Staff SGT Donald Wayne West, Jr., enlisted in the United States Army National Guard on September 11, 2001. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Company A of the 150th Combat Engineers served active duty Aug 29, 2004, until Dec 30, 2005. SSGT West returned to college in January, 2006. He married Lauren Ritchie June 9, 2006, at Seaside, Fla., and they have three children. SSGT West completed military service at Camp Minden, LA on Aug 23, 2009.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Day 279 - Coasting Through the Week

Sunrise on the Alabama Gulf Coast signals hope tourists will resume their annual treks to enjoy the sand and surf. For us, it means we're one day closer to Wayne's return and his wedding to Lauren at Seaside, Florida next summer.

A group of us journalists arrived in Gulf Shores late yesterday afternoon, just in time for a short walk on the beach before dinner at Gulf Bay Seafood Grille, owned by Al and Diane Sawyer and operated by a fiercely loyal group employees, all Birmingham transplants. The casual restaurant lives up to its reputation for some of the finest seafood on the coast, served in plenteous portions with a roll of paper towels on the side.

Classic Southern best describes the culinary style where 'deep fried' is one of the five basic food groups. "We'll deep fry a paper napkin if you want us to!" said BeBe Gauntt, our host from the Alabama Gulf Coast CVB.

General Manager Rodney Calo warned us locals take their seafood seriously, especially oysters. Rest assured, the oysters at Gulf Bay definitely pass the taste test for freshness and flavor.

Before we could catch our breath, the next wave of food arrived. Billed as Neptune's Seafood Platter, the $80 house specialty consists of one pound of King Crab Legs, a one-pound Snow Crab Cluster, a one-pound Dungeness Cluster, plus a pound of Royal Red Shrimp with boiled potatoes and corn. That's on top of four cups of gumbo and a dozen oysters, which we had already eaten. To feed four, it's actually a great deal of food for a great price.

For dessert, Rodney pitched the Deep Fried Cheesecake. Noting our journalistic skepticism, he told us how they dip a dense New York cheesecake slice in buttermilk, roll it in crushed cornflake crumbs and then refreeze it before it is deep fried, drained and drenched in a homemade caramel pecan sauce.

After dinner, we invented a new gastronomic phrase: "I feel gorgeous." Sounds much better than, "I have gorged myself on so much food I can hardly walk."