The day after Thanksgiving Steve and I made our way south to Cullman, AL to make lots of photos for an upcoming article in the Athens News Courier’s BOOM Magazine in my series called “90 Minutes from Home.” Everybody knows about the All-Steak Restaurant and its famous orange rolls, but what about other hidden gems in this town.
I remembered visiting Ave Maria Grotto when I was very young and then about 10 or 15 years ago, but I thought it would be good to go back and see what was happening there now. Steve and I were very impressed. These serene acres adjoining the campus of St. Bernard Preparatory School showcase the work of a Benedictine monk, Brother Joseph Zoettl, who enjoyed a fascinating hobby of constructing miniature buildings out of stone, concrete, and discarded donated materials, such as plates, jewelry, tile, beads, marbles and seashells. In addition to his time spent in prayer and working in the Abbey shoveling coal into the furnaces, he loved studying photographs of famous buildings and attempting to make identical replicas. The Grotto (an Italian word for “cave”) includes 125 structures.
There is a lovely gift shop at the entrance to the Grotto. The grounds are tastefully landscaped, and there is a concrete sidewalk with railing to guide visitors along the path. It opens every day at 9 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. in the spring and summer and at 5 p.m. in the fall and winter. Admission is $7.00 for adults, $4.50 for children and $5.00 for Seniors and AAA members.
Then, it was lunch time. We loved Carlton’s in a previous visit but wanted to try something new. We made our way to the Busy Bee Cafe. Located on the corner of 1st Avenue SE and 5th Street, we learned that it was established in 1919. The original building was on Highway 278, but Busy Bee has been in its present location since the 1960’s. On April 27, 2011, the cafe along with everything on the block was flattened in a devastating tornado, but as a testimony to the resilience of the Cullman people, it reopened exactly one year later and has been thriving ever since.
Busy Bee Cafe is primarily a breakfast and lunch kind of place that opens at 6:00 a.m. with a neighborhood diner atmosphere. The burgers looked fabulous, but since it was the day after Thanksgiving, we opted for simple sandwiches and soup. It was very good, and the prices delightfully reasonable. Definitely a place to “eat with the locals.”