Combining pleasure, including good restaurants, with business trips is a favorite diversion. A recent trip to Meridian, Mississippi and Tuscaloosa, Alabama was no exception.
In Meridian for the first time in over a decade, I visited for lunch the historic 140- year old Weidmann’s Restaurant. Founded in 1870 by Felix Weidmann, the restaurant has been a downtown landmark for generations of Meridian natives and visitors alike. Under the Weidmann family, the establishment became one of the best known restaurants in Mississippi, beloved for its traditions, great food, and quirky atmosphere. Among other things, the restaurant was known for its black bottom pie and crocks of homemade peanut butter on each table. It remained in the Weidmann family until 2001.
But by 2001, the building was falling victim to the ravages of time and was bought by a group of investors including actress and Meridian native Sela Ward. A massive remodel of the building was completed and the restaurant leased to a new operator. The new fellow ran the restaurant for 10 years before abruptly disappearing last April without notice to the investors or employees.
The investors then contracted with experienced restaurateur Charles Frazier to take over the operation. The personable new operator told me it was his goal to blend the Weidmann history with the modern renovated building. Indeed, some of the old menu items are still there, as is a waiter whom I recognized from about 20 years ago!
Then the next day it was on to Tuscaloosa and lunch with one of my favorite cousins, Sarah Perdue. (Sarah’s mother, Marjorie Strother Overmyer, and I are first cousins and went from the first through the twelfth grades together in Wilcox County. After high school, Marjorie had a rare lapse of judgment and chose to attend that college in Tuscaloosa. However, her daughter, my luncheon companion, righted things by attending Auburn.) But I digress.
Sarah Perdue is a person of eclectic tastes, much preferring “local dives” to chain operations. For lunch she selected Lewis’ Heavenly Q, a barbeque joint just south of downtown Tuscaloosa owned by Wade Lewis. Yes, there is another great barbeque restaurant in Tuscaloosa other than Dreamland. In fact, Lewis’ tongue-in-cheek slogan is “It’s not a dream, it’s Heavenly Q.” I like his moxie.
I also like his ribs, which were outstanding. If you go, I suggest ordering them with slaw and the roasted potatoes. You will not be disappointed.
Sarah and I both share a genetic sweet tooth. So after we polished off the ribs, it didn’t take much arm twisting to accept her invitation to jump in her car and drive across town to Mary’s Cakes & Pastries. Mary’s is located in downtown Northport (across the river from Tuscaloosa) and is a great little bakery run by the most interesting and entertaining Mary Cesar. Mary holds an M.B.A. from Fordham in New York and has studied culinary arts in Paris.
The bakery showcase is full of sinfully delicious things. Mary doesn’t have an inside dining license, so Sarah and I sat illegally at the “wedding cake consultation table” while dipping our scones and Biscotti in steaming cups of coffee. If you’re ever in the area, don’t miss the opportunity to go by for a “wedding cake consultation.” You’ll thank me for the suggestion.
After goodbyes, I drove south from Tuscaloosa towards home across the Blackbelt. The geographic Blackbelt region of Alabama is so named for its rich black soil. It’s a strip of land averaging about 30 miles wide running from east to west across the state, beginning near Montgomery, running through Selma and ending just across the Mississippi state line. The Blackbelt was the original antebellum cotton plantation area of Alabama. Then when cotton played out, the land was allowed to revert to its natural state of attractive and gently rolling grassy prairies which became home to the state’s large cattle ranches. Not much of the Blackbelt land retains its original appearance, but the area from Greensboro down Highway 69 towards Linden is as authentic as you can get.
On a sunny spring day after ribs, scones and a delightful visit with my cousin, it was about as beautiful a drive as you could ask for.