Read what writers are saying about King Neptune’s and owners Al and Diane Sawyer.

Eat and drink like locals on the Alabama Gulf Coast

At King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant, a small mom and pop joint in the heart of Gulf Shores, you can tell the locals from the out-of-towners by the way they eat their steamed royal red shrimp, a local delicacy.

Uninitiated diners often stare at their plate of fat, whole shrimp looking as lost as a sea turtle stranded on the highway. They have no idea how to tackle the mound of large, lobster-like crustaceans.

Locals unceremoniously snap off the head, peel the shrimp, place the debris in a pile, and move on to the next one. Easy as shelling peanuts.

Fresh local seafood is among the many pleasures of vacationing in the neighboring resort towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in southwest Alabama, renowned for a pristine, 32-mile stretch of sugar-white beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. City dwellers come to observe wildlife in the meandering backwater bayous, improve their golf swing on one of eight signature golf courses, or just sit in a beach chair and watch the seagulls.

No matter what brings visitors here, regional culinary specialties often keep them coming back. Forget the pretentious white tablecloth scene and eat your way through the area’s laid-back local restaurants, joints and dives.

There’s no better place to kick off your culinary sojourn than King Neptune’s.

Southern Living said King Neptune’s serves “the best shrimp in Gulf Shores,” and said to “order a platter of steamed royal reds, and they’ll think you’re a local at this laid-back seafood shack on Gulf Shores’ main drag.”

Southern Living suggested you order the steamed royal reds or grilled shrimp skewer and to wash it down with an Amaretto Orange Blossom Daiquiri.

King Neptune’s Seafood was a featured restaurant in the Alabama Tourism Department’s ‘Year of Alabama Food.”

Writer Anne Marie Dunatov Purdy said, “Seafood is cheap and plentiful at area restaurants, one of the best being King Neptune’s on Gulf Shores Parkway. In addition to oysters (prepared every which way), crab claws and corn and crab bisque, the eatery serves up yummy Southern desserts such as key lime pie.”

Writer Renuka Christoph said King Neptune’s is a “must stop and eat-at place,” adding “the prices can’t be beat, but more important; the cuisine will tantalize the taste buds of every seafood lover. The Corn and Crab Bisque is sensational. The West Indies salad offers a refreshing zest of flavor with its marinated jumbo lump crabmeat. Unique to the area is royal red shrimp. It is sweeter than other shrimp and literally red. Another must-have is the fried crab claws.”

In an article titled “204 Food Finds Across the Nation,” Southern Living said King Neptune’s hand-picked blue crab claws with remoulade sauce ranked among the best.

Don't underestimate Alabama's coast

"I haven't found a seafood I didn't like," Al Sawyer said. That's saying something for a 60-something who has spent his whole life on Alabama's coast catching, selling and cooking seafood.

"When I was a boy, my father took me out to Bon Secour Bay, and we shucked oysters right there in the water," he said. "That was the first seafood I ever had, and I fell in love with it."

He hopes you'll love it too.

After a career in sales for a local fishery and a couple of stints working in restaurants, Sawyer and wife, Diane, opened their own eatery. It's the sort of ma-and-pa place you might pass by without a second thought — until you see the line of hungry people waiting outside.

The small, white, one-story building with royal-blue roof and awning looks like it might have been a 1960s gas station or fast-food joint. Popular with locals and visitors in the know, King Neptune's Seafood Restaurant serves up some of the most critically acclaimed platters of seafood on Alabama's 32 miles of coastline.

And it's a bargain, too, with a $4.95 lunch special.

You'll find Sawyer's beloved Bon Secour oysters and some blue crab on the menu, but 60 percent of the orders are shrimp, he said. Neptune's is known for its royal reds: shrimp almost as big as a banana and as succulent as lobster.

The Birmingham News said, “The royal red shrimp at King Neptune’s, also on Alabama Highway 59, are tough to beat, especially the price-to-helping ratio.”

Coastal Living named King Neptune’s as one of “Alabama’s Best Seafood Dives,” and said you can get “some great Gulf eats” here. The magazine also said, “The many loyal regulars know that the kitchen buys good, fresh seafood and knows how to cook it.”

Writer Denise Bomstein offered the following about his trip to the Alabama Gulf Coast and to King Neptune’s, “I Have Three Words For You - ROYAL RED SHRIMP! After my crawfish and bread pudding extravaganza, I swore I'd eat on the lighter side for the rest of my trip...that lasted until dinner when I was introduced to bless’em - Royal Red Shrimp at King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant. Served with their scarlet bodies intact, piled mile-high on a plate, you literally attack the shrimp. I never fought so hard to eat as I ripped the heads off and struggled to peel off their tough shells. Royal Reds have a delicious shrimpy-crabby taste and texture. I ate so many Royal Reds, I lost count. I relished in them, I indulged in them, I ravished them…I am a Royal Red Shrimp! After I was done making a spectacle of myself, I dug into none other than that great, Southern dessert - bread pudding. I never learn.”

King Neptune’s Seafood wins top award at New Orleans show

Al Sawyer and Diane Bush first opened King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant in a tiny enclave at Gaslight Square in Gulf Shores back in 1993.

But in the two years since, they’ve gone from tiny to big.

Big enough to garner first place honors at the prestigious International Specialty Food Show cooking contest held in New Orleans September 23-25.

Sawyer teamed with Winston Stona, managing director of Busha Browne’s Co. Ltd., of Jamaica, to make delicious Caribbean shrimp and oyster recipes that easily wowed an international panel of judges.

I just could not believe it,” said Sawyer, who like Bush is a Lower Alabama native.