Saturday, February 4, 2023

The Good Old Days: Riverchase Galleria

I know the good old days were not always better. We wax nostalgic about things “the way they used to be” when the reality was far less wonderful. Don’t you think George Washington would have loved our dental care today? No more ill fitting hippo teeth for him. Even Outlander’s Claire Fraser, who chooses to go back in time to be with Jamie, admits that she misses “toilets…that flush”. We really do take things for granted. 

But some things truly were better. For instance, the old John’s Restaurant in Birmingham was far superior to John’s City Diner. They say the Chop Suey Inn on Green Springs sells egg rolls similar to the ones Joy Young’s used to make, but let’s face it…nobody does it like Joy Young’s. Remember shopping malls? Brookwood and Century Plaza? You could shop no matter what the weather, because everything was inside, air conditioned in the summer, heated in the winter, protected from rain all year. Lots of upscale shops and places to eat. 

I recall the first time I ever saw a shopping mall. It was the Cherry Hill Mall in Cherry Hill, NJ, the first indoor, climate-controlled shopping center east of the Mississippi River. I was only about 8, but I was enthralled. It was so pretty, with fountains, exotic birds, tropical plants, a movie theater, a children’s amusement park and all the stores my 8 year old self could imagine. I was a fan. 

When Riverchase Galleria in Hoover opened in 1986, my friends and I took personal leave from work to go see it and shop to our hearts’ content. There was a jeep sticking out of the front window of the Banana Republic and a carousel in the center of the food court! Parisians, Rich’s, Pizitz, The Mole Hole, United Colors of Benneton, J. Jill, Ann Taylor, Waldenbooks, Godiva Chocolates, Häagen-Daz Ice Cream, and Boardwalk Fries were all part of the Galleria experience at one time or another. The attached Wynfrey Hotel was marble and brass elegance. 

But then some genius told us malls were passé. Shopping should be done in a bunch of different stores stuck together with sidewalks. That’s all well and good when the weather is nice, but what about when it’s nasty? Who wants to go then? Speaking of nasty weather, my husband and I were stranded in the Wynfrey for four days during the blizzard of ‘93. I was so excited. Trapped in a gorgeous hotel, eating every meal in the hotel’s nice restaurants. The only downside was when I realized I couldn’t just walk out into the mall. Even if the stores wouldn’t be open, I still thought I could get some exercise by power walking through the empty mall. I’d have it practically all to myself! But, no. There was a cage wall pulled down between the Wynfrey and the Galleria. Whatever. At least I wasn’t stranded on the sidewalks of an outdoor shopping complex. 

But, I digress. Back to the demise of indoor mall spaces. The experts had spoken. Outdoor shopping was in, indoor shopping was out. Outdoor malls like the Summit in Birmingham and Bridge Street in Huntsville began to draw stores and crowds away from the old malls. Lots of indoor malls shuttered, some reimagined into different kinds of spaces. Some torn down completely. Even the beautiful Riverchase Galleria became a shadow of its former self.  Online shopping took its toll. Safety became an issue. Stores struggled to stay in business. The building, however, is still amazing. The good bones are there. The gracious old Wynfrey is now Hyatt Regency. The elegant decor of brass and marble and extravagant floral displays are gone, replaced with a look that’s sleek, modern, modular and unremarkable. But at least the hotel was saved. Not quite the 5 star experience it once was, but still a Hyatt. The shopping has turned into copy cat collection of shops selling sneakers, baseball caps, athletic jerseys, and t shirts, along with tacky kiosks. I swear there’s one selling something that looks like crocs with golf balls stuck all over them. A few higher end retailers, like Mountain High Outfitters, Sephora and Cindy’s Cinnamon Rolls remain, but even the big flagship stores aren’t what they used to be. Macy’s is not as remarkable as it once was. The retailer has had financial battles in recent years. Birmingham’s own Parisians, which is the standard all department stores are measured against in my mind, is gone, replaced by Belks, which just can’t measure up. The quality of the clothes is lower, the service inferior and the displays are often messy, with clothing thrown about on tables and on the floor and no one to straighten them up. The mall faces tons of challenges, but I think there’s hope. With a little imagination and a lot of effort by the city leaders and the property owners working together to figure out how to attract more exciting flagship stores and spaces that promise one of a kind shopping,  interesting experiences and top drawer events, I believe the Riverchase Galleria could again be the reason folks head to Hoover. I hope so, because sometimes I miss the good old days. 

