Chris Andrews loves being a tourist in his own hometown
The Cookbook Creative
Don't Underestimate Mobile: it's a culinary destination
Mobile is a hidden gem
Nestled on the shores of Alabama’s Gulf Coast is the vibrant city of Mobile. While often overshadowed by culinary giants like New Orleans or Charleston, Mobile is an unsung hero of Southern cuisine and seafood. It's got a rich blend of cultures, history, and mouthwatering flavors, and it's a hidden gem just waiting to be explored.
We asked Chris Andrews, owner of Bienville Bites Food Tours, to give us the inside scoop on Mobile’s food scene and tell us about his new book, A Culinary History of Mobile. In it, he takes readers on a journey to savor southern flavors, embrace history, and discover the magic that Mobile has to offer.
Balancing Family and Business
Building a successful business is no easy feat, especially when faced with the delicate balance between entrepreneurship and family life. For Chris Andrews, founder of Bienville Bites Food Tour, this challenge hit close to home. With a young family and a full-time job, pursuing his passion for food tours required careful planning and unwavering determination.
“I’ve got a wife and three kids,” says Chris. “Starting this business while they were very young was not easy, especially since I was working another full-time job. Juggling my responsibilities as a father and husband alongside building the food tours was challenging.”
The demanding nature of the food tour industry meant prioritizing work on weekends and evenings, precisely when quality family time was in high demand. But Chris managed to navigate this hurdle and find a way to strike a balance.
Building a Stellar Team to Share the Load
As Bienville Bites Food Tour gained traction and expanded its offerings, Chris was ready to build a team. To ensure his commitment to family remained solid while continuing to provide exceptional experiences to customers, he looked for like-minded people who shared his passion for Mobile’s history and food scene.
“One of the ways we overcame the challenges was by bringing on tour guides who could deliver outstanding experiences just like I do,” shares Chris. “Surrounding yourself with an awesome team can make all the difference in providing consistent service while still having the flexibility to prioritize personal commitments.”
By assembling a talented and knowledgeable group of tour guides, Chris not only took some weight off his own shoulders, but empowered others to become ambassadors of Mobile’s rich food culture. This approach enabled him to fulfill his role as a dedicated family man while ensuring the growth and success of his business.
A Tapestry of Cultures That Shaped Mobile’s Cuisine
To truly understand Mobile’s culinary landscape, you’ve got to take a trip back in history. With roots dating back to the early 1700s, Mobile has been a melting pot of cultures and traditions that have left a permanent mark on its food scene.
As Chris explains, “Mobile is the most under-the-radar food town in the United States. Founded before New Orleans, this city holds historical significance as one of the oldest in the South. Its multicultural heritage brings together French, Native American, African, Spanish, and British influences, resulting in a diverse and eclectic cuisine.”
Each wave of settlers brought their own unique flavors and cooking techniques, leading to the development of signature dishes that stand testament to Mobile’s rich cultural fusion. From mouthwatering Creole seafood gumbo and jambalaya to savory beignets influenced by the French tradition, Mobile’s cuisine truly has an international flair.
Oysters: The Quintessential Dish of Mobile
When discussing quintessential Mobile dishes, you can’t overlook the humble oyster. For centuries, these succulent bivalves have played a prominent role in the city’s culinary narrative.
“Every generation of Mobilians has savored oysters,” shares Chris. “Going back hundreds of years, Native Americans taught the French what fruits and vegetables thrived along Mobile’s fertile coast, including oysters.”
During the Civil War, oysters sustained soldiers stationed near Mobile Bay when other food sources were scarce. While over-harvesting has impacted the availability of oysters from Mobile Bay in recent years, conservation efforts are helping to restore their abundance. Today, visitors can still indulge in the delightfully briny taste of Mobile Bay oysters at local restaurants.
