So, last Thursday the Alabama Department of Tourism release the newest issue of ‘100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die’. This list has existed in some form or fashion for several years.
But I also find myself disappointed by the selection for my hometown. While some of the options are acceptable, some of them can’t possibly be the best dishes in town, much less the state. I have a suspicion they were included because the restaurants are “iconic”, not because anyone actually likes them (*cough cough* -Mullins! -*cough, cough*).
A twitter discussion between myself, Jonathan, and Ariana made us wonder which local restaurants the residents actually like. More specifically, which restaurants we prefer. So we decided to go through our “top 10 to 15 Huntsville restaurants” based on food, ambiance, atmosphere, and other reasons. Here we go!
Warning: I fucking hate Bridge Street, so I’m not listing any restaurants there.
13. Frizzle’s Restaurant – You’re going to notice a “take-out” and “cheap food” trend in most of these entries, I guess I should go ahead and warn you. I grew up in a very thrifty family, so I got used to going to fast food restaurants instead of sit-down. First entry in this countdown is Frizzle’s. There used to be upwards of 3 or 4 locations in town, but it’s now down to just one. The chicken, burgers, and standard foods are so-so, and while their wings aren’t bad, they’re perfectly forgettable… but two things make Frizzle’s stand out to me: The fries, and the frozen custard. The website boasts “You’ll be saying it’s better than ice cream” and that’s exactly the case. The addition of eggs makes their frozen custard so rich, you’ll never want ice cream again. As for the fries, I’m not a huge fan of French fries in general… but the exception is when they’re battered. If they’re battered, I can’t get enough of them. Frizzle’s are battered. ‘Nuff said.
12. Terranova’s Italian Restaurant – While filming for In the Weeds, I spent about 12 hours a day in this place without ever actually eating anything, but it did give me a chance to observe the décor – the walls are decked out with Italian-language movie posters, from Bogart classics to Me, Myself & Irene. When I had a chance to actually dine here, I was incredibly impressed, first of all with the portion sizes, and secondly with the quality of the food and the friendliness of the wait staff. If you are looking for inexpensive but classy Italian dining, you will not be disappointed at Terranova’s. I recommend the baked lasagna.
11. Meridian Street Café – Once upon a time, there were seedy looking diners that served the greasiest but most delicious food, breakfast all day, and you could smoke in restaurants while getting your coffee filled. When Huntsville passed the restaurant smoking ban, Meridian Street Café (the original location on Meridian Street, not the second location) chose to become a 19+ establishment so they could continue to cater to their blue-collar smoking customers. This is the reason I first gave the place a chance, despite how scary it looked from the outside. It’s like I was transported back in time to the local Waffle House during college, but with better food: specifically, the best biscuits you can probably find in this town. And the prices are more reasonable than you’ll find at any Waffle House. And you can smoke, I guess I should have mentioned that. Drawbacks are, they are only open for Breakfast and Lunch, and they close on Sundays and Mondays. Best meal ever: Biscuits and gravy, tomato slices on the side, black coffee. You’ll feel like what society tells you a real man should feel like (which I guess is a guy who likes to shit?)
10. Humphrey’s Bar & Grill – Humphrey’s actually DID make the Tourism Department list but just for the Sweet Tea. As a 20-something, that baffles me… “Sweet tea? You know they serve beer there, right!?” Humphrey’s is well-known as a local watering hole, but before about 9pm it functions as an actual restaurant, with seats and everything! Two things stand out to me on the menu: The Cajun Quesadilla, and the fried pickles. The Cajun Quesadilla was, until recently, described more accurately as the Andouille sausage quesadilla, which is exactly what it is. Rather than chicken or steak, the southwestern flavor is accented by our favorite Cajun sausage. Before Humphrey’s, I had never found a place that could make fried pickles that weren’t too greasy or too dry. Also, three dollar Yuenglings anyone?
Terry’s Pizza was once an iconic pizzeria in Huntsville. Something happened that I’m too lazy to Google, and they all went out of business. However, the local Star Markets sell Terry’s pizzas as a “take home and bake”, a delivery, or a carryout delivered hot. True, it’s not technically a “restaurant”, but once you try it – and it has the BEST cheese I have EVER had on a pizza – you will not care that you bought it at a grocery store. Additionally (at least at the Five Points location) they have “suggested wine pairings” for each of their pizzas, and all those wines are located on a rack right beside the pizza station.
Sam and Greg’s, located on the Downtown Square, offers some creative pizza topping combinations. (A “Key West” pizza that includes mango as a topping). Also, creative flavors of gelato, such as green tea. (I think. It’s been a while). More of a thin, foldable pizza, but better than its counterpart Tommy’s.
