By Jennifer Kornegay
When visiting the Alabama coast, it’s easy to be lulled into a state of total relaxation watching blue-green waves trimmed in lacy foam breaking on sugar-white sand. Such a lovely scene can make it hard to ever leave the beach, even to eat. But you’ll have to seek sustenance sometime, and when you do, I recommend forgoing the restaurants right near the shore — yes, even those with views of the water you had a difficult time abandoning earlier. You’ll need to journey out of the way just a bit to discover some of the area’s best bites; they’re waiting for you at Cosmo’s Restaurant.
Sitting back on Canal Road in Orange Beach, Cosmo’s has an easygoing atmosphere and neighborhood pub vibe that make everyone feel instantly welcome. A series of tin-roofed wooden buildings connected by decks and walkways is tucked underneath mammoth live oaks and is home to Cosmo’s as well an art gallery and a gift and wine shop. A sign on the street makes it all simple to find, and on weekends in the summer, seeing car after car lined up on the shoulder of the road (overflow from the full parking lot) is a good indication you’re in the right place.
If you do have to wait, you won’t mind; the expansive deck at Cosmo’s, glowing with string lights and often hosting a guy strumming a guitar, is a perfect place to sit back and work up the appropriate appetite for the wonderful meal to come. A fun, fruity specialty drink or a cold draft beer will get the ball rolling. And if while taking in your surroundings you wonder about the paw print in the restaurant’s logo or the doggie-dominated décor, you’ll be happy to know it was inspired by Cosmo’s namesake, a black lab rescued by the restaurant’s owners. It’s obvious they are animal lovers, but it’s equally obvious that they have taken great care to create a dining experience that’s as easy and hassle-free as it is delicious.
And it is delicious. The diverse menu has a little something for everyone. If you’re craving some fried oysters and fries, no problem. If your companions want more elevated fare, there’s the Sesame Seared Tuna or Pecan Redfish. If you’re eating with someone who doesn’t like seafood, that’s fine; the chicken roulade stuffed with asparagus and Gruyere is amazing. And if anyone’s in the mood for sushi, you’re in the right spot too: try the Volcano Roll with tuna, red pepper, asparagus, spicy crab salad and sirachi.
The one common thread is freshness: fish pulled right from the Gulf, artisan cheese made by locals, veggies picked from nearby farms. They all make their way to your plate after a stop in Cosmo’s kitchen where Southern flavors, Creole flair and a pinch of traditional French techniques — courtesy of chefs Jack Baker, Rob Benson and Bart Wilson — transform these fine ingredients into Cosmo’s eclectic selections. Using the best of what’s available has led to dishes like sea bass wrapped in banana leaves earning a coveted spot on the Alabama Tourism Department’s “100 Alabama Dishes to Eat Before You Die” list.
The menu item at the top of my personal “eat before you die” list is the grilled shrimp. Eight plump, citrus-marinated shrimp on skewers are served over Parmesan risotto and finished with a spicy, tangy criola tomato sauce. The risotto is creamy and soft without being mushy, and even though it is just a humble accompaniment to the main-attraction shrimp, it is the best thing Cosmo’s serves. (You can order the risotto as an extra side if it doesn’t come with your entrée, and you definitely should. Trust me.)
The dish is just big enough to satisfy while leaving room for the second-best thing you can put in your mouth at Cosmo’s: the fried banana fritters. Pieces of ripe banana are battered and deep-fried, then dusted with cinnamon sugar and placed around a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A silky chocolate cream sauce drizzled on top finishes this sweet story.
If any or all of this sounds tempting, remember to venture beyond the beach next time you’re down on the coast and your tummy starts rumbling. The friendly folks at Cosmo’s will fix a table on the deck for you.
25753 Canal Rd.
Orange Beach, AL