Learn all about the tasty eats at Mossy Grove School House
By Jennifer Kornegay
School is back in session, and no matter your age or current education level, I’d like to suggest that you get on back to school, too, with a visit to Mossy Grove School House Restaurant in Troy, celebrating its 30th anniversary this December. You won’t need to bring books or pencils with you, just your appetite.
Founded in 1856, Mossy Grove School was the first thing to occupy the original one-room structure that sits beneath two mammoth trees, their branches dripping with silver-gray curls of Spanish moss. The large dining room, now hosting hungry tummies instead of hungry minds, was built onto the side in 1917. Only three years later, in 1920, area schools consolidated and Mossy Grove School closed. Over the next few years, the building was used as a community center for special events like town meetings and church functions. In the ‘30s, the land and building reverted back to the original estate (the family who’d deeded the land over to the school), and a Mr. William Bradley lived in the school house until World War II. For three decades afterwards, it was rented out as a house. In its long lifetime, the space has been a hay barn and a funeral home, too.
For the last 29 years though, it has been a restaurant, welcoming folks from all over the Southeast with the charm of its country-living atmosphere and the deliciousness of its simple, down-home food. Much of the schoolhouse look is still intact, including the stage from which Mossy Grove’s teachers once instructed their students.
Current owner Katie Romero has run Mossy Grove for six years; she bought it from her aunt, who owned it for 15 years, and according to her, most of the regulars at Mossy Grove have been coming in to eat for years.
They come and come back for the fluffy, crispy hushpuppies waiting for them warm on the table. A bowl of white beans to be shared family style is there too, as is a chunky, spicy-sweet pepper relish. The relish’s rich burgundy hue splashed atop a plate of milky pale beans looks as good as it tastes. It tastes so good, in fact, that Romero has started making extra and selling it in pints at the register.
Mossy Grove is best known for its Southern farm-raised catfish, which you can get fried (whole or in filets) or lemon-broiled. Romero loves the well-seasoned but delicate flavor of the lemon-broiled fish but also favors the charbroiled chicken fingers and the steaks. “We cut the steaks fresh in house every day,” she says. And the accompanying steak sauce is wildly popular. The thin, tangy, black-as-night condiment is homemade from a secret recipe that Romero refused to discuss, even if only to rule out guesses on ingredients. “Worcestershire sauce?” “Balsamic vinegar?” Peppered with these questions, the friendly proprietor’s face goes as blank as a schoolhouse slate.
I went with the smoked pork chop and sweet potato fries. Thick and juicy, the chop boasts deep smoke flavor. A little cup of brown sugar cinnamon butter intended for fry dipping goes equally well with the pork, its sweetness cutting the chop’s saltiness.
The restaurant is also famous for a confectionary creation called Mossy Grove Dessert. It’s a frosty combination of whipped cream, graham cracker crust and either chocolate, caramel or butterscotch (or all three) that I didn’t have the pleasure of tasting, since by 6:30 p.m. (dinner starts at 5), there wasn’t a bite left on the premises. Romero said that’s not unusual; on the days they make it, it always sells out early, and some people are so disappointed, they can’t even enjoy their dinner. “I have had people come in to eat and ask if we have any Mossy Grove Dessert left,” Romero says. “If I say ‘no,’ they leave!”
One obvious reason Mossy Grove has repeat business is the food, but another draw may be Sylvia Hughes, a waitress at Mossy Grove who’s been there since the beginning. With a quick smile and quicker moves dashing around delivering dishes to waiting customers, she’s obviously a favorite fixture at the establishment, swapping jokes with diners and even quieting fussy babies. “She’s not a waitress,” Romero says. “She’s the waitress.” And “the waitress” could certainly teach some of the staff in other Alabama restaurants the true definition of service.
If you’re not above learning new lessons either, grab a seat by the big blackboard at Mossy Grove, and let them teach you a thing or two about an enjoyable evening eating out.
Mossy Grove School House Restaurant
1841 Elba Highway, Troy
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.