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Best of Alabama 2018

by Allison Law

Once again, we asked our readers to vote for their favorite places and things about our great state in our magazine’s Best of Alabama contest, for which we ran ballots in the August, September and October issues. We asked you to vote on your favorites – everything from seafood restaurants to small towns to the best articles you’ve read in Alabama Living. It’s likely no surprise that many of the winners are beach-related. Your favorite seafood restaurant was the Original Oyster House, with locations in Spanish Fort and Gulf Shores; your favorite souvenir was seashells, sand dollars or sand from our sugar white beaches. And your favorite day trip? Gulf Shores. But there were winners elsewhere in the state, too. For best burger, you liked the Jefferson Country Store (featured in our Worth the Drive section in 2016), and for best hiking place, you picked Oak Mountain State Park outside of Birmingham. There were some rather curious answers, too. For best burger, more than one of you responded with Burger King (we were really hoping for an Alabama-based restaurant). And for best living history experience, someone responded with “in college dorm room Troy State.” (He or she obviously had a very interesting collegiate career!) But perhaps the funniest responses were to the best Alabama souvenir question. One reader suggested a “redneck tan,” and another responded with “a full stomach from Peach Park.” (Peach Park, incidentally, was voted best ice cream in our 2017 contest!) Read on to learn more about our winners this year, and see if you agree with the winners.

Best seafood restaurant: Original Oyster House, with locations in Gulf Shores and Spanish Fort (on the Causeway)

The Original Oyster House Restaurant has been serving fresh seafood (in addition to a variety of steaks, chicken, salads and pasta dishes) in a casual, family atmosphere for more than 30 years. The first restaurant opened in 1983 in Gulf Shores with 60 seats and 10 employees; after multiple expansions, it now seats 300 and employs 130 people. The second location, on the Mobile Bay Causeway, opened in 1985 and has also expanded over the years to include a gift shop, boat dock, 300 seats, conference room and full-service banquet room. The causeway location is at 3733 Battleship Parkway/Highway 90 in Spanish Fort; call 251-626-2188. The Gulf Shores location on the boardwalk is at 701 Highway 59; call 251-948-2445. Visit them online at originaloysterhouse.com

Best Alabama-made burger: Jefferson Country Store, Marengo County

The Jefferson Country Store, located in the unincorporated Jefferson community, opened in 1957 and has been the heart of the area ever since. Besides selling the expected glass-bottle Cokes and Moon-Pies, the store has a small restaurant that offers such Southern house-made foods as pimento cheese, chicken salad and Brunswick stew. Regulars know to ask about daily specials and the “secret menu.” When a writer for Alabama Living visited the store in 2016, that secret menu item was the Firecracker Burger, a hefty beef patty topped with sliced red hots (sausages) and embellished with a thick slab of hoop cheese and jalapeno slices. Besides its kickin’ burgers, the store also offers specialty items, like souse and rag bologna from Alabama’s Zeigler meats, hoop cheese and ribbon cane syrup. And there are locally-sourced products like fresh vegetables and honey. Visit the store at 26120 Alabama Highway 28, Jefferson, Alabama. Call 334-289-0040 and find them on Facebook.

Best recipe from “The Best of Alabama Living” cookbook: Pecan Pie 

It’s hard to go wrong with a Southern classic like Pecan Pie. A recipe submitted by Memory Bush of South Alabama EC for the November 2014 issue of Alabama Living was selected for “The Best of Alabama Living” cookbook, published in 2016. Want the recipe, or any of the other 300 other delicious recipes in the book? It can be yours for $19.95, including shipping! Visit bestofalabamacookbook.com to place your order.

 

Best game to hunt/fish/trap in Alabama: Deer

White-tailed deer are the No. 1 game animal hunted in Alabama, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, so it’s no surprise that deer topped our list.  Approximately 180,000 deer hunters account for more than 4 million man-days of hunting activity annually and have a significant impact on the local economy of rural Alabama.

The harvest varies from year to year but hunters typically harvest in excess of 300,000 deer annually, according to the ALDCNR.

Best hiking/biking trail: Oak Mountain State Park

Mountain biking and hiking are two of the most popular activities at this state park in Pelham, with more than 50 miles of trails. The Red Trail has something for mountain bikers of any skill level, from kids or beginners to experts. The International Mountain Bike Association added Oak Mountain to its list of “epic rides” with just about every trail condition imaginable.