7. Old Heidelberg – Old Heidelberg also made the State Tourism list, but only for the brown bread they give you for free. That’s not entirely acceptable to me. Brats, beer, and schnitzel, not to mention a Dill and cucumber salad that is creamy enough to impregnate a man, and hot potato salad with vinegar and bacon make Old Heidelberg what it is. If you’re only there for the bread, you are so doing it wrong.
6. & 5. Taqueria el Cazador & Phil Sandoval’s
Though Taqueria el Cazador has a few locations, most of them in buildings, it is best known by its Governor’s Drive nickname: “The Taco Bus”. It used to be a Taco Truck, the type of street food you would find in a real city, but was so successful, they upgraded to a bus with tables and chairs inside. The beauty of the Taco Bus comes from its authentic Mexican flavor, rather than that “Tex Mex” that has permeated southwestern cuisine in the US. They laugh in the face of conventions that claim “Tacos have to have cheese on them!” or “Tacos have to be spicy!” or “Mexican food can’t have sliced carrots on it!” Homemade tortillas, meat seasoned slightly with cilantro and lime… and you can get beef tongue tacos? Or tripe? A great place to branch out your tastes.
Though Phil Sandoval’s did not make the State list, its parent Rosie’s did. That’s understandable, because Rosie’s is iconic. However, Phil’s is better. While the menus are almost identical, Phil’s offers an extraordinary level of service not equaled by Rosie’s. Phil’s also has crisper tortilla chips, and gives you free soft-serve ice cream with your check. Try the margaritas and the black-bean dip!
4. Tim’s Cajun Kitchen - I first experienced the miracle that is Tim’s when I was about 10 or 11 years old. It was a favorite place of my dad’s and they served the first frog legs I ever had. Sadly they no longer carry frog legs (though they do still carry alligator), but they make up for it with Cajun corn, Cajun coleslaw, jambalaya, bread pudding, and the best New Orleans food Huntsville has to offer. (though I’ve never actually been to the Po-Boy Factory because they keep weird hours).
3. Papa Gyro’s – Birmingham residents brag about their “purple onion”. Well fuck the Purple Onion. Papa Gyro’s, on University Drive offers the most robust Greek food you’ll ever find, and at great takeout prices. The Classic Gyro, fries (which are battered, and we know that gets me off), and a baklava so sweet you won’t care that your fingers are now sticky. The downside to me as a “diet soda” drinker is that small places like this tend to carry Diet Coke as the only zero calorie option. But the rest of the menu makes up for that completely. A good option for vegetarians is the falafel plate.
2. Beauregard’s (site seems to be down) – Around Thanksgiving, the saddest thing happened to this town since Apollo 1 exploded: All four Beauregard’s locations closed their doors. But then, just in time for Christmas, was a miracle: Three of those locations reopened! While their Habanero Wings made the State dishes list, any Beauregard’s wings belong on there, from the mildest to the extra hot. Not a wings fan? They offer fried bologna, fried catfish, burgers, ribs, etc. Pitchers of beer, cheese fries. (You know what? I used to weigh almost 300 pounds… I’m guessing now that Beauregard’s is why). In all honesty, judging from the food alone, this really is my favorite restaurant in town. Unfortunately, the service is frequenly terrible – regardless of location or staff. It’s always been that way. So the number one spot goes to:
1. 1892 East - Despite my staunchly “blue collar” list of favorite places, the number one restaurant in Huntsville as far as I’m concerned is a classy choice: 1892. It’s a great choice for food snobs, because all the ingredients are local, the meats and vegetables are from local farms, and even the beer menu exclusively features brews from Huntsville, Birmingham, Nashville, and Atlanta. The entire back half of the menu is vegetarian, if that’s your preference… but the New York Strip is hands down the best steak I have ever eaten. Top it off with a friendly wait staff and an atmosphere that is intimate without being crowded, and we have Huntsville’s best restaurant. Just don’t order shots. They kind of frown on crowds of 20-somethings ordering shots in their establishment.
I do need to mention some other places. Despite my hatred of Bridge Street, I enjoy the sushi at Sakoa, the pizza at Tommy’s, and the made-in-front-of-you guacamole at Cantina Laredo (though I don’t understand paying 10 bucks a bowl for it). Huntsville really doesn’t have a bad “bar food” scene in general to be honest. Also, though it’s national now, Steak-Out started here. Pane e Vino, the Italian restaurant in the art museum, offers a delicious pizza with ricotta cheese. And the dim sum at Ding How II is great, if you can get there before all the good stuff is picked at.
What about you? What are your favorite places to eat in your hometown?