Since coming to Alabama in September, I’ve been looking for unique places to visit, things to do and places to shop and eat.
I’ve met interesting people (Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh tops the list so far, along with Anniston City Schools Board President Robert Houston).
I’m listening to all the local radio and television stations, adding a few to my favorites. I see why everyone likes weatherman James Spann in Birmingham and look forward to his work in the spring tornado season.
Being a sports enthusiast, I’ve gone to some high school football games and can’t wait for college basketball season to start at Jacksonville State. (I’ve been a women’s basketball fan since the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Tech were powerhouses in the 1970s.)
I really wish I could find a little-bitty country place to listen to music and dance the two-step. (Not that I’m very good at it.)
So far, I have been impressed with what I have seen after coming to Anniston from Columbia, Tenn., outside Nashville. There’s more to do in Nashville these days than New Orleans. I was never at a loss for things to do.
But I’ve found lots of cool things here during my six weeks of exploration. I honestly can say I’m not homesick for the Volunteer State, thanks to your Southern hospitality.
A few of my favorites so far:
1. Café Korea, 1014 U.S. 431 N, Anniston: I was surprised and delighted to find this gem right across the highway from my office.
Trip Adviser has this listed as the No. 17 restaurant in Anniston out of 50. I would make it No. 1.
Here’s why: When you go inside and taste the food, it seems like a secret no one else knows about. Occasionally, I’ve seen more than 10 people inside for lunch, but not often.
The owner, Kyong Yun, cooks lunch and dinner orders. She’s a sweet Korean woman (of course) who likes to greet her customers since taking over the restaurant three years ago. The paintings of ordinary Korean life on the restaurant’s wall set the mood for an authentic meal.
Order the beef bulgogi off the lunch menu. Order the sam gyeop sal (Korean bacon) off the dinner menu. If you like appetizers, try the yaki mandu.
You can thank me later.
2. Steve Stevens on 97.9 FM radio in Oxford: This guy cracks me up with his style, enthusiasm and sense of humor.
Stevens, 53, has been on the air here since 1996, and I found him the first morning I was here, driving in to work. The dial just happened to be on WVOK, 97.9 FM, in Oxford.
I looked up Stevens in the Star’s archives and found out he’s been the morning DJ since 2001.
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, morning radio, because it’s so fun,” Stevens said in one interview.
With his co-host, Julie Daniels, he makes mornings fun. I’m lucky (literally) to have found him.
If you’ve never heard of Stevens, he’s on mornings from 6-9 a.m. Not every segment is hilarious, but when Steve knows he’s onto something good, he’ll tickle your funny bone and start your morning better than a cup of coffee.
3. Anniston Museum of Natural History, 800 Museum Drive, Anniston: This is a treasure, and not just for a city this size.
My first tour through the wonderful facility was punctuated by the same repeated comment from my sweetheart: “Did you see this!?”
We saw everything from dinosaur bones to Egyptian mummies. If you like dinosaurs, and I do, the museum has models of an Albertosaurus (at least 20 feet tall) and a pteranodon (with a wingspan of 23 feet, or about three times as wide as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s).
The exhibits were first rate, well worth the price of admission or investment in a year-long pass. I liked the rare and extinct birds and the ecological history of Alabama.
More than 60,000 visitors come to the museum per year. I see why.
4. International Motorsports Hall of Fame, 3366 Speedway Blvd., Talladega: If you have fond memories of NASCAR in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, you’ll enjoy touring this Hall of Fame near the Talladega International Speedway.
The showstoppers inside include cars from NASCAR legends Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt to Jimmie Johnson and the fictional Ricky Bobby.
The Hall of Fame shows signs of wear and tear. It opened in 1982. The lack of interactive displays and audio and video dulls exhibits compared to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.
A former Birmingham sportscaster, Mike Raita, has taken over as executive director. He’ll be raising money in the months to come to revive the experience. He told me wants to put them in context and a more logical order.
I was thrilled to see the Budweiser Rocket and Richard Petty’s No. 43 stock car from two of his championship seasons. The Rocket once reached a speed of 739.666 mph. Petty never went that fast, but he was the most dominant racer in any racing series, period.
A bus tour of the neighboring Talladega Superspeedway is available. The superspeedway has changed significantly since 2019. It’s more fan-friendly for spectators, with lots of opportunities to see the teams and drivers up close during race weeks.
5. The Outlet Shops of Grand River, 6200 Grand River Parkway, Leeds: NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley says there’s nothing in Leeds, the town where he grew up. Or there wasn’t until this outlet mall opened.
He was right about his childhood, but since the opening of this designer outlet mall in 2010, it has grown to 66 stores.
I admit I like to shop. Not really for myself, but for my sweetheart, friends and relatives. This place has great values in nearly every store. Nike was selling $150 shoes for $29.99 last weekend. Kate Spade had $500 coats on sale for $119.99.
No one can afford to shop here every weekend. We need local landmarks, such as Wakefield’s and Calhoun Pickers, for local bargains. But it’s fun to visit all the shops and find specials on a short, 45-minute road trip.
A drive-in theater on the property has four screens. If you haven’t been to a drive-in since the 1970s, it’s a nice diversion from Netflix.
My only suggestion: The outlets need a better food court. Burger King and Sbarro are fine, but how about Shake Shack or Panda Express? Just sayin.’
6. Rick’s Crossroads Grille, 48278 U.S. 78, Lincoln: There are many reasons to go to Rick’s for lunch or dinner. But the compelling reason comes down to prime rib on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
For only $14.95, you can enjoy the best prime rib we’ve had in a long time, along with two sides. The standard cut weighs in at 10 ounces. You can add more for $1.75 per ounce.
We ordered the prime rib with oysters, and it was a nice blend of surf and turf.
We kept hearing about Rick’s from people over and over again. Since it was only a 20-minute drive from our front door, we went around 8 p.m. one Saturday night. We were warned to go late or early to avoid the crowds.
7. Chef T’s, 4004 U.S. 431, Anniston: I thought Cracker Barrel and Waffle House had the best breakfast in every Southern town.
I’ve found a better place.
The restaurant looks like one of TV’s “diners and dives” on the side of the highway. When you go inside, it’s nice and comfortable, with plenty of space. The service is fast and friendly.
I always order the two-egg omelet (sausage and cheese or bacon and cheese) with hashbrowns and biscuits. You should add sausage gravy. Delicious.
8. Choccolocco Park, Oxford: I never have seen anything like it.
The lake and walking path make it easy to exercise in a beautiful setting. The sports amenities look second to none.
I’m looking forward to using the disc golf course and watching the Ohio Valley Conference and National Junior College Athletic Association National softball tournaments in 2021. Softball is my favorite spring sport.
For the last two weeks, bales of hay have been laying in a field next to the park. I’ve taken enough fall pictures to last for the next five Thanksgivings.
The Festival of Lights, meanwhile, opens Nov. 21 and runs through Dec. 24. The display will be open 5-10 p.m. nightly. Advance tickets cost $17 online or $20 at the gate.
James Bennett is executive editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at email@example.com.