Bienville Bites Food Tours: A Gastronomic Adventure
Showcasing Mobile’s Top Restaurants
No trip to Mobile would be complete without signing up for a Bienville Bites Food Tour. Chris and his team have carefully curated an immersive experience that highlights the best of Mobile’s dining scene, from beloved landmarks to hidden gems.
Collaborating with approximately 20 restaurants in downtown Mobile’s Entertainment District, Bienville Bites Food Tours offers a variety of walking, driving, and trolly tours filled with delectable tastings and captivating stories. Participants get to savor a wide variety of cuisines, including Gulf seafood, soul food, international flavors, and mouthwatering desserts.
Among the notable establishments featured on the tour is Wintzell's Oyster House, a local institution since 1938 known for its fresh Gulf seafood and sumptuous desserts. Another must-visit spot includes Squid Ink, owned by renowned Mobile chef Panini Pete, who serves up inventive dishes that push the boundaries of flavor profiles.
USA Today named Bienville Bites the #2 food tour in the U.S. With adventures through the heart and soul of the city their tours are guaranteed to leave you with fresh ideas about food and fond memories of the journey.
From Iconic Eateries to Hidden Local Gems
A Bienville Bites Food Tour not only celebrates iconic eateries but also introduces participants to lesser-known local gems, like the A&M Peanut Shop, that embody Mobile’s diverse food landscape.
For those seeking a dive into history paired with delicious eats, The Blind Mule offers a fusion of Southern comfort food with a twist. Located in the beautifully restored historic neighborhood, this gastropub promises a warm ambiance and an ever-changing menu that caters to every palate.
For an upscale dining experience with breathtaking views, Dauphin's Restaurant on the 34th floor of a downtown building provides guests with panoramic vistas of Mobile Bay. This fine dining establishment serves exquisitely prepared dishes that highlight local ingredients, making it a must-visit destination for both locals and tourists.
With each stop on the tour carefully chosen to reflect the essence of Mobile’s culinary identity, a Bienville Bites Food Tour offers participants an unforgettable experience that celebrates the city’s gastronomic delights.
Chris Andrews’ Book is a Culinary Odyssey
In addition to curating exceptional food tours, Chris Andrews has taken his passion for Mobile’s culinary history one step further by documenting it in his new book, A Culinary History of Mobile. The book dives into Mobile’s captivating past and ties it together with contemporary restaurants that pay homage to the city’s heritage.
However, writing a book is never simple. What initially seemed like an abundant pool of content quickly revealed itself to be a journey requiring meticulous research and focused storytelling.
“The biggest surprise when writing the book was how challenging it became,” confesses Chris. “Pitching the idea to the publisher based on my extensive knowledge of Mobile’s history was exciting, but once I started putting pen to paper, I realized it wasn’t as straightforward as I had envisioned.”
The process took three years - far longer than the initial timeline proposed to the publisher. But with perseverance and dedication, Chris transformed his vast knowledge into a culinary journey that takes readers through time to find out what's been on Mobile's dinner tables since the 1700s.
Savoring the Flavors of Mobile and Beyond
Mobile, Alabama, may be one of America’s best-kept culinary secrets. From its diverse cultural influences to its bountiful seafood offerings, it’s a gastronomic Gulf Coast gem.
Through the Bienville Bites Food Tour (and their new food tour, Taste Fairhope), Chris Andrews has transformed his passion for food and history into an immersive experience that captivates locals and visitors alike. He sheds light on Mobile’s vibrant past and present through tours and his book, and ensures that Mobile’s remarkable culinary heritage continues to shine.
Want to experience the culinary delights of Mobile for yourself?
Watch the full interview with Chris Andrews HERE
Grab a copy of A Culinary History of Mobile
The Cookbook Creative knows there’s nothing like holding your own published book in your hands. But to go from idea to Amazon takes persistence and expertise. If you’d like help publishing your own cookbook, complete with stories that highlight your own history, adventures, or expertise, book a call with our publisher now.