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.
Our visit was perfectly timed to preview the offerings of Crush Wine + Food Festival, which takes place at the end 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 offers several different experiences around town depending on the time of year.
Here’s a snapshot of everything we ate and drank during our 12-hour visit to the Rocket City.
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.
Homegrown’s Sip & Shop tours comprise three stops, each of which provides you with killer discounts and a glass of wine and some nibbles as you’re styled by employees of the boutiques. On our tour, we were all about the fall festival fashion—Ashley, Nicole and Kristen are ramping up for Crush, while I was looking for something to wear at next week’s Pilgrimage Fest in Franklin—and the lovely owner of Elitaire picked out some cute things for us, as she advised us on how to best prepare for festivals from a fashion standpoint (and you know I need help in that arena!).
The problem is that this place 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 Sip & Shop tours, but we had dining and dashing to do!
Dine & Dash: Eating and Drinking Around Huntsville
From April through September, Ashley leads Dine & Dash—a highlights reel of the city’s food scene, traveled by trolley—on the second Wednesday of the month. We happened to be in town on a Wednesday and got to tag along with her to four of Huntsville’s hottest places.
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 it bears noting is working on two more concepts, both of which will open later this year). 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. A Huntsville anchor event since 2014, Crush is now bigger, bolder and better than ever, spanning three days instead of one, and featuring more than 150 wines from all over the world, live music, food trucks, grape-stomping, Friday night winemaker 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 into a speakeasy-style coffee shop, Alchemy, and sipped down some very photogenic coffee sodas, and then nibbled our way through the artistic chocolate delights of Pizelle’s Confections. 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.
This post is sponsored by the Huntsville CVB, though all opinions are our own. Many thanks to Homegrown Huntsville for pulling out all the stops on our visit!