Friday, February 3, 2023



Alabama Book trip #2 travels through the northwest corner of the state. It’s a Rock ‘n Romance tour of  Lauderdale, Colbert, Franklin, Marion, Lamar, Fayette, Walker, Winston, Lawrence, and Limestone counties. There’s a book to read, something to see and a recommendation of a place to eat at each stop. The stops are numbered, but the trip is a loop, so you can begin at any number on the trail. 

1 and 2. The trip starts in Colbert County with two books. The first book is Muscle Shoals Sound Studio about the famous music studio where an estimated 400 gold records have been recorded. The other is The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. While you are in Colbert County, visit the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals and Helen Keller’s birthplace, Ivy Green, in Tuscumbia. Before you leave grab a burger at Rattlesnake Saloon, a unique outdoor restaurant nestled under a natural stone bluff.


3. Next, head south to Phil Campbell in Franklin County. Read Cotton Was King by Butch Walker. The book tells the story of Chickasaw Chief George Colbert who owned a cotton plantation before white planters began moving into the area to claim land for themselves. Phil Campbell is home to Dismals Canyon. The walls of the canyon are lined thousands of bioluminescent creatures called dismalites. At night the walls of the canyon glow from the light of the tiny glow worms. If you plan to visit The Dismals at night, you can stop at Sheffield on your way to the canyons and have dinner at George’s Steak Pit, where Colbert County residents have been eating for the last 60 years

4. Now visit Haleyville in Winston County, the home of the first 911 call. Read Black Hawk by Darrell Brock, which is based on the life of the author’s real life great grandfather who was a Winston County farmer during the turmoil leading up to the Civil War. While in the area, visit Natural Bridge, AL where you can see the longest natural bridge east of the Rockies. If you’re looking for a place to eat, try Chef Troy’s Talk of the Town in Houston. 

5. From Winston County, we’ll head to Hamilton in Marion County. Our book here is Of Mules and Mud about Jerry Brown, a famous potter from the area. You can visit the pottery which is the only known mule-powered pug mill still operating in the United States and you can even purchase your own pieces. Try eating at Frosty Front in Guin. It’s been in business for over 70 years. 

6. Up next is Sulligent in Lamar County. Our book here is Deep South Dynasty about one of Alabama’s most prominent families, the Bankheads. While you’re here, you can ride by and see the Greer Bankhead House, built in 1850 by James Greer Bankhead, father of John H. Bankhead, who served in the United States Congress for 33 years. John’s sons William B. and John H. Bankhead II were both born in the house and also served in Congress. William B. Bankhead’s daughter was the famous American actress, Tallulah Bankhead. For a bite to eat, J’s Country Squire has steaks, catfish and caramel pie.  Or you can mosey over to nearby Fayette in Fayette County and enjoy some barbecue at Sam’s Smokehouse on your way to Walker County.

7. Our next stop is Jasper, in Walker County and our book is The Well and the Mine. The book, written by Gin Phillips, is set in Walker County in the 1930’s. Here you can shop around Jasper’s historic downtown square, tour the home of William B, Bankhead and hike in the Bankhead National Forest. While you’re on the square, grab a bite to eat at Black Rock Bistro. 

