Making the Grade: On the Road to Gadsden and Huntsville

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PHOTOS BY MIKE WALLACE

Stacey Patton Wallace

A few weeks ago, my husband Mike and I went on our second trip since September 2019. This time, we traveled to Huntsville, Alabama, to visit our dear friend Tanya and to go to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center for the first time in several years.

  Tanya is one of the most wonderful Christian women whom I have ever had the privilege of knowing. She taught for 26 years in Alabama and then taught with us at Long Cane Middle School in LaGrange, Georgia, for 10 years. Thirty-six  years of teaching. Tanya is a REAL woman, and they don’t come any better.

  I was blessed because Tanya taught on my 6th grade team for nine years, and we became good friends, sharing a lot of great times, laughter and stories. For example, once when it was field day, Tanya said to her homeroom students, “Today is field day, and we’re going to win with grace, or we’re going to lose with grace.” A student raised his hand. “Yes?” asked Tanya.

“Who’s Grace?” he asked. You can’t make up this stuff. Six graders are so funny, and they don’t even realize it. I really miss my kids quite a lot.

  Tanya retired from teaching in Georgia in 2016 and moved to Huntsville to be near her family. Mike and I hadn’t seen her since before the pandemic hit. We traveled to her lovely home and visited with her for several hours. Those hello and goodbye hugs from my friend were priceless. It’s so wonderful to get to hug the people you love. I will never again take that for granted.

  On the way to Huntsville, we dined at Pruett’s Bar-B-Q in Gadsden. I am a fan of Rick Bragg, a fellow Alabamian and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Bragg has also written several books and writes for various magazines. He currently teaches writing at the University of Alabama, but I don’t hold that against him. Nobody’s perfect, except the Lord. I’m just joking because I’m an Auburn grad. Don’t email my boss. Mike and I are even going to hear Bragg speak at the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center at Auburn University later this month.

  In one of his articles during the pandemic shutdown, Bragg wrote about what he wanted to do when businesses opened again. He said he wanted to go to eat at Pruett’s Bar-B-Q. He planned to go on a Monday when the special was meatloaf, and he talked about how good the food was at Pruett’s. Bragg’s a great writer, in my opinion. I felt that he would know good Southern cooking, and that if it’s good enough for a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, it’s certainly good enough for me.

  We went to Pruett’s on a Tuesday. Melissa, our waitress, was a real sweetie, so kind and attentive. Mike ordered the Tuesday special: chicken and dumplings. Mike really loves this dish. In fact, years ago, he ate three bowls of my Mama’s chicken and dumplings. He weighed himself after the meal and found that he had gained THREE pounds. Obviously, the man loves this entrée. For his sides, Mike chose pinto beans and a baked sweet potato.

  I ordered Grandma’s on-the-bone fried chicken (surprise, surprise) with fried squash and fried okra. I think you can see the “fried” theme here. The menu said that the wait time on the fried chicken was 25 to 30 minutes. Believe me: It was worth the wait. All of our meal was delicious.

Pruett’s also gets extra points for having Diet Dr. Pepper, my favorite drink.

  For dessert, Mike ordered the lemon icebox pie, and I chose the banana pudding. Pruett’s banana pudding wasn’t made from some instant pudding mix. It was the real deal and tasted like my Mama’s banana pudding. Oh, my two times. Mike’s pie was also very tasty.

  While we were waiting for my chicken to fry, we met a sweet, local lady named Carol, who sat at the table next to us. Carol said that she was well known at Pruett’s. She said, “The fried chicken’s so good here, I don’t fry chicken at home any more. I once ate here five times in one week. It’s that good.”

  To me, one of the best things about traveling is meeting great people like Carol, and Sweet Home Alabama is blessed with a lot of terrific people. Carol asked me to mail her a copy of this review. Carol, thanks so much for visiting with Mike and me. You are our kind of people. I hope you enjoy reading this.

  Pruett’s Bar-B-Q is located at 1617 Rainbow Dr. #5380 in Gadsden. The restaurant is open on Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. and is closed on Sunday. If you’re traveling up our beautiful state, stop and eat at Pruett’s. It is DEFINITELY worth the trip. Tanya, sweet friend, this one was for you. Love you bunches.

  Pruett’s Bar-B-Q makes the grade with an A+ from this retired English teacher. Remember, “Pooh-sized” people NEVER lie about food. Enjoy!

  Stacey Patton Wallace, who retired from teaching language arts for 30 years, is a professional diner. Her column, “Making the Grade,” will appear each week in the Observer. Stacey may be reached at retiredlangartsteacher2020@gmail.com

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