Bienville Bites Food Tour: Celebrating Gulf Coast Food in Mobile, Alabama
It's the local foodie's mantra....if you want to get to know a place, start with the local food - and food tours are the perfect way to do just that. A nibble here, a little grazing there, and lots of history and culture in between. In Mobile, Alabama, any culinary scene that may have been overshadowed by it's rich Mardi Gras history (it began here, y'all), azaleas, and polite southern living has blossomed in recent years, and an exciting artifact of that growth is a new business that gives you a literal taste of Mobile's food in one afternoon - the Bienville Bites Food Tour. In fact, it's the very first food tour in Mobile (and the only one, to date) - born from opportunity, an appreciation of history, and the love of unique, local food.
Owner and Mobile native Chris Andrews, together with his wife Laney, founded Bienville Bites Food Tour after they took their first food tour in Savannah, Georgia. The experience made a lasting impression, and after months of research and learning from other food tour pros in Chicago, they launched Bienville Bites Food Tour in Mobile in late 2017.
We were so excited to explore this southern city by the Bay on our recent Gulf Coast Road Trip through Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, and were hungry and ready to go when we met Chris at The Royal Scam in downtown Mobile, the first stop of the LoDa Stroll Tour. There were 7 tasting spots in all through the Lower Dauphin District (aka LoDa).
STOP 1 - The Royal Scam
We started our tour at The Royal Scam, where the owner filled us in on the development of the local food scene before we dove into the excellent cup of Seafood Gumbo set before us. It was a rustic balance of savory and spicy with a touch of heat (to which of course I always add more!). The Royal Scam is a casual eatery in the center of town, with a nice covered courtyard out back. Looks like a fun Happy Hour kind of place as well.
STOP 2 - Panini Pete's
You might recognize this cafe and bake shoppe from the Food Network where Owner Panini Pete makes regular appearances. We sampled the small batch Handmade Beignets with powdered sugar. But here's the kicker - the reason these are honestly the best beignets I've ever had - yes, even surpassing Cafe du Monde in New Orleans (gasp!). It's the lemon! I wouldn't have believed a few drops would make all the difference. They were warm, tender, a little gooey... and that lemon drop makes them absolutely insane!
Then we sampled two of their specialty sandwiches: Muffuletta on sliced sourdough with house made 5 olive blend, and Smoked Turkey on ciabatta with house made balsamic dressing and garlic aioli, Both were perfectly grilled and excellent.
STOP 3 - Von's Bistro
The owner of Von's is originally from Laos and is known in Mobile for creating delicious Thai fusion cuisine. It was nice to see some international nibbles on the food tour. We sampled a fried crab wonton and a small fried spring roll. Crunchy and tasty!
STOP 4 - Three Georges
A landmark in downtown Mobile since 1917, Three Georges claims to have the best pecan pralines in the world - and they might be right! The uber-entertaining candy maker Tasha showed us how she makes pralines and never skipped a beat with the hilarious blow-by-blow. She's a firecracker and adds a fun touch to the tour. The warm pralines were sugary, nutty and delicious, and she gave us some complimentary pralines to go.
STOP 5 - The Original Wintzell's Oyster House
Since 1938, Wintzell's Original Oyster House has been serving Mobile, and I was so happy to see them on the tour. How could they not be! The last wood framed building in the area, the sign outside promises oysters that are "fried, stewed or nude" so in we went to try out a few dozen. We sampled a platter of 4 different oysters: Oysters Rockefeller (spinach and breadcrumbs); Oysters Carnival (crabmeat, spinach, and hollandaise); Oysters Monterey (jalapeno, smoked bacon, and cheddar cheese); and Oysters Bienville (shrimp, crabmeat and parmesan). Lori also had her first raw oyster. Not exactly a pretty sight but funny nonetheless, and the gentleman sitting next to her kept yelling at her to "Breathe .... breathe"!
Though the Wintzell family sold the restaurant in the 1980s, the original décor with walls covered in hundreds of J. Oliver Wintzell’s witty sayings remains wholly intact. It's a cool place, and needless to say, the oysters were fresh and delicious.
STOP 6 - Heroes Sports Bar & Grill
Just down the street from Wintzell's is Heroes Sports Bar & Grill, where we sampled their famous crawfish spinach dip which was tasty, if not a little bit heavy after the oysters. Come to think of it, it would have made a perfect topping for those oysters! Served with grilled soft pita points, it was hearty and creamy. But by this time, I should have had mine to-go!
STOP 7 - A&M Peanut Shop
This nostalgic slice of old Mobile sells candy, chocolates, gummies, and roasted nuts. But their fresh roasted peanuts are the highlight here, and we sampled them after being roasted in an original 100-year-old Planter's Peanut roaster. Even if you're not from Mobile, you know this is a place that locals have been coming to since they were kids. It's like a comfy sweater with the wonderful smell of freshly roasted peanuts in the air.
We enjoyed this food tour with Chris very much and thought it was a great introduction to downtown Mobile, one of the top food destinations in the US. This is a relatively new tour, and our only suggestion might be to tweak the flow of the tour a bit. We would have loved our pralines from Three Georges after the oysters at Wintzell's Oyster House, to end the tour on a sweet note. Unfortunately, we felt a tad full after Wintzell's and weren't able to enjoy the rich appetizer dip at Heroes.
But if the only critique on a food tour is that you're feeling stuffed at the end... well, isn't that the best problem you can have? Overall, we give major props to Bienville Bites Food Tour and would recommend it as the best way to nosh your way around your next trip to Mobile.
If You Go
The LoDa Stroll Tour (1.4 miles) - Lower Dauphin Street Historic District, 11:00 am - 2:00 pm. Cost - $55
The Floats and Food Tour (1.2 miles) is new for 2019. You'll hear the history and stories of Carnival and Mardi Gras in Mobile, and enjoy part of your tour on private balcony along the parade route during a parade!
Tours are rain or shine (and ponchos will be provided in case of rain). Book your tour online or call (251) 406-8008. They also offer private tours for events and parties.