The next morning was the first day of real sunshine. Not “But I’m at the beach so I may as well be outside,” sunshine that is also accompanied by icy 15 mph winds. I mean legitimately sunny, cloudless weather of at least 70 degrees. I couldn’t have been happier—unless it was 80 degrees.
I thought that the water was still too cold for a swim so I planned to lay out on a beach towel and soak up the sun. My boyfriend, however, was still in his “But I’m at the beach…” mode and decided to go snorkeling. It makes me cold just thinking about it. Gear in tow, we drove a golf cart down to the beach and began our activities.
Much to my disappointment, my boyfriend discovered that this portion of the Gulf doesn’t have many of shells. (Clear water, pretty white sand, and no shells was great for laying out on my towel but bad for bringing back souvenirs.) My boyfriend was also a bit started by the quantity of jelly fish bobbing along in the water. I think he saw a few sting rays, too. They are what eventually drove him back to the shore. He’s the sort of guy that has to be doing something and I felt bad that his snorkeling was cut short so I pulled myself from the sand and decided to go for a walk with him.
The community isn’t very large. Less than 3 miles along the coastline is well-developed and then the quantity of homes starts to dwindle. I wanted to keep walking (I can walk on the beach for years!) but we decided to turn back after a mile or so and headed inside for lunch.
Gulf Island Grill
I don’t know how to review Gulf Island Grill. We all ordered buckets of seafood by the pound in one form or another. I got a 2 pounds of clusters and 1/2 pound of shrimp and entered bliss. I was stuffed beyond a reasonable capacity but I couldn’t have been happier. My boyfriend got 1/2 lb Oysters and 1/2 lb shrimp in addition to some an oyster appetizer and half of my gumbo appetizer . My sister and brother-in-law split a St. Martin’s Platter and were satisfied, though not gorged.
Fresh seafood is simply delicious. The restaurant doesn’t “make” any of the sea creatures, so I don’t know how to rate the establishment on how it tasted; maybe they tossed some Old Bay and garlic in the pot while everything steamed. What was prepared (the gumbo) was chuncky and well-seasoned but it was overshadowed by my obsession with crab legs so…I dunno.
Overall rating 6/10 for freshness and moderate prices for the portion sizes.
After lunch, we drove to a shop called David’s Gallery. It’s a tattoo parlor, clothing store, and natural remedies shop all fitted into one building. The areas are clearly designated but are connected to one another via a series of doorways. Inside, the employees looked like a cross between hippies and bikers: serious piercings and tattoos, mellow, easy to talk to, not afraid to toss out a “curse word” in front of the customers, complementary. Take them or leave them. They did have a great selection of skirts upstairs that were hand dyed and made from natural fibers. I snagged one that reminded me of a Raggedy Anne doll that has traveled to Tunisia. Beautiful.
After our brief shopping stint, we decided to head back into Fairhope for the Oktoberfest. Tickets were $30 per person. Fortunately, before we could cross the threshold, a couple exited the event and heard us debating whether to enter.
“Don’t waste your money.” The woman warned. She seemed weary and disappointed.
“Seriously, it’s not worth it,” groaned in her partner. He shoved his hands in his jacket pockets. “They’re serving, like, small samples of Miller Lite and Budweiser. And they’ve got store brought pretzels and hotdogs. It was a complete waste.”
The two walked away hand in hand, ticked-off but determined to redeem the night.
We were certainly grateful for their input. My boyfriend and I lingered around the entryway for a moment longer, listening to the pop music and watching the sparse population mingle and stroll between the booths. We looked at each other and shrugged.
“Let’s walk around a bit. If nothing jumps out at us, why don’t we head back to that place with the Christmas lights on the sign that we passed on the way in?” I suggested. I received no opposition.
I fell in love with the town all over again that night. Sure, the family-oriented Oktoberfest was a bust, but walking through the town had a beautiful, magical quality to it. The storefronts were filled with seasonal decorations and unique crafts. I saw a few cafes and restaurants that I’d want to come back to during the day, if given the opportunity.
In an effort to get back to the parking lot (and not pass through the Oktoberfest area again) we took a different route. Along the way, my boyfriend laughed, “The cat is leading the way.”
I immediately began checking the shadows for a scurrying cat ahead of us. Nothing. Seconds later I realized that he was referring to a face painted on the side of a fence. It wasn’t a cat, but a regular smiley face. Neither of us could place why but, from a distance, it had looked like the grinning face of the Cheshire Cat.
Into the Rabbit Hole
The restaurant, we found out, was called Fly Creek Café. A massive chalk board served as their sign, the names of upcoming artists sprawled in festive print under the logo. We headed down a gravel driveway that looked as if it was leading to a marina and warehouse. A tiny grouping of cars to the left of the corrugated steel structure reassured us that we were headed in the right direction.
The Red Queen: We should’ve known something was…off…when we first met the hostess. She wore a broad smile with bright red lips and a red carnation in her hair. As she greeted us, she cocked her head to the side and brushed her brown hair behind her ear.
