Worth the Drive | Pizza fanatics flock to Cullman for made-to-order meals
Story and photos by Jennifer Crossley Howard
Lucy Gable assumed she would follow in the footsteps of her father, Dr. Harry Blaylock, after she graduated from Auburn University and become a veterinarian.
Her father had other plans. He had just bought an Italian restaurant in her hometown of Cullman, and he needed help running it while maintaining his veterinary practice. She came home and started pitching in what has become the family business.
“I went from an animal science major, to this,” Gable says, gesturing to a dining room that would soon fill for lunch.
She hasn’t looked back.
“It’s so rewarding every day, though it feels overwhelming at times,” she says. “We really try to maintain the Carlton’s tradition.”
She describes that tradition as maintaining all of the original owner’s recipes. All sauce and pizza dough are made in house, and cooks use nothing frozen to prepare their menus.
“Literally every ticket is made to order,” Gable says. “That is, I guess, the hardest part. Every pizza we hand roll and top and then bake.”
The most popular dish is the lasagna, followed by Dr. Blaylock’s Supreme, a 10-topping pizza cooked in a slate oven at 600 degrees.
“It cooks just perfect,” Gable says. “A lot of pizza fanatics come here,” she added, including those from Birmingham and Huntsville.
All in the family
Her father bought the restaurant a few years before retiring, and he relied on the women in his family to run the business, including Gable’s other daughter, Katie Blaylock.
But as he worked, a unique team stepped in to run the place: his wife, Leslie Blaylock, and ex-wife, Kaye Blaylock.
The two women worked side by side for years with the common mission of operating a successful business.
It got to where, “truthfully, they were best friends,” Dr. Blaylock says.
Business picked up as it got closer for Blaylock to sell his veterinary practice in Hanceville.
“It’s just been snowballing ever since then,” he says. “I love it. I enjoy coming to work every day.”
Though switching from treating animals to wooing the palate of humans might seem a bit of a stretch, there are similarities. Dr. Blaylock dealt with the public as a veterinarian, and he does so daily still.
He wanted to own a restaurant since he was 12 years old. After eating and making memories at Carlton’s for years, when it came for sale, he couldn’t pass it up.
He met with the owner and made an offer on the spot.
Later, “I went home and told my wife I bought a restaurant,” he says.
Walking into Carlton’s, located in downtown Cullman, sets the mood for what will surely be a sensory experience. Old, worn wood doors lead diners inside to an open dining room with a tiled floor. Lighting is low, even on a rainy day, and fresh Peruvian lilies sit in bud vases on each table and booth.
Southern Accents Architectural Antiques, another local, family-run business, had renovated Carlton’s before Blaylock bought it. The restaurant’s location and decor sold him.
“I thought this was a diamond in the rough,” Dr. Blaylock says. “There wasn’t picture on the wall or anything. This was just a beautiful restored building.”
Its standout features include wooden doors used as booth tables, salvaged from Chicago brownstones, and brick on the patio from the old Sweetwater Mill in Florence.
“Everyone always asks, ‘Don’t you want a bigger building?’” Dr. Blaylock says. “But that’s what makes us Carlton’s. It’s rustic, and you can’t replace the building.”
In the future, Dr. Blaylock envisions possibly expanding the building at its current space adding a bar and maybe a cigar bar, which would be a first for Cullman.