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WTD: The Depot

Among the specialties at The Depot in Auburn are fresh oysters, like these White Stone oysters from Windmill Point, Va., and Gulf Amberjack with Hoppin’ John Risotto, Braised Collards and Crawfish Butter. Inset: Executive chef and co-owner Scott Simpson.

By Allison Law

Photos by Mark Stephenson

The trains no longer stop at the historic Auburn depot, but they continue to charge down the tracks outside the landmark, lending a charm of times gone by to the upscale restaurant that now occupies the beautifully restored space.

While The Depot is rooted in history, this gulf-coastal restaurant is pushing the boundaries of Alabama’s culinary scene, bringing globally inspired cuisine to the heart of the South with ingredients sourced locally and from both coasts.

Executive chef and co-owner Scott Simpson is a California native, but has extensive experience working abroad and studying under some of the world’s finest chefs. That international background – he’s worked as a chef in South America, the Caribbean and southeast Asia – is evident in the menu.

“My idea was to bring Gulf coastal cuisine with a worldly flair to Auburn,” Simpson says, taking a break after a busy lunch service. “The idea is to either bring international or exotic products and put a Gulf coastal flavor to it, or take local Gulf catch and seafood and try out other items available locally, and present it with a more international, ethnic, cultural preparation.”

As an example, he notes on the menu a fish that he has flown in overnight from Hawaii, which he serves with a kimchi fried rice and Korean pear glaze. But even with exotic preparations, Alabama diners will still find entrees that are familiar and non-intimidating: Carolina Mountain Rainbow Trout, Gulf Amberjack and Blackened Blue Crab Cakes, to name a few. And the rotating daily specials always feature at least six different oysters, sourced from the Gulf and both coasts.

A new life for an old landmark

Simpson came to Auburn in 2014 to become executive chef and culinary educator at The Hotel at Auburn University, and as a culinary instructor in the school’s hospitality program. Matt and Jana Poirier, who own The Hound in Auburn, wanted to expand and create another concept restaurant; they reached out to Simpson for ideas and to gauge his interest.

Simpson felt the area lacked a high-quality seafood-focused restaurant. The Poiriers found the depot location, which had fallen into disrepair over the years (the last passenger train pulled into the depot on Jan. 7, 1970.) They worked with the city to restore the landmark and make it suitable for a restaurant, while maintaining the integrity of the historic structure. The Depot restaurant opened in September 2015.

The result of the renovation is an inviting, spacious atmosphere – a classic look with industrial, 19th-century touches. Pieces of its past have been retained: The heartwood pine that was once the trail platform is repurposed into the chef’s table, bar and hostess stand. Original doors were restored. The black and white floor tiles harken to another era.

The Depot is one of several establishments that has helped boost the culinary scene in Auburn and Opelika. Simpson says professors and business people have been exposed to nice meals in other places, so the demand is there. And the area pulls diners from Columbus, Ga., and Montgomery, so there’s obviously a desire for more options and upscale dining.

Its clientele is not the younger college crowd that’s constantly on social media. “What gets the social media exposure is not really representative of what’s coming up in our community,” Simpson says.

Exceeding expectations

The Depot started out with dinner service, but soon branched into lunches – designed to be fast and affordable, but still well-prepared – as well as brunch on weekends.

“For lunch, I tried to grab iconic dishes from all over the world,” Simpson says. “With lobster, what’s the most famous worldwide lobster dish I could do? I went with a Maine lobster roll. I tried to pick some great fish tacos from Mexico, and do them as authentic as possible.”

The same attention is put into the dishes that originated a little closer to home. The Gourmet Gumbo, for example – with Cajun andouille, Poblano rice, crawfish and Gulf shrimp – gets comments from diners who say it’s better than any gumbo they’ve had in New Orleans.

In addition to the regular menu, there are happy hour specials – like all-you-can-eat mussel night, or dollar oyster night – each one paired with cocktail specials. The seats are always full, Simpson says. The occasional wine dinners sell out with little promotion.

The seafood may be the star, but the meat and poultry entrees receive just as much praise. A diner told Simpson recently that The Depot’s New York strip was the best he’d ever had, and that he’d eaten at steakhouses all over the country.

“We want people to be blown away, to exceed their expectations,” Simpson says, “and make sure that eating here is a noteworthy, lingering memory.”

The Depot

124 Mitcham Ave. Auburn, AL 36830

334-521-5177 Online:

(reservations recommended but not required, and can be made through the website)

Hours: 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday;

5 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday & Saturday;

brunch from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

More Photos

Snapshots: Santa through the years

with the Alabama Living staff family

DeAnn Weston Savage, older sister of art director Danny Weston, did not like this particular Santa. She was 4 years old the Christmas of 1978.

Emmie Echols’ (5 months) first Christmas, 2017. Mom is Brooke Echols, graphic designer/advertising coordinator.

