Photos: Tony+Mary Ann DeSantis+provided by Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitor Bureau
What’s more Southern than a buttered biscuit? How about baseball? Alabama’s capital city is home to the Montgomery Biscuits, the Class AA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, and this Southern city is a rising destination for baseball fans, history buffs and, of course, biscuit aficionados.
When I was a child in the 1960s, Montgomery, Ala., was in the news often. It seemed to be the epicenter for civil rights protests and ugly confrontations. Fast forward 50 years, though, and you’ll find a revitalized city that has embraced its historical roots—both the good and the bad—and has become a model for tolerance. Montgomery folks describe their city as “Capital Cool” with its thriving arts community, family-oriented attractions, and a growing epicurean scene, which includes biscuits of all shapes and flavors.
Frankly, Montgomery had not been on my list for weekend getaways but that changed after a brief visit in the spring. I was so impressed with the city’s entertainment district and museum offerings that I quickly arranged to return. Later, but not surprisingly, I learned that USA Today Travel voted Montgomery as America’s Most Historic City.
Running through the heart of downtown is the Alabama River, which made Montgomery into one of the South’s most prosperous cities prior to the War Between the States. The 19th century ambiance flows right to the riverbank where the Harriott II Riverboat is docked, awaiting visitors who want to experience a paddlewheeler like many Montgomery cotton merchants probably did. Towering above the river is Union Station, the former train depot that now houses a visitors’ center where you can rent bikes to explore the city and get maps for all of the sites that have enriched Montgomery for over two centuries.
Montgomery has several museums dedicated to civil rights events that were significant not only to Alabama but to the nation. One of the best is the Rosa Parks Museum and Library, located on the site where Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus. The full-size bus replica and a restored 1955 Chevy Station Wagon were highlights in the museum that fully explained how “these were ordinary people cast into extraordinary circumstances.”
Just down from the state capitol building is the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor for six years. The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church remains an active church, but you can still see Dr. King’s office if you reserve a tour. Continue around the corner to the Civil Rights Memorial Center on Washington Avenue to see the black granite memorial designed by Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
If you are looking for some Florida connections to Alabama, head to the nearby Museum of Alabama, where you will find several in the Alabama Voices exhibit – most notably Chief Osceola. Born in Alabama, Osceola fled to Florida where he led the Seminole resistance.
Montgomery also has strong musical and literary roots as well. Nat King Cole was born there in 1919 and his childhood home is currently being renovated. Country music fans will get a kick out of the Hank Williams Museum, where you can see the Montgomery native’s baby blue Cadillac – unfortunately, the one he died in – as well as his elaborate costumes and other memorabilia. I particularly liked the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in the Old Cloverdale neighborhood near downtown. Most people are surprised to learn the Gatsby author lived in Montgomery, where his wife grew up. The house is filled with books and memorabilia showing the couple’s extravagant lifestyle as well as Zelda’s quite colorful paintings.
If time allows, spend a day at the tranquil Blount Cultural Park to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, where you can see more of Zelda’s artwork as well as iconic pieces by Edward Hopper and Mary Cassatt. In the same park is the Alabama Shakespeare Festival Theatre, which produces 14 world-class shows annually with repertoires that include not only Shakespearean works but also Disney productions and Broadway plays.
BASEBALL AND BISCUITS
The people of Montgomery love their Biscuits. Win or lose, the fireworks at the Riverfront Stadium are a nightly event when the Montgomery Biscuits finish a home game. Even if you aren’t in town to attend a game, be sure to stop by the “Biscuit Basket” in the team’s historic building, which was formerly a railroad depot, a Confederate prison, and an early 20th century hotel. The shop reportedly had sales of over $1 million in 2004 – its first year – due to the team’s unique name and mascot – a biscuit lovin’ beast named “Mo.” In case you are wondering, biscuits are definitely hot sellers at home games.
Montgomery is a walkable city so you won’t feel guilty about sampling all those biscuits as well as very upscale dining options. “The Alley,” a multi-venue stretch along the Riverwalk area, serves as a cornerstone for the downtown redevelopment that began in 2010. The former brick warehouses are home to an eclectic assortment of impressive restaurants, including Dreamland Bar-B-Que and Central, where you’ll find savory Southern cuisine and an exquisite wine list. If you are in the Old Cloverdale area, you’ll want to check out A&P Social, an upscale restaurant built on the site of an old A&P Grocery Store. Chef Miguel Figueroa puts a new spin on Southern classics like pimento cheese and collard greens.
If you are looking for biscuits to eat, start the day at Liger’s Bakery. “Everyone who grew up around here, knows about Liger’s delicious cheese biscuits,” says Montgomery native Meg Lewis.
Biscuit Fest is scheduled for May 11 when the Montgomery Biscuits play the Tennessee Smokies. You’ll find all kinds of creative twists on biscuits, including dessert biscuits and the current fan favorite, Chicken & Biscuits. For information about the team, visit biscuitsbaseball.com.
“The Curb Market,” is Montgomery’s version of a Saturday morning farmers’ market near the capitol building on Madison Avenue. Tucked in the back corner is Debra’s Lunch to Go, where Debra Morrison makes fresh biscuits you can take home to warm up. The only problem is that the biscuits are so delicious you’ll never get out of the parking lot with them.