I’ve been at this food critic thing for a few years now and I cannot for the life of me think of a time when I have given our readers a glimpse of the restaurant scene in north Baldwin County. This comes as a surprise to me because of the amount of time I spend in the area teaching America’s youth three chords and the truth.
Bay Minette is a hop, skip and a jump from where I do most of my business, and I’ve seen some decent places come and go over the past decade. It’s not devoid of flavor, but I rarely get the opportunity, or rather the reason, to make the 15-minute drive up the highway.
That all changed last week when I had to pay a visit to my accountant, Nick Gee.
I first met Nick in the doors of Picker’s Paradise Guitars in Stapleton. He wanted to learn guitar, and I wanted someone to do my taxes. We’ve been friends ever since. Creative types like musicians and writers are not largely known for properly handling finances. We need someone like Nick in our lives. And he’s kind of like the “accountant to the stars” that rise out of Bay Minette.
A recent visit to his office for a mild scolding and questioning eyebrow raises had me starving for lunch, so I offered to take the old boy for a bite. He pretended to resist the invitation for about 15 seconds (an old accounting trick) and followed up with an immediate, “let’s go to The Sugar Kettle Café.”
For those unfamiliar with Bay Minette, it does have a certain charm to it. The downtown area is not very cookie cutter with lots of brick and well-kept storefronts. I’ll avoid any overused Mayberry reference, which has come to mean little more than “small town” by its current definition. There is a courthouse square that reminds me of the northern Mississippi towns that could easily show up in a Faulkner book, and that area is free of fast food chains and big box stores.
Nick and I walked the long way around the corner of the square and cut through the Wells Fargo drive-through arriving at the Sugar Kettle Café just before the lunch rush. Seated immediately in an inner room, the place is architecturally sectioned off almost like a house. In our interior abode there was room for two other tables, one of which was finishing up as we started.
Nick had the Wednesday special of poppy seed chicken ($7.99) with a side of rice and lima beans. I had no idea what to expect until it came out. Normally with specials you choose two sides, but since the chopped up chicken was served with its pungent poppy seed gravy over rice our humble bean counter chose the limas. He chose wisely. I’m a fan of limas and this batch was nearly as good as the ones I fix myself. Add to that a dose of yellow corn bread and this is eight bucks well spent. Accountants can spot a deal.
Though it was Wednesday I somehow managed to end up with a Thursday special on my plate. Fried chicken ($9.99) would have been a little less, but I requested three sides. I always order dark, and the thigh and leg were a fantastic entry to sampling what Sugar Kettle has to offer. Squash casserole was firm and not cooked to death. Green beans were nice. A hearty helping of fried okra stole the side show.
I paid the nice waiter and the money man and I took the long way back to his office. A successful business lunch I hope Nick can find a way for me to write off.
As I drove back to my lesson room I realized I needed more to write about. Plans for the next day were made before I left the square. Thursday would be another day of lunch at Sugar Kettle, this time with a to-go box.
It was either good fortune or dumb luck for Picker’s Paradise that I was short of material. Here is day two of Sugar Kettle lunch. Chicken salad sandwich ($8.98) with a side of broccoli salad was nothing short of homemade goodness. Even the broccoli salad was above average.
The other Thursday special was meatloaf ($9.24) with two sides. If you’re in Bay Minette and a place has meatloaf, chances are it will be good. This did not disappoint. A side of mashed potatoes and gravy are always important with meatloaf. The surprise was field peas with chow chow. I love pepper relish on peas and wish it were more prevalent on menus in our area.
A salad trio ($8.99) was a great mix and match entrée. Your first choice is either tuna or chicken salad as your protein (tuna today) then two other cold salads are selected. I chose pistachio delight and pear salad. Pistachio delight is the stuff you see at family reunions. It’s green and fluffy, almost having a cool whip vibe and is hard to tell whether it’s a solid, liquid, or gas. I think it’s all three. It’s more like a dessert. The pear salad (which I call the “Frank Trice”) is ironically the same thing I referenced in last week’s mayonnaise column. Two pear halves sport a dollop of mayo with shredded cheddar cheese and a cherry on top. Rarely do I see these, so I had to indulge.
Even with two of my three salads basically being dessert I had to go for the special of the day they called pumpkin crunch ($3.99). This chewy, nutty goodness was perfect for the cool October weather and should be purchased while it’s here. The waitresses rave about the strawberry cake, but I think I’d had enough.
Sugar Kettle is a small town gem, exactly what you’d want near the square. It should serve Bay Minette well. They also have a Daphne location across from Target. The food is great, the price is nice. Where does your accountant take you for lunch? Mine has good taste.
Sugar Kettle Café
124 N. Hoyle Ave.
Bay Minette, Alabama