On a recent hardhat tour of the future Le Moyne’s Chophouse, the mocktails sipped by local dignitaries starred honey from the building’s rooftop beehives.

Farther into the cavernous space, executive chef Jeremiah Dennis’ wagyu beef-fat-poached oysters — topped with Pernod pearls and caviar, no less — offered another taste of the menu that’s to come when the posh eatery debuts inside the Admiral Hotel later this spring.

It’s the type of establishment unthinkable in the downtown of Mobilian Chris Andrew’s childhood, and a sign that this oft-overlooked port city is jostling to be the Gulf Coast’s next foodie destination.

“Twenty years ago when I was growing up, we didn’t come downtown for anything but Mardi Gras — and certainly not to eat,” said Andrews, local food historian, podcaster and owner of Bienville Bites Food Tours. “Now, food is the reason people come downtown.”

Full weekend, full belly

With new halls, experimental breweries, upstart bakeries and upscale restaurants, the diversity within the compact and lively blocks at the heart of Mobile makes it easier than ever for visiting gourmands to fill a weekend — and a belly.

Visitors will find some of Mobile’s newest and most iconic establishments along the stretch of Dauphin Street between Bienville and Cathedral squares. Nearby, the up-and-coming St. Louis Street Corridor is another trove of dining trends.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Dauphin Street was a gauntlet of aromas. Blue clouds drifted from the smoker at Smac’s Shack BBQ inside the BoxOwt Container Park, the second food hall concept to open here in recent years. A third, Parc Le Tralour, is set to debut in late May. 

The A&M Peanut Shop

The A&M Peanut Shop, a downtown Mobile landmark, has roasted peanuts on its antique roaster for more than 75 years. PHOTO BY JESSICA FENDER

On the next block, a vintage peanut roaster as old as the state of Oklahoma pumped its tempting scent onto the sidewalk outside the A&M Peanut Shop, a line of kids snaking out the door at the local institution.

The blossoming of Mobile’s culinary scene has been gradual and largely under the radar, though outsiders are beginning to notice.

The city this year racked up its third James Beard Best Chef South nod, when chef Arwen Rice, of the French-inspired wine bar Red or White, became a semifinalist.

Thumbs-up from Guy Fieri

And celebrity chef Guy Fieri has shown Mob Town much love of late, featuring a half dozen of its eateries on his show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” this winter. His downtown picks include the edgy and creative Squid Ink Eclectic Eats & Drinks as well as South American-inspired Rooster’s.

A visit from the frost-tipped Mayor of Flavortown, however, only adds to the long-building momentum. About a decade of city investment plus incentives to refurbish languishing historic buildings is paying off, Andrews said.

Nowhere is that more apparent than along the 11-block stretch known as the St. Louis Street corridor, which went from automotive district to sketchy side street to what promoters now liken to a Magazine Street in the making.

The Cheese Cottage

The Cheese Cottage on Mobile's St. Louis Street corridor offers bountiful cheese boards and gooey sandwiches. PHOTO BY JESSICA FENDER

At the base of the corridor, the petite interior of The Cheese Cottage occupies a former filling station. Guests enjoy expertly curated charcuterie boards, crisp flatbeds and gooey, fromage-forward sandwiches at communal tables on an expansive patio.

Next door, Wingman Brewing runs out of a former car dealership showroom. A side project of Fairhope Brewing, brewmasters here test drive new recipes, brew one-off batches and offer experimental suds and sodas found nowhere else but the facility.

A baking 'Dropout'?

The next several blocks offer a second brewery, a permanently parked taco truck, a home-grown coffee roaster, a gourmet grocery with a rooftop bar and the Instagram-famous Dropout Bakery Co, one of Mobile’s trendiest eateries.

St. Louis Street corridor, trendy dining options like Dropout Bakery Co

Along Mobile's up-and-coming St. Louis Street corridor, trendy dining options like Dropout Bakery Co have drawn a loyal fanbase. PHOTO BY JESSICA FENDER

After dropping out of fashion school in Los Angeles, Mobilian Lacey Evans returned home and taught herself to bake during COVID. Her work soon won fans on local social media, and Dropout was born in 2021.

A recent Saturday morning found her display counter laden with a flower-festooned peach-Biscoff cake, flaky honey pepper Conecuh sausage croissants, from-scratch MoonPies in three flavors and something called a "crookie," a double-baked croissant stuffed with cookie dough and the latest pastry to go viral in New York.

Each was as delicious as it was photogenic. The line was out the door.

Nicole Letts, author of Unique Eats and Eateries of Alabama, said Dropout’s story is typical of what makes Mobile’s food scene so attractive.

“The food is really representative of not only the region, but the people who’ve gone out into the world and returned,” Letts said. “Plus, you can get your hands on a viral crookie in Mobile without getting in line at 6 a.m. and waiting for hours.”

In downtown Mobile, vintage buildings

In downtown Mobile, vintage buildings that once housed banks, department stores and auto dealerships now house bars, restaurants and cafes.  PHOTO BY JESSICA FENDER


DRINKS: The basement of a former bank houses speakeasy Las Floriditas, named for the daiquiri bar in Havana, Cuba, Mobile’s sister city. Drop in for salsa lessons on Thursdays and live music on weekend evenings; just be sure to snag the password off social media first. Or, toast the sunset atop a gourmet grocery store. Beloved Mobile-born chain Greer’s returned to downtown in 2021, bringing sips, ready-to-eat offerings, and a popular rooftop deck at its St. Louis Market.

RESERVATIONS: There are many spots in Mobile that diners can casually stroll into, but some require a little planning. An airy dining room and laid-back elegance greets diners at The Noble South, a farm-to-table eatery that remains a local favorite. Likewise, the lauded Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar focuses on fresh catch expertly prepared and elevated Southern staples. A slice of "Top Chef" contestant Jim Smith’s decadent, Bourbon-soaked Lane cake — the state dessert of Alabama — makes the journey outside of downtown well worth it.

TO DO: Local food historian Chris Andrews leads guests through downtown’s landmark eateries as well as modern classics on his Bienville Bites Food Tours. As anyone who’s ever spoken to someone from Mobile knows, it’s where the first Mardi Gras was celebrated. Experience the city’s take on the holiday — and see a stunning array of royalty trains — at the Mobile Carnival Museum. And, venture farther afield to the new Africantown Heritage House, a small museum dedicated to telling the stories of those who survived the last slave ship to sail to the United States.

Read the article, first featured on NOLA.com.