My Silver Fox and I found a delightful new place last week to have a truly delicious meal. May I enthusiastically recommend to all of you Mona Lisa Bistro and Courtyard Cafe at 42 Railroad St. in Falkville, AL. Head south out of Hartselle on Highway 31. Turn left at Falkville’s only red light, cross the railroad tracks, and immediately look to your right. Mona Lisa Bistro is in the middle of the block. Park beside the tracks or on the street in front of the bistro. The exterior is very unassuming, but the interior is charming and colorful. And, yes, Mona Lisa reproductions are displayed throughout the decor. Somehow, the classical music playing in the background as you enter, hints that you are in for a unique experience.
There is a regular dining area, but we were fortunate to be seated in the trolley car found in the adjoining room. The trolley was originally used as a shuttle for the Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park near McCalla, Alabama. It was purchased by owner Steve Johnson and is back in service as a private dining spot inside the bistro. What fun quirkiness it adds to the atmosphere!
Seated promptly, we were immediately struck by the diversity on the menu. We expected to find soups, salads, and sandwiches, but we were intrigued to find Italian pasta dishes, German pork and chicken schnitzel, blackened salmon and lamb chops as well. Steve chose the turkey royale sandwich on French bread, and I selected the chicken schnitzel. While we waited for our entrees, fresh warm bread was served, along with small cups of lemon chicken noodle soup. What pleasant surprises! When our entrees arrived, both of us thought they tasted exceptionally good.
While savoring each bite, Executive Chef Jean Littrell came to our table to greet us, and she willingly answered my many questions. She explained that she had no formal culinary training but learned to cook from watching her mother and French grandmother. She said, “I don’t measure. You could come in here several days in a row and order the same thing, and each time it might be a little bit different. I want my diners to eat with their eyes first.” She hopes that Mona Lisa Bistro patrons will have a “great adventure for their senses.” From my perspective, with the music, the tastes, and the vibrant decor, I believe they are fulfilling that goal.
Chef Littrell shared that a coffee bar section will be open soon featuring signature blends created by Buck at Java Jaay’s in Decatur. She also plans to incorporate Josephine’s chicken salad (a secret recipe) and daily specials such as “all you can eat” liver and onions, in which the livers are marinated in garlic and cooked to order according to the diners’ wishes. They offer live music on the weekends and want to encourage local artists to bring in their work to put on display.
Johnson and Littrell also have plans to turn the old movie theater building on the block into a wedding chapel and dinner theater. They have a warehouse behind the bistro that will become small rooms for travelers who want to spend the night, have a delicious dinner followed by a great breakfast before heading on down the road. They even have plans for a more formal B & B in a beautiful old home not far from this part of Falkville. Their hours of operations are ambitious. 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. 7 days a week. Wow! From what I’ve heard described on the breakfast menu — eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles, for example — I plan to find a time to try that menu soon. Breakfast is served from 7:00 to 11:00 daily.
“Why Falkville?” you have to ask yourself. After all, the official population is only 1279 according to the town clerk, and the entire school enrollment K-12 is 750-800 students. There are just a handful of employers in the area — Falkville Nursing Home, Summerford Nursing Home and ConAgra being the largest, followed by Lone Wolf and Lawrimore Trailer Companies and Valley Rubber Company. Where are the patrons going to come from to sustain all of these dreams and plans?
You won’t hear a single hesitation from Owner Johnson and Chef Littrell. They both have an affinity for Falkville and share a vision for revitalizing the town. I believe they will succeed. The food is delectable. It is only a mile off I-65 at exit 322. There are tons of hungry people in Hartselle . . . or even Athens, Decatur or Cullman, for that matter. Go give them a try and tell them I sent you. Mona Lisa Bistro and Courtyard Cafe. Let’s watch this town come back to life.