Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Thrill at Buttermilk Hill

It was the day before Halloween and the spooks had already been out all week long. We found ourselves keeping with the theme as we were riding through Sylacauga around lunch time, looking for a place to eat. I remembered a place called Buttermilk Hill that had caught my attention on an earlier trip through the Marble City (more about that later). You just know a place with a name like that is going to arouse my curiosity, so we struck off to check it out. 

What we found was a big, white, early 1900's home with white columns and a large wrap around porch. If the name wasn't charming enough, the home put it over the top. We pulled into the driveway which was squeezed between the large Victorian and the smaller cottage next door. We parked and scampered on in. The path to the front door was made from blocks of white marble, the stone from which Sylacauga gets its nickname. This area of Alabama is home to some of the purest and whitest marble in the world and this beautiful white marble is the official state rock of Alabama. 


The current owner named the restaurant Buttermilk Hill because that is the name that the area around the house is known for. According to local lore, there was a fellow who regularly climbed the hill behind the house to fetch buttermilk from a dairy on the other side. One day, as he was returning from the dairy, he dropped his jar of buttermilk. Children playing nearby gathered 'round and began to comment on the buttermilk running down the hill. From that day, the area was known as Buttermilk Hill. 

The first thing we noticed as we entered the restaurant was the piano in the foyer. We found out that Jim Nabors, Gomer to all of you Mayberry fans, used to take piano lessons in this home. He lived in the smaller house next door and took lessons from the grandmother who lived in the house. People in town say, Jim learned to love music during the time he spent at Buttermilk Hill.

The boyhood home of Jim Nabors.
The future actor and singer could look out these windows to see Buttermilk Hill next door.
   We were the first ones in the restaurant, so we had our pick of tables. The home was beautiful, with high ceilings, plaster medallions and dentil moulding. Lots of woodwork, chandeliers, period antiques and details like huge original pocket doors added to the glamour.

I immediately began to ask our server about the history of the house, because I just knew there was a story there. She began by telling me the house was built in 1904 and then she brought me a book to look at. The book,  Haunted Talladega County was a collection of stories about different haunted places throughout the county. Appropriately enough for Halloween, Buttermilk Hill featured prominently in the book. According to the authors, not much is known about the early years of the house beyond the fact that it was used as a boarding house for most of its existence. In 1939, the home was purchased by Homer and Maude Waldrop. The Waldrops had a son, Joe, who eventually lived in the home with his wife, Violet. Joe was an alcoholic and abusive to his wife and family. He would lock Violet in a closet in the home for days at a time while he would go off on drinking binges. After a time, his violence took its toll on Violet, who had to be committed to Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa where she spent the next six years. While she was a way, her parents and Maude and Homer stepped in to care for the children. With Joe out of the home, things improved for the family, but he still managed to come by frequently to abuse his children, parents and in-laws. 

In 1988, the home was purchased by a young couple named Stephanie and Chris Allen. Stephanie's mother, who also lived in the home, dated a man with a troubled teenage son named Gary Meeks. Gary and his father also became boarders in the home. One sad day, Gary shot Chris in one of the upstairs bedrooms. 
Is the ghost of Violet Waldrop still trapped in an upstairs closet in this house?

According to the current owner of the home and restaurant, Kara McClendon, several strange incidents have occurred in the home. A strange man with dark hair who resembles both Joe and Chris has been seen on different occasions by the restaurant's staff. They have also heard a woman's voice coming from an upstairs room. The woman begs for someone to come let her out. The episodes happened frequently enough that Kara felt something needed to be done. She had the house blessed and happily, the ghostly events have settled down quite a bit. 

As interested as we were in the history of the home, we were also interested in lunch, so we decided to get down to the business of studying the menu. Unsurprisingly, buttermilk plays a prominent role in the recipes at Buttermilk Hill, with selections such as buttermilk fried chicken and buttermilk mashed potatoes. I was also happy to see the yummy goat cheese from Stone Hollow Farms was featured as well. I also noticed that the prices were exceptionally reasonable. The most expensive offering on the lunch menu was $13.00.

I chose the jumbo lump crab cake salad topped with a citrus buerre blanc. The crab cake was full of sweet lump crab meat, not bready at all. The assorted baby greens were fresh, but the thing that tied it all together and put it over the top was the citrus buerre blanc. It was delicious.

Scott chose the buttermilk battered fried chicken with assorted vegetables and buttermilk mashed potatoes. His chicken was topped with a delicious goat cheese cream. He was really happy with his selection. The buttermilk and goat cheese gave the whole dish a wonderfully tangy flavor we both loved.

Like seafood tacos, bread pudding is a dish I have a hard time turning down. When our delightful and very personable server described Buttermilk Hill's bread pudding, we had to have a taste. It was an apple cinnamon flavored bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream and drizzled with a caramelly sauce. It was huge, beautiful and delicious. 

