The next stop on our USA road trip was the beautiful Fairhope, Alabama to visit some good friends from our time living in Mississippi. I am just so sorry it has taken me way too long to recount our visit here as it really was one of the highlights of our Deep South Road trip….oh the joys of having computer issues!!
Fairhope is a picture perfect Southern city situated in the South-West part of Alabama state, right on the gorgeous bay of Mobile, within a stone’s throw of the world-famous Florida Gulf Coast. Apparently, the town was established in 1894 after a group of people settled in the area hoping for “fair hope of success”, and so, the town was named! The city is pretty small and definitely retains that small town charm complete with world-famous Southern hospitality; Fairhope is a very friendly place and had a community atmosphere that we were all jealous of!
We were fortunate to visit the town on the first Friday of the month which features a down town open evening, otherwise known as the ‘art walk’. During the ‘art walk’, some twenty odd local businesses and art galleries open their doors to visitors, free of charge, where customers are invited to sample delicious canapes, and a drop or two of wine, whilst perusing the beautiful art work for sale and listening to some great entertainment from Fairhope musicians. There was a fantastic atmosphere whilst walking around the down town area; it was obvious that the monthly event is well supported by Fairhope residents with a real sense of community and local pride.
After making several purchases, it was time to jump in the car and make the drive to the beautiful Magnolia Springs to indulge in some indescribably wonderful food at Jessie’s Restaurant. From the moment I stepped into Jesse’s, I was overwhelmed by the warm atmosphere and the amount of history associated with this unique place; it is evident that Jesse’s is the heart of the Magnolia Springs community and that the locals and owners are staunch supporters of the restaurant’s heritage. Originally, the building was opened as Moore Bros Store in 1922, before being converted into a restaurant in 1999, incorporating the post office next door. Fittingly, the restaurant was named after Jesse King, the much-loved shopkeeper who worked at Moore Bros for over sixty years and never missed a day’s work. Walking around the building, it is clear that the present owners are highly respectful of the Jesse’s history as the place is filled with treasures dating back several decades hinting at the buildings past, such as the pigeon holes from the post office and the ice box which takes pride of place in the cafe.
As there are some seriously delicious cocktails on offer at Jesse’s, it seemed only right that I indulged in a mint julep, a drink synonymous with the deep South and the Kentucky Derby in particular. The Jesse’s version of this famous drink contains Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, simple syrup, club soda and the all important mint. It was light and refreshing and a good start to the evening!
The food at Jesse’s is wonderful….so wonderful, in fact, that I can still practically taste it even now, some seven odd months later!! To start I opted for ‘Lobster Brie Quesadilla – yellow tomato pico and Chipotle creme fraiche’. Wow this was good! Lovely big chunks of tender lobster with a very creamy sauce which perfectly contrasted the crispy quesadilla and juicy sweet tomatoes. I loved this dish, full of flavour and something a little bit different from what we can get in the UK; the perfect fusion of seafood and Mexican cuisine.
Neil chose to start with ‘New Orleans Barbeque Shrimp – garlic, butter herbs and grilled garlic bread’. The shrimp were big and juicy and complemented by the sauce which was not too overpowering. Neil loved that there was plenty of crispy bread for dunking!
Next my Dad and I couldn’t resist treating ourselves to a few oysters; we love the things and rarely have them in the UK due to the price, availability and quality. All seafood at Jessie’s is fresh as fresh can be! Fish is not featured on the regular menu as dishes are created depending on what the chef is able to source on each particular day…..I love this ethos and this explains the great quality of the food at Jesse’s! At $8 for half a dozen oysters, my Dad and I were as happy as Larry!
As it came highly recommended by our fellow diners, I decided to have a salad and chose the ‘Romaine wedge – bacon, bleu cheese, tomatoes, red onion, balsamic vinegar reduction, buttermilk bleu cheese dressing’. I loved the creaminess of the dressing with just the right amount of saltiness from the cheese; there was a good balance of sweet and salty flavours in this salad with a nice contrast offered from the crunch of the romaine wedge. Blue cheese lovers would not be disappointed! I found this salad to be of a much higher standard than the majority of side salads I sampled during our trip; it was much tastier and it was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into the dish rather than just tossing some leaves on a plate.
