Posts Tagged With: florence alabama

Back to Florence

Sometimes choosing a restaurant can be a bit overwhelming. I’ve brought this on myself, I know, but that’s another column. As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel in Houston, Texas. Big city, hundreds of restaurants – overwhelming. In the end, I chose well, but again – that’s another column.
Even in smaller towns, when there is limited time, decision-making can be tough. Say you are going to Florence, Alabama for a work trip and only have time for one meal, but in the quad-cities area there are multiple places on the 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die app. (I’ve upgraded from the brochure). How do you choose?
Well, when I first found myself in that situation, I let my friends, the BFFFF’s (Both Fine Fellows From Florence) choose for me, and I was rewarded with good barbecue and a hot dog that hadn’t even made the list. Another solution? Go back and eat some more.
About a year ago the Mighty Jackets of Starkville High took on Florence High School, and we took that opportunity to go back to The Shoals. There are five places on the 100 list in Florence. One is Dale’s Steakhouse (of Dale’s Steak Seasoning fame) which, I was sad to learn, is Dale’s no longer. Another place was known specifically for Sunday brunch – and it wasn’t Sunday. The orange-pineapple ice cream from Trowbridge’s? I got that last time. We weren’t dressed to go to the revolving restaurant. That left one choice – Ricatoni’s. Since that was my first choice, anyway, it worked out perfectly.
Of course I couldn’t go to Florence without checking in with my buddies, so we set a time to meet the elder BFFFF and his wife (which also makes her a BFFFF – Bride of Fine Fellow From Florence). As we walked up the sidewalk to the restaurant a man with a Ricatoni’s t-shirt was hanging around out front. When he turned and saw our SHS gear he said, “Are you Jerry?” (If you say my full name quickly it sounds a lot like Jerry. And I am Jerry on my birth certificate, so I answer to that, too.) “Yessir!” I said. “I’m Ric,” he said, “I’ll walk you back to your table – your friends are waiting for you.” If you’re doing the math at home, Ricatoni’s begins with Ric. Now I understood why it wasn’t called “Rigatoni’s”. See what he did there?
The BFFFF’s were waiting for us, and the table was already set with the fresh bread (kept warm in a paper bag) along with the herbs and olive oil for dipping – this was the dish on “the list”. We were especially happy because this is something we do a lot at home, except our bread is not nearly as good as Ric’s. Another friend from Florence (AFFF?) who had already publicly declared that this was one of her favorite restaurants told me to ask for a bowl of tomato cream sauce to dip in as well. We did. Also good. Now we just had to choose the perfect meal – yikes.
The BFFFF’s had their favorites already, one of which was Shrimp Spiedino – that’s Italian for skewered shrimp. This one was breaded with seasoned bread crumbs, grilled, and topped with lemon butter sauce. And because he is a good guy, he let me try one. I was impressed. For the newbies, Ric had recommended the veal, so I ordered Marsala and The Wife ordered Parmesan, because she’s a Parmesan kind of gal. Oh, and lest I forget, I also got a bowl of the soup of the day – a chowder with shrimp, with which I was also impressed.
On the side of many of the dishes (including ours) was Tagliarini Piace Pellerossa, a pasta topped with a sauce made from crushed tomatoes, basil, olive oil and garlic. It sounds simple, but it was a sight for the eyes as well as the taste buds: flaming bright red and whole cloves of garlic tossed in with abandon. I apologize to the people who sat in front of me at the ballgame, because I ate all the garlic. (It’s good for you, and I’m a pharmacist – I wouldn’t steer you wrong.)

