Eating while traveling isn’t always perfect, but a valuable experience
In last week’s column, I expounded on the value of travel.
Taking my own advice, we traveled south and returned last week from two weeks in Alabama. The original intent was to spend time with my wife Martha’s college chums, but the trip turned out to be as much a gastronomical tour as it was one to visit friends.
The meteorological gods blessed us with fine weather – the day we arrived saw a high of 95 in the Tuscaloosa area. But it cooled down to the 80s and 70s for our remaining days in the “Heart of Dixie.”
We certainly enjoyed time with five other couples – at homecoming at the University of North Alabama in Florence, during three days in cabins in Joe Wheeler State Park near Rogersville, and at my wife’s cousin’s home in Madison, Ala., adjacent to Huntsville.
We spent a night in Tuscaloosa visiting Martha’s brother and his family before heading back north to Florence (which along with Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals make up Alabama’s Quad Cities).
Our first night there brought a visit to Rosie’s Cantina downtown, which features “authentic Tex-Mex cuisine.” Our party at the restaurant included 12 and the food and service were good, even though the large facility was jammed. Martha’s choice was taquitos and mine was two shrimp tacos. Along with Mexican beer, our visit cost us just over $50, including tip.
The next day, Saturday, brought us together on the university campus for Martha’s 50th class reunion.
Following a barbecue luncheon under tents on the lawn, about 30 couples moved inside Rogers Hall (that dates back to the Civil War) where each graduate 50 years ago had the opportunity to recount what had happened in his/her life since then. The alumni director then presented each alum with a medal commemorating the half-century since graduation.
Most of our party attended the homecoming parade but we chose not to go to the football game (which UNA won handily), but to dine out. The experience was the one klinker during our trip. At someone’s suggestion, we wound up at the Longhorn Steak House. It was a mistake.
After taking our orders, the server returned to announce the restaurant had run out of baked potatoes (which nearly everyone had ordered). The restaurant was busy but not jammed, leading us to wonder how it could have run out of baked spuds when it was before 7 p.m. In any event, we all had to pick something else to go with our steaks.
A while later, two servers arrived with food, and incredibly, each order was a mistake.
Martha got someone else’s filet. I got a piece of meat very well-done, even though I’d ordered it medium rare. Also on my plate was a sweet potato, not the mashed potato I’d ordered. I asked the server to take it back and bring me the proper order, which she did.
Somewhere along the way, the manager arrived at our table and apologized, saying several employees had not shown up for work that evening. After I explained my mistaken order, he credited both our meals. My bill of just over $11 covered two glasses of beer.
Others in our party also complained, and the manager asked what they thought he should do. One suggested charging half-price, which the manager said was fair and followed through on. We still can’t figure out how the kitchen goofed up the entire order. Even though we appreciated the restaurant manager’s actions, the Longhorn in Florence won’t be on our list of dining spots in the future.
The following day, 10 of us had lunch at Ricatoni’s in downtown Florence. As usual, it was a good experience. Martha enjoyed her chicken Marsala, as I did my veal Parmesan. The restaurant serves small loaves of warm bread for dipping in herb-laced olive oil – one of its delicious specialties that helps keep us coming back. The check totaled $55.
Then it was off to our cabins in Joe Wheeler State Park, where we spent lots of time visiting and a few of the men tried their luck at fishing.
On our second night, we drove to Rogersville to Stanfield’s steakhouse, where the food was average and the young servers were especially cordial to a table of old people.
But perhaps the highlight were breakfasts in the park lodge on Tennessee River backwaters. On two of the three mornings, the place offered a bounteous and very good buffet, including scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, grits, potatoes, yummy biscuits and gravy, pancakes, waffles, cereal, fresh fruit and juice. It was too much food, but then, we were on vacation! During breakfast, we could see the many yachts moored at the docks outside.
From there, we went to Madison (Huntsville), where we enjoyed a wonderful late luncheon at the upscale Grille 29 in the Providence section of town. The fashionable planned community boasts beautifully constructed houses, town houses, condominiums and lofts along with a variety of award-winning restaurants, fashionable boutiques, retail shops and local businesses, all within walking distance of one another.
Our server was lots of fun. Martha chose one of the specials – Shepherd’s Pie while two of us ordered Grouper Oscar – listed on the menus as one of the “100 meals to have in Alabama before you die.” It was outstanding. The fourth member of our party had a salmon creation. For dessert, we ordered a brulee trio – three small containers of different flavors of crème brulee. As they say, it was to die for. The check for four, with gratuity, came to $91.
I want to highlight a few other meals – including a spectacular brunch – but I’ll have to do it in my next column. Please return next week for part two!