Hikers enjoy the White, Blue, Yellow, Green and Lake trails, which offer a variety of difficulties and several connectors to allow for loops. Trails are well marked with colored blazes and trail markers to help rescuers find lost or injured hikers. For more on any of the trails at the park (as well as the campgrounds and cabins), visit alapark.com or call 205-620-2520. 

 

 

Best historic hotel: The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel and Spa 

This eight-story beauty, opened in 1908, sits in the heart of downtown Mobile and has hosted politicians, royalty, entertainers and sports legends. The hotel fell on hard times and was closed in 1974, but was impeccably restored in 2007. The restoration incorporates its old-world glamour with modern amenities, including a full-service day spa, modern fitness center and outdoor pool. It’s connected to the 35-story RSA Tower, Alabama’s tallest building. The hotel is located at 26 North Royal Street in Mobile; call 251-338-2000.

Best “living history” experience: USS Alabama

The USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of the commissioning of its iconic ship. The park has long been considered a worthy tourist attraction, but over the last few years it has enjoyed a shift in focus to a restored-to-original-condition museum on water, its history meticulously researched. It’s also been modernized, with interactive kiosks and newly restored artifact exhibits from two World Wars, with more on the way. The park is located at 2703 Battleship Parkway in Mobile; call 251-433-2703 or visit www.ussalabama.com  

 

Best small town for unique shopping: Fairhope

The Baldwin County town of Fairhope enjoys a picturesque setting along the cliffs and shoreline of Mobile Bay, but it has more to offer than just pretty scenery. It’s long been a resort community, but over the years artists, writers and craftsmen have found the small town to be an inspiring haven for their work. When its downtown area began to decline in the 1970s, leaders decided to revitalize the town in the image of a quaint European village. Today, its vibrant downtown is filled with unique shops and galleries, gourmet restaurants and cozy cafes. Its high quality of life makes it attractive to visitors and residents alike. 

Best day trip in Alabama: Gulf Shores

This coastal city in Baldwin County is naturally famous for its beaches, but there’s plenty more to do here. Visitors come for the fishing and golf as well as land- and water-based activities, from hiking along the Branyon Backcountry Trail to kayaking through the back bays. And there are lots of family activities, including the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo and the Historic Fort Morgan.

Best Alabama souvenir: Seashells, sand dollars, sand (anything from the beach)

As much a tradition as sunburns and swimming, shopping for souvenirs at the beach is an inexpensive and fun way to create memories from a family vacation. Our readers answered mostly sand dollars and seashells, but you could just as easily include hermit crabs, T-shirts, beach towels and keychains. Next time you’re enjoying the Alabama beaches, boost the local economy a little more with a stop at a souvenir shop.

Best article you’ve read in Alabama Living in the last year: Hardy Jackson’s column on air conditioning (or the lack thereof)

In general, when we ask readers for their favorite part of the magazine, the answer is either the recipes or the musings of Hardy Jackson, humorist and essayist for several publications. You may not know that Jackson is an eminent scholar in history at Jacksonville State University, and has authored, co-authored or co-edited 11 books on various aspects of Southern history.

His column in the August 2017 issue posed the question, “Who Remembers Life Before A/C?” Jackson surely does: “Nights so hot that at bedtime you would take ice cubes, wrap them in a wash rag and hold them to your cheek or chest in the mistaken belief that if you could get one part of your body cold, the rest of you would cool down enough to let you sleep. “What you got instead was a wet pillow or wet sheets.”

Best thing about Alabama: The people

We’re heartened by this response – the idea that what makes our state great is, naturally, its people. But perhaps not surprisingly, running a close second and third to this question were food and football.

 


Baldwin EMC member wins Best of Alabama drawing

 

Ally Mills Dorrough was born and raised in Montgomery, but she has called Baldwin County home since 2012 and is a member of Baldwin EMC. And she loves Alabama Living magazine!

Alabama Living captures the heart of Alabama, telling stories of its people and places with passion,” Dorrough says. “I enjoy discovering hidden gems about our great state, from little known restaurants to recipe inspiration to interesting events and sustainable initiatives.”

Dorrough was the randomly drawn winner in the Best of Alabama contest. We ran a ballot in the August, September and October issues, asking readers to tell us their favorite places and things about our state. All eligible entries were entered into a drawing.

Because Dorrough entered the contest online, she wins $350! (Mailed entries were eligible to win $250.)

Dorrough lives in Foley with her family – husband Dan and children Olivia, 2, and Davis, five months. They love traveling, cooking, volunteering with their church’s youth ministry and anything to do with Auburn. “War Eagle!”

