Sweet tea, Alabama: As luck would have it, several folks at Hammock Publishing have connections to Alabama (does that make them Bamarati?). Such down homeness has caused a pavlovian response among this contingent to that state’s current tourism promotion, “The Year of Alabama Food.” As part of the celebration, its tourism development folks have posted a list of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die (which, frankly, could be renamed 100 Alabama dishes if you eat too often will cause an early death, but we’ll not go there).
This promotion seemed so mouth-watering, we asked Hammock’s Bamarati what dishes on the list were their personal favorites. Here are their cravings:
Jamie Roberts: Milo’s in Birmingham. My parents knew Mr. Milo, so I was weaned on this burger joint’s super-secret brown sauce. Milo’s adds an extra sliver of beef to your burger and drowns it in the heavenly sauce. (A little cup of sauce is also perfect for dipping into Milo’s cheese-dusted fries.) And don’t get me started on their sweet tea–it needs its own 12-step group. When headed south on I-65, make a detour on Montgomery Highway headed toward Vestavia. You won’t regret it. Also, Johnny Ray’s pies. My former workplace used to order these for special client lunches. I don’t miss my former workplace, but oh, Lord, I miss those pies. Also, even though I make fun of my family for eating at Lloyd’s in Birmingham almost every Sunday after church, their perfectly fried onion rings can make a convert out of anyone. And I don’t even like onions.
Shannon Scully: My all-time favorite restaurant on the list is City Cafe in Northport. Their fried okra rivals my grandmother’s recipe. In Tuscaloosa, you can’t beat Dreamland ribs with white bread. In Auburn, Toomer’s Corner lemonade hits the spot on a hot day (or after a win by the undefeated Auburn Tigers!!). (note: Shannon grew up in Tuscaloosa yet went to Auburn — something akin to zigging while other folks zag.) In Dothan (recently added to my list of ‘favorite’ cites), Peanut Pie at the Garland House, though I’m told the Peppermint Puff is their best dessert.
Rex Hammock: Wow. Two close runners-up: Lloyd’s onion rings, although I think they were better back in the old days when Highway 280 south of Birmingham was a two lane highway winding through two mountains and Lloyd’s was located on a stretch of it near Chelsea called, “the narrows.” A cheeseburger from the Dew Drop Inn in Mobile (said to be inspiration for native son Jimmy Buffett’s song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise”) is one of life’s simple pleasures. But, forgive me for drooling when I recommend the pork chop sandwich with mustard sauce at 13th Street Bar-BQ in Phenix City. (Or, on second thought, if you’re ever in Phenix City, get a barbecue sandwich (chopped, inside and out — trust me) from a restaurant not on the list, The Smokey Pig, on Opelika Highway). Face it, barbecue sauce is made with mustard. How come only folks in the Chattahoochee Valley have figured that out?
John Lavey: (note: John, while a native of northern Virginia, was lucky enough to “marry into” Alabama and has become quite the expert in the state’s delicacies.) Sadly, while I’ve been to a dozen of the establishments listed, I’ve only sampled the following “go-to” dishes: ribs and bread at Dreamland (really good, though Perk’s in Harperville and Twix and Tween in Centerville are better in my mind), Fried Catfish at Ezell’s Fish Camp (this redefines fried catfish, cooked on the bone) steak at Jesse’s in Magnolia Springs (which, by the way, is the town that matches a Yankee’s mythic version of the South: sleepy, Spanish Moss, big oaks). I will consider myself lucky to hit a high percentage of the other restaurants before being scattered in ash-form over the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Gulf Shores.
Coming soon: Dishes from other Hammorati home states that must be eaten before you die.