Marsala and Tagliarini

Marsala and Tagliarini

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Hangin’ with the BFFFF’s

In February last year I took a trip to Gainesville, Florida to take a course related to my day job. It was evident from our first breakfast together that participants had come from all around, and I eventually met people from Canada, Nebraska, New York, India, Florida, and all points in between. It was also at that first breakfast that I met the BFFFF’s.
As soon as I heard these two gentlemen rounding the corner in the hotel lobby, I knew they were my kind of folks. Amongst all the other accents floating around in the room that morning, theirs was one I could relate to. I soon learned that they were from Alabama – Florence in particular – not far from the little North Mississippi town where my mother grew up. So it was that in Gainesville, Florida, my friendship with Both Fine Fellows From Florence began.
That weekend and several times since then the BFFFF’s have extended an invitation to visit them in Florence, and not long ago I decided it was time to make it happen. The trip was work-related, but they knew of my proclivity for hunting down good eats wherever I go. Even as born and bred Alabamians, they are subscribers to the Mississippi food magazine that I showed them between classes at the conference. Thus, as we were setting up the visit it was no surprise that the first question they asked me was, “Where do you want to eat?”
I assured them I would bring my list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die” – I’ve even got the app on my phone now – but also asserted that I trusted them to take me someplace unique and local that may not have made the list. I arrived in mid-morning, we talked shop for a little while, then the lunch discussion began.
They didn’t have to twist my arm very much to get me to agree to barbecue. But because we had much to cover and not much time, they sent someone to Bunyan’s Bar-B-Q to fetch our lunch. The order was simple – three barbecue sandwiches and three hot dogs. Hot dogs? Yep. Then they asked about drinks. Because I like to properly pair drinks with my meals, I said, “If we’re going to have barbecue, we need sweet tea.” I think I heard an amen. BFFFF The Younger asked if Milo’s was okay, and of course it was, so he hollered (politely), “Bring some Milo’s Sweet Tea – and not the fake sweet, the real stuff – the red top, not the yellow top.” I told you these guys were alright.
The food arrived just the way it should have – each sandwich wrapped tightly in wax paper, softened just a bit by sauce and steam. I tackled the pulled pork sandwich first. It was not soaked in barbecue sauce (thank the good Lord), but was instead slathered with a vinegary orangish-colored slaw that reminded me just a little of the red slaw native to some parts of North Carolina. In the opinion of BFFFF the Younger, the slaw was the thing that made the sandwich. I would be hard pressed to disagree. In earlier days, before my palate was reformed, I would decline the opportunity to get slaw on my barbecue sandwiches, but that was mostly because I just didn’t like slaw at all. Now I love slaw of all kinds, and even on a pulled pork plate I encourage mingling.

The Slaw is The Thing

The Slaw is The Thing

As I approached the last bite of barbecue I unwrapped the hot dog. I do on occasion enjoy a big, fat, beefy dog – the kind so big that it requires an extra-large bun to hold it. The Bunyan’s’ dog was not one of those. This was the old-fashioned kind – thin, unnaturally red, and with a springy casing that slightly resists the teeth before giving in to the juicy goodness within. There was also some of that good slaw on the hot dog, and oddly enough, the wiener was sliced lengthwise. I’m not sure why they do that, but it made no difference – it was still pretty doggone good. (Sorry.)

Bunyan Dog

Bunyan Dog

After lunch we hammered out some more real work, then got down to my list. Most of the dishes listed in Florence were a little bit out of reach for that time of day: Bread, herbs and olive oil at Ricatoni’s and Crab Cakes at the Marriott Hotel and Spa. It was Wednesday at 3 pm, so Sunday Brunch at The Sweet Magnolia Café was out. Dale’s Steakhouse (of Dale’s seasoning fame) had changed hands. But there was one I knew we could handle. Orange-Pineapple ice cream at Trowbridge’s.

The Famous Orange-Pineapple Ice Cream

The Famous Orange-Pineapple Ice Cream

Trowbridge’s is the kind of place where I like to linger and soak in the atmosphere. And given that it’s been there since 1918, I think I have a shot at it being there a while longer. On that day, however, BFFFF the Elder and I stepped just inside, ordered our famous (and delicious) ice cream, and headed back to work. But I am told that they have a way with sandwiches, too – a trademark egg and olive, and an offer of mayo on the peanut butter and banana. (I thought I was the only one in the world who did that, though for me it was Miracle Whip.)

Destination Dairy

Destination Dairy

Since the day began with barbecue and ice cream, I decided I might as well stick to that pattern on the trip home. I stopped in three different cities, searching for a milkshake, banana pudding, caramel cake and more barbecue. Instead I found each place on my list dark and locked. Closed, closed and closed. Thankfully I had a granola bar leftover from breakfast. I definitely need to go back to see the BFFFF’s, but next time I will make my stops on the way.

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