As I had been wanting to sample some grits during our trip, for my main course I chose ‘Shrimp and Grits – Gulf shrimp, Conecuh sausage, green and red peppers, green onions, smoked Gouda grits’. I bet the UK readers amongst you and wondering what on earth grits are! Grits are a dish made from ground corn, boiled with water and seasoning to create a porridge like substance. The dish is often eaten for breakfast and can be found in many fast food restaurants across the Deep South. My Father often told visitors to the South unfamiliar with grits that the finished dish looked like wallpaper paste and tasted like it too; he was obviously not a fan! Grits, if done badly, can be tasteless mush however, when done right they are oh-so-good…..the grits at Jesse’s are even better! Creamy but with tons of flavour the dish was elegant and supremely satisfying! I loved the presentation of this dish but the flavour combinations even more so.
Neil chose ‘Ashley Farms Airline Breast of Chicken – Pan fried, bacon sage gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, local vegetables’. Again, the presentation of this dish and the wonderful flavours took it from typical Southern cooking to something much more special. The mashed potatoes and gravy had such beautiful deep flavours and the chicken was cooked to perfection.
Everyone in the group was thoroughly spoilt with beautifully presented, delicious meals. My Dad, who is fortunate enough to be extremely well-travelled and has eaten in some of the better steak restaurants across the globe, opted for a steak and he proclaimed that hands down, it was the best steak he had even eaten. I was lucky enough to sample a small sliver and I must say it was the tenderest beef I have ever tasted with a beautiful flavour to it. I must admit I was a bit disappointed I wouldn’t have the opportunity to return to Jesse’s in the near future to feast on one of their chopping block entrees as the steak was seriously delicious!!! The owners have said that it is their aim to be known as the best steak restaurant in Alabama…..if our visit was anything to go by I would say that this dream will surely become a reality very very soon!
Although we were extremely full, Neil and I felt we really should squeeze in a dessert so we opted for the ‘Callebaut Chocolate Lava Cake – Gluten free, made with the best chocolate available, fresh raspberries, raspberry sauce’ to share. Lovely and chocolatey with the right amount of ‘ooze’ in the centre this was a decadent treat! The owners also sent over a ‘Pecan Praline Bread Pudding – Warm praline sauce, Haagen Dazs ice cream’. Bread pudding is very popular in the Deep South and this version was amazing!! It was sweet, sticky, dense and nutty…the perfect way to finish the perfect meal!
Our meal at Jesse’s restaurant was a lovely way to end our short stay in beautiful Fairhope, catching up with wonderful friends. It is a fantastic restaurant, full of charm and history – an absolute must visit if you are anywhere near! Despite staying true to its roots and retaining that wonderful Southern charm, Jessie’s respectfully dishes up numerous traditional Southern dishes with a modern twist in an elegant and stylish way, whilst sympathetically honouring the special kind of fusion which is seen in the modern-day cuisine of the deep South. I have been told that customers from all over the state drive for several hours to enjoy a meal at Jesse’s and I can certainly see why! I am only envious I live some 4,000 miles away and can’t treat myself to another meal here any time soon. Very highly recommended.
Places to visit:
- Fairhope Visitors Centre, 20 N Section Street, Fairhope, Alabama, 36532, (251) 928-5095 http://www.cofairhope.com
- Jesse’s Restaurant, 14770 Oak Street, Magnolia Springs, Alabama 36555 (251) 965-3827 http://www.jessesrestaurant.com
- The Home of Bottled Coca-Cola and Rusty’s Riverfront Grill, Vicksburg Mississippi
- Beginets and Muffuletta in the French Market, New Orleans
- Barbecue, Blues and Ducks in Downtown Memphis