Gage Stewart’s (5 months) first, Christmas, 2018. Mom is Laura Stewart, communications coordinator/youth tour director.

Managing Editor Allison Law’s cat, Moe, was not too happy with Santa in this photo, taken for a pet charity fundraiser in 2009.

Creative director Mark Stephenson’s children with Santa, December 1999. Amelia (3 years), Laurel (5), Philip (7) and Jessica (3 months).

Alabama Living Editor Lenore Vickrey visits a Pennsylvania department store Santa, Christmas 1956.

Recipes: Party Time

This holiday season, party hard without the hard work.


Food/Photography BY BROOKE ECHOLS

The holidays are the perfect time to gather with friends and family, and a festive party is an ideal way to assemble. At seasonal social events, we chat and catch-up, strengthening existing bonds and maybe forging some new ones too. And while connecting with other people is the main point, almost anytime folks get together, eating is on the itinerary, so food is an essential ingredient in a successful soiree.

But the food doesn’t have to be fancy. Forget the idea that “holiday party” is synonymous with a banquet of delicacies served on fine china or a feast fit for a king. Don’t worry about conforming to some preset list of holiday flavors like peppermint or gingerbread.

Our busy lives and packed schedules (that somehow manage to get even busier this time of year), often keep us from attending holiday parties. Add to that the idea that any mixing and mingling we’re in charge of needs to be supported by a massive spread of seasonally appropriate dishes, and there’s little chance we’ll consider actually hosting one.

So shrug off any obligation you feel to “go all out” and just do it. Have a party. Bring those you love together to celebrate grace and goodness and whatever else the holidays mean to you. No formal invitations; an email or text will do just fine. No decor other than what you pull out and put up any other year. And don’t bother dragging out and dusting off the fine china or crystal either.

And for the food, keep it simple. It can still be satisfying and delicious enough to ensure your guests don’t leave hungry or unhappy. Need some ideas? We’ve got plenty of them, tried and tested by our readers at many holiday parties past.

Amy Hitchner with son Aiden.

Cook of the Month

Amy Hitchner enjoys both the ease of eating and the taste of Bacon-Wrapped, Blue-Cheese-Stuffed Dates and so do her party guests. “They are always a hit, their mix of savory, creamy and sweet all in one small bite,” she said. They’re also simple to whip up and and can be made ahead. But Hitchner offered a warning: The enticing blend of flavors can make that risky. “You can prepare them up to a day beforehand, and they keep well, but you may not be able to keep from eating them all up before your event if you do!” she said.

Bacon-Wrapped Blue-Cheese-Stuffed Dates

1 pound bacon

18-ounce package blue cheese

1 package of dates (pitted preferred)

1/3 cup brown sugar

Cut bacon strips in half. Stuff dates with blue cheese, enough to see a little poking out. Wrap strips of bacon around dates and place the end of the bacon down on baking sheet. (I suggest using a wire rack over a backing sheet to allow the bacon fat to drip off. This helps to get the bacon crispy.) Once all dates are filled, wrapped and placed on sheet, top each one with a little brown sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. After bacon has cooked through, place dates on a cooling rack. Make sure to place something under dates as the bacon will still be dripping grease. Cool for at least 15 minutes.

Nana’s Awesome Party Mix


2 sticks salted butter

2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons (heaping) Lawry’s Seasoned Salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon cayenne papper

Dry mix:

1/2 package Rice Chex®

1/2 package Corn Chex®

1/2 package Honey Nut Chex®

4 cups Cheerios®

18-ounce bag Pepperidge Farms Pretzel Goldfish®

*Note for cereals: use larger box for lighter flavor or smaller box for robust flavor.

Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees. Microwave flavoring ingredients until butter is melted, mix well. Place dry mix into a large disposable aluminum tray. Evenly disperse dry mix. Pour flavoring evenly across dry mix (making sure the dry mix is evenly coated.) Pouring the flavoring onto the back end of a spoon or spatula will help with an even spread. Every 15 minutes remove the mix from oven and carefully stir to keep the flavoring even. Remove when the mix feels dry (about 2 hours). You can add in other dry items like nuts, other cereals, or candies. If you do, consider increasing the amount of flavoring.

Lucy Manly, Dixie EC

Seasoned Pretzels

2 16-ounce packages mini pretzels

1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning

1 teaspoon garlic pepper

1 package Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix

12 ounces Orville Redenbacher popcorn oil

Put seasonings in a 2-gallon Ziploc bag and mix well. Add oil and mix well. Add pretzels, mix and turn bag over periodically. Let stand overnight. Eat and enjoy.

