You know by now that I typically avoid chains — retail, dining, or hotel-wise — when it comes to my writing and recommending. Sure. I do go there, stay there, shop and eat there from time to time. But when I have a choice of something off the beaten path, locally-owned, with a unique vibe or menu, that’s where I want to go. After owning our own business (Pearson Animal Hospital in Hartselle) for almost 30 years, we understand how animated and enthusiastic folks can be when they talk about the places they have created with the “sweat of their own brows.” It’s pride, pure and simple, but in the unsinful sense of the word.
When my friend Beth Long and I were together last week, she took me to lunch at a great place called Sweet Home Food Bar at 2218 University Blvd. My first thought was, “Oh no. Not a buffet.” But, my worries quickly dissipated when we walked in the door and were handed our menus. I loved the old brick walls and the exposed ceilings. The owners, George Harsch and his wife Debra, are friends of Beth’s and were delightful to meet. The food was SO, SO good. Beth recommended the BLT with pesto mayo, and she was right. The “T,” by the way means fried green tomatoes. Oh my! Beth’s daughter Maggie ordered a buffalo chicken sandwich, and it looked yummy, too. There is a room in the back that is perfect for small meetings or parties. We visited on a Monday when several dozen businessmen and retirees gather. Back in Hartselle, that would probably have been called “The Liars’ Table.” I’m sure they were swapping tall tales. Sweet Home Food Bar is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Saturday and for brunch on Sundays. Give them a try.
A couple of doors down from Sweet Home, at 2228 University Blvd,, is an interesting shop called Olive Tree. Owner Chris Roycroft loves to interact with his customers. Olive Tree has a large mix of furniture, accessories, and antiques. Much of the merchandise is sold on consignment. Chris is confident that your first visit won’t be your last. He knows his folks come in, spot an item or two, mull it over for awhile, and then come back in to make their purchase, and he’s okay with that.
Beyond Southern Furnishings is an enjoyable store featuring furniture pieces with wood trim from India and Indonesia. The decor definitely fits the shabby chic style. There are plenty of gift items and artwork by Emily G. I was particularly drawn to Emily G’s designs and color. A percentage of her sales is used to assist Christian orphanages and missions around the world. Good for her. Check out her website — www.emilygcollection.com
Take 5 minutes and cross the Black Warrior River to Main St. in Northport, as close as a town can get to Tuscaloosa. This happy block will remind you of downtown Rogersville or even Main St. in Franklin, TN — without all of Franklin’s traffic. Many hungry folks — students and locals alike — flock to City Cafe. I didn’t get to try it, but the homecooking is said to be worth every calorie. I also wanted to try Mary’s Bakery, which is officially licensed to put University of Alabama logos on their products, but it was closed on Mondays. In fact, don’t plan to visit Northport on Mondays because many of the stores close that day. We DID, however, find the gorgeous shops of Rhubarb’s and Gracefully Done open. Rhubarb’s has a large selection of Vera Bradley merchandise and plenty of national championship clothing. Gracefully Done will tempt you to redecorate your entire house. So beautiful. You can also find a large toy store and an old-timey hardware store on Main Street. Definitely worth a few hours of your time.
As suppertime approached, Beth took me to see Archibald’s and Catfish Heaven. Both were closed, but we did find Archibald and Woodrow’s open. Not fancy in any way. Just good barbecue, soul food, and fixins’. I understand that they even deliver to tailgate locations on game days. Considering all of the hassle of doing that, I couldn’t help being impressed.
Just for fun, Beth took me to Rama Jama’s, a hamburger place plastered with Bama memorabilia, and I got to pose with the owner, Gary Lewis, who many say bears a striking resemblance to Nick Saban. What do you think?
If you enjoy art galleries, museums, indoor and outdoor concerts, water sports or parks, Tuscaloosa has plenty to offer.
Let me just state one more time for the record: I LOVE AUBURN. But, there is much to appreciate about Tuscaloosa, too, especially if you’re willing to overlook all the Bama stuff. War Eagle!
P.S. Just one more note. I understand that there are many great churches in and around Tuscaloosa, but my friend Beth attends Church of the Highlands, which has just moved (debt-free) into an amazing new campus. They launched a 21-Day Prayer and Fasting effort to start the New Year. On the Monday morning when Beth met me to begin our day of touring, she had been at the church at 6:00 a.m. with ONE THOUSAND other people for an hour of prayer!!!! Just think about that. Hundreds of college students, along with people of all ages and backgrounds, caring enough to come out that early to pray . . . and on a holiday, no less. That church must be “doing something right.”