There aren’t enough places in Mobile to catch live jazz. There is some jazz here, just not enough. Last Thursday night I picked up Catherine and we headed to Dauphin Street in search of something to eat, drink and listen to, and thankfully ended up at Kazoola.
I’d heard a little about this place, mainly that it was a jazz bar and right up my alley, but until recently I was unaware they served food. We entered somewhere around 8 p.m. to a sparsely populated bar and plopped down for a Hendrick’s and tonic, just taking in the scene as a musician or two slowly wandered in with armloads of gear.
Appetizers were definitely in order, so we began with the shrimp ($9 per 8 pieces), which were available grilled, fried or steamed. We chose fried. They were a bit on the small side, and pricey for eight, but it wasn’t a terrible mishap. They came with a dipping sauce that was sweet and spicy, and I’d say in the end they were enjoyable. I could’ve had more, though.
Our waiter told us he could eat the wings ($7 per 6 pieces) all day long. You cannot ignore that sort of endorsement, so we ordered a round. At his suggestion we chose sweet heat over honey mustard, honey barbecue, hot lemon pepper or garlic Parmesan. Wow! He hit the nail on the head. The wings here are among the best in the city and sweet heat was definitely the way to go. Turns out it is the same sauce that came with the shrimp. Round two was a big success.
We eyeballed the entrees and ordered another drink. This time he suggested a Hendrick’s and cucumber (a drink I love) for Catherine while I took a chance on the house cabernet. He returned with a wine glass filled to the brim for the largest pour I’ve ever received. I could get used to this. He also had a glass of ice water for Catherine and said, “It’ll be a minute on the drink. The owner had to run get some cucumbers.”
So with tears in our eyes we chased the minutes away with ice water and settled on entrees and sides. I’m telling you, at this place the sides are where the action is. The only problem is they run out of a lot of them after lunch. Mac and cheese, we are told, is the first thing to go. On this particular night we were down to fries, slaw and potato salad, but our waiter promised to see if there were any others left over.
In the meantime, Catherine ordered fish tacos ($11.50). The pair of tacos came wrapped in a flour tortilla with a bit of slaw over the fried (we are told flounder) fish and she loved them. I sneaked a bite and was of the same mind. It was a simple fish taco, but the slaw made it. You’re about to ask if it was more vinegar or mayonnaise. The answer is mayo. Vinegar would be better for a grilled fish, but fried almost always deserves the mayo.
I myself went for the fried fish ($11) at our waiter’s urging. I only did it because he told me to, but baked chicken and pork chops were very tempting.
So I get french fries and potato salad. Let me say this. I had two of the sweetest grandmothers south of the North Pole and they both made excellent potato salad. Mammaw Mac made the firmer potatoes with a little mustard and pimiento that people lined up for. Non (aka Mammaw Aunt Bibbi, long story) made a somewhat mushy potato, mayo and relish type that is equally as pleasing. This potato salad is more like Non’s and great with fried fish.
The waiter came through with other sides. Cabbage was fantastic, with little bits of ham mixed in. It’s not always on the menu but falls under the category “greens of the day.” Catherine was rather stingy with her green beans and I can tell why. They may have been the best thing we ate (excluding the wings) with a little potato and a hint of sugar. They were cooked to death, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I felt like I was at someone’s family reunion.
About this time the place is packing out and almost all of the musicians were set up. I asked what time the band starts. “Well, they were supposed to start 30 minutes ago, but they are always late. They’ll probably start in about 15 minutes.”
One more drink and 15 minutes later, just about on cue, the boys get to swinging. It was a combo with guitar, bass, keyboard, trumpet and drums, all of whom were pretty tight. Drummer Jimmy Roebuck was the only name I recognized but everyone was better than good. A few songs in, a young guy sat in on sax and, impressively, found the melody rather quickly.
The name Kazoola comes from Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis (1840-1935), who is considered to be the last person to have been born on African soil and enslaved in the United States. Though the African slave trade was abolished in 1808, he was brought to Mobile illegally on the ship Clotilde in 1860 and lived out his years near the city. Now there’s a bar/restaurant named after him, and if they keep doing what they are doing it will be around for a long time.
I can’t wait to go back for lunch (served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and try the mac and cheese. Dinner service begins at 5 p.m. and happy hour is a generous 4-7 p.m. You’d swear someone’s grandma is cooking in there. Give me more of that. Give me more jazz. Give me more Kazoola.
558 Dauphin St.