Lucy Buffett is an Alabama Gulf Coast native, a local legend and fast becoming a Southern icon, just like her big brother Jimmy. With her first restaurant, LuLu’s, Lucy turned a tiny, down-home marina restaurant into the place to dine on the Alabama Gulf Coast (her second location is now open in Destin, FL). True to her roots, the food is spectacular, the drinks flow freely, and there’s always music to be heard. This self-proclaimed “Crazy Sista” has spent her life following her dreams, and we’re proud to call her a local. When we sat down to talk to Lucy, this Gulf Coast darling stole our hearts all over again, and it’s easy to see why!
What’s your favorite thing about living on the Alabama Gulf Coast?
I’m a water baby – most kids who grow up on any coast learn to swim before they can even walk. The salt and brackish waters in this area run in my veins and heart. Living on a large body of water permeates every aspect of a person’s life. Coastal living always imbues a definitive lifestyle inspired by recreational and work-oriented water activities but somehow, I feel the Gulf Coast has an especially rich history – a sort of melting “gumbo” pot of its own with many different cultures and influences that centers around family, food, and fun. I know that sounds like an advertising slogan but it’s the truth. We Gulf Coast folks work hard and play hard. We know how to have a good time and enjoy the natural beauty with which we’ve been blessed.
When you’re not in the kitchen, what’s your favorite way to enjoy the Alabama Gulf Coast?
I have horses, so I tend to spend time at my barn when I’m not cooking or traveling. But one of my favorite things to do is road trip – exploring the back roads and little worn nooks and crannies here in Baldwin County. You can meet some pretty funny and interesting characters when you have the time to leisurely drive the Coast.
What is your favorite food memory?
My parents worked at the local shipyard in Mobile and they got paid on the 1st and the 15th of each month. If those days landed on a Friday, they would always take us out for “special” supper. One of our favorite things to do was to go to one of the seafood restaurants on the Causeway that runs from downtown Mobile to Spanish Fort. It was really a treat to have fried crab claws! That is one of my favorite childhood fun food memories.
Who has influenced you and your cooking the most?
Definitely, both of my grandmothers who lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are my greatest culinary influences. One was more of a boarding house style cook; there was always a pot of gumbo on the stovetop and a pound cake on the counter. Her idea of a Sunday lunch was an enormous spread of multiple meats like a ham, fried chicken, and maybe some ribs. Side dishes would be potato salad, green beans, lettuce and tomato salad, butter beans, squash casserole, and maybe some coleslaw. Dessert would consist of the aforementioned pound cake with fresh strawberries, some kind of pie, maybe a bread pudding and some brownies she has made earlier in the week. She would consider this “just a few things for lunch.” My other grandmother was a dietician at a girls finishing school and the food was much more upscale. When we went to visit her in the dining hall, we were offered shrimp cocktail and West Indies salad, an enormous round of beef with a gentleman carving, potatoes au gratin, green beans with slivered almonds and Charlotte Russe. They were two very different yet wonderful interpretations of Gulf Coast cuisine.
What are your favorite Gulf or local ingredients?
Seafood: shrimp, oysters, crabs, and the lovely warm water fish like Mahi, Grouper, and Snapper. We are so blessed to have such luxurious seafood bounty. But I am inspired and delighted by the local produce harvested every year right here in Baldwin County! Sweet white corn, beautiful red new potatoes, juicy homegrown tomatoes, and the entire assortment of field peas and beans, not to mention the squashes and melons are just a smidgen of what’s available during our spring and summer harvest! You can regularly find me at a roadside stand on any given day when I’m driving from my home in Fairhope to the beach to go to work. It’s one of the sweetest pleasures of my life to pick through the day’s harvest.
Are there any culinary trends you are wild about right now? Or any that you hate?
I have an aversion to foam and exotic, pretentious descriptions of “fancy” dishes. Experimental cuisine does nothing for me. I’m only interested in flavor and I’m a firm believer that keeping a recipe simple and using the freshest ingredients possible is the best way to achieve a really delicious dish. I do love Asian inspired cuisine, especially Vietnamese that carries a French influence with it. Of course, the whole farm-to-table movement resonates with me, but when it comes down to it, I’m always going to want to enjoy a basket of Fresh Fried Shrimp with some Hushpuppies and Coleslaw!
What’s your favorite thing to make at home?
These days, I’m grilling a lot – almost everything with large salads made with lots of fresh ingredients and herbs. You have to do that when you get a little older- much to my chagrin! To me there is almost nothing as lovely as a piece of fresh grouper perfectly chargrilled. But when I’m having company or family visiting, I will make a Seafood Gumbo or my Lump Crab a la LuLu served over Cheese Grits. Those are my “go to” dishes when entertaining.
What’s behind the “Crazy Sista” name?
In the South, everyone has a “crazy” sister and they are usually called “sista.” I was a little bit wild and rebellious in my youth – imagine that? Since I often felt so misunderstood (she says while laughing) I could wear my heart on my sleeve, as they would say, and was sometimes considered a little difficult – or just plain crazy. So I was sort of dubbed “the crazy sister” in my family. Being much older and wiser, I now embrace my rebellious nature and recognize it as the epicenter of my creative expression. Crazy Sista, for me, is something I’m very proud to be. It’s my metaphorical badge of honor and courage that inspires me to continue to grow and choose to live a good, independent, fulfilling, and joyful life.