Sitting on a lazy bend along the Fish River in Summerdale, Alabama, Lucy Buffett's house hums with a crowd arriving for a family cookout. Grandchildren head straight for the pool, paddling around the water under their parents' watchful eyes. Lyrics of a familiar beach tune playing in the background proclaim, "It's 5 o'clock somewhere." The whir of a blender suggests tropical drinks are close at hand, and the smell of pepper-crusted beef tenderloin searing on a nearby grill teases the taste buds.
Lucy's love of food and fun began years ago and eventually led her to open LuLu's Sunset Grill on Weeks Bay, which she describes as "a high-class dive―a simple establishment with limited inside seating and picnic tables outside; just a little place on the water to get a cold beer, a good burger, and seafood." She fed locals and an ever-growing number of vacationers until she lost the lease in 2002. Lucy resisted starting over, but her husband, Mac McAleer, convinced her to dream big―really big. Together they built a new restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway in Gulf Shores, Alabama, that seats 500. LuLu's at Homeport Marina still serves a "cheeseburger in paradise"―named in honor of big brother and famous beach folk singer Jimmy Buffett―along with an expanded bill of fare. Many menu items are classics Lucy lovingly preserved from her Gulf Coast childhood, such as fried green tomatoes, shrimp loaf sandwiches, and fried oysters.
These days Lucy rarely spends time in her restaurant's kitchen, but she continues to cook for pleasure and recently created a compilation of her favorite recipes in Crazy Sista Cooking, Cuisine & Conversation With Lucy Anne Buffett (Crazy Sista, 2007). "I've been writing this book for 20 years," she says. "I love to cook and feed people; it's what I've done my whole life. Nothing makes me happier than seeing people enjoying good food." Lucy has been making the rich seafood gumbo being ladled up today longer than she can remember. She laughs and shares her secret: "It's all about the roux," she says. "You have to stir it until you think your arm will fall off."
As parents pack up waterlogged kids and head home, Lucy and Mac greet a second wave of visitors arriving by boat just in time for happy hour. Lucy sets out her L.A. (Lower Alabama) caviar-black-eyed peas in balsamic vinaigrette served with tortilla chips―and a divine cold crab salad. Soon, strawberry margaritas and Champagne flutes filled with sparkling rosé line the bar. "There are many reasons for having people over," Lucy says, "but I've found that often the best reason is none at all. Bring your friends and family close to your heart and you can't go wrong no matter the menu."