They also enjoy the laid-back lifestyle and hospitality of the Alabama Gulf coast.

“Plus, since this is a tourism-driven area, there is plenty to do on and off the beach!” she says.

Intentional gardening: Finding garden flow in 2018

had such good intentions when I sat down to write this month’s column.  I was going to create the perfect list of monthly gardening chores that would set us all on the path to a fun and productive gardening year.

After days and days of trying to create a list that works for every part of the state, though, I realized that my intentions were good, but impractical. How can one short list begin to address the diversity of Alabama gardens and gardeners, not to mention the many variables of gardening in this state such as local climates, soil types and weather patterns? That would require writing a book, not a column.

So, instead, I decided to make a list of intentional gardening strategies that can help us all focus on our personal objectives and, perhaps, find flow in our gardens rather than feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.

It all begins with questions.

The first set of questions is all about establishing your gardening goals:

  • What garden style do I want – formal, informal, natural, manicured, something else?
  • Do I want my garden to be ornamental, edible or a combination of the two?
  • Do I want a low maintenance or a high maintenance garden?
  • Do I want my garden to be interesting year-round or just during certain seasons?
  • Do I want a garden that attracts birds, butterflies and other wildlife, draws the attention of passers-by or does both?
  • Then answer some questions about the resources you have to put into a garden:
  • How much space do I have to garden in and do I want to expand or reduce that space?
  • How much time and energy can I commit to my garden?
  • How much money can I spend on my garden?
  • Is my garden area typically dry or wet, sunny or shady or a combination of these?
  • Do I have good soil in my garden or can I improve that soil?

Once you’ve answered these questions, here are some strategies to help keep up with your garden’s needs:

Walk through the garden as often as possible to look for problems, for chances to pick fruits, vegetables or flowers and to determine which areas and plants need immediate and/or long-term attention, such as watering, pruning, fertilizing and new or different plants.

Concentrate on one section of the garden each time you go out there to work, and don’t get distracted by other parts of the garden. You can save those for the next garden workday.

Finally, get your hands on one or more gardening guides (available online or in many books and magazines) that will help you organize your gardening plans with an eye toward your local needs. Two extremely helpful resources for our part of the world include the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Alabama Gardener’s Calendar (visit www.aces.edu and search for gardener’s calendar) and Month-by-Month Gardening — Deep South, a book written by Nellie Neal and published by Cool Springs Press. However, there are many other resources you can use so take some time to explore the options (and, by the way, January is a great month to stay inside and do just that).

Also, tap into the knowledge of local experts at garden centers, public gardens and Alabama Cooperative Extension System offices, attend some gardening workshops and seek advice from seasoned gardeners in your community or from garden club and plant society members and Master Gardeners.

Needless to say, there are many other things that can be added to these lists of questions and strategies, and the month-by-month list accompanying this column as well, but perhaps these will kick-start your own intentional gardening approach and help you find gardening flow and joy in 2018!

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com


Month-by-Month Gardening 2018

Because the exact timing of many gardening chores and opportunities varies in different parts of the state, here are some general guides for things we can all do in and for our gardens and yards each month.

January

  • Choose and order seeds, bulbs and plants for the coming year.
  • Do a soil test.
  • Plant trees and shrubs now and through the winter.
  • Start seed for winter or early spring crops indoors or in a cold frame.

February

  • Prune many trees and shrubs, though not spring-blooming species.
  • Begin grafting trees and shrubs.
  • Start seed for later spring vegetables, herbs and flowers.
  • Remove or treat winter weeds in the lawn and landscape.

March

  • Prepare garden beds for spring and summer planting.
  • Add fertilizer or other soil amendments recommended by soil test results.
  • Clean and service gardening tools, power equipment, irrigation systems, etc.
  • Start outdoor plantings of tender annual crops.

April

  • Begin moving hardy houseplants outdoors and repot any that have outgrown their containers.
  • Keep a close eye out for increasing pest, weed and disease problems.
  • Begin planting summer crops.   
  • Start regular lawn mowing and maintenance routines.

May

  •  Plant summer annual flowers
  •  Seed new lawns.
  •  Water lawns, newly planted shrubs, garden beds and potted plants as needed.
  •  Mulch newly planted shrubs.

June

  •  Take cuttings from shrubs for rooting new plants.
  •  Trim leggy limbs from shrubs to improve their shape.
  •  Remove spent blooms from most shrubs and other flowering ornamentals.
  •  Stake tall flowers and other plants to keep them from falling or blowing over.

