ECHOES OF THE PAST Part One: Alabama’s Gulf Coast

–by Mark Andrew Harris, Founder & Director

For those who lived or vacationed on Alabama's Gulf Coast during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, you are most likely familiar with the Gulf Coast dining institution known as Meme's Restaurant. It first opened in 1953 as an oyster bar and a few years later expanded into a full-scale restaurant on the bank of the Bon Secour River in Baldwin County, Alabama, where founders Charley and Meme Wakeford lived. Oyster and shrimp boats routinely docked within a hundred feet of their back door.

Dixie Art Colony Foundation

Richard B. Brough, The Carol Ann, n.d., watercolor on paper, 14.5 x 20 inches | DAC Foundation Memorial Purchase using funds donated in memory of A. Ellen Turner Harris Williams  |  RBB-2022.AW.0001 |  Based on information from Brough's daughter, Carol Ann, this painting is of the Bon Secour River directly behind Meme's Restaurant.

MEME'S RESTAURANT, which featured a variety of distinctive seafood dishes, including its signature Seafood Gumbo, made with Meme's own Roux recipe, quickly became a huge success. According to the cookbook, "Food, Fun, and Fable from Meme's on the Bon Secour River,"  illustrated by DAC artist Richard Brough and his wife Hazel, in a short time, Meme's became well-known to guests from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and thirty-four foreign countries.

If you are unfamiliar with Bon Secour Oysters, Bon Secour Fisheries opened in 1892 and has long been considered an excellent source of Gulf oysters. My mother, a South Alabama native, always told me they were the best in the area. Growing up, I remember her buying Bon Secour Oysters in the local Piggly Wiggly. Most often, she would batter and fry them. Occasionally, she would make Oyster Stew, one of my father's favorite dishes.

In addition to entrees, the cookbook is a treasure trove of recipes for a wide array of delectable Southern sweets, each more tempting than the last. From the tangy Dewberry Cobbler to the Deep Dish Pear Pie, the melt-in-your-mouth Pralines, and the classic Buttermilk Pie, there's something to satisfy every sweet tooth.

Meme's on Bon Secour River  |  Circa 1950s Souvenir Menu

Meme's Barbecue Sauce, Kumquat Marmalade, Watermelon Rind Pickles, and Watermelon Rind Preserve recipes are among the cookbook's many condiment and sauce recipes. This Barbecue Sauce recipe was the one my mother used to make homemade Barbecue Sauce, and to this day, I still use it when cooking barbecued pork or chicken.

Meme's permanently closed in 1979 after Hurricane Frederic damaged the building. Frederic made landfall on the Alabama Gulf Coast as a Category 4 Hurricane, causing estimated property damage of $1.77 billion.

"Food, Fun, and Fable from Meme's on the Bon Secour River"   |  Published in 1965

One of the many short stories included in Meme's cookbook is "Mama's Intuition." The quaint story begins: "Mama's intuition was something to be reckoned with. She had developed it through the years spent in isolated places with her lumber mill husband. In Bon Secour, she was twenty miles from the railroad and the telegraph, and there were no telephones. The news came by the mail boat, and newspapers arrived in batches, for the boat only made the trip to Mobile twice a week. Thus, she had nothing but her intuition to rely on in the nerve-wracking business of rearing eleven children, and even Papa knew that it was formidable and paid such intuition the respect it deserved. This is a true story of how this institution functioned in 1906 and how fortunate it was that Papa had the proper respect for it." (Check out the cookbook for the rest of the story and to see the Brough's illustrations.)

"Food, Fun, and Fable from Meme's on the Bon Secour River"   |  Published in 1965

This painting and other paintings representing scenes of Alabama's Gulf Coast will be featured in an upcoming exhibition opening on TUESDAY, JUNE 4, and continuing through THURSDAY, JUNE 27, 2024. The exhibition titled "ECHOES OF THE PAST: Select Works from the DAC Foundation Collection" is the result of a partnership between the DAC Foundation and the CITY OF MILLBROOK and will be held at the Millbrook Cultural Arts Center, "The Art Mill," located at 3560 Grandview Road in Downtown Millbrook.

The exhibition, curated by DAC Foundation founder and director Mark Andrew Harris, will feature works by the following artists associated with the Dixie Art Colony and DAC Bayou Painters: J. Kelly Fitzpatrick, Carlos Alpha "Shiney" Moon, Arthur W. Stewart, Warree C. LeBron, Richard B. Brough, Genevieve M. Southerland, Karl F. Wolfe, Loulie R. Anderson, Frank W. Applebee, William B. Bush, M. Elizabeth Metcalf, George H. Bryant, Dorothy S. Boone, William "Billy" W. S. Wilson, and Richard B. Coe.

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