The second-best thing about the Amey family’s spring-break trip to Huntsville, Ala., is that we left a lot of things on the table to do the next time we’re down there.
The best thing, and the reason we’ll be going back, is Nathaniel Halbrooks, our great-grandson (and by the way, Jenny and I are pretty ticked off that nobody has yet told us we are way too young to have such a thing).
Nathaniel lives with his parents Danielle (our granddaugher) and Daniel in the little village of Arab (rhymes with Ahab, for you Ray Stevens fans) which is just a short drive down U.S. 231 from Huntsville (or, to put it another way, just a little ways down the road from Greencastle and Cloverdale).
I hadn’t been terribly optimistic about the scenic possibilities of Alabama, but the drive from Huntsville to Arab is gorgeous (and a couple of mountains just outside Huntsville are among the things that have yet to be explored).
The kids also kept telling us as we were planning the trip that there’s nothing to do in Arab, but they were too modest. Even though we didn’t see a real sidewalk on our two trips down there, Arab is big enough to have a Wal-Mart, a McDonald’s and three or four stoplights, not to mention a couple of restaurants that we’ll also revisit.
We didn’t see Arab on our first day, however. It’s almost 400 miles to Huntsville, and by the time we’d driven most of the day to get there — with a thunderstorm, Nashville traffic and a huge wreck on the other lane of the interstate to deal with — we just wanted to settle into our hotel.
We found the place without getting lost and without help from a GPS, which might actually be a first, but that didn’t mean our evening was uneventful. For one thing, we got there on the final night of the Little People of America convention — JoJo was thrilled to be one of the taller people in a crowd of about 100 as we checked in — which was kind of quirky. Then, in trying to plug in some of our electric equipment, I managed somehow to disengage the support that served as the back legs of an end table in our room, sending it crashing to the floor (I blame Union Hospital’s Center for Fitness and Performance for my brute strength).
By the next morning we were ready to meet Nathaniel (almost seven months old by now) so we were off to Arab. Daniel and Danielle weren’t sure we could find a restaurant open (it was Sunday), yet we wound up with probably our best meal of the week. The kids know the owners of Sierra’s, a Mexican restaurant in town, and if you are ever in Arab it should be your first stop. Darcy doesn’t have many favorite foods but ribs is one of them and — because she can’t usually finish a half slab — I was able to enjoy some of those after I finished my enchiladas suizas.
I’d never thought about the fact that Mexicans could be good at barbecue, but I was fairly confident that native Alabamans would be. So the next day, when the kids brought Nathaniel to us, we got to one of Huntsville’s landmarks, Little Paul’s. As good barbecue places should be, it’s kind of a nondescript little building (vaguely reminiscent of Big Shoe’s, right down to one of its vinegar-based sauces) but the food is good. It’s also right across the street from Huntsville Hospital, where Danielle works, and she clued us in to the necessity of avoiding the lunch-hour rush. (I talked them out of the ingredients to a couple of their sauces, including a unique white sauce that I’d never tried before.)
Jenny was content to spend the rest of that day with the baby, and Daniel and Danielle — who don’t often get days off at the same time — were amenable to that too. JoJo and I went to see ”Hunger Games” while the rest went to a mall, and that enabled he and I to be the only ones in our family to enjoy another fast-food franchise new to us: Zaxby’s, whose menu is limited (mostly chicken strips and wings) but whose execution is impeccable.
With only one more full day to go, we had to visit Arab one more time, especially since we hadn’t had our Midasburgers yet and because we had one more gift for Nathaniel. The previous day Jenny and all the kids had picked the only mall in Huntsville with a Build-a-Bear Workshop to walk around in; you can’t sneak those past Darcy, so both she and the GGS now have new stuffed animals.
As far as lunch was concerned, Jenny had even found mention of Midasburgers on one of the food websites, and Arab is the only place in the world that has them. They are really chicken sandwiches and not burgers (gold in color, Midas, get it?) but they are big and tasty and have a secret sauce to go with them. (No, haven’t procured that recipe yet. Maybe next trip.) And for our last big dinner in Alabama, went looking for one of Huntsville’s famous restaurants, and couldn’t find any of them.
But high-end restaurants and mountain scenery aren’t all we still have to look forward to. Here are a few more things.
Huntsville is probably most famous for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, a research and testing facility that helped develop the Saturn launch vehicles for the Apollo space program and more recently the rockets for the space shuttle program. Werner Von Braun worked in Huntsville after defecting from Germany more than 60 years ago. We haven’t toured that yet.
The city has a cozy little downtown area surrounded by a whole community of historic homes. We saw a few of them and could stand to see more. We didn’t get to the city’s art museum either.
The home opener for the Huntsville Stars, the Double-A team of the Milwaukee Brewers, wasn’t until a week after we left, so we haven’t yet experienced Joe Davis Stadium (he was a former Huntsville mayor), interacted with mascot Homer the Polecat or enjoyed (?) the atmosphere of a place that’s not-so-affectionately called “The Mausoleum.” Former Indiana State pitcher MItch Stetter might be starting his second stint on Don Mincher Drive in Huntsville as you are reading this, and former Sycamore Joe Thatcher once pitched there too.
One of several things in Huntsville named for Von Braun is the city’s hockey arena. Maybe the most avid hockey city in the South not only has the Havoc, who were hosting the first game of a second-round SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League) playoff series against the Columbus (Ga.) Cottonmouths the day we left, but also the only Division I college team in the South. The University of Alabama-Huntsville — Daniel’s alma mater — was host school for the Frozen Four in Tampa a few days ago.
So there’s plenty more for us to do and plenty of reasons for us to return. We even found a nice food stop along the way in La Fontanella, an Italian restaurant in the Tennessee countryside just this side of Nashville (near the Fontanel Mansion). To steal a trademark line from Bob Arnett, we’ll be back.
• It’s a new phone — In case 124 of you are wondering why I haven’t tweeted much lately, there’s been a phone upgrade. I’m still learning to negotiate my new keyboard, and my children are not very patient teachers.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4277 or 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at email@example.com; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321. Follow @TribStarAndy on Twitter.