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Squid Ink Eats & Drinks
102 Dauphin St.
Mobile, AL 36602
Sometimes old friends need something new. With only 2.1 miles between us as the car flies, my friend Crico and I rarely get to see each other. We grew up together in Laurel, friends and schoolmates from kindergarten on. His family has a house in Point Clear just paddling distance from the Grand Hotel, and that was my first exposure to the greater Mobile area. Water skiing, fishing, unsuccessfully chasing girls — it was a spring break and once per summer trip to which I always looked forward. The people talked just like his mama, Paula, and nobody I knew talked like Paula.
Life was so different a mere two hours and some change from the Free State of Jones. There wasn’t much coaxing to get me to move here when I was offered a job in the mid-’90s, and years later Crico set up permanent shop here, too. We rarely see each other, but I knew he’d take the bait if I lured him in with Squid Ink.
This downtown gastropub is the latest concept from Panini Pete, which replaced his namesake location on Dauphin Street. With a more aggressive menu than your usual sammie shop, they do have a sandwich menu with po’boys and burgers, but we never got close to that. Get a pair of 40-something fathers out unsupervised on a school night and they will be getting something unusual.
We share a love of bourbon, so I knew my pal was having a Mobhattan ($9.50). The cherry juice and bitters were a nod to the classic cocktail, with Clyde May’s 85 and bacon syrup added. The bourbon still came through, but it was smooth. A Black Cadillac ($9) found its way to my side of the table with Champagne, Bombay Sapphire and a snort of squid ink giving it a dark color. A lemon twist brightened it up. This is a dangerous drink.
The lovely Chrissy helped us through her menu suggestions, and she approved of what we were throwing back at her. Fried deviled eggs ($6) — yes, you read that right — were new to us. The boiled whites are lightly battered and deep fried before being stuffed with filling.
Old school turned new was the smoked oyster tin ($6). This is revved-up gas station food. Oysters cooked in the tin were served with horseradish butter and a house habanero sauce. It looks low-rent on the plain saltine crackers, but it’s actually pretty elegant. The butter was as divine as the devilish sauce, and we were fighting for the last one.
We followed Chrissy’s lead on the paella fritters ($9.50). Kind of like boudin balls, these included saffron rice, grilled chicken, peas, chorizo and manchego cheese. The romesco sauce on the side was where the dish turned from great to greater. I always think of paella as Latin American jambalaya, and adding a tomato-based sauce to this chicken, sausage and rice mixture only reinforced that for me.
At this point I was on the rosé and he was into the Maker’s and water. That’s when our steak and frites ($15) came out. Face it, if a place has French fries, you have to try them. We cut this country-fried steak in half. Crico found his to be on the tougher side, but he must’ve gotten the wrong half. The chimichurri aioli was a nice touch, as were the pickles. The menu said “pickled cucumbers” in case we were uncertain. The thin fries were great dipped into the sauce, but better with mayonnaise and ketchup.
The main event for us was the mussels Pernod ($13.50). I’m not sure where the mussels were from, but they were good. Tender and not overdone, they were only overshadowed by the dreamy gravy with garlic, shallots, fennel, tomato and Pernod cream. This is similar to the way I like them at home, and the chunks of toasted bread were put to good use once the shells were out of the way.
We were more than satisfied. Chrissy was pleading her case for dessert, and we were not planning on it until she said, “Look, we have limoncello cheesecake ($10).” Well, how often does a man get to try that? Like everything else, we split it. This star shone as bright as the paella fritters. It wasn’t too sweet, and the limoncello flavor drew in the cheeks as you’d wish. I’d love some more.
I don’t normally review a restaurant this quickly after opening, but they seem to be on solid footing and the chatter I’ve heard has all been positive. With Sunset Pointe at Fly Creek Marina, Panini Pete’s in Fairhope and Ed’s Seafood Shed on the causeway, Pete has his hands in a lot right now, but this place was firing on all cylinders for a Wednesday evening. I would not say he is overextending himself, so he’s got the right team in place.
I do enjoy the creativity of an eclectic menu, and have left plenty more dishes on the table for my next visit. I hear the tuna poke power bowl is a hit. Street cauliflower is supposed to be an excellent starter. I want to find out if the Mob Town hot chicken is hot enough, but was too chicken to try it this night.
Crico offered to chip in, but I had other plans. We left our new haunt with a promise of a return and bellied up to the bars of Callaghan’s and The Garage. We had stories to tell. We had memories to relive. We had gossip to catch up on. We had beers to put away. We said we would do it again soon, but we both know we are busy. Plus, our wives (and moms) would frown upon it. Especially Paula. Don’t worry, Miss Watkins. We took an Uber.
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