Michelle Tucker, Covington EC

Pepper Boats

6 jalapenos

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 container of spicy pimento cheese

3 Red Hot link sausages


Cut jalapenos in half and remove seeds and ribs. Mix cream cheese and pimento cheese in a bowl. Chop Red Hot link sausage and add to cheese mixture. Stuff the pepper boats with the sausage and cheese. Cut bacon and cover the top of the pepper boat. Grill on high, indirect heat for 40 minutes.

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC

Cheese Pennies

1 stick (1/2 cup) margarine, softened

½ pound grated cheddar cheese

½ package dry onion soup mix, shaken well before opening

½ teaspoon salt

1cup all-purpose flour

Cream margarine and cheese together. Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Divide dough into fifths. Shape each section into a long “snake” one inch in diameter. Chill. Cut into ¼-inch slices. Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray. Bake slices at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until well browned. Remove immediately and cool completely. Makes 3½ to 4 dozen “pennies.” Store in an airtight container.

Peggy Key, North Alabama EC

Sweet and Tangy Meatballs

2 pounds ground meat (beef, turkey or pork)

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup green onion, chopped

2 eggs

Salt and pepper, to taste

Garlic powder, to taste

Accent, to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup honey

1 cup Sriracha hot sauce

1/2 cup lemon juice

Preheat oven to 365 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine ground meat, chopped onion and green onions. Add eggs in one at a time. Season the mixture with salt, pepper, garlic powder and Accent to your preference. After all is mixed well, take and shape meat into 1 to 11/2-inch balls and place on a baking sheet. Once all meatballs have been shaped, bake uncovered for 35 minutes. In a medium saucepan heat olive oil, honey, Sriracha and lemon juice on low heat. Once meatballs are done cooking remove from oven and drain any excess grease from meatballs. Pour sauce mixture evenly over meatballs. Let them cook for another 15 minutes and then serve.

Sharlene Parker, Baldwin EMC

Festive Pecan Rolls

17-ounce jar marshmallow crème                   

1 pound package confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla                                                   

1 14-ounce package assorted vanilla and chocolate caramels

3 tablespoons water

1-1½ cups chopped pecans

Combine marshmallow crème, sugar and vanilla, mixing well with hands. Shape mixture into five 4×1-inch rolls. Mixture will be very dry. Chill for 2 to 3 hours. Combine caramels and water in a microwave safe dish. Microwave for 4 minutes on high until smooth, stirring after 2 minutes. Dip rolls in melted caramel and roll each in chopped pecans, chill 1 hour. Cut in slices to serve.

Ann Varnum, Wiregrass EC

Pizza Pinwheels

2 cans refrigerated crescent rolls

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1 package pepperoni, chopped

1 1/2 cups pizza sauce

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out one can of crescent rolls onto wax paper and seal perforations to make one whole rectangular shape. Mix cream cheese, chopped pepperoni, pizza sauce and mozzarella in a bowl until creamy and well combined. Spread half of mixture on crescent rolls. Starting at long side, roll up crescent roll into a log. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate 1 hour. (This makes pinwheels easier to slice) Repeat with other can of crescent rolls and refrigerate. After 1 hour, remove first roll and cut into 1/4-inch slices and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Continue until all pinwheels have been sliced and baked.

Lynn Bowen, Marshall-DeKalb EC

Caramel Popcorn

15 cups popped popcorn

1 cup brown sugar, packed

½ cup margarine

¼ cup light corn syrup

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Divide popcorn between 2 ungreased 9×13-inch baking pans. In a saucepan, heat sugar, margarine, corn syrup and salt. Stir until bubbly around the edges. Continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in baking soda until foamy. Pour over popcorn, stirring until well coated. Bake one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Brenda McCain, Coosa Valley EC

Send us your recipes for a chance to win!

Themes and Deadlines

February: Pasta | Dec. 3

March: Instant Pot | Jan. 1

April: Strawberries | Feb. 4

3 ways to submit:



Mail:  Recipes, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124

Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year. One gift basket winner will be drawn monthly at random and each name will be entered only once. Items in basket may vary each month. To be eligible, submissions must include a name, phone number, mailing address and co-op name. Alabama Living reserves the right to reprint recipes in our other publications.

State opens more lands for public hunting

By John N. Felsher

Alabama sportsmen recently gained a new public hunting property – a very special one. Portland Landing Special Opportunity Area covers 4,744 acres in the famed Black Belt region, with another 4,000 acres set to open for limited public hunting in the 2019-20 season.

Located in Dallas County about halfway between Selma and Camden on Highway 41, the property borders Wilcox County. The varied habitats support diverse wildlife species including whitetail deer, squirrels and turkeys. The original 4,744 acres already held some special hunts this season with more opportunities to come. The addition will offer similar types of hunts beginning in the 2019-20 season.

“The property is right in the heart of some of the best hunting in the state,” says Chuck Sykes, director of the Alabama Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Division.