My boyfriend nudged in her direction with his chin. “Nice flower.”
“What?” asked the hostess, pausing with the menus in the crook of her arm.
“In you hair? It’s a nice flower…it looks good.” He seemed increasingly hesitant as he spoke. He looked to me for clues.
I smiled and nodded, tapping my temple, thinking that maybe she forgot that the flower rested above her ear. “It matches perfectly with your lipstick.”
“Um…,” the smile remained plastered to her face but she was completely clueless. “Right this way,” she enunciated and then headed out to the patio.
The outdoor seating area faces the water and the marina, making it a gorgeous place to chill at night. The boats rocked gently in the water, the moon shone brightly, and the other guests chatted merrily amongst themselves.
A group of men hovered over a high-top with their beers, watching a single television rigged over the outdoor bar. For some reason completely unknown to us, the hostess sat our menus on the table they were standing at. The men dispersed but didn’t seem fazed by the incident at all.
Clown-smile in place, the woman looked us both in the eyes separately and said, “Toby will be right with you,” before walking away.
Toby never came. To this day, we have no idea who in the hell Toby is.
The Mad Hatter: The guy that eventually waited on us wasn’t Toby but he was awesomely weird. He spoke with a distinct Cajun accent (think Gambit from the 1990s animated X-Men series) but it ends up that he is from Romania. (I guess Romania + Alabama accents sound like Louisiana?) That could’ve been incredible sexy if it wasn’t for his over-sized sweater. The sleeves drooped over his knuckles; he tugged at them like Jennifer Love Hewett used to in Party of Five. It just seemed more peculiar because he was at dude, maybe close to his 30s.
He shifted from one side to the other as he spoke, doing a little jig, emphatic about everything he said, pulling on his sleeves. He recommended an appetizer by explaining, “Yeah, the stuffed shrimp are shrimp that are stuffed. There is crab meat on the inside, stuffed in the inside, and the whole thing is wrapped in bacon. It’s really, really, delicious. It’s real crab meat and lots of it. And real bacon. It’s reeeeally, reeeeally, good. You’ll love it. I’ll get it for you.”
We didn’t dare question him. He seemed so certain that we’d love it. We believed him. That was smart of us, because he was right. The stuffed shrimp were delicious (though I peeled off the bacon and gave it to my boyfriend).
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum: We ran into a problem, though, when we wanted to order drinks. No drink list. No chalk board with drinks on it. My boyfriend asked two of the waiters (part of the group that hovered over our table before) if they had a drink menu and both men looked completely shocked that they hadn’t thought about giving us one sooner. They began their search for the drink menus by looking under the salt shakers on the table next to them. Then they looked under the napkin holder on an adjacent table.
My boyfriend, who was standing near them, turned back to me in disbelief. What are these guys doing? The menus couldn’t have been folded into the size of a business card and stuffed under a salt shaker…? He wasn’t saying anything but it was all over his face.
That’s when the reality hit us. Everyone must have been high. Really, really high.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum eventually found a drink list (the size of an average menu, certainly not small enough to fit under a napkin holder). We flagged down the Mad Hatter and ordered our beverages. He seemed delighted to have us at his “tea” party. He assured me that my drink (basically a white Russian with lots of chocolate) was going to be really delicious.
Thimble Mouse: While all of this was happening, we noticed that the other families in the area seemed to know one another. They huddled around a bonfire, sliding marshmallows onto skewers and talking wildly about a million topics at once.
One little girl, about 9 years-old, brunette with a pointed nose, grabbed my attention as being the most peculiar of the children. She asked a woman what the devil looked like; when the woman implied that the devil was a like shape shifter, the girl (whom we dubbed Thimble Mouse) didn’t like the answer. She insisted that the devil had a pointed beard and a red tail. Then she ranted on about how she could outsmart the devil.
I lost track of the conversation but when I tuned back in the woman was telling Thimble Mouse that she must run laps around patio to burn off some of her excess energy. (I know: how about you stop feeding the child marshmallows at 11pm!)
Thimble Mouse bolted around the patio three or four times before settling breathlessly into her chair and continuing to chat it up. A blond woman who sat across from her apologized to us profusely for the noise that her daughter was making. We told her to think nothing of it. The dad, I guess, chirped in and asked if we wanted any kids. They had three or four of them, boys and girls, and we could have our pick. The poor man seem exhausted even with a beer in his hands and I think he was only 30% kidding.
I changed my opinion to 60% when the couple stopped us on our way out. “Wait, Erica!” The woman said. I was startled that she remember my name. “What about a kid?”
Her husband laughed and shouted. “Don’t try to sneak out of here without one. We’ll slash your tires!”
Everyone around the bonfire laughed, including the kids.
“Really,” the woman continued more casually. “Which one do you want?”
“Pick me!” shouted Thimble Mouse, her hand extended high above her head.
I have no ideal how my boyfriend and I got out of that. We mumbled and smiled a lot and eventually made our way out of the Rabbit Hole.