Fort Payne, Alabama, is known by many as the home of the supergroup Alabama, and for many years as the “sock capital of the world.” But travelers and residents alike know it as the home of a popular restaurant, Vintage 1889 Café, which operates right next to an equally popular antique mall.
Owner Lynn Brewer’s involvement with Vintage 1889 actually began in October 2011 with the opening of the Big Mill Antique Mall. Her husband, Fort Payne dentist Dr. Stephen Brewer, had owned the 1889 National Historic Registry building, formerly the home of the W.B. Davis Hosiery Mill, since the 1990s.
(Some history: The building had been constructed in 1889 by Alabama Builders Hardware Manufacturing Co. to make ornate bronze and iron designs for new homes being built by northern investors who’d moved south in the “boom days” of coal and iron. As that era declined, the hosiery industry began to take off, and the Davis Hosiery Mill was one of more than 100 mills in the area that employed more than 7,000 people for decades, making more than half the socks in the United States. But the trade agreements of the 1990s that lowered tariffs on textile imports essentially put many of the sock mills, including Davis, out of business.)
The Davis Mill building “had been opened as an antique mall before, but closed earlier that year (2011),” says Lynn, who is also a member of the Fort Payne City Council. “There was also a restaurant area that had been open as a deli, but was also closed. The plan was to rent the restaurant out, but after two failed attempts, my husband and I decided I should also open the restaurant.” So in September 2013, Vintage 1889 was born.
For Lynn, it wasn’t totally unfamiliar territory. Her father had opened the first fast food restaurant in Fort Payne in 1963 and was known for his famous “Bonanza Burger.” Fittingly, burgers are a staple on the Vintage 1889’s menu. Diners can choose from the Vintage Burger, lean ground beef served on a pretzel bun with house sauce, spring mix, tomato, onion and pickle, or a Black & Blue Burger, with added blue cheese crumbles, or the Goat Cheese Pesto Burger with goat cheese crumbles and house pesto. There’s even the Jessy Burger, a ground beef patty squeezed between three donuts, topped with cheese, bacon, sauce and balsamic reduction.
“We were voted the best burger in town,” says Lynn. “That would have made my Dad proud.”
The original menu, which is now the lunch menu, “was built around the premise of my grandmother’s sandwiches she made me as a child,” she says. “Most sandwiches have a family connection. My nana was always trying something new, so I took those sandwiches and put a new twist on them.”
Accordingly, Nana’s Roast Beef sandwich is a popular lunch entrée, with fork-tender roast beef, grilled red onion, gruyere and blue cheeses, topped with horseradish sauce on a ciabatta roll. The Vintage Cuban (smoked pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and homemade Cuban sauce on a telera roll) and Brittany’s Club (white meat chicken, ham, bacon, cheddar and swiss cheeses, special sauce, spring mix and tomato on ciabatta) are two other favorites. There is also an assortment of salads.
The dinner entrees include more crowd-pleasers, from Vintage Style Shrimp & Grits made with local sausage in the tasso gravy, to the 8-oz. filet mignon. Dinner is also when the bar business gets hopping, as the restaurant is committed to supporting as many local breweries as possible.
“We sell a lot of Back Forty Beer (made in Gadsden), Rocket Republic (Huntsville) and Straight to Ale (Huntsville), both bottle and draft,” says Lynn. “There are more, but it depends on the season and what beers are selling in the area.” She also likes to spotlight local and visiting musicians to provide live music.
The décor of the restaurant, with its old brick and vintage photographs and artwork, add to the rustic charm and echo the bounty of antique and artisan wares awaiting perusal next door at the Big Mill. Weather permitting, diners also can sit outside in the courtyard, underneath the old water tower, and there is a large special event venue, the Boarding Room, available for large groups and parties.
Vintage Café and Big Mill Artisans & Antiques
151 8th Street NE
Fort Payne, AL 35967
Monday-Wednesday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.