8. From Walker County we’ll head north to the tiny town of Mooresville in Limestone County. Since part of the 1995 movie, Tom and Huck was filmed here, our book is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. While you’re in Mooresville, you can tour the town in your own or schedule a tour guided by one of the town’s 53 residents.  1818 Farms is in Mooresville and they make wonderful hand creams and lip balms.They also schedule tours and special events that you might be able to sign up for. Stop by Dogwood and Magnolia Bakery for something to satisfy your sweet tooth.

9. Driving north from Mooresville, we have to stop in Elkmont to tour Belle Chèvre Artisan Creamery to learn how goat cheese is made and taste some yummy goat cheese. If you need more than samples, the Tasting Room at Belle Chèvre has sandwiches, salads and ice cream. While there you can probably pick up the book, Tasia’s Table. It is a collection of stories and recipes from the award winning cheese maker who started Belle Chèvre.

Finally, because this is a loop and you can actually start at any point on the tour, we end up back almost where we started in Lauderdale County. Read If the Legends Fade by Tom Hendrix, about the author’s great great grandmother, a Cherokee woman who, forced leave her home for Oklahoma on the trail of tears, walked all the way back home to the singing waters of the Tennessee River. You can see the memorial Hendrix built to honor his ancestor, the largest un-mortared rock wall in the Inited States and the largest memorial to a Native American woman. After you walk the tranquil, meditative mile long path, drive to downtown Florence and enjoy a delicious and creative lunch at YUMM Thai Sushi. Then dash across the street to Trowbridge’s for an orange pineapple ice cream cone

There you go! Enjoy your books and your Rock ‘n Romance trip through beautiful northwest Alabama. .

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Alabama Appalachian Adventures: A Book Tour of Nine Northeast Alabama Counties

 How about a book trip through northeast Alabama, with something to read, something to see and someplace to eat? Here are your Alabama Appalachian Adventures.

1. Starting in Jackson County, read Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman, about the arrest and trial of the falsely accused and convicted Scottsboro Boys. Check out the newly redesigned Scottsboro Boys Museum, go on a treasure hunt at Unclaimed Baggage and see the Scottsboro Boys Mural by the famous artist, Don Howard, on Scottsboro’s historic courthouse square. Grab lunch at Alabama’s oldest soda fountain, the delicious Payne’s Sandwich Shop. 

2. Next, head to Huntsville in Madison County. Read Finding Noel by Richard Paul Evans. Visit Constitution Hall Village and learn about the early days of the state that was the first to make Christmas a legal holiday. Enjoy an afternoon tea at Poppy and Parliament on Huntsville’s  Madison County Courthouse Square. 

3. For Morgan County, read What Happened to Mary Faye Hunter by Glenda Yarbrough, a novel based on the true story of a Decatur woman who went missing in May of 1967. Her remains were found 5 months later in nearby Flint Creek. Visit Cook’s Natural Science Museum and Morgan Price Candy. Have some pulled pork with Alabama White Sauce at Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ

4. Now let’s visit the city of Cullman in Cullman County, the birthplace of the Godfather of Southern Cuisine, Frank Stitt. Read Frank Stitt’s Southern Table. With a foreword by author Pat Conroy and Stitt’s beautifully written food stories, it’s more than just a book of recipes, though the recipes are masterpieces. Drive over to Smith Farms for smoked meats, cheese and wine. You’ll know you’ve arrived by the heavy and delicious smell of the smoked meats in the air. Choose your favorites and navigate to Clarkson Covered Bridge, built in 1904. There are picnic tables nearby where you can enjoy your snacks and the beautiful bridge, too. You won’t find a Stitt restaurant in Cullman County, but you can have some great food and drinks at 412 Public House

5. From Cullman, we’ll head to Blount County. Our book there was a surprise to me. Maybe it will be to you as well. It’s really a short story instead of a book and it was written by one of the most famous short story writers of all time, O. Henry. The Ransom of Red Chief takes place in the Blount County community of Summit. In this county, check out the beautiful limestone formations at Rickwood Caverns. If you enjoyed the Clarkson Covered Bridge, you can see three more in Blount County: Horton Mill, Swann and Easley. Try eating at Charlie B’s in Oneonta if you’re craving a meat and three.

