…no shortage of food or football in Alabama, and with the proper combination of both – combined with the charm and hospitality unique to the south – a man could make a serious argument for making the trip to Mobile an annual pilgrimage…
Senior Bowl week affords the epicurious to sample some of the finest food that the Gulf Coast offers, but don’t be fooled by the fancy oyster dishes or the rainbow variety of gumbos and the endless versions of the more high-brow classic southern dishes – because the real staples of southern cooking are the comfort foods.
My first taste of the Mobile scene was in 1993, when I was invited by some old Navy buddies to come down for the Senior Bowl..”It’s a really mellow time” my old division officer, known only as Mr. Gent told me, “a few beers, some tailgating, women everywhere…it’s right up your alley.”
Right. Let’s do it – everything is paid for and all I had to do is show up and the world was my oyster, as it were.
He failed to inform me that the most iconic figure in Alabama sports history, Paul “Bear” Bryant, was about to be enshrined in the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame and every place we went was absolutely mobbed with people.
48 hours later Mr. Gent poured me on the plane back to Utah – I hadn’t slept or showered in 2 days, the only time I came close to either was when I dozed off in my lawn chair at the tailgate party in the parking lot of the stadium and Mr. Gent stunned me awake by dousing me with the stale water from the long since melted ice in the beer cooler.
The night before, he had taken me to a place just off the Battleship Parkway – what looked like a large outhouse from the outside turned out to be one of the best epicurean experiences of my life.
As we walked in a large party was exiting, including then Cleveland Browns’ head coach Bill Belichick who was the head coach of the North squad of the Senior Bowl…he looked vaguely familiar, and now I wish that I had approached him and asked for an autograph, but the looks of his brutish entourage discouraged the notion, so I followed Mr. Gent inside.
The place was lit only by lanterns and the wooden tables looked more like road maps than sanitary dining surfaces, but the aroma coming from the kitchen was intoxicating. The proprietor, introduced to me as “Gern”, had met us at the door. My division officer hugged him briefly, whispered something into his ear and he led us to a private room in the back where there were five tables and a large door that sat on rollers.
As soon as we were seated, a jaded looking waitress with heaving breasts appeared out of nowhere, leaned over to give Mr. Gent a peck on the cheek, gave me a hug – almost smothering me in fun bag over-spillage – then sauntered over to the door.
“You’re gonna love this” Mr. Gent leaned over to tell me…I prepared myself for the horrible scene I was about to witness, thinking that this old woman – who no doubt has a spectacular body 20 years earlier – was about to give us some sort of pole dancing show, and I frankly wanted no part of it.
I shielded my eyes which, as it turns out, was a prudent move because she instead gripped the handle to the door and rolled it to the right – and the spectacular orange glow of the gulf coast sunset came pouring into the previously dim room.
As the cool evening air replaced the stale warmth of the decaying wooden shack, the deftly carved table became loaded down with food – Oysters Casino and incredible sweet chili dogs were the perfect meal and I ate with gusto, causing Mr. Gent to become alarmed.
“Whoa, slow down there, shipmate” he laughed uneasily, “Save room for dinner.”
Now, I can eat. So when the big-breasted woman returned with fresh beer and a casserole dish filled with smothered pork chops, it was as if I was locked in some wrong-minded Pavlovian experiment between human test subjects and pork…and I suddenly wasn’t full any longer – after the first bite I absolutely devoured plate after plate of the delightful concoction, then begged the waitress for the recipe…
…which she refused to give out, and I’ve spent the past 20 years trying to perfect my version.
Of course, I’m never going to be able to duplicate what Gern had been producing for his entire life, but each year on Senior Bowl Saturday I make whole heapin’ helpin’ of my version of the smothered pork chops, the recipe for which can be found here.
It takes a while to produce and it’s more of a roasted pork dish than actual pork chops, but they melt in your mouth and are perfect for a Saturday night dinner party…and the leftovers make spectacular sandwiches, so be sure you make enough…
…but you’ll have to create your own ambiance. For mine, I just have to slump back in my recliner, close my eyes and remember the bright orange sunset shimmering across the gulf waters….