When times get tough, there is always one show that makes me forget my troubles—Andy Griffith. There's something about life in Mayberry that's magical and unattainable in today's over-stimulated world. Everyone knew each other, people actually stopped to say hello, and there were few things finer than Aunt Bee's home cooking. Of course, Mayberry and its citizens were a work of fiction. But in the center of Alabama, I found the closest thing to it.
Buttermilk Hill Restaurant sits on a quiet tree-lined street in the small southern town of Sylacauga. Simplicity surrounds you as you make your way to the front door of the historic Victorian home. Built in 1904, the house holds on to its comfortable, upscale charm with pride. Visitors are greeted by an antique piano, winsome staircase, and vintage art—it's everything you could want in a genuine southern dining experience.
Our visit was a special one. My family of 15 was gathered together to celebrate Father's Day a week late. The owners of Buttermilk Hill opened up and served us as a private party. Yes, I was able to explore the grounds and enjoy my meal as if I was visiting Aunt Bee herself. Although, after sampling the cuisine, I think everyone's favorite TV homemaker is out of a job.
We were seated at two long tables, decorated with classy cutlery. Everything was elegantly placed and our host, Amy, was warm and welcoming as she took our drink orders. Looking around, I could tell the house had history. Stories seemed to seep through the walls—one after the other. I wondered who had lived in this house. What had happened here? Paintings adorned every wall and shelves of old knickknacks and trinkets lined the ceiling in the wine room nearby. It was true to what it was and fit together flawlessly.
Amy made her way to our table smiling, "Ok, today we have a choice of buttermilk chicken breast with goat cheese cream or pork tenderloin medallions with apple molasses glaze," she surveyed our party. "I just need to know who wants what." After taking our order, Amy quickly delivered our salads and bread.
As we sipped our coffee and munched on the first course, Amy told us a little more about Buttermilk Hill. "This is actually the home where Jim Nabors learned to play the piano," she said. It took a moment to click. Jim Nabors was famous for playing the role of Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show! "And if you like," she went on. "You can visit the house where he grew up next door."
It was time for the entrees. Ladies were served first—in a quintessential southern fashion—and it was a challenge to sit politely and wait for everyone. The chicken was unlike any chicken I'd had in the past. It was lighter, juicer and more flavorful. The breading was created from a concoction of spices that owner, Kara McClendon Bacchi, had brought in from her own spice business. Kara also owns Southern Spice Company, a local business that was founded in 2011 and provides everything from dry rubs to finishing salts and infused sugars. But the breading wasn't the only star of the show. The goat cheese cream was an excellent addition to balance flavors on the plate, and the mashed potatoes were creamy, buttery and downright delicious. Needless to say, it was southern cuisine the way it was supposed to be.
"I bet you guys didn't know this," said Amy as her voice got low. "But many people believe this place is actually haunted." I leaned in to hear more. "Kara told me that one time she heard someone calling out, 'help me'. But she couldn't find where it was coming from. Since then, there was a book published that talked about haunted places around the Talladega area, and Buttermilk Hill was one of them." Her eyes adjusted to narrow slits. "A man used to live here who had a drinking problem, and he would lock his daughter and wife in the closet. Nothing bad happened to them, just to be clear. They were both fine. But we still thought it was a strange coincidence."
"Any other strange happenings?" I asked fearfully.
"Well, I like to think it's just vibrations in the house," she said. "But on some mornings, I will come in and the silverware will be turned in different directions. I don't believe in ghosts, so I think something else must be moving them."
Amy went on to explain that blessings had been performed on the house to ward off any spirits. And outside on the beautiful porch, the ceiling had been painted Haint Blue—an old southern tradition that keeps evil spirits away.
I was right. This place was full of fascinating, and at times spooky, history that made the meal even more exciting. And we still had one course left. Bring on the desserts! Our meal was topped off with Devil's food baby cakes, whipped cream and strawberries. The cakes were rich and decadent, decorated with a fresh strawberry.
Our day of southern hospitality was coming to an end, but there was one stop left on our outing. After saying our thank you's and goodbye's to Amy and Kara, we all strolled next door to visit Jim Nabors' childhood home. Upon seeing it, only one word came to mind: Shazam! Gomer Pyle was a television icon that can't be replicated, only appreciated and greatly missed.
Many restaurants will tell you that they can provide an "authentic" southern experience, but fall short on delivery. Buttermilk Hill Restaurant will take you on a bona fide journey. You will not only taste the south, you will live it too. And you will live it at a time when life was more like Mayberry.
Restaurant and Bar
300 East Third Street
Sylacauga, AL 35150
Call (256) 207-1001