Southern Cuisine and Old-World Charm: Buttermilk Hill Restaurant - Sylacauga, Alabama

When times get tough, there is always one show that makes me forget my troublesAndy 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 artit'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 wallsone 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 firstin a quintessential southern fashionand 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 Bluean 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.

Buttermilk Hill
Restaurant and Bar
300 East Third Street
Sylacauga, AL 35150

Call (256) 207-1001
for Reservations

Ard Bia at Nimmos - The One Place You Must Eat in Galway

After a unhurried drive from Dublin to the county Galway, we were looking forward to reservations at a restaurant that we had been eyeing for months. I had heard about Ard Bia at Nimmos from another travel blogger, and it was love at first sight.

There were four of us, and after mastering the art of driving a car on the wrong side of the road--on the wrong side of the car--we made it to Galway unscathed by the many winding roads and roundabouts that blanket the Emerald Isle. The trip had been nothing but enjoyable. After all, it's hard to be anything but elated when traveling the Irish countryside. Even the weather couldn't deter us from accepting the cheerful, friendly demeanor of the locals.

As the sky drizzled and umbrellas sprung up, the streets remained covered with pub-goers, tourists and the occasional street performer. The yeast from local bars wafted into the air as we made our way down the narrow cobblestone streets to our foodie destination.

Ard Bia at Nimmos is one of Galway's most iconic restaurants. As we toured the cluttered stores, killing time before our dinner, we were asked by several shopkeepers about our next meal. When we mentioned Ard Bia, their faces immediately lit up with approval. "Yes! You are in for a real treat," said the Irish stranger with a thick accent. "That's the place to be."

With even more encouragement than before, we arrived at our reservation a half hour early. The doors hadn't been opened, but we could hear the muffled clinks of pots and pans behind the windows of the restaurant. Less modern than many shops on the main strip, Ard Bia looked far more classical. The stone walls and brilliant red door were adorned with awards, as if to shout the excellence of the food to anyone who approached. We looked at our watches and decided that we had some time to complete a walk--the Long Walk.

As we proceeded down the famous path, I couldn't help but sing to myself.

"The Galway Girl"

Well, I took a stroll on the old long walk
Of a day -I-ay-I-ay
I met a little girl and we stopped to talk
Of a fine soft day -I-ay-I-ay
And I ask you, friend, what's a fella to do
'Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue
And I knew right then I'd be takin' a whirl
'Round the Salthill Prom with a Galway girl...
The air smelled of fish, and the grass enveloping the water was sprinkled with couples holding hands and students from the local university strumming on their guitars. After a leisurely jaunt, we made our way back to the stone walls of Ard Bia.

The interior was nothing like the outside. Everything was warm and inviting--it was like visiting a sweet smelling bed and breakfast. The walls were white and dusted with antique trinkets like candle holders, old books and dusty bottles. Tables were set to perfection with delicate napkins, wine glasses, and silver cutlery. We were quickly seated and began selecting our meals for the evening.

Cauliflower risotto, cavolo nero, picada, Cais na Tire hard cheese 
Morgan’s rib eye, lemon crushed potato, Galway greens, chimichurri 
Pan roasted Atlantic hake, roast garlic + lovage gnocchi, chard, thyme butter and clams
Everything on the menu was incredible. Of course, we passed around our selections so everyone could sample the different flavors. The steak was juicy, the fish was fresh, and the risotto was creamy and satisfying. It was impossible to pick a favorite. The menu changes seasonally, so the selections are always made with the freshest ingredients Ireland has to offer. The Summer Menu was exceptional. Even the bread and butter that comes with the meal was delightful. The bread was warm, and the butter had herbs that gave a kick on the first bite. Ard Bia was living up to the hype.

They also offered an array of local wines and beers. Several of the boys on the trip went for The White Stag Irish IPA, which they said was very crisp and paired wonderfully with the meal. I was able to get a glass of white wine to go with mine.

If being voted the friendliest city in the world by Travel and Leisure isn't enough to bring you to Galway, the food, culture and many pubs are sure to do the trick.

Be sure to make reservations if you plan on eating at Ard Bia. They open for select times of the day, and serve different menus for lunch and dinner. The lunch menu also includes a few breakfast items. If you want a more extensive menu, visit for supper. It's a culinary experience that is a little more high-end (and slightly more expensive), but worth every Euro!

With bellies full, we did what anyone in Ireland would do...we headed straight to the pubs. And we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the sites and sounds of beautiful Galway.