“Habitats include cedar glades, the traditional Black Belt prairie habitat, pine stands, upland hardwoods and mixed forests with sloughs and creeks. The additional property has some frontage on the Alabama River. This area has absolutely produced some big deer in the past. The genetics are there. The numbers are there and the habitat is there. I was fortunate enough to hunt this property some years ago when it was private. It’s a special place.”

Cedar Creek mentor teaching woodsmanship. PHOTO by Billy Pope

At Portland Landing and other SOAs, sportsmen can apply to hunt designated game on specific days. Sportsmen can still apply for small game and turkey hunts at Portland Landing and other SOAs from Dec. 3, 2018, through Jan. 3, 2019. If selected, that person and a guest gain sole access to hunt a section of the property for designated days, all for the cost of an Alabama hunting license and a wildlife management area permit.

“When people apply and are selected to hunt, they get a designated area of around 500 acres all to themselves, but they can invite a friend to hunt with them,” Sykes explains. “We do not hunt every unit on each property each day. We rotate the areas to keep pressure to a minimum. A property like Portland Landing is not big enough to just open the gates and let everyone hunt when they want. We want this to really be a special area.”

Other small Special Opportunity Areas offering similar hunts include the 6,400-acre Cedar Creek in Dallas County and the 4,435-acre Uchee Creek in Russell County. Crow Creek, a 400-acre property in Jackson County, offers archery hunts for deer and waterfowl hunts. For waterfowl hunts, the permit holder can invite up to four guests.

People can also apply to hunt the Fred T. Stimpson and Upper State Sanctuary properties. Both in Clarke County, Fred T. Stimpson covers 5,200 acres and Upper State another 1,920 acres. To apply for SOA hunts, see

“We’ve had Fred T. Stimpson and Upper State Sanctuary areas for a long time, but they were not hunted by the general public,” Sykes says. “When we were trapping deer and turkey to relocate them in other parts of the state years ago, many of them came from that area. The SOA program has something for every sportsman in the state. We are looking at adding more waterfowl, dove and other hunting opportunities in the future.”

Adult mentored hunts

Sportsmen can also sign up for “mentored” deer, squirrel and turkey hunts. In a mentored hunt, program officials will pair experienced hunters with novices at least 19 years old. The partners will hunt together so the novice will learn woodsmanship skills from the experienced one.

“For the pilot program in 2017-18, 100 men and women applied,” Sykes says. “They ranged in age from 19 years old to 75. In the first six weeks of registration for the 2018-19 season, we had more than 250 applications including people from six other states. Everybody stays at the camp together and enjoys good fellowship.”

Besides hunting, AWFFD representatives teach the participants firearms safety and training, plus how to scout for game and other topics. If someone shoots a deer, participants learn how to track, find and finally process it to eat. In the evening, state officials present some seminars and everyone enjoys a wild game supper.

“For decades, every state has been doing programs to educate people and build its base of hunters,” Sykes notes. “Nationwide, hunting license sales are declining and have been for years. Our department gets its funding from hunting and fishing license sales, not the general fund. We looked at efforts on how to grow the hunting base. Most state agencies including ours offer youth hunting opportunities and special youth hunting seasons to recruit the next generation of hunters.

“We’re trying to connect with a segment of the population that’s kind of overlooked. Many young adults have made up their minds that they want to try hunting and usually have enough financing to continue doing it.”

Mentored hunts will take place in several SOAs and traditional wildlife management areas. At Portland Landing, participants can stay at a lodge on the property. For more on the Adult Mentored Hunts, see

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

Make cake while the moon shines

Illustration by Dennis Auth

The other day I got a copy of John Schlimm’s new book Moonshine: A Celebration of America’s Original Rebel Spirit. Really enjoyed it.

Now let me say, up front, that to my certain knowledge I have never drunk homemade whiskey. However, I have eaten it.

I’ll get to that in a moment.

      Get you a copper kettle

      Get you a copper coil

      Cover with new made corn mash

      And nevermore you’ll toil

Albert F. Beddoe, “Copper Kettle”

That bit of verse tells you a bunch. Schlimm tells you more. He tells how hardscrabble farmers saw making and selling whiskey as a way to supplement their meager incomes, and how prohibitionists, temperance advocates, revenue agents and other busybodies tried to stop them.

Think about it from the farmers’ perspective. Most everybody grew corn, so the market was flooded. But take that corn, convert it into alcohol and you have not only reduced the bulk, making it easier to transport, you have created a commodity for which there is a ready market.

“And nevermore you’ll toil.”

The result is a story of innovation, entrepreneurship, manufacturing and distribution, a tale filled with folk heroes and daring-doings. What can be more American than that?

Closer to home, it is also an Alabama story.

I grew up in a “dry” county that was surrounded by “dry” counties. Without getting into the convoluted history of prohibition in our fair state (I’ll save that for another column) it will come as no surprise that thirsty citizens of my county turned to moonshine, which was cheaper and more readily available.