All in all, we could not have made a better choice for our lunch in terms of delicious food, beautiful atmosphere and, the big plus, a spooky Halloween story. Buttermilk Hill met all of the requirements for delightful dining and it was really appropriate for the season. Three Friends and a Fork give Buttermilk Hill 3 hauntingly delicious Yums UP!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lunch with Kaw-liga at Kowaliga Restaurant

KAW-LIGA, just stood there and never let it show
So she could never answer "YES" or "NO".

If nothing else, blogging has made me more aware of the history and rich cultural heritage of Alabama. Everywhere I turn, in our biggest cities and smallest communities, and even places that are less than communities, merely cross roads, I find another example of Alabama's contribution to athletics, science, art, humanities, medicine, literature and music. The list just goes on and on. Something uniquely Alabama happens when the intense Alabama sun, the crazy Alabama moon and the smothering Alabama humidity combine with Alabama's own special mix of dirt, driving poverty, deep rooted manners, and madness. As the saying goes, "In Alabama we don't hide our crazy in a closet. We invite it onto the front porch and serve it sweet tea!" Survival skills kick into high gear and personalities are born that can exist only in the rarified air of the Yellowhammer State. Where else can you find genius and character mixed together to form the wild and wonderful talents of Tallulah Bankhead, Truman Capote, Nelle Harper Lee, Zelda Fitzgerald, Percy Sledge, Nat King Cole, Jesse Owens, and George Washington Carver? Certainly there is no Alabamian who embodies Alabama alchemy more than Hank Williams, Sr.

Recently, I have been really intrigued with the story of Alabama's Hillbilly Shakespeare. Although his life was incredibly short and tragic, it was also amazingly accomplished. He died far too soon, at age 29, in the back of his powder blue Cadillac. Having grown up in rural Alabama during the dark days of the Depression with an over-powering mother and a largely absent father, Hank's life was hardly easy. Add excruciating back pain, thought to be caused from spina bifida occulta, and you realize young Hank not only wrote songs about pain and heartbreak, he lived them. Because he sang about what he knew, his songs had the ability to reach out and touch his listeners in a real and powerful way. As fellow Alabamian, Rick Bragg, puts it, "He spelled things the way they sounded, as hillbillies do, and punctuated them with love, sorrow and regret." And as for the connection between Hank and his audiences, he continues, "the words poured straight out of his heart and bypassed his head...swirling from the microphone straight through their ears and down, down deep into their own hearts. Heads didn't have much to do with it. Hillbillies are funny that way."

Born Hiram King Williams, in 1923, Hank scored his first hit, Move It on Over, in 1947. Between 1947 and his death on January 1, 1953, Hank managed to record 66 songs under his own name, in addition to songs recorded in collaboration with others. Of those songs, 33 hit the Billboard Charts before his death. Eight more charted posthumously. Altogether, eleven charted at number one. Additionally, his songs were covered by some of the most famous singers in the country, including Tony Bennett, who found success with Cold, Cold Heart in 1951. Hank's songs went where the hillbilly king could not go, finding a broader market outside the country venue. One of the most prolific songwriters ever, Hank penned more than 150 songs during his brief career. 


Our own personal connection to Hank and his music, was made a couple of summers ago when JD and some of his buddies met and hung out with Sam Williams, Hank's grandson, for a couple of days in Orange Beach. It was a pretty exciting trip! 

On a recent trip to Auburn, we were traveling through Alex City looking for a place to have lunch. Of course, I googled. I came up with Kowaliga Restaurant on the banks of Lake Martin. I remembered reading that Hank's song, Kaw-liga, was inspired by the times he spent fishing in the little Elmore County community. We decided to give Kowaliga Restaurant a shot for the nostalgia, if nothing else and we really weren't expecting much. Thinking the restaurant was probably more of a dive than anything else, we set out with our expectations firmly in check. Boy were we surprised!


To say Kowaliga Restaurant is off the beaten path would be an understatement. However, the road to the restaurant was wide and paved and meandered through some beautiful scenery. The restaurant itself sits in an area owned by Russell Lands, which is the same family that owns Russell Athletics, but it is no dive. It is more of a resort restaurant, perched in the piney woods on the shores of Lake Martin, next to the Kowaliga Marina. Boats can pull right up to the restaurant, which makes it a very popular dining destination. The original Kowaliga Restaurant was under construction before Hank died, in 1952, but that building burned in 1999. Just across the street from the restaurant sits the restored cabin where Hank composed the lyrics to Kaw-liga. As you near the restaurant, you will pass the picturesque Church in the Pines. The deeply spiritual, Hank Williams, is apparently not the only one who has drawn inspiration from this lush, green and quiet setting.


There is lots of indoor and outdoor seating and the views are magnificent. 

