Break out your fatboy pants — it’s Restaurant Week!
Yes, we’re embarking upon Mobile’s second annual Restaurant Week, and I have to admit I’m more excited than Elvis Presley with a peanut butter and nanner sandwich, a pound of butter and a hot skillet. I like it when my civic duties for the week are as follows: Don’t throw trash out of my sunroof while driving; try to figure out why the City Council can’t do something as simple as electing a president; and eat at as many area restaurants as possible.
It’s practically an order to go out and have fun.
“So what’s this Restaurant Week all about?” you might ask, with sauce from a McRib dripping down your chin. It’s about broadening horizons and getting out to try new restaurants, or at least new dishes at restaurants you already know. It’s about supporting local cuisine. And it’s about gaining 10 pounds in a week, but being happy you did.
We’d love to claim the idea is original, but restaurant weeks are big deals in “cool” cities all across the fruited plain. When my brilliant business partner decided to start one here last year, it seemed like a no-brainer. And the first installment went well. A lot of people got to try things they otherwise wouldn’t have. I know I did.
This year we have our sea legs a bit more and the participants are bringing even more to the table — so to speak — than they did last year. Peruse the center section of this newspaper you’re holding in your slightly sweaty hands and you’ll see many mouthwatering options. In a nutshell, these participating restaurants are offering folks a way to have an exciting culinary experience for an excitingly affordable price. And even in the age of a 24,000-point Dow Jones industrial average, we can all still enjoy saving a little bread.
Perhaps some readers are thinking, “Why restaurants? What’s the big deal? Why not dry cleaning week?” Don’t get me wrong, I love dry cleaning. It’s the only way anything I own ever gets ironed. But food culture is a big part of what makes a city great, and no city ever gets great cuisine without its residents’ support. When’s the last time you ever heard someone rave about how great a city was without mentioning delicious food?
Younger readers won’t remember a time when Mobile was practically a restaurant wasteland. When I first came here in ’85, Red Lobster was fine dining, and I’m not sure “Lobsterfest” had even been invented yet. Downtown dining was pretty much nonexistent, and even the restaurants people raved about weren’t all that.
Today the city is bursting with restaurants — both locally owned and also some pretty exciting chains that take food seriously. There was a time not so long ago that most of our chains were the ones you’ll find at any big interstate exit. We still have all of those and more, of course, but along the way independent restaurants and swankier chains have moved in and now pepper the former Rolaids Relief Zone that was Airport Boulevard.
Just as amazing is the turnaround downtown Mobile has had over the years. Those first pioneers who decided to roll the dice and slid in among the burgeoning bar scene blazed the trail for the now more than 50 eateries inside the Henry Aaron Loop.
And think about just how much more variety we have now than even 20 years ago. I remember when the only sushi spot in town was on Schillinger Road. These days getting great sushi is easy. So is finding great Middle Eastern cuisine, all kinds of Asian cuisine as well as outstanding barbecue, just to name a few. If you took the old DeLorean back to 1990, kidnapped a random hungry-looking Mobilian and brought him back to the 2018 version of the Azalea City, there would be pieces of broken jawbone all over the sidewalk. (I’m saying it would be jaw-dropping. That’s not a comment on the crime rate.)
A thriving restaurant scene is essential to having a great city. Restaurants are where we all go to make memories. Our biggest events in life are often underscored by a fine meal and a great bottle of wine at a favorite restaurant. I think that’s why so many people end up working in restaurants at some point in their lives — because there’s some romance there, some excitement.
My only experience as a restaurant employee was at Tony Roma’s — The Place for Ribs, so maybe I wound up a little short on the romance end of things. I did get to serve a giant block of fried onions with the appetizing name “onion loaf” and peddled my fair share of “Romaritas,” so it wasn’t all bad. But in retrospect, I wish I would have been able to work at some of the cool places that dot the Mobile landscape these days. Especially if they’d add a giant fried block of wormy-looking onions to the menu.
So get off the couch this week — or step out of the office for lunch — and try some of the restaurants that are at the vanguard of what we hope will eventually become a huge annual event both restaurants and people who ingest food will look forward to with great excitement. Go ahead and fire up the treadmill each morning so you won’t feel too guilty.
On top of the great food, there are also a couple of amazing prize packages that’ll go to some lucky diners. Put the rest of the McRib in the fridge. It’ll keep. Trust me. Help make Restaurant Week 2018 a memorable one.