6. Up next is Guntersville in Marshall County. Our book here is a legal thriller by Alabama’s own, Bob Bailey. Rich Blood, his latest twisty nail-biter, is set in Guntersville. While you’re in the lake city, check out the brand new Guntersville City Harbor, where you can shop, relax in their amazing swings and eat. Try Big Mike’s for Steak or La Esquina Cocina for Mexican. There’s a brewery, The Brewer’s Cooperative, too.

7. Our next stop is Gadsden, in Etowah County and our book is Gadsden, Stories of the Great Depression by Robert Wilbanks. The book is one man’s memories of what it was like to live through the greatest economic depression in American history. Shop for locally made gifts at downtown Gadsden’s Alabama Gift Company, eat at The Rail Public House and visit beautiful Noccalula Falls.

8. Centre, in Cherokee County, is our next stop. Our book is a story about one of Cherokee County’s native sons, Cherokee Chief John Ross. The book, Toward the Setting Sun by Brian Hicks is about one of America’s saddest tragedies, the Cherokee removal on the Trail of Tears, and the famous chief who led his people for 40 years. Visit Orbix Hot Glass and blow your own glass Christmas ornament, catch a movie at a real drive-in, 411 Drive-in and go exploring in Little River Canyon. Grab a delicious bite at the Mountain Parkway Grill in Sand Rock..

Our final destination is the beautiful mountain town of Mentone in Dekalb County and our book is Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber. Though the town in this book is fictional, it has all the Mentone vibes. While you’re there, stay at beautiful Poet’s Paradise. It’s right near the entrance to Desoto Falls, where you can hike and explore. Then eat at either The Wildflower Cafe, Elevation Bistro or the Mentone Market. 

There you go! Enjoy your books and your Appalachian Adventures while visiting beautiful northeast Alabama. .

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Fabulous Fayetteville


Fayetteville, Tennessee, established in 1809,  is the county seat of Lincoln County. It’s home to about 7,000 people, but don’t let the small size fool you. What it lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in personality. One of those personalities is Fayetteville Main Street director, Aimee Byrd. The young mother of three small children is a whirling dervish of energy and enthusiasm and she is channeling every bit of it into making her downtown the best it can be. Aimee can be seen all over town, greeting shop owners, planning events and figuring out ways to promote her town. Every town needs an Aimee Byrd.

The last time Three Friends and a Fork visited Fayetteville, in 2013, we were simply three friends visiting a little cafe called Okra, and there wasn’t much more to see besides a lot of empty historic buildings, a few shops and offices, and Sir’s Fabrics. Sitting in that cafe, eating lunch, we decided a blog would be a good way to make sure we scheduled time to spend with each other, since we had recently retired from teaching together. We had no illusions that anyone would read our blog besides the three of us. It was just for fun.

So imagine our surprise when six (not three) of us drove into town last Thursday. Now, nearly ten years later, Okra was gone, and so was Sir’s, but in their place was a downtown, bustling with activity. The same historic buildings lined the streets, but now they were filled with shops, restaurants and art installations. 

A little pocket garden, The Garden of LOVE, along with a food pantry, operated on the honor system, invites visitors to take what they need and leave something behind to share with others. Fayetteville was alive with activity and everyone was so friendly. You could tell they were proud of their sweet town.

We started our visit with a beautiful and delicious charcuterie grazing table from Misty at Sweet Feed Company in Aimee’s office at Fayetteville Main Street. It was fabulous! We just kept going back and discovering some tasty nugget we hadn’t seen the first time. 

Then Aimee introduced us to the fascinating, Joe Edmonson, owner of our accommodations for the night, Enchanting Castle Hall, just upstairs from Aimee’s Main Street office in the historic Pythian building. Joe was knowledgeable about the building, the secret Pythian Society, (similar to Masons) and Fayetteville, in general.  

