By JAY REED
It has not been often in my life that I have set the GPS for Dothan, Ala. as a final destination. There was that one time as a youngster, when The Folks told Little Brother and me that we were going to Dothan for Daddy’s math meeting (woohoo!) yet somehow ended up at Disney World instead. The next trip of note through Dothan was the first time The Wife and I traveled from North Carolina to Panama City for my first visit to The Out-Laws on their home turf. This summer, however, we truly did set the GPS for Dothan — twice in a week’s time, at that — to drop off and pick up Daughter for a visit with The Out-Laws and Niece Two from the maternal side of the family. And this time, I went with an appetite.
The drop-off run was a day trip. A long day trip. We had a deadline, but took some time to survey the scene to prepare for the next weekend. For example: Sweet P’s Eats and Treats. As we were leaving Montgomery on Highway 231, an Icee and a pack o’ Nabs under my belt, we spotted some pink signs along the road (reminiscent of Burma-Shave but without the rhymes) advertising a deli, ice cream, milkshakes, etc. That was enough to garner my attention, even full of frozen Coke and peanut butter crackers. But it was the pink cow that really grabbed me. At first I thought it was a statue, but out of the corner of my eye I must have seen the tail swish, so I turned the car around to investigate. Indeed, there was a live cow outside this quaint little sweet shop in Pike Road, Ala. — and it was pink. Bright pink. But lest anyone be tempted to get up in arms about painting a cow and the harm that it might do, rest easy — the caretaker told us it was only pink hair rinse from Sally’s Beauty Supply. (I guess that means it was tested on humans before they let it go for animal use.)
On the pick-up trip we stopped again at Sweet P’s for the full experience. They had all kinds of fun stuff: cupcakes aplenty, a Cake Shake (a cupcake blended up into Blue Bell ice cream), Cowbelles (ice cream sandwiches made with homemade cookies the size of my hand), and something called a Cowpattie that looked great (despite the name) in the seven seconds I had to admire it before someone else snagged the last one. And there’s a deli if you need something hearty before you have dessert. But is that really necessary? Spoil your dinner, it’s OK once in a while.
The day trip ended up being a lot of snacking along the way, and one big meal at Cheeburger, Cheeburger in Dothan that afternoon. This is a chain, but I still liked the concept. One-hundred percent Angus beef without all the potential extracurricular additives, 30-something toppings (plus eight kinds of cheese), burger sizes to fit all appetites, and plenty of other proteins and salads if that’s your thing. Milkshakes are the focus of the sweet side — I counted 86 flavors that could be added, and they claim over 1.2 million possible flavor combinations. Even for a variety-addict like me, this was a bit overwhelming, but only because it is too far away to go back regularly and take a stab at another combo or three.
The pick-up trip gave us a little more time to stop and smell the barbecue, so to speak — this time we spent the night. I had my list of “100 Things to Eat in Alabama Before You Die” and had some places picked out. Unfortunately, when it’s nearly 9 p.m. on Sunday evening before your party is ready for dinner, those kinds of places have already turned out the lights. I used my yelp.com filter for “what’s open now,” and the selections were bleak. We ended up at Olive Garden, and I was pleasantly surprised. One of the appetizers was Lasagna Fritta, which I think is Italian for “Lasagna — State Fair Style." Deep-fried and stuffed with cheese. You go, Garden.
The next morning we had breakfast La Quinta style, which I kept light given the late hour of the previous evening’s Italian feast. After the light breakfast we went downtown for dessert. You heard me. When there is something unique to eat, and you’re about to drive six hours away from it, sometimes you have to just go for broke, no matter what time of day — especially if it’s frozen. Sweetie Pies is a little place on a quaint street in downtown Dothan that advertised frozen pie-on-a-stick. More Fair fare and I didn’t have to pay an entrance fee! She had triangles of key lime and peanut butter pies, frozen and dipped in chocolate if desired. (We desired.) Breakfast said to Dessert: You complete me.
In Troy, Ala. we stopped for banana pudding at Sisters Restaurant. It’s not as random as it seems — it’s on the 100 Things list, and it was indeed good. A little further down the road in Montgomery, we pulled off for a pulled pork sandwich on sourdough bread from Jim n’ Nick’s Bar-B-Q. This place is also a franchise, but they do everything low and slow and from scratch. Even daughter snagged a few bites of my sandwich.
Couldn’t get her to eat the side of fried green tomatoes, but I’ll take what I can get. I love their menu motto, featuring a pig with wings: “First we send him to Heaven, then we send you there.” I had already been to that level a couple of times at Southern Foodways Alliance meetings, and it’s always good to get back to Heaven.
So if your destination is Dothan, here’s your packing list: printout of 100 Things to Eat in Alabama Before You Die, a Yeti Cooler (for extra Cowbelles and Pie-on-a-stick) and a bigger belt.