On May 18, the First Wooden Boat Show will be held at the BLUEGILL Restaurant on the Causeway in Spanish Fort. The Facebook marketing for the event caught my eye and I decided to learn more. Wooden boats have reached a nostalgic level in today's modern world, and many are still being used.

The Stauter-Built Boat Works company was a mainstay on the Causeway when I was growing up. My Dad made several purchases over the years. With four boys who spent summers in Pt. Clear, it was a perfectly designed craft for pulling a trawl net for shrimp, crabs, or live bait to be kept in the live bait wells. We skied if it was calm, and it was our main source of transportation for the “Bay Rats” I hung around with.

A 6-gallon can of gas with a quart of oil mixed in could provide endless days of fun. It would get you to Dog River and back, to catch mullet with a cast net while they were smokin' in August. Most locals have a Stauter-Built story. Randy Niemeyer told me at lunch the other day how he became the owner of his 1957 Stauter-Built, once owned by his uncle. He’s registered at the Wooden Boat Show, too.

The Cooper Group of Restaurants purchased the BLUEGILL Restaurant 14 years ago, so I thought David Cooper could tell me more about the Wooden Boat Show which will be held at his establishment. David is a “Go Big or Go Home” kind of guy if there ever was one. Channing Fowler contacted David with regards to hosting the show and not surprisingly, he immediately agreed to make it happen.

Channing’s idea was to host a wooden boat show in honor of his dad who is recovering from Guillain Barre syndrome disease, an affliction of the nervous system. Donations will be accepted to help with his dad’s rehabilitation to get him walking again. Kelli Hollingsworth, General Manager at BLUEGILL, tells me that  David reached out to her and said, “We want to put on a wooden boat show and hope to make it a successful event.” Kelli says that people often come up with an event idea and the staff at BLUEGILL try to make it a memorable one. This dedication makes the BLUEGILL a special place for large and small events.

The 1st Causeway Classic Wooden Boat Show will have 20 to 30 registered boats on the east lot from 11 Am until 5 PM.  After viewing boats and talking to the owners, take advantage of BLUEGILL’s food and riverscape offerings. “We are a restaurant first,” says Kelli. “We have fresh, local seafood, great music, great atmosphere, and cold beer!” BLUEGILL has won the Nappi Award for Best Outdoor Venue for Music multiple times, and Best Local Dive several times.

The BLUEGILL, originally built in 1958, has always been on the Causeway. The present-day building was first constructed in the late 1970s and was destroyed by Hurricane Fredric in 1979 and again by Katrina in 2005.  Today, it’s a well-known establishment where people enjoy the large deck, a litany of music, and of course, the famous BLUEGILL Flaming Oysters.

“We can do so much with this property,” says Kelli. “Our goal is to create memories.” Last week Big Brothers-Big Sisters of the Central Gulf Coast held an appreciation party in the East Lot for their Bigs and Littles, as Executive Director, Amy Riser, calls them. 50 people attended and participated in face painting and bouncy castles.

Also last weekend, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab held its largest fundraiser, Cocktails for Critters at the BLUEGILL with a huge crowd in attendance. Every third Tuesday of the month, the Mobile Big Band Society performs 40’s and 50’s swing dance music.   It is an opportunity for the group to have a public performance and all ages come together to dance and enjoy the fun.

Live music is a staple at BLUEGILL. Bands like Velcro Pygmies, Bruce Smelly, and Fly By Radio are a few of the larger well-known bands that play. “We try to keep it local and family-oriented,” says Kelli. From March through September, they host Sunday Fun Day with a cover charge and full-service dining.

While closed to the public on Mondays, the BLUEGILL sometimes hosts private events. Perhaps the biggest is the Wild Game Cook-Off in October benefiting the Alabama Wildlife Federation.  This is one of the most popular events of the year, it draws an enormous crowd for a competitive cook-off with great food, prizes, and music. 

Corporate events, holiday parties, graduations, and even wedding receptions take place throughout the year. USA Physicians held an appreciation party for doctors and staff. “We have guests that return frequently for date night every week,” Kelli tells me. “One couple who considers BLUEGILL their date night place has been dining with us for all 10 anniversaries. We’ve built such a close relationship with them that on their anniversary we give them a small gift to celebrate and make it special.”

Situated on the north side of the Causeway with a dock, the BLUEGILL is accessible by boat with the channel overlooking the beautiful Delta marsh. Sunsets are spectacular from the dock and the deck. The band stage, two bars, and plenty of seating accommodate guests outside where 80 or 90 trays teeming with freshly shucked oysters are served daily.

A locally famous restaurant at its core, the BLUEGILL is known for its Flaming Oysters served one way and its ice-cold beer that includes two private-label beers, Riverside Pilsner by Braided River Brewing in Mobile, and BLUEGILL Blonde, an exclusive blonde ale brewed by Catawba Brewing in Asheville, NC.

BLUEGILL is also known for its fried crab claws, and seafood gumbo made with chicken, shrimp, and oysters served on wild, and tame rice with okra. The Crab Stack Royal features 3 golden brown fried green tomatoes topped with two jumbo lump crab cakes drizzled with Crawfish Royal sauce, a creamy herb sauce with sauteed crawfish tails. 

“The BLUEGILL Burger is fantastic,” Kelli tells me. She recommends the Trash fish as well.

There is always a Chef’s Daily Special. The day I was there, it was Mr. Tadd’s Red Beans & Rice with Conecuh sausage, served with sweet cornbread. Sunday’s Chef Special is always homemade Chicken and Dumplings.

Kelli says that working with the Coopers has been a great experience. “They make us look at things differently and instill in us that our job is to create relationships and memorable moments, and to exceed expectations.”

“They are willing to try new things to improve the guest’s experience as well as the staff's experience. That’s where it all starts. We are very fortunate to have a great staff and I’m very proud of the team we’ve built.” Then she says, “The answer is yes. What is the question?”

With Felix’s Fish Camp just down the road, the Cooper Group of Restaurants has the Causeway anchored. “Dress it up or dress it down, we have it covered. We provide a comfortable, laid-back atmosphere that guests have come to expect and appreciate.”

Bottom line, it’s always a good time at the BLUEGILL Restaurant. See you at the Causeway Classic Wooden Boat Show on May 18!

May 8, 2024
Day Trippin'

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