Having grown up in a small town, I’ve experienced the bliss that is dirt-road dining. As a rule of thumb, the dustier the turnrow, the tastier the fried chicken; the thicker the gravel, the better the gravy. As I head toward Dauphin Island and turn right past Gloria’s Produce, cornbread is calling my name. By the time I venture down Bay Road, it’s lunchtime at Aunt B’s, and my stomach isn’t waiting another minute.
As I pull up the gritty, gray drive, the yellow 1901 farmhouse looks like a scene out of Mayberry — only this Aunt B, left, is much younger, with pretty, sweeping blonde hair, her waist cinched in a Technicolor apron. Her nickname is short for Beverly. When she and husband Robert Pettie were children, both relished visits to their grandparents’ farms. Aunt B’s Country Kitchen is their way of recreating the experience for others.
Inside, I’m seated on a quaint enclosed back porch with a million-dollar view of a small picturesque orchard. I’m told that this was originally the site of the Southern Pecan Co. Spare timber from the farm fires the barbecue smoker just outside my window. Its sweet aroma wafts through. What is this mystery dish being slow-cooked before my eyes?
When I ask for the lunch menu, Robert spouts off the list of country-style favorites that Beverly is cooking up today, including the pulled pork outside. Dish after dish sounds like a winner. Many of the ingredients are fresh off the land across the road. (In the summer months, the Petties sell whatever produce isn’t used in the restaurant — tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, okra, herbs and more — out front on their little veggie wagon.)
Before I choose my entree, I make a mental note to save room for dessert. The Mississippi Mud Pie reminds me of my roots. A good, hearty stroganoff goes down smooth; a taste of the pork lives up to the intense smell. The roasted sweet potatoes are so good they could make you slap your mama — and then ask for seconds. I’m fairly certain I’m going to have to waddle back to Mobile with my top button undone.
Robert matter-of-factly responds, “We don’t do bills. Just come up front and fess up.” The honor system works out fine. What kind of person would cheat their grandparents — or their Aunt B?
Before heading out, I mosey around a charming local art display. All of the pieces are for sale. What was once the main living space in the historic house has been converted into a gourmet food shop, shelves stocked with homemade jellies, sauces, dressings, syrups, batter mixes and more, from around the U.S. Robert admits that initially the couple had planned to sell only Alabama items, but “everybody in Alabama makes a barbecue sauce or a pickle, so we branched out.”
In summer months, every Saturday from mid-May to mid-July, the front yard at Aunt B’s becomes a farmers’ market. Find produce, live cattle, goats, chickens and anything else that locals “grow, make or bake.”
“Y’all come back, ” the Petties call out, as the car reverses down the drive, gravel crunching. I sure will. I’m relieved to know which dirt road leads to a good, home-cooked, grandma-style meal. But until then, I’ll take an extra piece of the pie to-go.
aunt b’s country kitchen
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. M – T, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Th – Su. 3750 Bay Road, Theodore.