A couple of days ago, when the northeast was buried under many feet of snow and ice, I was driving across southern Alabama. The sun was bright, and the Gulf of Mexico sparkled like diamonds and sapphires. There were miles of warm, empty sugar-sand beaches, but I couldn’t stop. I was too hungry.
Instead of the interstate, I drove on old US Route 90. I avoid the chain restaurants that cluster around off-ramps.
In Grand Bay, a tiny yellow house with a sign caught my eye: Ozzy’s Restaurant. Special Cuban & Cajun Cuisine. The parking lot was full, even at 1:30 pm, and there were tables and chairs under the trees. It was worthy of a u-turn.
I had stumbled onto my favorite kind of place, a local restaurant where the owners really care about their customers and are proud of their food. Not one, but two chefs in hounds-tooth pants and white hats worked in tandem in the small kitchen. Ozzy’s specialty was Cuban, and LJ’s was Cajun. I wanted to order every single thing on the menu.
The building was too small for a dining room, so we sat at patio tables under trees draped with Spanish moss. The service was 5-star, even though the forks were plastic.
My barbecued shrimp salad had crisp romaine lettuce, finely grated cheese, big crunchy croutons, and dried cranberries. The shrimp was so fresh, it probably swam up to the grill. I savored Cuban coffee, and splurged on dessert: Homemade bread pudding with bourbon sauce.
I wasn’t the only diner in rapture. At the next table, a young woman was eating shrimp stuffed with crabmeat. “Their stuffed shrimp is to die for. It’s the best anywhere. Anywhere!” She was such a big fan, she admitted to trying to replicate some of their recipes at home. LJ said, “Next time, bring me some! We love it when people cook for us, too.” He turned to two women on the other side of me. “Y’all ready for your bread puddin’ now?”
After my dessert, which included extra bourbon sauce, I asked how the two men had come into partnership. Previously, Ozzy had a landscaping company, and LJ had worked for him during the day. “But I worked in restaurants at night,” he told me. When a friend’s widow asked if they would be interested in running a restaurant, they said yes. Ozzy’s has only been open for seven months.
“You want to know our special ingredient?” asked LJ. I nodded eagerly, and he continued, “We put a cup of love into everything. When you order a full meal and you open the container, you know the first thing you see? The bread: It’s heart-shaped.”
When the cooks really care, you can taste the love in every bite. After the bread pudding and the stuffed shrimp are gone, when the picadillo has been reduced to a memory and the gumbo is history, you still take the love with you. Ozzy’s is worthy of more than a u-turn. It’s a destination in itself.
How to find Ozzy’s
12610 US Highway 90
Grand Bay, Alabama