July

  • Plant irises and spider lilies.
  • Sow seed for late summer and early fall vegetables and flowers.
  • Keep watering, mowing and weeding.
  • Plant seed for pumpkins and gourds.

August

  • Start planting fall vegetable seeds and transplants.
  • Divide clumps of perennials such as irises and daylilies.
  • Add organic matter to empty garden beds.
  • Keep planting late summer and fall annual vegetables and flowers.

September

  • Plant new trees, shrubs and wildflowers now and on through the fall.
  • Sow seed for leafy greens such as mustard, lettuce, turnips and collards.
  • Plant spring-blooming bulbs.
  • Take houseplants indoors.

October

  • Winterize and safely store lawn and garden tools and chemicals.
  • Clean out flower and vegetable beds and add organic matter to improve soil quality.
  • Keep planting new trees and shrubs.
  • Freshen mulch around shrubs and perennials.

November

  • Add fallen leaves to compost piles.
  • Start planting new roses.
  • Clean birdfeeders and baths and keep them filled for winter birds.
  • Water newly planted shrubs and trees and container plants.

December

  • Add lime to soils if needed (based on soil test recommendations).
  • Prune grape, wisteria and other ornamental or fruiting vines.
  • Plant blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and other small fruits.
  • Stop fertilizing houseplants.

WTD: 360 Grille

Culinary treats with a 360-degree view

by Allison Law


The 360 Grille, perched 20 stories up atop the tower of the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa in Florence, lures guests with its commanding views of the scenic Tennessee Valley and Wilson Dam.

The aptly-named eatery is the state’s only rotating restaurant. Food and beverage director Garien Shelby, who’s also the executive chef, first came to the 360 Grille as a patron. He brought his wife for a sunset dinner, and it was “spectacular.”

“It completely took my breath away,” he says.

The speed is generally set to allow for a 3-4 course meal in one full rotation, which is about an hour to an hour and a half. Patrons seated near the windows get the full 360-degree view in one meal, but the speed is slow enough that the rotation is neither distracting nor scary. (Interior seats are stationary.)

Its views are unparalleled, for sure. But Shelby wants people to have a culinary as well as a visual experience.

It has always been a fine dining restaurant, but made the transition to a steakhouse about a year ago. Steaks are the anchor – the Grille gets fresh beef delivered two to three times a week – but the chefs tinker with Southern staples to create other signature dishes, which are often seasonal.

“Our fish and grits is a popular dish. Our braised bison short rib is popular. We take some of the Southern flavors and incorporate them in more upscale and versatile items,” Shelby says.

The heirloom tomato salad is a play on a caprese salad, with freshly fried mozzarella, a fig balsamic reduction and a spinach pesto, instead of the regular basil pesto. “We just try to play with the classics and present them in a more elegant way, and take fun risks on certain pieces of the dish.”

The dessert menu features a baked Alaska, but made with red velvet cake and cream cheese ice cream. The s’mores are made with a graham cracker tulipe, a sour cream fudge cake, marshmallow ice cream and a toffee ganache over the top. “It has all those flavors our customers are familiar with, but with an upscale twist.” 

The Spring Vegetable Frittata, on the Sunday brunch menu, features goat cheese, scallions and fresh vegetables.

The Grille also gets fresh seafood twice a week, and sources items locally when possible. For example, the butternut squash risotto features local squash.

In the last year, the Grille began a Sunday brunch, again with a seasonal menu. Among its most popular items is the chicken and waffles, which has become almost a staple in Southern restaurants. But the Grille uses a petit New York strip coated in rice flour, quick-fried to produce a crispy meat with a flavorful sauce.

It is fine dining – entrees are generally in the $20-$40 range – but there is a children’s menu, though with an upscale flair. The steak and frites, for example, is a petit filet with Parmesan fries.

The goal is not to have an intimidating menu, Shelby says. “We take our risks. But the goal is for our customers to look at the menu and be wowed, but also to be familiar with the things they see.”

The staff is trained to be able to answer any questions and explain ingredients or techniques that may be unfamiliar to guests. “Our menu is designed to have a conversation,” he says.

 

 

 

Go Slow

by Jennifer Kornegay

Food/photography by Brooke Echols

In addition to good taste, slow cookers give us the valuable gift of time.

