Florida Road Trip

For folks in middle Tennessee and north and central Alabama, a summer road trip to Florida means driving south on Interstate 65. And that means a stop at Priester’s Pecans in Fort Deposit, Alabama, at exit No. 142 about 35 miles of Montgomery. A gift shop and rest stop and restaurant, Priester’s is best known for its free-sample bowls of its famous flavored pecans. Now, I never get up in the morning dreaming about pecans — I’m not even a big fan of pecan pie — but if we’re anywhere near Priester’s, I have to stop and nibble on such taste treats as Key Lime, Peach and Honey Glazed pecans. This truly is marketing genius, because you can’t sample without thinking, “You know, the one thing that would make the rest of my vacation complete is a bag of Cinnamon Pecans.” There also are all sorts of Priester’s-made candy and even plain ol’ unflavored pecans there, plus a cooler stocked with homemade frozen casseroles to make the first night at your beach rental much more convenient and plenty of souvenirs and gifts for when you’re headed back home and you’ve forgotten to get something for the grandkids. These Priester’s folks think of everything! Go yourself and you’ll see: http://www.priesters.com/

Food

If you’re headed down to the Alabama/Florida Gulf Coast — and a yet-again winter storm headed our way here in north Alabama makes me ready to go anytime — you’ve got to try Cobalt, a fairly new restaurant in Orange Beach, Alabama. Under the bridge on Perdido Beach Boulevard next to the Caribe Resort, Cobalt is a must-go especially during nice weather when you can stroll along the water and eat outside in the breeze. When I went with friends a couple weeks ago, it definitely was a cool and gray stay-inside-sort-of-day. But that was all right, because inside is nice, too. Cobalt is a huge space but it didn’t feel too big — just sort of light and airy but spacious enough to handle how every many we could crowd around our table. We were there for lunch. The menu featured seafood dishes, of course, with salads and sandwiches, too. Food was good, beer was cold and service was friendly — and I’m sure this place is hopping during prime time. There was a fascinating salt-water tank in the lobby that was less an aquarium and more of a sort of river where you could stand for a while and watch all sorts of fish swim lazily by. I didn’t take many photos because I was too busy eating and drinking and talking my camera batteries were weak but I did manage to shoot two of the most important features: the immaculate and sparkly women’s restroom and the wonderful array of goodies available for take-out. Check it out yourself at http://www.cobaltdining.com/ — and save me a truffle, please.

Travel

When the gray and cloudy days of winter seem as if they’ll go on forever, just remember that somewhere the sun is shining and the sky is blue — and sometimes that somewhere is just a few hours away. Some friends and I were lucky enough to get an early spring break this past week when we gathered for some girls-only time at Perdido Key, Florida. We stayed at Needle Rush Point, and if you are looking for a non-high-rise Gulf Coast vacation spot, you need to check it out. It”s comfortable and homey and just right for hanging around, talking and laughing and eating and not doing much of anything else — which is exactly what we needed. Needle Rush is on the Gulf and also across the street on the bay/river side, which faces famed and exclusive Ono Island. We tried our best to spot some of the rumored celebrities who might or might not have houses over there, but the only folks around were locals and snowbirds — retirees who’ve had enough of winter and come south to enjoy the sun. Of course, it still seemed chilly to us Alabamians, but when you can walk along the beach and eat fresh seafood, who’s complaining? Check out Needle Rush Point at http://www.needlerushpoint.com/