It was cheaper because it was neither taxed nor regulated by state or federal governments.

Local authorities tried to suppress it, but to little avail.

I recall as a boy walking into the sheriff’s office in our courthouse and seeing scores of gallon jugs full of a strange, brownish liquid. (My Daddy’s office was next door, which is why I was allowed in.)

A deputy, seeing me staring, picked up one of the jugs, shook it, and watched the trash in it settle to the bottom.

“Tea leaves,” he said. “Put in there to give it color so they could sell it as bourbon.”

Which gets us to yet another reason not to touch the stuff. You never know what’s in it.

Some distillers were said to put horseshoes in the mash to give it iron. Others reputedly added snakeheads to give it bite.

And there is the cat that fell into the mash and gave a name to a Monroe County community – Cat Mash.

When copper coils were not available, innovative distillers would use car radiators, the lead from which would poison the drinker.

Little wonder that at one time along rural roads in the state were billboards that read “Moonshine kills.”

But moonshine also flavors.

It flavored the fruitcake in Truman Capote’s short story “A Christmas Memory.”

And in To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout reports that “Miss Maudie baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.”

Considering those literary endorsements, it is no wonder that in 2016 Alabama designated the Lane cake as the Alabama State Dessert (recipe on pp. 96-97 of Schlimm’s book).

So it was, and so it is, that moonshine has been part of our history ever since some of our sainted ancestors began running it off and selling it out. If you want to know more about it, and learn a whole bunch of ways to make it presentable to discriminating eaters and drinkers, John Schlimm’s book is a good place to start.

(MOONSHINE: A Celebration of America’s Original Rebel Spirit by John Schlimm, was published in September by Citadel Press, an imprint of Kensington Publishing.)

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist for Alabama Living. He can be reached at

Electricity grows cleaner

Electric co-ops have pioneered community solar programs, where members subscribe to a community project and the co-op installs a large array that is much less costly per kilowatt than smaller rooftop projects. Image Credit: Dan Husted (Lake Region Electric Cooperative)

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: We’re considering buying an electric vehicle and switching from a propane furnace to a heat pump. We care about the environment and are wondering if using more electricity would be beneficial.

A: The decisions about how to heat your home and how to fuel your transportation needs are among the most important environmental decisions you can make. There are a number of changes happening in the energy sector, and with electric co-ops in particular, that are making your electricity cleaner.

Decades ago, coal was the preferred fuel for electricity generation. As investments in environmental upgrades took hold, the energy industry increased the use of low sulfur coal, and found ways to clean the coal and burn it more efficiently. Scrubbers were installed in coal plants to reduce sulfur emissions, but even after these improvements were made, natural gas turbines were still considered environmentally preferable to coal plants. In 1990, utilities depended upon coal to generate more than half of their electricity, but by 2016, that dropped to less than one third.

The network of electric vehicle charging stations is growing rapidly.

In recent years, solar and wind generation have taken off and now provide more than 8 percent of utility energy generation. Electric co-ops have installed solar at a record pace, with solar capacity growing more than four times since 2015. Electric co-ops have pioneered community solar programs, where members subscribe to a community project and the co-op installs a large array that is much less costly per kilowatt than smaller rooftop projects. Nearly 200 co-ops offered community solar programs in 2017, and more than 500 co-ops across the country use electricity generated by wind power.

These statistics are national, but the environmental impacts of electricity depend upon where you live and where your electric co-op purchases electricity. Many co-ops publish this information on their website or in their annual reports on the sources of electric generation. Some include information on carbon emissions.

With all that in the back of your mind, let’s get to the decisions you are looking to make: home heating and vehicle purchase.

The heat pump you’re considering is a good option. Heat pumps are about 1.5 times more efficient than they were in the 1970s, and they’re functioning better in colder temperatures. Heat pumps take care of your cooling needs as well, and can do so with about half the energy they required in 1990. The best choice for home heating and cooling depends to a large degree on the climate where you live. In more extreme climates, you’ll need more heating or cooling capacity, and can justify splurging for the more energy efficient models.

As our energy supply becomes cleaner, electric vehicles are becoming a better environmental choice across the country. The environmental advantage depends upon how electricity is generated in different locations, and there are other factors to consider when looking at an electric vehicle. The fuel cost of an electric vehicle is, on average, half as much per mile as a gasoline vehicle. Electric vehicles generally require less maintenance, but the batteries eventually need to be replaced. Battery costs are dropping, but potential buyers should note this will still be a hefty bill. Electric vehicles cost more upfront than their gas counterparts, but the cost is coming down with every new model.

Improvements in the technology and state sponsored renewable energy requirements have encouraged the development of wind generation.

