FLINT, Michigan—Walking into Alabama Fish and Chicken is like entering an open market in Gulf Shores. Fry powders line racks, and the smell of sweets and fresh fish radiate from the small storefront.
Lisa Ray is a blur of movement. The fry cook is running behind the register boxing up chicken wings, shrimp, orange roughy, white bass, ocean perch, tilapia, cod, and (of course) their top seller, catfish.
“The first thing, for people that don’t know us, what they tend to notice is the selection," she says. "We feed a lot of big groups from family dinners to church functions.”
The Flint native and grandmother came on at Alabama Fish and Chicken a few years ago after the current owners took over. Yes, just a few years here—but do not, under any circumstances, underestimate her skills.
“I’ve been frying fish, cooking and baking for over 20 years, and that’s why we’ve got the best fish in town—period,” she laughs as she darts around the three large fryers along the back kitchen wall.
Waleed Nasir Ahmed, or “Mo” as he is known by most, moved up from Arkansas with his business partner and took over the location on east Davison Road about three years ago. The older gentlemen is quiet, mild mannered and smiles a lot—a contrast to Ray’s lightning energy.
On a rainy afternoon, the two are in the back kitchen triple-dipping catfish and seasoning family fries with double doses of lemon pepper. “People love this stuff,” Ray says, motioning to a large tray of catfish strips.
A lot of prep goes into the mixes and fry powders. Alabama’s sells several different types of powders, “but we make our own special mix,” Ray says.
“It’s because we make them so tender, and because we triple-dip them,” Ray says. “We pound them out and dip them in our powdered pre-mix, then we drop them in a cold bath,” she explains.
The ice bath helps the mix cover the whole strip of chicken or fish. Then, Ray says, “We re-dip them again, and pat them down. Doing all that makes them really thin and crispy—yet tender and juicy. It’s why people love ’em.”
Hard to argue with her on that point. The catfish is light, crispy but not greasy and, like the fried chicken, you get a bit of spice with a sort of sweet end. The shrimp, which usually sells out fast, only come in two sizes, large and jumbo. All the selections can be put together or mixed and matched and paired with Southern staples such as okra or red beans and rice.
If you’re not in the fish or chicken mood, the shop also offers a selection of sandwiches, burgers and subs for lunch. All the chicken and fish is market fresh, or customers can bring in their own cuts. Like the big sign outside says (and Ray too proclaims): “You buy. We fry.”
With catering trays, 16 side order choices, and entree choices sold by the pound, there may not be room for dessert, but, “we’ve got even more sweet stuff for you if you’re still hungry,” Ray says.
“We always have cheesecake and a homemade cake on hand,” she said. “We usually have a double chocolate, lemon, strawberry, coconut and caramel, and some cookies with soda pop out front.”
Ray says she loves the food, but does encourage moderation.
“You shouldn’t have it all the time, maybe just three times a week,” she says with a wink. “It is important to eat healthy and treat yourself, so when you’re done with the healthy stuff and ready for a treat, come see us,” she says.
“It’s funny, we used to have fresh salads, but they didn’t go over too well,” she laughs again.
Mo smiles. Yep. Frying is what they do, and they do it well. No doubt about that.
“Thank you for coming,” he says in that same quiet way he always seems to have, adding, “I know I will see you again.”
Our tip: Ray is right, pace yourself. First-timers should try a three-piece chicken wing with catfish pairing. Add a side of coleslaw or okra, or both. Remember to grab extra napkins and hot sauce with a takeout menu for your next visit.