One Week in Ireland: My Photo Album

There are few places on earth more beautiful than the Emerald Isle. Two weeks ago, I was traipsing through the country discovering cathedrals, castles, breathtaking scenery and delicious Irish food. We managed to see many of the hotspots on our trip. If you're planning on going, here is what you can accomplish with a week in Ireland.  

Day 1-2: Dublin 

Day 3 - Cliffs of Moher/ Bishops Quarter Beach

Day 4 - Galway

Day 5 - Dingle

Day 6 - Carrick-a-Rede Island and Giant's Causeway

Day 7 - Wicklow County and Glendalough


Take a Pit Stop in Lynchburg, Tennessee

July 13, 2016

In the small southern-central city of Lynchburg, Tennessee, you'll find unique shops, restaurants and attractions that can't be found anywhere else in the world. If you're taking a road trip through the south, this is one spot that should be on your list.

Known as the home of Jack Daniel's whiskey, Lynchburg markets its famous product as the only world-famous beverage from a city with one traffic light. Now that I've been there, I'd say that's a pretty accurate claim. But its size only adds to its charm. The downtown area is compact, but chock-full of antique stores, historic sites, Jack Daniel's souvenir shops, and more. An 18th-century court house is situated in the center, surrounded by old-fashioned stops like the Lynchburg Pharmacy, Moon Pie General Store and others.

I was there for the day with my family. The plan was to eat at Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House and Restaurant. But first, we had to explore the city.

Jack Daniel's Whiskey Distillery

Of course, most people travel to Lynchburg for one reasonthe Jack Daniel's Whiskey Distillery. Our trip didn't include it. Many of the people in our group had already visited before. But, should you want to tour the distillery, you can tag along on one of the daily tours. Just keep in mind that on weekends the wait time to get in can vary. Tours are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The tour does include stairs and some portions take place outside. So if it's a particularly hot day, you might want to consider if you can handle the heat. For us, the day was simply too hot! Bags are not permitted on the tour, and you can only take pictures in certain areas.

Visitors can now take part in the "Flight of Jack Distillery Tour" that ends with a sampling of five Jack Daniel whiskeys: Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire, Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey, Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniel's Single Barrel.

Finally, remember that Lynchburg is a dry county, and has been dry since the time of prohibition. It's technically not legal to buy Jack Daniel's in the city where it's made. You can taste it, and buy commemorative bottles at the local stores. But the product itself can't be purchased in Moore County.

Moore County Jail Museum 

This attraction was a working jail until 1990. Built in 1893, it offers an interesting look into the lives of small-town sheriffs back in the day. Andy Griffith, anyone? For $1, you can have a semi-guided tour of the building, and even walk into the cells where prisoners once stood.

What interested me the most was how the comfort of prisoners was entirely based on how the sheriff was feeling that day. Our tour guide said, "Depending on the prisoners' behavior, the sheriff might deliver their food on time, late or not at all. It really was up to him." It was clear that the prisoners and sheriffs got to know each other very well in the modest, homey jail.

The guide then explained to me that the sheriff's wife had the responsibility of feeding and tending to the prisoners. In the 1880's, it was common for women to have many children, so she was used to cooking for a lot of people. Asking her to cook for prisoners wasn't considered a big deal. She was also in charge of simple health care. It was much rarer back then for people to visit a hospital or call in a doctor. Many times, people took care of their own aliments.

I asked the guide if any famous criminals had spent time in the jail. "You can find Jesse James signature upstairs, but we have no idea whether or not it's authentic," she said.

"How many people can you fit in the cells?" I asked.

"The two cells that you will find upstairs used to have pull-out beds that have since been removed. Actually, they were able to fit 20 men upstairs, if needed."

We turned the corner and made our way up an old staircase that led to the main cells for male occupants. (Women had their own cells downstairs.) The paint was worn and the bars were rusty. It was hard to believe that the jail held prisoners only 30 years ago. The steps creaked as we entered into the well-worn room.

Just as I suspected, the cells looked very small. 20 men? How was this accomplished? My guess was that some people were sleeping standing up. But, comfort wasn't the main priority at Moore's Old County Jail.

To get inside the cells, you had to walk on a small platform with a toilet out in the open. Privacy obviously wasn't a concern either.

The remainder of the tour was mostly antiques that were left from the jail's past. Old radios, phones and booksit was actually really interesting. My favorite was an old tube radio, circa 1940. I could imagine the sounds of jazz and big band hits dancing out of its speakers.

The jail museum is definitely a stop you'll want to make on your visit to Lynchburg.

