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WTD: Bahama Bob’s

Word of mouth and positive reviews have kept customers coming back since 1999.

Story and photos by Emmett Burnett

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship. No, not that tale and not that ship. This is the story of Bahama Bob’s Beach Side Cafe, the Gulf Shores restaurant, the man, and the ill-fated voyage that defined both.

“While on a treasure hunt off Rum Cay, Bahamas, a hurricane nearly sank Bob Murphy’s 45-foot sailboat,” or so says the story printed on menus. The chronicle continues, “To celebrate his near miss with death, Bob partied for three straight days! That’s right, three days!”

“The story is true,” claims Bahama Bob’s General Manager Tina Wesner with a big smile. “Some of it may be embellished a little, but it’s true.”

Kitchen manager Whit Spellman and General Manager Tina Wesner with some of Bahama Bob’s popular drinks.

After the storm, Bob left the Bahamas, setting sail for Key West, Florida. He ran across two old Gulf Shores friends, Frank Merrell and Steve Spellman. During their reunion the three devised a plan to “Return to the other side of paradise and build a little slice of island living right here (Gulf Shores).”

The end product was Bob’s namesake restaurant established 20 years ago this year, on the west side of Gulf Shores and sailing ever since.

Bahama Bob’s does not advertise, nor does it have to. The ocean eatery seats 100 patrons and does so often. This is a rare tourist-town diner favored equally by longtime residents and first-time visitors.

Bob, Frank, and Steve – all retirement age and beyond – no longer attend day to day operations, turning many responsibilities over to Tina and kitchen manager Whit Spellman. They and the crew are ever mindful of one: Bahama Bob’s business only slows down during off season. And two: There is no off season.

“I float everywhere – in and out of the kitchen door, anywhere there is a need, we both do,” says Whit about restaurant duties. “We are working managers.”

Tina oversees dining, the bar, front desk, cash register, and waits tables if needed. Bahama Bob’s staffers wear out shoes quickly.

“We opened Memorial Day Weekend, 1999,” recalls Tina. “It was a hit from day one.”

Customer demographics change with the month and so does crowd personality. “During winter, lunch hours are busier than evenings,” Whit says. “Spring break is just the opposite. People walk in from the beach (about 300 feet away) after a day in the sun and surf.”

Bahama Bob’s looks like a beach house because it used to be one.

Non-stop summer days

Which brings us to summer, an easy season to forecast busy times. The answer is all day and all evening. “From May to Labor Day we are nonstop from open to close,” says Tina. However, service is fast and friendly.

The beach lures you. The cuisine makes you stay. Coconut shrimp ensures you return. You are hooked, but hooked at a seafood house is a good place to be.

“Everything we serve is fresh,” Whit says. “Everything possible is prepared by hand. Our handcrafted Bahama Burger is patted Angus beef, never frozen.” The signature burger is also mammoth. A 10-ounce slab of burger is topped with grilled pineapple, bacon and double Swiss cheese.

As for seafood, Bahama Bob’s – like the Beatles – gets by with a little help from their friends, friends like Southern Living, which lauds its food as among the best of the South. Or friends like TripAdvisor, proclaiming Bob’s has the best bar on the beach. And friends like customers who deploy Bob’s secret weapon – word of mouth accolades.

“The fish is great here and so is the beach atmosphere,” says Michigan guest and return visitor Cheny McElroy. “Everything is good, every time I have been here.”

The formerly swimming-in-saltwater entrees she references includes whitefish – pan fried fillets in crusted pecans or char-grilled in house made seasonings. Gulf fresh triggerfish, flounder, and grouper are popular favorites with the locals. “Our blackened grouper is off the charts,” Tina explains about a personal favorite.

Shrimp, oysters, crabs are steamed, fried, grilled, blackened, or battered, in a crustacean sensation that knows no bounds. On a personal note, try the coconut shrimp. It just justified four years of journalism school.

Hannah Yeager serves up coconut shrimp, crab legs and gumbo.

Gumbo goes out about as fast as prepared. “We keep about 20 gallons on hand at all times,” Whit says. “It starts with a great roux and built from there.

“The key is adding great ingredients and stay with it.  Gumbo is not some toss it in the pot kind of thing. You must continuously tend and monitor it.”

Cocktail and tartar sauces, and dressings such as blue cheese with very thick crumbles are house-made and bottled.

The source of many dishes can be seen from your table. “It’s from way out there,” smiles Tina, pointing out the window at a cobalt-blue Gulf of Mexico.

