By Stacey Patton Wallace
As I have stated many times, I absolutely LOVE living in Lee County. I believe if you can’t be in Heaven yet, Lee County is the best place to wait until the Good Lord calls you home.
However, Mike and I hadn’t gone on a vacation since September 2019 because of the pandemic, and we had a severe case of cabin fever. Therefore, exactly two weeks after we had received our second COVID-19 vaccine shot from the wonderful people at Thomas Pharmacy in Opelika, we hit the road to our favorite beach in the world — Orange Beach, Alabama.
Before the pandemic, Mike and I really enjoyed traveling, and we were blessed to see some very beautiful beaches: Waikiki Beach in Hawaii, which boast Diamond Head, an extinct volcano; Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where the movie, “Jaws” was filmed; Kennebunkport, Maine, which had beautiful, and unusual, charcoal gray sand, formed from volcanic rock; and Prince Edward Island in Canada, which had reddish colored sand.
However, as you know, I’m an Alabama girl, and to me, nothing compares to the beaches of Alabama – Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. That deep blue Gulf water meeting the pristine, dazzlingly white sand is one of God’s most beautiful creations, in my opinion. Also, Mike and I prefer to spend our money in Sweet Home Alabama.
Therefore, on May 11, we happily began our journey to the beach. Of course, the weather had been perfect the week before our vacation and was to be great on Friday, the day we were to leave. But, you guessed it: the four days we had chosen to vaction were to be cloudy and rainy. Undaunted, we rode down I-85 and then I-65, and the rain held back. However, when we reached Atmore, torrential rain pounded our car.
We had a big breakfast before leaving home, so we planned to have an amazing “snack” at Burris Farm Market and Bakery in Loxley. Our family always stops at Burris on our way to the beach. They have wonderful, local produce for sale. However, my favorite part is the bakery. Big surprise.
Mike chose his favorite dessert, cheesecake with strawberries. I will point out that he never offered me a bite. No matter. I chose warm, pecan cobbler with soft serve vanilla ice cream. Oh, my. It was amazing. I was proud that I ate less than half of this delectable dessert, unselfishly offering Mike multiple bites. However, I really wasn’t being good; I just didn’t want to end up in a diabetic coma at the Baldwin County Hospital on my first day of vacation.
When we arrived at our condo, the rain had finally stopped. In fact, it didn’t rain on Wednesday, as predicted, and the sun came out on Thursday. Mike, bless his heart, has chronic back pain, and he had just driven for five hours. Feeling rough, he insisted that I go down to the beach; he knew I couldn’t wait to put my feet in that water. When that cold Gulf water hit my feet, it was a shock and a thrill. I thanked God that he was letting us visit our second favorite place on earth once again.
The next day, we decided to try a place that our friend William had recommended: the Ruby Slipper Café, which is located at 24151 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach. The restaurant is open for breakfast, brunch and lunch.
Roy, our server, was terrific, as was Jeff, the general manager, who had only held the position for five days. They were kind, friendly and attentive.
We ordered a particularly tasty appetizer: fried green tomatoes topped with lettuce, red tomatoes, remoulade and bacon-onion jam. We would have licked the plate, but our parents taught us better.
For his entrée, Mike chose the Biscuits & Gravy, which included two huge buttermilk biscuits covered in Swaggerty’s Country Sausage Gravy. The meal also included two eggs any style, fried green tomato and applewood-smoked bacon.
I picked the Cinnamon Swirl Buttermilk Pancakes, which were filled with cinnamon and sugar and topped with cream cheese icing. Too. good. for. words.
Thankfully, the protein in the applewood-smoked bacon blocked a carb or two.
The Ruby Slipper Café will DEFINITELY be one of our regular beach restaurants.
We spoke to Chris, the Ruby Slipper Café’s corporate facilities manager. He was very kind and told us that Erich, the owner of the restaurant, was an Auburn alum.
I was happy to support a fellow Auburn grad and told Chris to tell Erich that he needs to open up a Ruby Slipper Café here in Lee County; it would be the fifth one in Alabama. I will happily be their first customer.
Mike and I ALWAYS eat at two places at the beach: the Original Oyster House and the Gulf Shores Diner.
The Original Oyster House is our favorite seafood restaurant in Baldwin County.
Mr. Rodgers (Buster) was our server, and he was a delight. As usual, Mike and I both ordered a cup of their delicious gumbo. The restaurant serves huge portions, so believe it or not, Mike and I SPLIT the Captain’s Choice; it included shrimp scampi, fried flounder, boiled shrimp and baked stuffed crab. Our two sides were French fries and cheese grits. Everything tasted great.
It is customary for us to eat at the Gulf Shores Diner for breakfast on our way back home. Mike chose French toast with bacon, while I picked a ham and cheese omelet with extra crispy bacon. Protein over carbohydrates for a change; hurrah! As always, this comfort food was amazing.
This trip to the Gulf Shores Diner was very special. Our server Bella was wonderful. Once again, we got to meet the restaurant’s owner, Arwa Abdelqader, who was Bella’s aunt. Arwa was originally from Jerusalem. She was so sweet and kind.
She told us she had been in the United States for 28 years, the last six in Alabama.
“I love Alabama; The people are so friendly,” Arwa said. She also said that she insisted on learning English when she moved to the U.S. because she knew she would need to be able to speak to her children’s teachers, employees, customers, etc. I told her that Mike and my ancestors were also immigrants and that people like her have made our country the great nation it is. Traveling is so wonderful, not only because of the places you see but also because of the people you meet. I hope y’all have safe travels to our beautiful Alabama beaches very soon.
The Ruby Slipper Café, the Original Oyster House and the Gulf Shores Diner all make the grade with A+s 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 email@example.com