In the South, our culture puts a premium on slow. Our speech slides out with a drawl. We take our time and do things at a laidback pace. So, at first glance, a kitchen device with “slow” in the name seems like the perfect match for this leisurely lifestyle. But we all know that’s not reality, the lifestyle anyway. Today, even down here, most of us are daily moving at break-neck speeds, trying to cram more into every single moment by multi-tasking on many levels. And the slow cooker absolutely fits this scenario. By promising to deliver a hot, tasty meal that requires minimum effort at the end of a long, hectic day, slow cookers are just as popular now as in their heyday in the 1970s. Some sources claim that in 2011, 83 percent of American households contained and used a slow cooker. But it’s not just the convenience that we love. The way they cook – low and slow – has a lot of tasty benefits. It gives us moist tender meats (even when we use cheaper cuts), drastically reduces the risk of burning or over-cooking food, and gives the flavors in any recipe time to truly come together. They’re highly versatile. While they were originally used mainly for savory main dishes, now you can prepare pretty much anything, including desserts, in slow cookers. Plus, they use a tiny amount of energy compared to other kitchen appliances, and as another added bonus (especially for Alabama!), they won’t heat up your entire kitchen. So we’ve established a slow cooker is the busy family’s very helpful friend. But maybe we should also take a cue from the way a slow cooker works: Be open to all kinds of possibilities; take the time to really connect with those around us; and step away from the hustle and hurry sometimes. Good things very often come slowly, and they’re usually worth the wait.


Cook of the Month:

Myra Johnson, Central Alabama EC 

Author Myra Johnson has taken her love of Tallassee, Ala., history and turned it into  several popular books, including a cookbook. She’s also got a long history with slow-cookers, leaning on their reliability and convenience for decades. “I used to commute to Montgomery for work for many years, so I used my Crock-Pot all the time. It made my days so much easier,” she said. She’s got countless slow-cooker recipes, but one of her all-time favorites is her Gumbo with Chicken, Sausage & Shrimp. “I love it because it really is so simple. Just throw everything in and forget it,” she said. “It’s also versatile. You can adjust the heat level by adding hot sauce or cayenne pepper if you want it spicy.” 

Very Easy Crockpot Gumbo with Chicken, Sausage & Shrimp 

  • 1 14.5-ounce can stewed tomatoes, undrained
  • 16-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 can okra and tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 pound skinless boneless chicken, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large sausage link, sliced
  • 1 14.5-ounce can reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 basil leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (I use coarse grind)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or less to your taste)
  • 1 bag frozen medium-sized shrimp, thawed (peeled and deveined without tails)
  • 4 cups hot cooked white rice

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, okra and tomatoes, chicken, sausage, broth, bell pepper, onion, celery, Cajun seasoning, garlic and basil, black pepper and hot pepper to slow cooker. Stir gently to combine everything. Cook on low about 2 hours. Add shrimp and cook another 30 minutes until shrimp is warm. Serve over cooked rice or mix the rice in the slow cooker just before serving.


Ham Potato Bake

  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons margarine
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1 soup can water
  • 1½ cups fully cooked ham, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Spray slow cooker with vegetable spray. Place potatoes in bottom of cooker, then add onion. In a medium-sized saucepan, soften margarine; remove from heat. Add flour, salt, pepper and mustard; mix until smooth. Combine water and celery soup, stir until blended. Add to the mix in saucepan and stir until smooth. Place pan over low heat and bring to a simmer. Remove immediately and pour over ham and potato mix in the slow cooker. Cover; turn on low setting and cook for 8-10 hours. When done and just before serving, sprinkle cheese over top of the mixture and stir until cheese is melted. Serve warm.

Peggy Key

North Alabama EC


White Chicken Chili

  • 2 cans white northern beans
  • 1 can mild Rotel
  • 2 cups diced chicken
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 package white chili seasoning

Combine all of the ingredients and cook on low for 8 hours and serve with cheddar cheese and tortilla chips.

Tina Hancock

North Alabama EC


Crock-Pot Beef Stew

  • 2 pounds stew beef
  • 5 or 6 potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4-6 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 3-4 celery stalks
  • ½ small onion, minced
  • ½ cup boiling water with 2 beef bouillon cubes dissolved
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • 1 can golden mushroom soup

Mix all ingredients together in slow cooker and cook on low at least 8 hours.

