Creekside cuisine is served with a scenic sunset at Off the Hook
Story and photos by Emmett Burnett
Chickasabogue is different. Creek? River? Bayou? It has been called all three. Regardless the name, the massive tributary winding around Chickasaw, Alabama has a common denominator – Off the Hook Marina and Grill, as unique as the creek bank it sits on.
The former boat parts storage building on 621 North Craft Highway offers seafood, steaks, sandwiches and more — the food has a following. Loyal customers are friends. New customers are friends who haven’t met yet.
They come by land and water. “Nobody comes in here a stranger,” laughs Chickasaw regular Raymond Norman. “We won’t let them.”
Creek vessels, small and large, dock in back. Crews disembark to pick up orders or remain onshore, mingling with the land people who drive here.
Rivaling its signature dishes in popularity is the outdoor dining room, the Sandbox, overlooking Chickasabogue Creek. And when they say “sandbox,” they mean a really big one with picnic tables under bright red and blue umbrellas, shading from summer sun by day and just cool to sit under by night. Off the Hook is at its best at sundown.
“We have the most spectacular sunsets,” notes restaurant General Manager Buffy Eilers. And as if by cue, golden rays of sun transform to deep blues of dusk over shimmering waters. On the Sandbox stage, singer-guitarist Elaine Petty croons, “Nothing’s gonna be by the book, here at Off the Hook.”
The restaurant’s main building is temporarily closed due to COVID restrictions, so everyone dines in the adjacent Sandbox. Everyone loves it.
One would expect this eatery – with cinderblock walls, cement floors, and a parking lot that on occasion becomes one with the creek – would serve food as off the hook as its name. One would be correct. Creekside cuisine is fine.
Mobile Bay Magazine ranked Off the Hook as having one of South Alabama’s “7 Best Burgers You’ve Never Had.” Eilers says, “Actually it’s a fancy meatloaf sandwich topped with our homemade mac-n-cheese and dressed with chipotle mayo.” The bountiful burger literally has a fan club.
About a dozen other sandwiches, burgers, po’boys, nachos and more are served, including the Holy Cow. It is so named for a 6-ounce ribeye topped with peppers, onions and parmesan cheese with homemade horseradish on a warm hoagie. A first-timer’s initial taste is often followed with a positive two-word review: “Holy cow!” Hence the name.
Seafood offerings feature entrees noted as not only delicious but seriously fresh. How fresh? “Our Gulf Shrimp didn’t have a care in the world yesterday,” states the menu.
Another staple is “Creek Trash,” a mountain of tortilla chips covered in chopped ribeye steak. You heard me – ribeye steak, as in not ground beef. It is layered with black beans, black olives, lettuce, tomatoes, white queso, and cheddar cheese under a net of sour cream with salsa and jalapenos on the side.
Everybody has food favorites. “Mine is the Buffalo Chicken Totchos,” customer Norman says, describing chicken breast sautéed in homemade buffalo sauce on a bed of tater tots and melted cheese. John and Lorna Marchiolo from nearby Satsuma are undecided. “The steak is delicious,” John notes and smiles, “but everything is excellent.”
Everything is homemade. Meats are cut, salads prepped, and seafood simmered onsite. Omelets are available anytime and are beloved during Sunday brunch.
The fun and food loving atmosphere has been a mainstay since opening in 2016. Co-owners Kate Anderson and Dr. Thomasina(Thomi) Anderson-Sharpe originally intended Off the Hook to be a get-it-and-go sandwich stop. Customers had other ideas.
“We placed tables outside because patrons wanted to sit by the water,” Eilers says. “We had not planned on a full-service restaurant.” The Sandbox eating option came later. Guests had an option of indoor or outdoor dining and one day they will again, when days of COVID-19 pass. Phone-in pickups and deliveries are also available.
At 5 p.m., the dinner menu comes out as the sun sets. During the evening an array of features – live music, audience karaoke, bingo, and occasional surprises – entertain guests. “Last Sunday a server took the stage and sang ‘Proud Mary,’” Eilers recalls. “Not many places let you do that.”
Off the Hook is only open Friday-Sunday. Special events are often planned, such as New Year’s Day’s “Gator Plunge.” On Jan. 1 in the dead of a Chickasaw winter, behind the restaurant, volunteers jump into the frigid waters of Chickasabogue as hardy souls. They exit the waters as blue Smurfs.
The restaurant’s July 4 and New Year’s Eve parking lot fireworks show is one of Mobile County’s best. Other events and activities are updated regularly and posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Eilers credits the fun atmosphere to Off the Hook’s guests and the staff’s personal touch. “It’s just a happy place to eat good food,” she notes. Servers ask your name. There are no table numbers. “We want your first name. I want to know you by name, not a number.”
Tonight my new best friend, server Jay Prince, knows my name. She returns with a Holy Cow sandwich, a side of boiled shrimp, and a cheerful “Here ya’ go, Emmett.” Holy cow indeed.
Another night on the waters of Chickasabogue. The sun is setting and the food is great because life is good on the creek, when you’re off the hook.
Off the Hook Marina and Grill
621 N. Craft Highway (Highway 43)
Chickasaw, AL 36611
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday;
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