A large sandy play area is a perfect place for rowdy children and restless adults to work off some steam while they wait for their tables. This is probably very handy during the busiest times, when waits may be long. 

But, of course, the first thing I wanted to see was the Indian. I knew from my research when I was writing a post about ten stops to make on your way to Alabama's beaches, that the original Kaw-liga came from an Alexander City pontiac dealership, but he was stolen and never seen again.The second Kaw-liga, was also spirited away, so the third Indian was made of concrete to keep him from being so portable, but he suffered many assaults over the years from both fire and vandals. The concrete fellow was retired to the Discovery Center at Russell Crossroads and the new current version was commissioned. Kaw-liga IV is all knotty pine once again and he safely resides inside the restaurant. Sadly, I did not see any sign of a nearby antique store, but I guess it wouldn't have mattered anyway, since the Indian maiden with the coal black hair has long been gone. 

As our hostess showed us to our table near the windows overlooking beautiful Lake Martin, I noticed how bright and airy the interior was. Lots of wood and windows and the centrally located bar gave the whole place a spacious and cheerful attitude. 

But, the devil is in the details, and what we really came here for was lunch. The history was interesting and the setting was incredible, but what about the food? We checked out the menu and since catfish figured prominently in everything from appetizers and salads to sandwiches and entrees, we decided to start with a smoked catfish dip. According to our server, the catfish is smoked in house. It was good, but what really put it over the top was when our server came out with a six-pack of sauces. You know how much we love sauces! Pretty soon we were trying them all along with the catfish. 

These house-made sauces were so good. I especially liked the spicy Kowaliga sauce and the jazzy Comeback sauce. They really made the catfish pop! In addition to those two sauces, there was also ranch, tartar, catsup and cocktail.

As for entrees, I decided to stick with the catfish theme and ordered grilled fillets, accompanied by slaw and hushpuppies. Everything was delicious.

Scott chose a grilled pork chop with field peas and an okra and tomato medley. The pork chop was so thick we couldn't believe it, but it was still tender and juicy. He said he needed some cornbread to go with the peas, so I gave him my hushpuppies. He said that really made the difference, so if you visit Kowaliga and order the pork chop, you might keep that in mind and order some hushpuppies to go with it. 

We decided to end our meal with a piece of lemon ice box pie, which was actually more of a tart. I am not sure if it was made in house, or if a dollop of fresh whipping cream was plopped down on top of a pre-made pie, but it was still good and creamy.

All in all, our trip to Kowaliga Restaurant was surprising, informative and very tasty. It will definitely not be our last visit. Three Friends and a Fork give Kowaliga Restaurant 3 proud Yums UP!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Going Green with Green Tomato Pickles

In the south, we love our fried green tomatoes, but that isn't the only creative way we use green tomatoes. We also like to pickle them. They keep their crunch and they are just plain good! Here is my favorite recipe for pickling green tomatoes.

In a large bowl, slice equal amounts of green tomatoes and sweet onions to equal 2 pounds. Larger tomatoes need to be cut in half and then sliced. Smaller tomatoes just need to be sliced. Don't slice too thinly. You want about a quarter of an inch so that the pickles can maintain their shape. To this combination, add 2-3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced and your favorite hot peppers, whole or sliced. If you use tiny peppers like Thai bird peppers, you may want to leave them whole, but if you use jalapeños, you will need to slice them. Add a few peppers if you prefer milder pickles or more if you like to spice things up. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of kosher salt over all the vegetables, toss, cover and let stand for an hour. Pour into colander and let drain for 20 minutes. Then pack into 3 pint jars, filling to 1/2 inch from the top.

In a medium saucepan, boil 2 cups of apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 t. mustard seeds and
1/2 t. ground turmeric. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.

Pour mixture over vegetables in jars filling to 1/2 inch from top. Cool completely. cover with lids and chill for at least 8 hours before serving.  Serve the same way you would normally serve bread and butter pickles.  Enjoy!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hook a Great Meal at Shipp's Harbour Grill

If you have been coming to Alabama's coast for years like we have, you may remember the old Bayside Grill in Orange Beach at Sportsman's Marina. We had no idea it had closed, but we kept reading snippets about a place called Shipp's Harbour Grill and, when we investigated further, we realized it was located where Bayside used to be.      
As our readers know, Three Friends and a Fork is dedicated to searching for and informing folks about great restaurants, wherever we can find them. We are NOT interested in exposing bad restaurants or visiting restaurants for the purpose of nitpicking and complaining. We don't want to spend our hard-earned money on bad food or poor service just to report back to you all. When we go out to eat, we check and double check to make sure the restaurant is a good one we would like to share with you, and that is just what we did when we set sail for Shipp's Harbour Grill. First we checked out as many reviews as we could find. But that wasn't enough for us. The first thing we did when we arrived at the Marina, was to stop people coming out of the restaurant and ask them about their experience. Seriously, who better to ask than the diners who just ate there.

