Everyone has his or her own idea of “fine dining.” For some it requires formal dress, white table cloths, too many pieces of silverware, and a waiter with a towel draped over one arm, accompanied by overpriced appetizers and undersized entrees. “Presentation” I think they call it.
For me, “fine dining” is more about the food and its preparation. Presentation and atmosphere are important, but, it is the chef’s talent with ingredients and an understanding of flavors that makes a meal truly “fine.”
“Fine dining” in either sense is rare these days. But we found an example this week. It was a discovery born out of disappointment. We were walking around the touristy shopping village in Mentone, Alabama—on a Monday. Of course, all of the quaint little shops, most in log buildings, were closed.
Talking to one shop keeper who just happened by to check her mail, she suggested we “Go to the Wildflower Café. And make sure you try the tomato pie,” she added.
Just driving in, the inspiration for the café’s name is apparent. It is surrounded by wildflowers of all kinds—and they are more or less left on their own—these are not manicured flower beds, but natural spaces popular with a variety of butterflies. An occasional piece of statuary, an old chair or wagon, or wooden carving simply appears in the colorful chaos of flowers. We lingered in the gardens, taking many photos.
Once inside, the café is a large old home. Other than organizing what may have been living areas into dining areas, the warmth and comfort of a country home has been retained. Inside, we were ushered to what was an enclosed front porch. It was furnished with booths equipped with old school bus seats. They were actually hard to sit in—I kept feeling like I was going to slide forward out of the seat—but it has been a while since I fit in a school bus seat.
We selected a table with more traditional chairs. It was early in the lunch hour and we had our choice of tables. No black tie service here. Our server, a college-age young lady in shorts and a “Wildflower Café” t-shirt brought our menus. Since this was my first visit to the café, she described their tomato pie and other specialties. (Access to the complete menu is available through the link at the end of this post.)
Typically, I skip appetizers simply to avoid the added calories, but had to try the warm sweet potato biscuits with butter. An extra thirty minutes on the treadmill is a small price to pay for that delicious treat.
For our meal, my wife ordered the recommended house specialty—the Tomato Pie Brunch—marinated and perfectly seasoned Roma tomatoes topped with cheddar and mozzarella cheeses then baked until golden in a pie crust, served with a mixed green salad and bread. My choice for lunch was the Greek Tomato Pie Wrap that included Kalamata and black olives, feta, pepperoncini peppers, Greek dressing, lettuce, tomato and onion with bacon added. The foundation of this wrap is the same classic tomato pie. It was delicious and huge. The blending of their classic tomato pie filling and traditional Greek elements are a perfect combination. This was served with a huge portion of kettle potato chips—only lightly salted.
I should have stopped there, but I could not pass up the Sweet Potato Bread Pudding served warm, drizzled with a curried coconut rum sauce and whipped cream. Next time, I may just go directly to dessert!
The Wildflower Cafe is located at 6007 Highway 117 in Mentone, Alabama. They are open seven days a week. Dinner reservations are not required, but may be a good idea on weekends (256-634-0066).
Visit their website for complete menus, hours of operation, and contact information at the Wildflower Cafe.