafood surprises we may find with whatever the warmer waters wash up. It is a privilege to be at that corner. It looks as if that corner is privileged to have him. Welcome to the neighborhood.
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