Welcome, parade goers! Every year at this time I get excited not only about the floats and revelry that takes place in our streets, but also the many fine restaurants I get to introduce to out-of-towners and locals who only reach the LoDa area during Mardi Gras. There is certainly an ebb and flow to local eateries, but by and large our downtown area has a heavy concentration of good restaurants not found in any other part of our city.
There is a newer restaurant on St. Francis in need of my attention that opened this past year known as Bob’s Downtown. It’s the smaller diner style building that has carried more than a few names over the past few years, most notably the less-than-appetizing moniker Fingers.
It’s been a while since Mr. Bubble has been on a review, so I thought it would be perfect to meet him just blocks from his office. Rob was feeling a bit undernourished so he came along too. Though our trio is a little closer to the Three Amigos than the Three Musketeers in terms of suaveness, we managed to belly up to the lunch counter and tried our best not to disturb the other guests with our blue humor and big mouths as we sat three in a row. This is no place for secrets.
The white board boasted three or four daily specials which all sounded worth the calories. It was exactly what I look for in a diner. Rob and I each began the day with a cup of gumbo ($3.99). Immediately Rob was impressed. The roux was more of a peanut butter color and left any chance of charred burning flavor elsewhere. My first take was there was too much rice for the amount of gumbo, but it didn’t take long for it to grow on me. This is probably in the top 10 gumbos around here. And there are a lot of gumbos around here. Nicely done.
Bubble went straight for the fried green tomatoes ($6.99). When it comes to frying tomatoes I am all about the cornmeal. I don’t need the doughy flour. Give me gritty golden cornmeal and make it extra crispy. These tomatoes were just that. Served with a side of remoulade (good, but not as good as my dad’s) sauce, the only thing this dish needed was a pinch of salt to make it perfect.
Rob was all about the regular menu and helped himself to a Bon Secour oyster basket ($12.99). He let me try one oyster and I was impressed. That cornmeal batter is the way to go. It made me sad he beat me to the punch, but my rule is we all order something different. This came with crinkle cut fries, yellow cornmeal jalapeno hushpuppies and slaw that was neither heavy on the mayo nor the vinegar, but leaned toward vinegar. Of course Rob is a bit of a health nut so he added a side salad ($1.99) with bleu cheese dressing.
I can’t remember all of the daily specials, but they all sounded fantastic. Each came with a choice of two veggies and one bread item. Bubble finally settled on German sausage with homemade sauerkraut ($6.95). As if that wasn’t enough for the price he also received a side salad with ranch, turnips and a rosemary biscuit. Of course, he found no fault in any of it, and bread fan that he is, praised the biscuit.
I have to mention my good friend and restaurateur David Rasp. Rasp and I are fans of gizzards and livers. We both feel like there aren’t enough restaurants in the greater Mobile region that serve these delicacies. There is one more joining the ranks. I am happy to report on that fateful Thursday morning I was served a plate of chicken livers ($5.95).
These came with rice and gravy (substituting mashed potatoes was frowned upon) and I ordered turnips and a side salad. For my bread I chose hushpuppies, perfect for dipping into my greens with a little pepper sauce. That is one heck of a meal for under $10! I shall return with Rasp for a liver visit. No word if they have gizzards on any other daily special.
I couldn’t leave here without at least trying the shrimp. A 12-piece shrimp basket ($9.99) should do the trick for the evening’s dinner. I didn’t mind that the shrimp were smallish because the price was nice. Of course the basket included the same slaw, fries and hushpuppies I’d tried earlier with Rob.
So here is the skinny. Bob’s Downtown has the potential to be the incarnation that makes it in this location. It is very small, but folks were steadily pouring in and out. I would call this a local’s spot, and if you are visiting and are looking for that sort of thing Bob’s will suffice. Lunch counters are cool, and there are a couple of tables outside for the warmer days. But in the cooler months expect to be packed in tight. Remember when I said this was no place for secrets?
Open Sunday through Thursday 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. as well as Friday and Saturday 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., this is a place you’ll want to check out.
Bob’s Downtown Restaurant
263 St. Francis St.
Mobile, AL 36602