photo by Freedom Light Productions for Alabama Mountain Lakes
North Alabama is known for its diversity: mountains and lakes, progressive cities and rural gems, gold record studios and unclaimed baggage collections. But on any trip through this northernmost region of Alabama, it quickly becomes evident that the tastes of the region may well be its most impressive collection. Starting at the Alabama state line just an hour south of Nashville and spanning a 16-county region, this is home to a mouthwatering array of tastes that keeps folks coming back for more.
The diversity of North Alabama is never more evident than in its food scene.
From award-winning restaurants in downtown Huntsville to unexpected favorites like the Wildflower Café (6007 Alabama Highway 117, Mentone, Alabama 35984; 256-634-0066), known for both its shabby chic ambiance and its outstanding food. Here, fresh, delicious offerings range from the lauded Tomato Pie to soups, salads and vegan fare. Across the region at the Rattlesnake Saloon (1292 Mt. Mills Road, Tuscumbia, Alabama 35674; 256-370-7220) the swinging doors lead to a cave in what is referred to as “a watering hole under a rock.” The chow time menu consists of burgers and sandwiches, usually accompanied by local live music.
While the diversity is refreshing, there is one consistent “king” in North Alabama cuisine. That is barbecue. Anyone looking for the best can take to the North Alabama Barbecue Trail to find it. This guide marks the spot for favorites like ribs, brisket, pulled pork and white sauce. There are large, well-known favorites such as Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (1715 6th Avenue Southeast, Decatur, Alabama 35601; 256-350-6969), founded in 1925. There are also local favorites like Dale’s BBQ (10850 Alabama Highway 168, Boaz, Alabama 35957; 256-593-1168), voted best barbecue on Sand Mountain, and family-owned Johnny’s Bar-B-Q (1401 4th Street Southwest, Cullman, Alabama 35055; 256-734-8539).
As if Alabama barbecue wasn’t enough, pairing it with freshly brewed Alabama beer makes the meal even better. Several micro-breweries dot the map here, from Florence to Decatur to Gadsden, and offer dozens of beers unique to North Alabama. On the North Alabama Craft Beer Trail visitors can get a stamp at each stop to earn some awesome discounts at select breweries and goodies from the folks at Visit North Alabama. Like many of the beers’ names, the breweries themselves reflect their home state surroundings. Yellowhammer Brewing (2600 Clinton Avenue West, Huntsville, Alabama 35805; 256-489-3510) gives a nod to the state bird and Back Forty Beer Company (200 North 6th Street Gadsden, Alabama 35901; 256-467-4912) pays tribute to the state’s agricultural heritage.
Speaking of agricultural heritage, what better way to continue the celebration of food and drink than with the North Alabama Wine Trail and the Agriculture Adventures Trail? A surprising variety of wines can be found throughout the region at the six featured wineries. These very accessible wines are made from native muscadines as well as other grapes, locally grown and carefully sourced. Each vineyard has tastings and is eager to share their knowledge and their stories about winemaking in North Alabama.
Growing grapes and making wine is only the beginning of the bounty that is finding its way to tables from throughout the region. The Agricultural Adventures Trail is filled with opportunities to explore the rich and diverse world of farmers, growers and makers in North Alabama. From u-pick farms and pumpkin patches to large scale farm tours and popular farmers markets, there are so many ways to learn about the land, the crops and the people behind many uniquely Alabama crops, foods and products.
For personal accounts and recommendations of trail experiences and much more, the Unexpected Adventures in North Alabama podcast is a great place to start. North Alabama lodging options are varied and abundant, from luxury hotels to back-to-nature cabins and complete travel information is available from NorthAlabama.org.