Charles Boenig

Baldwin EMC


Crock-Pot Red Beans and Sausage

  • 4 15-ounce cans kidney beans (light or dark)
  • 2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 pounds Conecuh sausage (or your choice)
  • 1 package smoked turkey necks
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • Garlic powder, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper

Pour 4 cups of water into Crock-Pot, add smoked turkey necks and turn on low setting. While the turkey necks are on, chop sausage, bell peppers and onions. Let turkey necks cook for about 2 hours. Open and drain water off beans and tomatoes and add to the crockpot. Add in sausage, peppers and onion. Sprinkle in salt, pepper, garlic powder and crushed red pepper. Season to your liking. Continue to cook on low for 6-8 hours. Great with rice and Mexican cornbread.

Sharlene Parker

Baldwin EMC


Coming up in February…Spicy foods!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

March: Honey | Jan. 8

April: Bread | Feb. 8

May: Junior Cooks | Mar. 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.

40 Years after the Kopper Kettle explosion

Eyewitness recalls blast that demolished downtown Auburn

by Lindsay Penny

A gas leak caused the explosion in January 1978 that destroyed the Kopper Kettle restaurant and several nearby businesses. Photos courtesy Auburn University archives

Jan. 15, 1978 was a quiet Sunday in downtown Auburn.

At that time, Auburn was a sleepy little village still on the cusp of the economic boom it would see years later.

The streets were empty as Jim Patterson, an Auburn student, made his way from his apartment on Thach Avenue to St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church on nearby Magnolia Avenue to catch the morning worship service.

Photos from the ground after the Kopper Kettle restaurant at the corner of E. Magnolia and N. Gay Street exploded in the morning hours of January 15th, 1978.

A second later, he hit the ground.

At 8:13 a.m., the Kopper Kettle, a restaurant located in the heart of downtown Auburn, exploded due to a gas leak, taking out several neighboring businesses and shaking the town to its core. The blast left more than 70 businesses damaged, and one small town reeling.

“I immediately fell to the ground, and when I looked up, there were huge pieces of buildings so far up in the sky, I couldn’t believe it,” says Patterson.

After the dust settled, concerned for the well-being of the church congregation, Patterson made his way through the rubble to St. Dunstan’s.

The Rev. Rod Sinclair was preparing for the 8:30 a.m. service when the explosion happened, knocking him to his knees. He thought a small plane had crashed into the downtown area.

“It was just like the movies you see on TV where there is a big explosion, the building rocks and all the windows start moving around,” Patterson says. “It was just an incredible experience.”

Shortly after the explosion, chaos ensued as volunteers, police, firemen and state officials were on the scene to determine the cause of the explosion as they prepared for the worst, searching the rubble for fatalities.

Miraculously, there were none.

“A large part of the street was gone from the Kopper Kettle on down Magnolia,” says Patterson. “Many of the businesses had not opened yet, but there were students living in apartments above those businesses. That was the concern; nobody knew where they were at.”

Much to everyone’s relief, not a single person was killed that day and no life-threatening injuries were sustained. Students were away from their apartments, cars were halted at just the right stoplight, and churchgoers, like Patterson, were just beginning to emerge. The restaurant was closed at the time of the blast, according to a report by ABC News.

Investigators determined the gas leak blast was equivalent to multiple tons of TNT exploding.

Another witness, a Vietnam veteran, said that it was the most devastating aftermath he had witnessed since returning from the war.

“It’s a memory I’ll never forget,” says Patterson. “At that time in 1978, Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ was a big hit. I can say that I was rocked by the song and also by the Kopper Kettle.”

The Kopper Kettle made national headlines that night as word spread about the freak accident in a small Alabama town.

“We were all so grateful that there were no fatalities,” Patterson says. “Everyone in the community really came together that day. I’m so thankful Auburn was small and slow back then. If this had happened today, it would be a much different outcome.”

Two weeks after the explosion, at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, Sinclair gave a sermon fittingly titled “Explosions,” recognizing the outpouring of camaraderie and grateful spirits exhibited in Auburn following the blast. Sinclair and his wife, Louise, now live in Charlottesville, Va.

By the early 1980s, the block was rebuilt and the evidence of the blast was gone.

The familiar greasy spoon that once stood on the corner of Gay Street and Magnolia Avenue did not make a return, but it will forever be remembered by Auburn students and residents.

In fact, shortly after the Kopper Kettle’s demise, an Auburn student wrote and recorded the local radio hit “The Kettle’s Gone,” a take-off on the country hit “The King is Gone.” Commemorative T-shirts were printed and sold, and Auburn graduates still recall exactly where they were the day of the Kopper Kettle explosion.ν

Editor’s note: Patterson is a retired diplomat with the U.S. Department of State and resides in Washington, D.C. He lived near the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and says as his windows shook from the plane crash, he thought back to that January day in 1978.