By Kathie Farnell
Photos by Jack Purser and Georgia Turner
Visitors to Mobile, Alabama, often detour down the bayside city’s Government Street to view its elegant mansions, some pre-Civil War, surrounded by enormous azaleas and magnolias. Today one of these mansions offers travelers the opportunity for romantic meals with a touch of history.
The Pillars, under the auspices of chef-owner Matt Shipp, offers fresh Gulf Coast seafood in an atmosphere of nineteenth-century opulence. Shipp, who bought the restaurant three years ago, trained at the Culinary Institute of America, but his cooking career began at age 14 when he started turning out meals at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, a research facility on an island in the Gulf of Mexico that was also headquarters to his father, scientist Dr. Bob Shipp.
The white two-story mansion that houses The Pillars was built in 1905 as a private residence for Dr. Parker Glass. Afterwards the house had a somewhat checkered existence, the low point of which undoubtedly came in the 1930s when it was converted to a rooming house. Today, the house has been restored to its former grandeur, and its high ceilings and ornate columns set the tone for an elegant evening. Guests dine under opulent stained-glass windows in rooms floored with original mosaic tiles. Signature dishes include Whiskey Smoked Shrimp and Stilton-stuffed filet of beef with lump crabmeat.
The restaurant has attracted the attention of the Food Network. Celebrity chef Bobby Flay of “Food Nation” visited and cooked Gulf Coast Snapper with Matt Shipp at Shipp’s house. The snapper dish, made with jumbo lump crabmeat and tasso beurre blanc, is one of the most popular items on the menu.
On the night I dined at The Pillars, appetizers included tasso-baked oysters, which combine the salty Cajun ham with silky cream cheese, as well as crab cakes and crab Rangoon, little wontons packed with cream cheese and crab. Entrees included a crawfish and shrimp Napoleon, blackened duck with pecan sauce, and sesame-seared ahi tuna; Shipp says the latter dish is the most requested entrée on the menu. Dessert featured a tableside preparation of Bananas Foster.
Lunch at The Pillars offers fresh takes on regional specialties, including fish tacos, duck pot pie and butterbean cakes. The Pillars is open for lunch Monday through Friday and for dinner Monday through Saturday.
The Pillars is located in Mobile, Alabama, at 1757 Government Street. For more information, call 1-251-471-3411 or check the website at www.thepillarsmobile.com.