Feel delicious fuel at Jasper’s Bayou Fresh Seafood

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The idea of ​​sushi at the gas station is so contradictory that it was ridiculed in an unforgettable Esurance commercial. Advertising I was funny. Zhu Jianjun thought so too. And he talks about it and laughs at him, even as he proudly serves rainbow-colored rolls and beautiful salmon nigiri to customers—often familiar and new—in the little café that shares space with a gas station in Jasper.

Bayou Fresh Seafood at Fuel on North Walston Bridge Road is well worth a stop: for the food, exotic ambiance, and very real sense of camaraderie between customers and staff (some of whom have been with Zhu for a decade).

Zhu Jianjun has been making food, friends and fans of Bayou Fresh Seafood in Jasper for the past 10 years. (Brittany Foch/The Alabama News Center)

They celebrate Christmas and Chinese New Year at Bayou Fresh Seafood. Inside, you’ll notice two trophies mounted on either side of a red tassel hanging wall decorated with Chinese symbols. The whiteboard for daily specials last Tuesday included frog legs dinner and Japanese ramon soda, nigiri baby shrimp and octopus bowl, homemade seafood okra and salmon roe sushi. There is a lucky cat statue looming near the sushi bar and the University of Alabama sign across the room. At Bayou Fresh Seafood, the people who work here “know what some customers want the moment they walk in,” says Camelia Castillo. And if you’re new, they’ll probably know you by the time you leave.

“I noticed this customer,” Chu says, pointing to some regular employees. “They started coming here in 2013. … they love us; they know me. They always come and hug me … and they say, ‘You’re doing a good job.’ It gives me confidence, you know. I don’t have English at that time. … now. I’m learning every day.”

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The family-run Bayou Fresh Seafood restaurant gained national attention in 2016 when the place made Southern Living’s list of Best Gas Station Restaurants in the South. (The Pacific Blue at Hoover Food Mart, beloved for Thai noodle dishes, was another Alabama pick for this top 10 list.)

There’s a copy on the wall of the magazine’s story, and Zhu says this kind of unexpected show, along with dedicated social media like Facebook, has brought him clients from as far away as California. He regularly sees people passing by on their way to Florida; There are other new clients in Jasper attending the flight school at nearby Sanders Aviation. But he says his regulars are the heart and soul of his business.

Bayou Fresh Seafood offers ocean reward to Jasper from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Zhou, who is from China, bought the restaurant in 2012 from a Vietnamese family. They were from Mobile and were running a fishing boat in the bay, he said. It was called Bio Fresh Seafood and then kept that name. Then serve a dinner of fresh seafood with southern sides and some Cajun flavor, if you like, which it continues.

A few years after he bought the company, a customer suggested Zhu add sushi to the menu, and he did. There was a bit of a learning curve, he says, so he made sushi with fried shrimp to show people that “not all sushi is raw.” Cho says he has started handing out pieces of sushi to get customers to simply try it.

“People were saying, ‘Oh, that’s good. But why open here? Why not open elsewhere? …it’s a gas station. Nobody feels comfortable. …I say, “I’m really here. I’m already spending money here. …I just tried to work hard, and I tried to make everyone comfortable when they ate. Then they come back. It’s not like they ate goodbye.” In fact, one customer came in 50 days in a row, he says.

Soon his customers grew to love Zhu sushi, and now many come just for that. He says sushi accounts for most of his business.

Small marvel. The sushi prepared by Cho and his wife Janice is as delicious as it is beautiful. You can choose from the sushi menu or, if time permits, they can create a roll for you.

His Rockin Roll is a work of art and a beautiful blend of flavors and textures – from crispy shrimp tempura, tender lobster and creamy cheese inside to poached baby lobster, spicy lobster and fresh jalapenos that he carefully lays on top until the final drizzle of spicy mayo and eel sauce.

There are California rolls, of course. This becomes an Alabama roll when the pieces are wrapped in fresh tuna. Likewise, the Tennessee roll is a California roll wrapped with fresh salmon. Huntsville roll is spicy tuna and cucumber covered in salmon, crunchy, and eel sauce. Summer rolls made of salmon, crab, cream cheese and avocado, then fried and topped with eel sauce. A tricolor roll of salmon, tuna, white tuna and cream cheese fried with yum yum sauce on top. Sushi is available in many combinations as well, served with miso soup and ginger salad. You’ll want to try the ginger salad. It’s a simple, beautiful and crunchy combination of iceberg lettuce and seaweed salad topped with ginger dressing and sprinkled with delicious roe that explodes delightfully with every bite.

At the bottom of the sushi menu, you will find the dishes of the kitchen; It’s what you’d expect from any Southern seafood place. Shrimp, crab claws, frog legs, catfish, grouper, mahi mahi, red snapper and oysters. Get these separately or in groups; Order it fried, grilled, steamed, or blackened. The lunch special (11am-3:30pm) includes a box of fish (or chicken fingers) with your choice of three completely different sides (spring rolls, hashpuppies, french fries, corn, fried pickles, gyoza dumplings, some premium smoked sausages, fries red, ginger salad, miso soup, coleslaw and white rice). There is a similar menu in the evening. Dinner comes with fries, hushpuppies, cole slaw and an extra side from that interesting menu. You will also find a variety of boys (chicken, tilapia, catfish, shrimp, oysters, grouper, alligator). Fresh lobster is celebrated in summer, and people line up when Zhu has snowy crab legs.

The ingredients for these dishes come to Bayou Fresh Seafood several times a week. Zhu says he gets his sushi ingredients—spicy tuna, baby octopus, different types of roe, salmon, squid and more—from JFC International in Atlanta. Shipments of fresh bay shrimp, snapper, grouper, crab claws and oysters come directly from the coast via Bon Secour Fisheries Inc.

Some of Zhu Jianjun’s team members at Bayou Seafood have been with him for years, and he has taught and learned from them, like family. (Brittany Foch/The Alabama News Center)

At a time in the food and hospitality industry where restaurateurs are facing difficulties in recruiting and retaining employees, Zhu has a cadre of loyal employees who have been with him for years.

They are “family,” Zhou says. He talks about Alex, who has been in his kitchen frying and steaming seafood for 10 years and says the restaurant is “like home.” It’s talking about Ashley, whom they call “Bevy,” and Lacey, who have also been at Bayou Fresh Seafood for a decade. He points to Keri and Camelia (Castello), who spent six years there. He says that during their time together, he learned from them, and they in turn learned from him. “This is the story of Bayou,” Chu says. “It’s not about the food. It’s about family.”

Castillo, who is fast forward and expertly making sushi rolls, agrees when Zhu talks to customers. “Cho and Janice are like mom and dad to us,” she says.

Cho and Janice have children, but he says he’s also proud of his restaurant family. Some young people started working in his restaurant when they were teenagers, and now they have children. “They are working hard,” he says. “They are working hard.” He is proud of them for that. But he also sets an example. “I am Chinese. I came here for the family. I don’t go to college, but I still have my own business.” But he’s quick to add, his crew and dedication makes this restaurant work.

Zhu says that when his customers are happy, he is happy.

“Lots of clients tell me they go everywhere and eat sushi and I’m doing better. And I’m so happy. Also, that’s why we work so hard.”


Bayou fresh seafood

217 N. Walston Bridge Road

Jasper, Alabama 35504

205-221-3400

https://www.facebook.com/BayouFreshSeafood/

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hours

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday (Zhu takes a break from preparing sushi Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 3 to 4:30 p.m.). Eat food or throw it away. A menu is available on the Bayou Fresh Seafood Facebook page.