As you make your decision on a heating system and new vehicle, remember there are other things you can do to reduce the environmental impact of your energy use. You can insulate and seal the air leaks in your home. You can set the thermostat a little lower in the winter and a little higher in the summer. You can also check with your local electric co-op to see if they offer a community solar program or additional energy-saving tips.

I hope these ideas help you make your decision.

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to for more information.

Do you think your income-related Medicare premium is incorrect?

Medicare is our country’s health insurance program for people 65 or older. Certain people younger than 65 can qualify for Medicare, too, including those with disabilities and those who have permanent kidney failure.

If you’re a Medicare beneficiary who has been informed that you must pay more for your Medicare Part B or Medicare prescription drug coverage premium because of your income, and you disagree with the decision that you need to pay a higher premium amount, you may request an appeal. The fastest and easiest way to file an appeal of your decision is by visiting

You can file online and provide documents electronically to support your appeal. You can also file an appeal online even if you live outside of the United States. You may also request an appeal in writing by completing a Request for Reconsideration (Form SSA-561-U2) at

If you don’t have access to the internet, you can request a copy of the form by calling us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

Learn more by reading our publication Medicare Premiums: Rules for Higher-Income Beneficiaries at

Know someone who hasn’t signed up for Medicare yet? They can use our online Medicare application if they:

  • Are at least 64 years and 9 months old;
  • Want to sign up for Medicare but do not currently have ANY Medicare coverage;
  • Do not want to start receiving Social Security benefits at this time; and
  • Are not currently receiving Social Security retirement, disability, or survivors benefits.

Remind them that they should sign up for Medicare three months before reaching age 65, even if they are not ready to start receiving retirement benefits. They can opt out of beginning to receive retirement benefits now once they are in the online application. Then they can apply online for retirement benefits later.

You can learn all you need to know at and easily share these resources with family and friends.


Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at

Tasteful giving

By Stephanie Snodgrass

Brewton couple nourish bodies and souls at pay-as-you-can eatery

Freddie McMillan and Lisa Thomas-McMillan started their Brewton restaurant, Drexel and Honeybee’s, in 2016.

Lisa Thomas-McMillan and her husband, Freddie, are feeding the souls – and stomachs – of those in need, all for free at their Brewton restaurant, Drexel & Honeybee’s.

In Escambia County, the couple is well known for meeting the hunger needs of their community, with Lisa as the driving force through their non-profit, Carlisa, Inc. In their mission, they’ve fed college students, veterans, those at Thanksgiving and Christmas and any person in need. And they’ve never asked for a dime.

The mission

Lisa began campaigning for the hungry in 1995.

“People ask us all the time, ‘Why do you do it?’” Lisa says. “I can honestly say, it’s because God led us here.”

In 1995, Lisa was a cashier at the local Walmart when she ran into a woman having food problems. The conversation revealed 25 others in similar situations.

“That next morning, I started cooking 26 breakfasts and delivering them each morning,” Lisa says. “In my house, in my kitchen. I cooked, and it started something in me. I enjoyed it, and I realized that when you serve people, you feel good. I love that.”

From there, the mission grew. While visiting the local campus of Jefferson Davis Community College (now Coastal Alabama), she saw two students pooling change to buy food from the vending machines. Before long, Lisa was on site, serving up hot Sunday-style meals for students for donations.

For more than 10 years, she used community donations to stock the kitchen’s pantry, supplementing with purchases made from her own pocket.

In 2005, she walked to Washington to gain support for her campaign. She has also authored a book, Living Fulfilled: The Infectious Joy of Serving Others, which relates her journey to help others and is available on Amazon. And as if that wasn’t enough, she added free meals for veterans on Veterans Day and free community lunches on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.

“At the college, in my mind, I said, ‘I’d love to own a restaurant where people would pay what they could,’ but of course, I didn’t have any money,” she says. “But, God always provides.

“The thing about hunger is, you don’t know who’s going hungry,” she says. “You can’t see it on their face. You don’t know what’s in someone’s cabinet, or more importantly, what’s not.

“If you’re down and out and struggling, coming to a decent place and enjoying a hot meal can lift your spirit,” Lisa says. “It makes that person feel better about themselves. That’s what we do. Sit down here and no one cares what’s in your wallet. We want you to leave full – full of good food and good company.”

Serving it up

When Lisa heard about rock star Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen, the New Jersey community restaurant where diners can donate or volunteer to cover the cost of their meal, she found the blueprint for her Brewton location.

“I went on his website to see what I could learn, because I knew we could do it (in Brewton); I just knew it,” Lisa says. “We wanted it so bad, and we did it. We’re still working out the kinks, but we’ll get it down.”

It was 2016 when the no-pay restaurant idea took seed. This March, it bloomed inside the Lee Street location Lisa found while scouting locations for the community Thanksgiving meal. It took a year and a half to pay the $45,000 note. Then with a $20,000 grant from the Brewton City Council and “my Visa card,” the couple undertook the massive renovations.