Today’s tranquil waters were not always placid and Bob’s first hurricane was not his last. Hurricane Ivan (September 2004) clobbered it. “We found our walk-in freezer and cooler bobbing in a nearby lagoon,” Tina recalls, about the storm that closed the restaurant 8 months. But it came back.

Like every Gulf Shores eatery, the BP Oil Spill cost Bahama Bob’s at least 50 percent of its business. But it came back.

Bahama Bob’s is not easy to find.  It looks like a beach house because it used to be one. But it is worth the search.

The Gulf Shores restaurant confidently states on the menu, “The very best of everything you come to the beach for.”  You, too, will come back.


Bahama Bob’s Beach Side Cafe

601 West Beach Blvd.

Gulf Shores, AL 36542

251-948-2100

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Sunday

Bahamabobs.com

AL People: Frazine Taylor

Studying history and making it

Wetumpka native Frazine Taylor, librarian, archivist and longtime member of the Alabama Historical Association (AHA), became that organization’s first African-American president at its recent statewide meeting. The AHA is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes exploration and study of all aspects of Alabama’s history, and sponsors the state’s historical marker program.

Taylor spent much of her career at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, where she helped professional historians as well as everyday people research their family histories. Today, she works part-time at Alabama State University, working to process and catalog collections related to the university’s history, including its part in the civil rights movement. We asked her to talk about her life’s work and about the role she’ll play in promoting Alabama’s history, and about the recent award she received from the AHA. – Allison Law

Talk about the work you did at the Archives.

When people came in to look for family information, (our staff’s) job was to make sure that they were able to look at census records, at county records, to know how to use the microfilm, and to create policies to make it easier for them to use the archives and records within the reference room. 

Along the way, I became sort of an expert in African-American genealogy. In (researching) other ethnic groups, the records for them are more straightforward. You can go to the census, you can go to their inventories, their land records. But when you get to African-American research, you have to search those records differently, using different strategies. 

Over my 20-something years, I created workshops to help African-Americans research their family history, just starting with the basics – starting with yourself and working backwards. A lot of African-Americans thought there was nothing in the records where they could find their ancestors. But they didn’t realize there were a whole lot of ancestors between 1865 and the present! Just creating strategies to help people locate the slaveholder, if they didn’t have the oral history that was passed down from generation to generation. There are two slave censuses, 1850 and 1860, that list the names of the slaveholders and the amount of slaves that they had, and also the population census. So it’s just a matter of researching your ancestors. I’ve gone all over the U.S. doing different workshops.

Have you been involved with the Alabama Historical Association for a long time?

Yes, I have. I can’t remember when I became a member, but I’ve always been a member. When I worked at the Archives, I used to go to the meetings and listen and enjoy every bit of it. I had no idea I would be given an award and be the president! I didn’t even think that far ahead. I just enjoyed going, and the camaraderie. And also the different research papers – that’s where I learned a lot about Alabama history, through the presentations that were given at these conferences.

And also the pilgrimage, being able to go out into a community and looking at the houses, and talking to the people who lived in the houses, or at the churches, the buildings, the places we visited, and just get the history of the community. 

By the way, this year, the pilgrimage will be in my hometown of Wetumpka (Oct. 11-12). We’ll be able to explore Wetumpka’s history. 

You also received the Hamilton Award from the AHA. Talk a little about that.

That was a surprise! It’s given “for significant contributions to Alabama history, which encourage joint endeavors and mutual understanding between non-professional and professional historians.” That’s basically what I was doing at the Archives. Professional people came in, writing books and doing dissertations, as well as the non-professionals who were doing family histories. My name is in a lot of those books, people giving recognition for helping them. 

Talk about what it means to be the first African-American president of the AHA. 

For one thing, it’s a great honor. I know that I won’t be the last. I hope I won’t be the last! Someone has to be the first! Also, people who didn’t know about this association, (hopefully) will now want to know more about it, and may want to join. So hopefully we will get some more membership. 

Is the AHA just for professional historians?

No, it’s open to everybody. It’s a learning opportunity, if you’re curious about Alabama history. Being a member, you get the Alabama Review, which is a scholarly publication, and it comes out four times a year. And you get a chance to meet wonderful people! It is a great networking opportunity. Plus, you cannot learn everything in a textbook. 

For more information on the AHA, visit alabamahistory.net 

Light It Up

It’s hot! And if you can’t take the heat, why not get out of the kitchen? Firing up your outdoor grill instead of your oven and stove will help you keep your cool this summer.

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY

There are places in our country where people use the words “grilling” and “barbecuing” interchangeably, as if they were the same thing. In the South, we know better. Barbecue is a specific style of food cooked with a particular method; it’s predominantly meat smoked on low heat for a long time to yield a heavenly flavor and texture, and our region is renowned for its collective barbecue skills. 

