Last week, SVV and I headed to a city not that far from our own, but one we don’t get to far enough: Huntsville, Alabama. I grew up just an hour north of Huntsville, and every year like clockwork, we went on a field trip to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, which traditionally had been the city’s big driver of tourism. With major economic engines revving up the scene, however, it’s only recently that I’ve come to find out that there’s a whole lot of other reasons to head to North Alabama and they’re not even space-related: Huntsville’s food and wine scene is HOT.
And if we’re being a bit more specific, when I say “wine,” I mean “cocktails” and “beer,” too, because Huntsville’s got it going on in all arenas.
If you ask me, Huntsville is well-poised to become the new Southern “it” destination; it’s less than two hours by car from both Chattanooga and Nashville, just over three from Atlanta, and 90 minutes due north of Birmingham—plus it comes without the hassles of those bigger cities and still has that affordability factor going for it, too.
This post was last updated in July 2019.
Our visit was perfectly timed to preview the offerings of Crush Wine + Food Festival, which takes place the last weekend of September each year. Looking for the ideal time to visit the South and taste your way through Huntsville’s dynamic food scene? This is the time.
Our tour guide for the day was Ashley Ryals, the brains and the beauty behind the festival but also the owner of Homegrown Huntsville, which organizes various experiences around the Rocket City.
Ashley has currently put a hold on her popular Huntsville tours in anticipation of Crush, but I’ll give you a rundown of her Sip & Shop option so you can recreate it on your own next time you’re in Northern Alabama, as well as a snapshot of everything we ate and drank during our 12-hour visit to Huntsville.
Sip & Shop: Shopping Huntsville’s Best Boutiques
What better way to explore Huntsville on a girls’ getaway (+ SVV) than to shop your way around its cutest boutiques while you sip wine at every stop? Ashley invited a pair of her friends, Nicole and Kristen, to join us, and we made a day of checking out some of Huntsville’s best boutiques and stocking our closets for fall, which is just around the corner.
The problem is that Elitaire is my kryptonite; I wanted everything in there, particularly the accessories from DIFF Eyewear, ABLE, and local companies ShopMoss, which makes the cutest floral-inspired jewelry.
Next, it was a couple doors over to Kennedy & Rowe, where I did not leave empty-handed: I bought a black dress and long, neutral cardigan (who am I even?) as well as a blingy crystal ring (that’s a bit more on-brand for me).
If we hadn’t been on a schedule, we would have gone to a third stop, as is standard for all of Homegrown’s Sip & Shop tours, but we had dining and dashing to do! I really hope Ashley reintroduces these tours to the public, as they’re a fun, quick way to sample Huntsville’s many offerings.
Dine & Dash: Eating and Drinking Around Huntsville
If you’re anything like me, you want to sample as much of the local food scene as possible on any given trip, and that’s exactly what we did as we dined and dashed around some of the best restaurants in Huntsville.
First, it was to Purveyor, where we sipped on lychee cocktails and feasted on scrumptious delicacies like duck meatballs and ahi tuna tacos while Leonard, Bo and SVV took a bourbon shot out of an empty bone. Somewhat of an unusual tradition at the establishment, this elevated twist on a body shot smooths out the bite from the alcohol by dissolving a bit of the fattiness with the marrow remnants. It’s like they’ve done this before!
Next, we went to Church Street Wine Shoppe, owned by the same team behind Purveyor (who are also behind the new concepts Pourhouse and Mazzara’s Italian Kitchen). Started in 2014 by Stephanie and Matthew Mells as an exclusive wine club, the business experienced such an explosion in popularity that they’ve ricocheted the idea into multiple venues. They also serve local beers if your fella isn’t an oenophile, so everyone leaves full and happy. In addition to a host of small bites, Church Street Wine Shoppe serves up the ultimate cheese platter, complete with honeycomb and flakes of gourmet chocolate.
Next up was A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard, a mixed use outdoor/indoor entertainment complex that spans two acres and features loads of whimsical concepts like the Blue Bayou restaurant—a converted Pullman train coach, which now offers “Destination Dinners” a few nights a week in which the cuisine and the video footage shown on the train’s interiors all channel the same travel theme—and the Kiln, a musical performance space made up entirely of repurposed materials found on-site on the former lot by the owner.
We ended at The View at Burritt on the Mountain to catch their cocktail hour on Wednesdays. It’s one of the more impressive vantages in all of Huntsville that looks down on the absolutely monstrous Saturn I rocket, a piece of engineering that preceded the vehicle that put man on the moon. The property is owned by the city, surrounded by wooded goodness and is very popular with wedding parties, event planners and photographers seeking killer views.
Crush Wine & Food Festival
If you want a taste of everything we did all crammed into one weekend, you can head on down to Huntsville for Crush Wine & Food Festival in late September. A Huntsville anchor event since 2014, Crush is now bigger, bolder and better than ever, spanning five days instead of one (and now with a whiskey component!), and featuring more than 150 wines from all over the world, live music, food trucks, grape-stomping, winemaker and pairings dinners and a Sunday brunch. Sounds epic, right?
While There, Don’t Miss These Huntsville Stops
While you’re in town for Crush, it’s well worth a visit to Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment area, a collective of more than 200 artists housed in the coolest 200,000-square-foot space. We met one artist who does ridiculously complex plausible fictitious maps and another who makes Zelda shields, among many, many other specialties, some quirkier than others.
Both of us have never seen such a stellar gathering of art in one space, ever. After losing SVV a few times in the expansive nooks that line each floor of the former textile manufacturing plant, we eventually found our way to Pizelle’s Confections where we nibbled on the most artistic chocolates I have ever seen. If you love art and the creative energy that it emanates, get your butt over there.
Perhaps the best part of Lowe Mill for us was meeting a lovely Romanian woman who followed an American man to Huntsville and opened one dynamite cafe, Poftà Bunà, serving Eastern European delights. You know SVV and I love us some Romanian food (well, Romanian everything, actually), and the feast she served us did not disappoint! Bonus: She also makes crepes of every kind. If I lived in Huntsville, I would eat here once a week, minimum.
Lowe Mill is open Wednesday through Saturday, and artists allow passersby to stop in their studios and watch them as they work. On Fridays in spring and summer, they also host music performances outside on the dock.
Downtown Huntsville is experiencing a wave of innovative destinations, as well. We headed into SiP for a round of smoked Old Fashioneds and Manhattans served in an Art Deco setting, followed by a flight of beer at the Old Town Beer Exchange (OTBX), which is not only an impressive bottle shop but also a taproom and place to play original Nintendo games while working your way through a flight of brews.
Our evening ended with some delicious bar bites at the New Orleans-style patio of Humphrey’s Bar & Grill while we watched live music and got our last bit of socializing in before heading home for the night. If I had to envision my perfect day, this was surely it: amazing food, fantastic new friends, a shiny trolley chauffeur, and a quick dive into the wine, beer and spirits scene of Huntsville, which SVV and I are both now dying to explore even more in-depth.