There was a great rejoicing from our group of Montgomery friends when it was announced that Montgomery was going to be getting a Wintzell’s Oyster House. And honestly, that note of anticipation was pretty much the high point. Wintzell’s is known by many Alabamians as a great place for seafood. Many, many people speak fondly of the Mobile location(s). If only a fraction of the chain’s good food and service would come to the new expansion location, there would be much more rejoicing. Unfortunately, although we love oysters and seafood places, our heart remains with the Capitol Oyster Bar (and not at all with Young Barn Oyster Pub).
The news was good at first. Wintzell’s would be coming downtown. Anyone who has been faced with lunchtime downtown would obviously celebrate this entry into the gaping maw of the under-performing restaurant scene. Yet, there was dismay attached to the news that instead of fixing up one of the many existing awesome old buildings downtown, the franchise would instead patch onto one of the few parts of downtown that didn’t need any renovations at all, the Marriott Renaissance hotel — which already has a perfectly functional (if overpriced) restaurant.
So finally they opened, latched onto the downtown hotel and slammed full of customers for the first week or more of their time in business. What did we think when we finally got around to checking it out?
The service is just terrible. Look, we’re not those high maintenance customers who order things “extra crunchy” or sub in various ingredients. We’re happy if we can find something on the menu and if you keep our glasses full. We are even good tippers and have personal experience of how difficult life can be for servers, especially in new places where all of the bugs haven’t been worked out yet.
Yet, we have been twice (just to give the place a second chance) and the service is feast or famine. At first, it was the super annoying thing where five servers plus the manager come by to see how everything is. Total overkill. Hard to even get a bite of food in between people checking in on you. One guy even stopped in and seemed to make fun of how much food we had ordered. I reminded him that his place of business charges money for the food and he should be encouraging us to purchase it instead of gawking at the amount that we were consuming.
But then, the famine. Where the parade of people once came by to examine the details of our dining experience, suddenly, we were abandoned. So, again, we’re pretty patient customers here, but at a certain point, you have to get up and just go refill your own tea at the server’s station. And that’s annoying.
Adding to this is the quality of the food. Some of the diners in our party seemed happy. A round of oysters was enjoyed and the beer was cold and in frosty glass mugs. But my dozens of oysters were filled with flecks of shell and grime. And my blackened fish po boy, well, when asked how it was, the only word I could muster was: “toilet.” It took several pieces of the butter drenched toast to wash away the aftertaste of that toxic fish-slab. The fried oyster po boy was overly bread-y, spiritless, and sad. And at dinner it’s about three times the price of a much better sandwich over at Destin Connection.
And the atmosphere just isn’t the kind of place I want to have food. With bare concrete floors, there is massive echo from the swarming crowds. And this magnifies the booming effect when the staff comes out and screams one of their quirky Happy Birthday songs to some unlucky diner. It’s the kind of crap you’d expect at a Flinger’s restaurant from Office Space where they count the pieces of flair on your vest. But it’s not the kind of thing right-minded people want to hear when they are trying to consume some food.
The Montgomery Wintzell’s is going through all the motions. They have studiously assembled some of the atmosphere from the Mobile restaurants; taking the quirky aphorisms from the wall of the original (a great place to eat, in Mobile’s oldest wood frame structure, where layers of scribbled and fraying lawyer jokes and take-my-wife-please themed puns manage to seem authentic because they basically are), lining them up and stapling them up and down the wall. Nothing says funny like a joke calling a woman a battleaxe. In any case, the total fakeness of the quirk made us totally nostalgic for the first Witnzell’s and hate this one. Also the oysters were small. Not so in Mobile.
Yes, they have dollar beer and $5/dozen oysters at happy hour. But at what cost?