We couldn’t wait to get started exploring downtown Fayetteville, so we hit our first two shops, Anna Phillips Designs and Ivy Wreath Florist and Gifts. We found all sorts of things we simply couldn’t live without. I’m afraid Mr. Anna Phillips wasn’t prepared for the giggling tribe that came through the door, but he sure was a good sport!

Next, Aimee took us to The Market at Buckley Farm and, oh my goodness! We immediately began making plans to come back again the next day to load up our coolers. They had everything from locally grown meat, pastured eggs, seasonal vegetables, spreads and breads to hand-crafted bath and beauty products, fresh cut flowers, candles and handmade wooden spoons. 

When we headed back to town we had time to rest a bit and get ready for dinner at Cahoots, where all the food was delicious, but the onion rings were phenomenal! I would go back just for a plate of onion rings. 

After dinner we walked around town a bit, enjoying the beautiful murals, before heading back to our loft. Fayetteville is fortunate to have wide streets and lots of sidewalks, giving the town an A+ in walkability. And it has an old theater. They get double bonus points for that! The Lincoln Theater adds so much to Fayetteville’s downtown ambiance.

We had lots of plans for Friday, so we got up and headed to Java Road for avocado toast, breakfast sandwiches, muffins, pastries and coffee drinks. After breakfast we met Fayetteville city mayor, Michael Whisenant and Lincoln County mayor, Bill Newman, at a 9-11 remembrance event on the Courthouse lawn. 

Then we hit the shops! We met the charming Lance Bonin at Bonin Bazaar and discovered haute couture, and sweet Pam Howell at The Book Inn where we found the last three Robert Bailey books on her shelf. She said the books are so popular, she can’t keep them in stock. She’s really hoping the author will do a book signing in her store. We were thrilled to see art by our very own Nancy Bradford hanging on the wall at Dragonfly Gallery and Design. Bumblebee Baby and Kids has the most darling clothes and gifts for little ones and West Side Antiques has something for everyone. West Side owners, Jack and Tami Miller, gave us all the cutest tea towels. 

All that shopping left us ready to sample Fayetteville’s most famous food invention, Honey’s SlawBurger, created by The Godfather of Slaw, Lee McAllister. We not only got to meet Lee, we all got SlawBurgers (and loved them, courtesy of Dragonfly Gallery owner, Carl Gleghorn) and our own Honey’s T-shirts, thanks to Lee McAllister. For the uninitiated, the slaw on a SlawBurger is a sweet and tangy mustard slaw. Delicious!

After we left Honey’s, I noticed something clanging against my purse. The magnet on my purse had shoplifted a butter knife! Aimee called us Three Friends and a Knife, but I gave the knife to Aimee to return to Honeys.

There was no magnet snatching at our final stops. Carter’s Drugs is the kind of pharmacy you dream about. It’s prescriptions, clothing and gifts all in one. We ended up with everything but medicine. Just ask Tina!
We stopped in at The Skin Refinery where they were getting ready for a one year anniversary celebration. Congrats! And we loved the art at Art by Allie’s Southern Bales. Fayetteville’s Merle Norman has a sign so old, the company wants to buy it back. We stopped in for some new lip gloss before heading home. Our final stop was at Pilaroc Farms as we headed out of town. Jennie, the owner, dropped in to say hi and we got a picture in front of her “wall of meats”. It’s a big wall and a lot of meat and it looked amazing. But for us, her wall of Jeni’s Splendid ice creams was too much to bear. We broke down, asked Jennie for three spoons (one fork just wouldn’t do) and plunged into a carton of Banana Brûlée with banana custard, small batch brandy, caramel sauce, and burnt sugar candies. I think the picture speaks for itself.

Y’all, we had the best time in Fayetteville! Thanks, Amie! Fayetteville, keep doing what you’re doing because it’s working! Until next time! We ♥️ You, Fayetteville!