Don't Wince at Wintzell's
I had a business trip to Montgomery, AL. I don't go to Montgomery, the State Capital of Alabama too often, and this may be only my 3rd visit there. As I landed into the area on a Monday evening, I got on the phone to tell Matt that I got there ok. He told me he just heard on NPR earlier in the day that Montgomery has spent a lot time and resources to rejuvenate the downtown river front area, and that I should go explore downtown for dinner options. I was thrilled to hear this because I put a tweet, a Facebook and a blog request for any recommendation of a delicious place to eat, and holding out a long shot on local organic food, and I only got one response of trying the farmer's market. I so appreciated this one response, but as I suspected it is still to early in the season for farm fresh veggies. The restaurants near where I was staying were all chain fast food or pizza. Before talking to Matt, I was taking a deep breath and tried to think of a strategy to eat as healthy as possible at the fast food burger chains around me. I changed gears, and headed downtown.
It was fairly early, maybe 6 pm, so I did take a walk around downtown and there is a lot of pretty renovated buildings sitting empty, but ready for commerce. I can see trendy restaurants, cool shops and nice bars to go into these store fronts. I was questioning whether there would be enough people to fill these future establishments, but time will tell. In the meantime, the downtown area is a bit desolate, not one homeless person, and in the early evening there were a few other visitors wandering around like I was, to see what they could see of the new Montgomery downtown.
It was a Monday, and just like many cities and towns, most of the restaurants were CLOSED! YIKES! I tried three places that were listed on my iPhone/iPod app Yelp, and they were all closed. I was so bummed out. The only places that were open were right in the inner core of new hotels. The choices were Dreamland BBQ, Saza, Wintzell's, a couple hotel restaurants, and a Chinese place. I definitely did not want to get Montgomery Chinese because I know it is going to be fairly Americanized, and I just could not eat that after having such amazing Chinese food in San Francisco. Saza said Italian food on the front, it was packed and loud from the street, and I wasn't in the mood for loud. I generally don't eat hotel food. I was not going to eat BBQ, as Nashville has some really excellent BBQ and I can get good BBQ any day of the week. What was left was a local AL chain Wintzell's. I have been to 2 different Wintzell's seafood locations before. I had not gone to Wintzell's willingly before, but I was with big groups of people both times, and that is where the majority wanted to go. What I remember was that there is no fresh vegetable except for iceberg lettuce in the form of a small salad, the sides are mayo heavy like potato salad or coleslaw, or the sides are deep fried like deep fried pickles and okra. I really don't like fried fish or mayo covered foods. I would prefer a salad with more food value than iceberg lettuce. But I went in anyway, as the last desperate chance of a decent meal before returning to my hotel.
Surprisingly I came away with a fairly decent meal at Wintzell's that wasn't weighed down in grease and mayo. I finally had time to read every line of the menu, and I have a strategy to eat a Wintzell's that is actually decent for me.
I got to Wintzell's right before 7 pm, so I made it in for happy hour prices! That is 2 for 1 beer and 1/2 price oysters on the half shell, or only $5 per dozen. That is a great deal! Had I known that I would have gotten 2 dozen! So in hopes of a healthier dinner, I got a dozen oysters on the half shell and a side salad which was basically iceberg lettuce. I knew what I was getting into with the salad because it is the same at every Wintzell's location, but I just needed some form of fresh vegetable. The oysters were from the Gulf of Mexico, and Wintzell's give me really good spicy horseradish to mix into my lemon and cocktail sauce. When I was done with the oysters and salad, I was still a little hungry. The menu has a really nice photo of the gumbo, and I kept on looking at the gumbo photo. I just had to get a cup of the gumbo, and I am glad I did. The gumbo was really buttery, umami and tasty. I could have gone back the next night and had that for dinner. With every bite I took of the gumbo, I kept on saying, "Umm" to myself, and possibly out loud a few times too. It wasn't the most balanced dinner I have ever had, but it was tasty, and inexpensive with half price happy hour prices. I left knowing that I could get a fairly decent non-fried meal from Wintzell's if I find myself at another one of the locations.