“My husband said we had to get the building paid for before we started the renovations,” she says. “We did. It is everything I dreamed of. It’s a nice building and a nice place for people to come and eat. Anyone – no matter of their ability to pay – can eat at our table.”

And eat they do, enjoying a daily meat-and-three fare of oven-fried chicken, meatloaf, chicken pot pie, hamburger steak, BBQ ribs, fresh vegetables, rice, macaroni and cheese and more.

No cash, no problem

There are no prices posted in the building. Volunteers staff the restaurant and donated food – everything from canned vegetables and garden bounty to wares purchased from local grocery stores – fill plates. When it comes time to pay, diners are directed to a curtained area equipped only with a donation box.

“If you can give, give; if you can’t, don’t – we don’t care,” Lisa says. “That’s between you and God. We don’t worry about that. Freddie said we’re going to keep this restaurant going. We’re going to feed people. Period. We did have a problem with people hearing when you dropped change in the box, but a little fabric in the bottom of the box fixed that.”

To help with costs, the McMillans also accept tax-deductible donations through their non-profit, Carlisa, Inc.

“There is a hunger need in every community,” Lisa says. “Between March and September, we provided 12,200 meals. That’s a lot of food. We only ran out once. The hours are long; the cost is high, but it’s a calling for us. The notes people leave in our box tell us how much a need there is.

“I got one the other day that said, ‘Because of you, a family of four was able to eat today,’” she says. “That’s worth a million dollars to me – the notes like that. I’ve had people come in and say they only had $2. I made her keep that $2, but she left full. The stories like that, that means it’s a wonderful mission.

“My life is full. I get up at 5:30 a.m. I don’t hesitate, grumble that I don’t want to do it. I jump out of that bed, get ready and get on down here. I work until about 3:30 p.m. and know that it’s been a good day.

“I thank God that He gave me the chance, the strength and no ailments to be part of all the blessings He bestows when you reach out to help others,” she says. “This is a community thing. Everyone helps. Without our donations and our volunteers, we couldn’t make it. But we know it’s all worth it in the end.”

Drexel & Honeybee’s is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. and is located at 109 Lee St., Brewton.

Over the Moon (Pie)

A band leads the parade during MoonPie Over Mobile. Photo by Tad Denson

By Emmett Burnett

Mobile celebrates an iconic snack on New Year’s Eve

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a Moon Pie!

You heard me – a 12-foot, 600-pound electric pastry with enough LED lighting to guide ships at sea. As thousands cheer, the iconic cake of Carnival illuminates the past, shines on the future, and has a good time doing it.

This is MoonPie Over Mobile, the celebration that puts the happy in Happy New Year.

Randy Garvin, left, and Ryan Lambert, RSA employees, pose with the giant MoonPie during a summer inspection at the RSA Tower. The two men work the controls on New Year’s Eve night for the moon pie drop. Photo by Emmett Burnett

Now in year 11, the Dec. 31 spectacle blends Mardi Gras-like festivities with a Times Square ball drop. Overlooking it all is the mammoth simulated confectionary disc suspended from the top of the RSA Trustmark Tower, 34 stories above downtown Mobile. Meanwhile back on earth, the good times roll.

“Attendance depends on the weather,” says the event’s marketing director, Kinnon Phillips. “We have experienced New Year’s Eve nights that were freezing and then some like summer. But on a good clear evening, 50,000 people are possible.”

Understandably, a giant moon pie with embedded computers and synchronized lighting is a newsworthy event. The drop is seen on CNN, The Today Show, FOX News, Good Morning America, national magazines, a worldwide audience, and ships in the bay.

Kinnon adds, “As far as New Year’s Eve celebrations go, ours is definitely a unique item. Because of the originality, we receive a lot of national attention.” Yeah, it’s different all right. Take the world’s largest edible moon pie, for example.

As the giant electronic circular pasty is suspended above, its edible counterpart is distributed below. Like all moon pies, this one is produced by Chattanooga Bakery. Don’t try this at home.

Mobile’s concoction-in-the round is custom made for the party. It serves 190. Uncut, the crust-encased creamy filling weighs about 150 pounds with an estimated 45,000 calories – if served with Diet Coke.

“Typically we start slicing and serving around 8:30 p.m.,” Phillips says. “It kicks off the event.” But much more occurs on 2018’s final night.

The MoonPie Over Mobile’s midnight drop delights tens of thousands of fans on New Year’s Eve. photo by Tad Denson

More than the Moon Pie

At press time, final details were still unfolding about featured entertainment. Past headliners from all musical genres have included The Village People, .38 Special, Three Dog Night and last year’s George Clinton. Professional entertainers are great, but this is the people’s party.

Typically at least two parades meander through downtown Mobile, ending at Bienville Square. The main procession often features city leaders and special guests. The Second Line Parade includes anybody who wants to be in it.

