On our recent cross country road trip, the state that Tom and I were most surprised about was Alabama. Truthfully, neither of us had any expectations about Alabama. We were just interested in eating some tasty food. Perhaps this lack of anticipation helped Alabama soar to the top tier of our favorite stops.
The drive from Charleston, SC to Huntsville, AL was unexpectedly pleasant. We decided to forego a visit to Atlanta in favor of more time in Alabama. It was a great decision. One thing that struck us about the landscape of Alabama was its’ sheer beauty. The Northeast region is mountainous, densely covered with forests and some lakes and ponds. Tom and I were treated to the most beautiful sunset on our first night. The sun falling behind a mountain and projecting a fantastic reflection on a lake in the forefront is something we won’t soon forget!
At this point in our road trip, we had spent several days in the American South. However, it was in Alabama where we indulged in Southern cooking. For breakfast, we met up with Tom’s stepdad for breakfast at Blue Plate Café in Huntsville. Tom and I shared the Blue Plate Breakfast with two eggs over easy, grits, sausage gravy, Country Fried Steak, and a side of bone-in country ham. Indeed it was a hearty breakfast! Even with the two of us sharing this tasty breakfast, more than half remained after we were satiated. Be sure to bring your appetite if you dine at this local’s favorite restaurant!
After a lovely visit with Tom’s stepdad, we decided to drive toward Mobile. Although we were still stuffed from breakfast, we had to stop in Birmingham for lunch at Eagle’s Restaurant. Opened in 1951, Eagle’s is still the city’s premier soul food restaurant. Naturally, we had to judge the food for ourselves. We arrived at 11:00 and the place was already packed. Luckily we got there early enough on a day when oxtail was being served as this is supposedly one of the best main dishes offered. In addition to oxtail, we ordered side servings of collard greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. The food was incredible, rich and fatty goodness. The oxtail was so flavorful and tender with a gravy thickened with its’ collagen. The pork flavored (of course!) greens and peas served as the perfect complement to this vibrant southern meal! Everything was cooked with love and to perfection!
Our Alabama tour continued in the Mobile area. After checking in to our hotel downtown, we decided to escape to the water. A quick 5-minute drive landed us in the Spanish Fort area; the Mobile Causeway. Although we were close to the industrial center of Mobile, we felt as if we were dropped into the middle of the marshes with beautiful waters, grasses, and wildlife. We took our hotel’s concierge recommendation and dined at the Blue Gill Restaurant. Although there is a multitude of restaurants on the Causeway serving similar fare, we were pleased with the suggestion. Tom and I sat at a booth directly adjacent to the water where we enjoyed a view of the dazzling sunset. That particular evening, we enjoyed listening to live music, sipping on $3 bloody marys (me) and whiskey (Tom), and nothing on “flaming oysters.” For those of you who have been to New Orleans, this is the Mobile take on chargrilled oysters. The highlight was the oysters. Plump, juicy, and full of flavor! If you are driving along I-10 and want a taste of Gulf Coast seafood, skip the high prices and touristy beaches of Pensacola and Biloxi. Head to Blue Gill for a sampling from the nearby waters!
Nightlife in Mobile?! Yes! Tom and I were completely surprised by the activity in downtown Mobile. The evening we were there, Mobile hosted an art walk. The streets were shut down for pedestrian use only, allowing people to stroll about sipping on drinks (including those of the adult variety) while admiring works of artists. The night doesn’t end at the close of the art walk. We learned that a few bars stay open as late as 5 AM. Crazy. Tom and I are too old for that sort of craziness. Instead, we decided to stop at Noble South, a small establishment featuring eclectic, “spin on southern cuisine” plates and craft cocktails. We shared an order of spicy fried chicken hearts. It was ok, but not the best. The bartender was also the server for the evening. We felt terrible that he was running around, trying to care for everyone. When he was free, we spoke at length about different cocktails as he was learning about mixed drinks. I guided him on how to make a variation on French 75 (my go-to cocktail), and Tom told him about different ways to use cachaça. It was an exciting find in an up and coming city.
Alabama is full of surprises. From the physical beauty of the sea and land to the delicious food, to the genuine friendliness of the locals, Alabama has it all. If you are looking for a Southern and Gulf Coast experience that is a little unique and doesn’t break the bank, check out Alabama, the “Heart of Dixie”!