A grill might be involved in barbecue, but the term “grilling” is much broader; it means the act of cooking anything at any temperature for any amount of time in or on any kind of grill — gas or charcoal, large or small. And in the South, we’re pretty good at this technique too. 

We even have a “grilling season.” We love to play with fire, and oddly enough, especially when the outside temps are rivaling those of our grill grates. Summer is definitely the time of year we head to our decks and patios to “grill out.” Perhaps it’s because while it may be toasty in the backyard, at least there’s fresh air (an actual breeze if we’re lucky), and that’s preferable to the swelter a hot oven or stovetop can cause in our kitchens. 

On a summer afternoon or evening, you can open plenty of Alabama grill lids and find the usual suspects like hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken breasts sizzling and searing to perfection. But the options for cooking over an open flame are limitless. If you can eat it, you can probably cook it on a grill. 

Gadgets like grill baskets and skewers mean you can confidently grill veggies, fish and shrimp. Some genius stuck an opened beer can in a whole chicken and stood it up, creating a wonderful way to roast a bird sans indoor oven. You can even grill up some dessert. How about some peaches, sliced in half, thrown interior-side down on a blazing hot grill to caramelize the natural sugars? Serve these warm, soft bites with a drizzle of honey and homemade vanilla ice cream, and you’ll definitely have requests for seconds. 

If your grilling menu is currently stuck in a burger rut, find inspiration in this issue’s reader-submitted grilling recipes. 


Cook of the Month

Kathy Stewart, Central Alabama EC

Kathy Stewart loves to cook, bake and grill and finds that central Alabama’s climate is perfectly suited to grilling almost all year long. “With our region having little to no really cold weather, we even grill in some of our winter months,” she said. And with so much grilling, she’s always looking for new things to put on the flame, so she modified a stuffed pork chop recipe she’d had for years to create her Prosciutto Stuffed Pork Chops. “I love stuffed pork chops, so I modified an old recipe and used prosciutto with garlic, rosemary and oregano, and, then grilled the chops instead of baking them.” She says the flavor is superb, but so is the aroma. “The smell of the prosciutto, garlic and rosemary is wonderful,” she says. “They are very easy to prepare and will definitely add variety to your grilling.”

 

Prosciutto Stuffed Pork Chops

4 boneless pork loin chops, 

1 and 1/4 -inch thick

4 ounces prosciutto, diced

1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

3 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Cook prosciutto in a medium skillet for 5 to 10 minutes. Once crispy, add in 2 teaspoons rosemary, oregano and garlic. Cook for an additional minute. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Set aside. Trim fat from pork chops and create a pocket by cutting the side of each chop. Spoon in prosciutto mixture and press down lightly on chops to secure filling. Brush chops with olive oil and season with pepper and remaining rosemary. Preheat grill. Place chops on a lightly-oiled grill grate and cook over indirect medium-high heat for 35-40 minutes. Turn chops once. Remove from grill and serve.


Grilled Vegetables

1/2 cup olive oil

5 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 and 1/2 teaspoons oregano

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound asparagus

1/2 pound carrots, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, chopped or sliced

1 large yellow bell pepper, chopped or sliced

2 medium squash

1 large red onion, cut into wedges

In a small bowl, whisk the first seven ingredients. Place 3 tablespoons of this marinade in a large zip lock bag. Add veggies; shake bag to coat. Marinate 2 hours at room temperature. Transfer veggies to a grilling grid; place grid on grill rack. Grill covered over medium heat 10-12 minutes or until crisp tender, turning occasionally. Place vegetables on a large serving plate and drizzle with remaining marinade.

Misty Allbright Roberson, Cullman EC


Barbecue Ribs

2 slabs of ribs

1 teaspoon mustard

½ cup steak sauce

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup light brown sugar

Stir all ingredients together in a bowl until sugar is dissolved then spread all over ribs. Marinate in refrigerator overnight. Cook on a grill until golden brown.

Judith Lamar, Central Alabama EC


Glazed Salmon

2 salmon fillets

1 teaspoon agave syrup

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 teaspoon orange juice

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon minced garlic

½ teaspoon ground pepper

Combine all ingredients and pour over salmon. Let sit 15 minutes to 2 hours. Cook on cedar planks [available at many grocery stores] on grill for 15 minutes over medium heat.

