Some towns are so tiny, you can’t believe they exist. Waverly, Alabama, is one such town.
But the marvel at Waverly’s small size soon becomes sheer disbelief that this rural outpost (somewhat near Auburn) appears to be largely populated by super cool individuals. I first discovered Waverly, when my cousin, who runs an organic farm in South Alabama, asked if I wanted to ride along with him to go and pick up some silk screened farm bags for CSA veggie deliveries. We cruised through rural scenery before pulling up at a warehouse that turned out to be owned by a guy who not only ran an amazing printing business, Standard Deluxe, but also seemed to be a rural hipster visionary of sorts. He had tales of punk rock and reggae tours and victories over evil road building developers. Certainly not what I was expecting in rural east Alabama.
So I found myself back in Waverly recently for Standard Deluxe’s 17th Anniversary party. Southern Culture on the Skids made mad music. But before the show, food was needed. We stopped into a brick warehouse called The Yellow Hammer. We expected a meat and three type of joint. We were thinking we’d pick the pork out of our collards and get nice and full for 7 or 8 bucks and then go see a concert out in the country. Wrong.
Turns out, The Yellow Hammer is a world class restaurant. I don’t use that term lightly. I have had high end seafood in metropolitan coastal cities around the world. I won’t say that The Yellow Hammer was as good (or as swanky) as this place (one of my favorites), but it’s on that level of top-tier chef and freshness action. Whatever glimmer of distance exists between The Yellow Hammer and the first rate restaurants of New York or Tokyo is made up for by the utter shock (and delight) I felt at discovering a white tablecloth place in Waverly. Add to that the fact that the chef tries to give the dishes a local angle. For example, the Hawaiian fish came on a bed of pureed butternut squash. The cod came with collards. True Alabama flavors. And the menu changes daily.
I will admit that there are some drawbacks to expecting a “meat and three” and instead discovering a place with a primo wine list. For one, I felt under-dressed. For another, I dropped $80 where I was expecting to spend $20. These aren’t good economic times for those kinds of surprises. But still, they were kind enough to seat us without a reservation, which is key because they were booked up on a Saturday night. I could totally understand that all of the rich folks from miles around make the trek out to this rural oasis.
The capper on the meal was the ice cream. We are big fans of the “100 Alabama things to eat before you die” list. You can see it here (pdf). The honeysuckle ice cream is on that list. And it should be. It came with two other flavors (elderberry and something else) and they were mind-searingly good.
Later that evening, we ended up meeting the people who live next door to the restaurant and they said that the honeysuckle flavors were distilled from flowers in their back yard. Can’t get much more local than that. Or Southern. Or awesome.
Waverly. Yellow Hammer. Euphoria.