Mobile certainly has given the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum a bit of grief. It took a while to get her up and running. The Comic Cowboys made fun of attendance numbers. But I had heard good things from several who visited. The surprising thing was that everyone spoke well of the restaurant.
My old pal Michael Bier from Portland, Oregon, came for a visit this past Mardi Gras and would not let the subject of our latest museum rest. With the news of a better-than-decent restaurant on-site, it didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me into the passenger seat of his Smart car for an early lunch.
Mike spent a few years on boats right about the same time I spent a few years drinking beer in a couple of universities, so to say he has better sea legs than I is an understatement. We rode to the museum together but I was planning on cutting out after lunch.
At the foot of GulfQuest, one first takes in the building’s massive size. It’s much larger than I thought as we paid our $5 automated parking fee and climbed the stairs. The lobby is expansive, with the ticket booth next to a door that takes you down to a nice view of the river. To the left is The Galley, our mark for the day.
Mike is a smaller individual who dabbles in vegetarianism from time to time, but when making his way south he always allows room for the tastier things on his route through New Orleans and Biloxi to Mobile. He may be a stick figure of a man in yoga pants, but when the time comes for an appetite he can throw down.
This is the type of place where you order at the counter and they bring it out to you, but it still has that restaurant feel. They do serve wine and beer, though today was a working day. I’ll save the drinks with my sensitive, ponytailed friend for the evening, when we can meet up with our old pal Connie. The menu here is pretty aggressive for plasticware, but we were ready to give it a whirl.
We began our journey with fried green tomatoes ($8.50). There were five golden brown, crunchy but tender green tomatoes on a bed of mixed greens topped with what could have been the base for crawfish étouffée. This got my attention immediately and let me know this was not some glorified snack bar slinging ballpark nachos and popcorn. These guys are here to cook.
I didn’t want to load up on appetizers, but Galley fries ($4.50) sounded too good to pass up. These fries were hot and crispy with a generous amount of melted cheese sprinkled with bits of bacon, green onions and a thin drizzle of ranch. Mike was crazy about this dish and to this day tries to argue the ranch was aioli.
You can’t have company from the Northwest pay a visit without trying gumbo ($4.50). I was already getting a tad full so we shared it. Separate spoons, of course; we aren’t that close. The gumbo did have the tiny gumbo shrimp but the star of the show was the sausage. A darker, soupier roux was a departure from most versions in this area. That’s not to say we didn’t like it. There was not much rice, which I appreciate, and the lion’s share of the bowl came home with me. I am proud to report we did receive a bottle of Crystal hot sauce to spike it up.
After all these appetizers we were pretty stuffed, but still needed entrees. Mike had already broken the laws of the vegetarian code and had no plans of stopping. A chicken salad sandwich ($9.25) came with a side of fruit. The chicken was so finely cut it almost felt like chicken mousse. On a croissant and dressed with lettuce and tomato, this sandwich is not a bad meal. The fruit was exceptional with cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes and much-appreciated pineapple.
I had to make room for the daily special of fish and grits ($13). Fried grouper was cooked golden and flaky on a bed of some exceptional creamy but sturdy grits. Atop that was a creamy red sauce that gave this dish a little extra pizazz. It had a flavor that could have been tomato and bell pepper, if my taste was not deceiving. Basil was another component. The coleslaw was also a surprise with a strong pickle flavor and a good taste of mayo that ranks it high on my list. It’s nothing like causeway coleslaw but it sure was good.
Everything at The Galley is served on paper-lined pizza tins which upped the ante from styrofoam plates or the like. It is a little surprising to get such good food while dining with plastic forks and knives, so don’t judge a book by its cover. This place is big on recycling which was a plus for my green friend from Oregon. I think for the most part these guys are knocking it out of the park.
It is worth mentioning that the view of the river enhances the meal. Looking out at Cooper Riverside Park I was more than proud to have taken an out-of-towner to this lunch spot. It’s a good thing we got there as early as we did. By the end of our meal the place was packed.
Mike went on to gush about the museum as I Übered back to the Lagniappe office. I can’t wait to bring the kids here to get the full tour. If there is a negative about my visit, it is though I didn’t have to purchase tickets to GulfQuest in order to eat, I did have to pay the $5 parking fee, but there is free parking under Interstate 10 across the street, or along Water Street opposite the Exploreum. So, a small complaint, in my opinion. Check out The Galley when you can.
The Galley Café
GulfQuest National Maritime Museum
155 S. Water St.