As we were climbing the ramp leading up to the restaurant, a large group of folks were leaving, so we asked them if the food was good and what they thought about the restaurant. Turns out, these folks were locals and they had nothing but good things to say about their dining experience. They told us they eat there all the time and they had never had a bad dish at Shipp's Harbour. They also told us the owners were locals themselves and they were dedicated to serving the freshest seafood and produce. That is just what we wanted to hear, so we thanked our helpful friends and went on in.  

We were greeted by this sign telling us where our seafood would be coming from...fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. This was a good indication that we should scurry on in!

The restaurant is just beautiful, with a large deck, enclosed sunroom and spacious indoor dining areas. The color scheme is white and bright, with bright sky blue accents. Dark polished wood floors, ceiling fans and colorful Adirondack chairs give the whole place an upscale seaside ambience. 


We were seated in the enclosed sunroom, right next to a window with a view of the outside deck and harbor. Our server left us with menus and drinks and we settled in to discuss our options. Immediately we decided to start with oyster crostinis and Love Potions made with peach schnapps, Malibu Bacardi, cranberry and pineapple juices. There was definitely a lot to love!

 Lu and I often don't agree when it comes to food choices. I mean, I normally use food as a way of getting condiments to my mouth, not as a little something extra on the side. If I can dip a food into some kind of sauce, dressing or dip, I am really happy. Luanne, on the other hand, is opposed to pretty much any kind of condiment, sauce or dressing. She hates mayonnaise, mustard and catsup and anything made with those ingredients. I don't even pretend to understand. We love her, even if she is quirky!

One thing we do agree on, sort of, is our love of oysters. I say, sort of, because Miss Picky may not like condiments, but she can slurp down a tray of raw oysters without blinking. I cannot do that, but I do love oysters cooked in almost any way. So, while Lu is on her own with the raw oysters, we can happily share them baked, broiled, grilled, roasted or fried. The oyster crostinis were right up our alley. The crispy fried oysters were plump and sweet, sitting on top of a crunchy crostini, topped with creamy brie and roasted poblanos and drizzled with a sweet three pepper glaze. Divine!

 The mixed green house salad with onions, mushrooms and tomatoes was fresh and the house made tomato vinaigrette was delicious. Even Luanne liked this dressing!

I had my heart set on the fresh sushi It sounded so delicious.  Here are just a few of the selections I was debating: 

  • Surf & Turf Roll - 10.95 (Tempura Fried) Shrimp, Filet Mignon, Chipotle Cream Cheese, Red Pepper, Tomato Salsa, Onion, Horsey Sauce

  • Yum-Yum Roll - 11.95 Blackened Filet Mignon - lightly seared, Tempura Shrimp, Cream Cheese, White Truffle Oil, Spicy Mayo, Micro greens 

  • BIG Shipp Roll - 11.95 Tempura Shrimp, Filet Mignon, Cream Cheese, Avocado, Tuna, Blue Cheese, Wasabi Mayo, Sweet Soy Glaze, Micro greens

  • Tuna & Mango Roll - 10.95 Ahi Tuna , Tempura Shrimp, Cream Cheese, Avocado, Mango Salsa, Micro greens

They all sounded so wonderful, but when I asked the server which one she recommended, she told me they only serve sushi after 5:00 pm. I was bummed, but determined to come back sometime to sample the sushi. If you want sushi, be sure to visit after 5:00 pm.

With my first choice gone, I opted for the grilled snapper with basil cream sauce. I love snapper and the snapper at Shipp's Harbour is delicious, fresh and perfectly cooked. The basil cream sauce was also fresh and wonderful. 

But what I really loved, and was a little jealous of, was Luanne's Coconut Grouper. Oh, y'all! It was paneéd grouper topped with jumbo lump crab, drizzled with spicy coconut butter and sprinkled with fresh toasted coconut. It literally was one of the best things I have ever tasted. If you are a coconut lover, like me, you should definitely go check this out. The only reason I didn't order this to begin with was because I love snapper so much, but I am telling you, this grouper was goo-oood! If and when I go back, the coconut grouper is on my plate! I thought I might get more than one bite of Luanne's, but she greedily ate everything on the plate and mopped up the sauce. Hateful!

See that golden sauce on the plate? It is golden! And I can't tell you how divine it is!

We shared a piece of key lime pie for dessert. It was sitting in a puddle of raspberry sauce and topped with homemade whipping cream and fresh mint. A perfect ending to a perfect meal.

 If you have not tried Shipp's Harbour Grill, what are you waiting for? It is fabulous! Try the coconut grouper!

Three Friends and a Fork give Shipp's Harbour Grill 3 Shipp Shaped Yums UP!