Sue Robbins, Coosa Valley EC


Grilled Lemon Chicken

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

2 teaspoons garlic salt

1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon peel

2 teaspoons thyme

In a small bowl, combine salt, lemon peel, thyme and a little pepper. Spray grill with cooking spray and heat coals. Sprinkle seasoning mixture over chicken breasts. Grill chicken for 20-25 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear. Turn once during cooking.

Heather Cline, Tallapoosa River EC


Send us your recipes for a chance to win!

Themes and Deadlines

Oct: Cast Iron Cooking | July 12

Nov: Apples | August 9

Dec: Nontraditional Holiday Food | Sept 13

3 ways to submit:
Online: alabamaliving.coop

Email: recipes@alabamaliving.coop

Mail:  Recipes, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124

Please send us your original recipes (developed  or adapted by you or family members.) Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

To be eligible, submissions must include a name, phone number, mailing address and co-op name. Alabama Living reserves the right to reprint recipes in our other publications.

Snapshots: At the beach

Jonah catching some rays on his first beach trip. SUBMITTED BY Candace Merritt, Clayton.

Dolphins playing just after sunrise at Orange Beach. SUBMITTED BY Brittney Plemons, Hartselle.

Vera M. Haney, Ann Butler, Nell Smith, Ha Shaw enjoy girls day at the beach. SUBMITTED BY Vera Haney, Dothan.

Josh Jenkins and new fiancée, Kylie Wright. SUBMITTED BY Tammy Jenkins, Danville.

Surf’s up for granddaughter Kady (age 8) at Gulf Shores. SUBMITTED BY Sandy Kiplinger, Union Grove.

Jessa Jones watches a Panama City Beach sunset. SUBMITTED BY Beverly Jones, Lawley.

Graham, our golden doodle, at Rosemary Beach. SUBMITTED BY
Melinda Cole, Wetumpka.

Submit Your Images!

September Theme: “Team Spirit” Deadline for September: July 31

Submit photos online: www.alabamaliving.coop/submit-photo/ or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124

Rules: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at www.alabamaliving.coop and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos.

Keeping pets (and energy bills!) comfortable

We love our pets, and we love saving energy! This month, we’re taking a look at three common energy efficiency questions from pet owners

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: We’ve thought about installing a pet door. Will this impact my energy bill?

A: Pet doors are convenient for pet owners and pets, but they can impact energy bills. A pet door that is poorly made or improperly installed will create unwanted drafts that increase energy bills and reduce the overall comfort level of your home. The wrong type of door may also be pushed open during high winds.  

Consider installing a pet door that is certified by the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) or has a double or triple flap. These types of pet doors can reduce energy loss and make life easier for you and your furry friends. The best solution may be a high-quality electronic door that is activated by a chip on your pet’s collar.

It’s difficult to undo a pet door installation, so before taking the leap, we suggest doing your homework. There may be other strategies that will give you and your pet some of the convenient benefits without the downsides. 

Q: To save energy, we keep our home cool during winter nights and warm during summer days. How much “hot and cold” can our pup and tabby handle?

A: Cats and dogs can handle the cold better than humans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates facilities that house cats and dogs, requires these facilities to maintain temperatures above 50 F. Some exceptions are allowed for breeds accustomed to the cold or if some form of insulation for the animals is provided. Your pet’s tolerance really depends on their breed and the thickness of their coat. 

A report by the Purdue Center for Animal Science says that Siberian huskies can tolerate temperatures below freezing, but some short-haired dogs require temperatures of 59 F or higher. Older animals may require warmer temperatures than younger ones. 

During summer, cats and dogs handle the heat in different ways. Cats clearly enjoy warmer temperatures than dogs, and they do a good job of reducing their activity level as temperatures climb. But both cats and dogs can get overheated. The USDA says that room temperatures in facilities housing dogs or cats should not exceed 85 F for more than 4 hours at a time.

Q: Is it okay if my cat or my dog sleeps in the garage overnight?

A: USDA rules suggest this should be fine if your garage temperature stays between 50 F and 85 F. Pets might be able to handle a lower temperature if they have a warm, insulated bed.  

I do not recommend heating or cooling your garage for your pet. This could lead to extremely high energy bills, which makes sense because an uninsulated but heated garage could easily cost more to heat than a home. A better solution is a heated pet house, which you can purchase from multiple retailers. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you can even find climate-controlled pet houses that include heating and cooling options. 

You can also purchase heated beds for cats and dogs. Some beds use as little as 4 watts of electricity, so they won’t drain your energy bill.

We hope these tips will be helpful as you work at saving energy while caring for your favorite furry friend!

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on house pets and energy, please visit: www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to energytips@collaborativeefficiency.com for more information.