Leo and Odette
No, this is not the title of some newly-discovered, long-buried Shakespearean play. Instead, it gives a hint of two fun things to enjoy in Florence, Alabama -- one free and out in the open air, the other more expensive and in an intimate setting.
Leo III, the mascot for the University of North Alabama sports teams, has one of the fanciest habitats in the country and enjoys the distinction of being the only live lion mascot in the United States. The George H. Carroll Lion Habitat at 650 Aderholt Way on the UNA campus is 12,764 square feet of climate-controlled perfection with a boulder, stream, pond, and waterfall. The habitat is inspected regularly (and unannounced) by the Department of Agriculture and been given 15 straight perfect scores. Leo III no doubt enjoyed his pad much more when his sister Una was alive. She died not long ago, so I'm sure the $1.3-million environment is less than perfect to him now. I have heard that people several blocks away can hear his morning roar. Can you imagine? What a magnificent animal!
It is possible to look in on Leo via a webcam any time of the day or night. Just click this link --
Here is a photo of Leo I've borrowed from the U.N.A Facebook page.
Less than 5 minutes after leaving the habitat, you can be parked and walking into Odette at 120 N. Court Street for lunch or dinner. Odette is a distinctly sophisticated restaurant with an innovative menu. The talents of owner Celeste Pillow, who has work experience in Manhattan restaurants, and those of Chef Josh Quick, who once took homegrown Alabama flavors to the James Beard House in New York City, are combined to produce exceptionally good dining experiences.
A bowl of bread and softened butter is always a great way to begin a meal.
Steve and I like to sample various portions of a menu and share, so that we can taste more items but in smaller quantities. For our dinner last week, we started with deviled eggs -- one with pimento cheese & bacon and the other with red curry.
For our small plate we chose fried Gulf oysters with green onion mayo. So good. Very lightly battered, hot, and crisp.
For our entree, we shared pecan-dusted Gulf grouper. Listen to the description of its accompaniment -- "honey-tahini glazed root vegetables, potato puree with herb butter, green olive-piquillo relish." Every word of that is way beyond what I would produce in my own kitchen. That's what I want when I go to a restaurant -- something better than I could prepare at home. Our dinner really was wonderful, and the service was prompt and attentive. Two thumbs up!
If you're heading to Lauderdale County, find yourself with a pleasant, sunny day and have a few hours to kill, may I suggest that you find some barn quilts on the Appalachian Quilt Trail.
Go to this website, type in the county or counties you hope to explore, and you'll find the addresses to plug into your GPS. Be sure to take your camera.
If you'd prefer to stay in a closer radius, then there are plenty of interesting shops to explore on both sides of Court Street.