Participants showcase their strutting skills or lack thereof. Everybody is either in the parade or watching it. Many folks take the opportunity to sign the Resolution Wall, a large banner where goal-driven scribes post hopes and wishes for the new year.

And then it happens. At midnight, moon pie magic begins. A chorus of Auld Lang Syne erupts. All eyes gaze skyward.

Most people have little idea about the behind-the-scenes endeavor of lowering a disc the size of a minivan down a building. It takes coordination, teamwork, and precise synchronization. It takes two men and a moon pie.

The crowd gathers at midnight at the annual MoonPie Over Mobile celebration, now in year 11. A New Year’s Eve tradition is the cutting of the world’s largest edible Moon Pie, which serves more than 100. Photo by Tad Denson

Atop the Trustmark Tower’s late night roof, Randy Garvin huddles in The Moon Pie Building. Beside him is the building’s namesake colossal disc, awaiting activation. Randy’s finger is on the button.

“As soon as I receive the ‘go’ signal, the moon pie starts its 69-second journey,” he says. “It takes 9 seconds to maneuver out of the building and 60 seconds to descend 475 feet, landing exactly at midnight.”

The moon pie is lowered by a track system of three steel cables: Each run through the frame, one on each side and one through the middle of the pie in the sky. The cable trio prevents it from swaying in the wind. And down it goes to the 6th floor landing spot cradle.

Ironically, Garvin, who is RSA’s building manager and has been the moon pie controller for all 11 years, has never seen it drop. “Once I press the button, it moves outside the building and suspends from its cradle. When the moon pie starts dropping I lose sight of it.”

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and City Councilman Fred Richardson are shown cutting the cake. Photo by Tad Denson

The other half of Team Moon Pie is Ryan Lambert, RSA infrastructure engineer. He monitors the event from a nearby building, also high above Mobile. From his perch, Lambert mans the laser light show, oversees fireworks and the Moon Pie drop. He gives Garvin the signal to let it go.

“It’s a really neat job,” Lambert says. “You can expect anything – heat, fog, freezing, every weather combination possible.” But he adds about coordinating the drop, “The key is communications – if communication breaks down, it could fall too late or not at all.” The drop flops.

But in 11 years, MoonPie Over Mobile has run relatively trouble free. It turns the pages of a fresh calendar the way it should be turned – with a glowing pastry above, shining on happy people below. A great start to a new year.n

Alabama’s primary care shortage is greater than thought

The federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) directs the determination of Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) in the United States.  According to data provided by HRSA in early 2017, Alabama needed an additional 157 primary care providers placed where the need was the greatest to provide only the minimum (not optimal) service that our population needed.

In determining primary care provider shortages, normally one-quarter of Alabama is reevaluated each year, taking four years to reevaluate the entire state.  However, HRSA requested a complete reevaluation in all states to be completed in late 2017.  Following this complete reevaluation in Alabama, it was learned that our shortage of primary care providers was much greater than was thought.  We needed 321 additional providers placed where the need was the greatest to meet the minimum needs of our population.  This shortage was more than double what had been thought.

The shortage of primary care providers is greater in our rural areas.   Of the 54 counties considered as being rural, only Coffee, Escambia, and the northern part of Covington County are considered to have the minimum service available.  Thirty-eight entire rural counties and five portions of other counties do not have the minimum level of primary care service available to serve the needs of the population.  Seven entire rural counties and four portions of other counties do not have enough primary care service available to meet the needs of the low-income or Medicaid population.

The shortage of primary care providers in our rural areas was already considered to be a crisis.  Knowing that the shortage is more than double what had been thought creates a situation requiring intense actions.  Especially considering the fact that a disproportionate number of our actively practicing primary care physicians are getting older and closer to retirement.  At the same time, our total population is aging, with chronic diseases that require more care increasing.

Alabama’s 2019 Legislative Session is going to be very important to the future of primary health care in this state – especially in rural areas.  Alabama must be innovative in better using our health care resources and technology.

A very innovative concept was proposed in House Bill 20 during the 2018 Legislative Session.  This legislation would have authorized the state to pay the tuition for 25 medical students in Alabama medical schools each year in return for a five-year obligation to practice in an underserved area following the completion of residency training.  This concept would produce a larger number of primary care physicians each year to deal more aggressively with our large primary care physician shortage.

HRSA has a local partner in each state to help gather local primary care practice information used in determining shortage areas.  This partner in Alabama is the Office of Primary Care and Rural Health in the Alabama Department of Public Health.  For determining shortage areas, primary care includes family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, and geriatrics.

For additional information on primary care shortage area determination, please visit or contact Alabama’s project director, Niko Phillips, at (334)206-3807 or

Dale Quinney is the founder of Operation Save Rural Alabama,, and a past director of the Alabama Rural Health Association