Moon Pie General Store

In 1917, the famous Moon Pie was a popular snack for coal workers to bring in their lunch pails. Today, the tradition lives on as a sweet, filling snack that's produced in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It's a southern staple. Pair with an RC Cola and you're in business. Downtown Lynchburg has its own Moon Pie monument in the form of an quaint general store.
You think you know everything about Moon Pies, but here you can find different varieties, sizes and flavors. There's even t-shirts, magnetseverything a true Moon Pie fan could desire. 

Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House Restaurant

We heard the lunch bell ring and quickly walked back to the pristine, white boarding house. My stomach started to growl as we walked inside.

The boarding house has been open since 1908, and Miss Mary Bobo served patrons at her boarding house until she was just shy of 102 years old. It's a well-known establishment to the locals, and most months the boarding house has visitors from every state in the U.S. In June 2016, I heard they had guests from 41 statesa little less than normal, according to our host. With all of the incoming traffic, guests should call for reservations well before their visit, if possible.

The restaurant is still set up to treat guests like they are "boarders." In fact, just walking into the house feels like you are there to meet with your grandmother for a Sunday afternoon lunch. It isn't until you notice the large gift shop to the right that things seem out of place.

Speaking of the gift shop, it's a lovely room that has shelves full of fun trinkets and southern-themed steals. One of the most popular items, of course, is the Miss Mary Bobo official cookbook. The menu items that are served to guests still maintain her original recipes, making the eatery even more genuine.

When the bell is rung, guests are told to join a host and gather in an assigned boarding room. We had over 12 guests, so some of us were separated from the group into another room. This is something to consider if you plan on taking a large party for a meal. To add to the experience, each group gets its own host for the table. That's rightsomeone from the Mary Bobo staff sits at your table with you to tell you about the history behind the restaurant and fun facts about Miss Mary.

Our lunch was already on the table as we entered the room. The food is served by simply passing a plate to the left. The menu varies, but holds on to a few favorites that you are sure to get when you book a reservation. The menu for that day included:

  • Fried chicken
  • Green beans
  • Rolls
  • Potatoes
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Shredded pork 
  • Fried apples infused with "local product" 

It was home-cooking at its finest. The apples with Jack Daniel's was especially delicious. But don't expect to feel healthy after an afternoon of eating with Miss Mary. I was informed that the fried apple recipe included 1 cup of butter and 4 cups of sugar. Trust me, it's worth the calories!

Just when we thought we couldn't eat anything else, servers went around the table and asked who wanted coffee with their dessert. Dessert?! Somehow, I had to manage it. It was a thick chocolate pie topped with whipped cream that had a little more of the local product dashed inside. There was even a small topper on the pie to celebrate Jack Daniel's 150th anniversary. 

I highly recommend Miss Mary Bobo's not only for a great meal, but for its history and authenticity, as well. It's a unique experience that the whole family is sure to enjoy. Call ahead of time to make reservations and inquire about the menu.

295 Main St. Lynchburg, TN 37352
Reservations:  (931) 759-7394

Lynchburg Winery

Did you know that in the dry county of Lynchburg there is now a place you can visit for local wine tastings? And yes, you can purchase it too! I wondered how all of this worked. Turns out, all Tennessee wineries are exempt from Dry County Statutes because of the Wine and Grape Law that was passed 40 years ago. The Lynchburg Winery is situated in the heart of the downtown square and has been in business since last year.

I knew I had to try some of the local wines before I left. The winery itself has one of the largest wine tasting rooms in the state, and the wine is pretty darn good. The tasting costs a little over $4 for five winesnot a bad price at all. Here are the ones I tried. (Descriptions provided by the Lynchburg Winery tasting menu.)

  • Pinot Grigio – A dry white wine with a fruity aroma and a crisp silky finish.
  • Merlot - Dry, with a bouquet of black cherry and currants. Medium-bodied with a hint of herbs.
  • Southern Tradition - We have a 100% Tennessee white and red Muscadine like grandpa made! 13.5% so it has a kick!
  • Serendipity - Our Signature Southern Wine!  A very fragrant sweet white Muscadine with a fizz.  Fragrant Traditional Muscadine. Best served chilled. Add a few frozen fruits into this party favorite. 
  • Blackberry – This one was not on the menu. It had a rich blackberry aroma and was very sweetalmost juice like. 

Out of all the wines, Serendipity was my favorite. But you can go by and sip the samples for yourself. 

A Worthy Pit Stop

With a little over 6,000 people that make up its population, Lynchburg is a taste of the old south and southern hospitality. There are also a few accommodations nearby if you choose to make a day of it. From Moon Pies for the kids to sophisticated wine tastings, this Tennessee town is a fun, educational and tasty stop on your southern road trip.

What else do you like about Lynchburg?