What’s Cookin: New Orleans Flair

atl_6114[s2If is_user_logged_in()]

PDFClick here to view this article as a PDF [/s2If]

A courtyard bounded by history-rich buildings, a porch-like stage for musicians and a menu of eclectic sandwiches and diverse beer and wine offerings give Vintage 1889 a Big-Easy vibe.

by MARCIA GRUVER DOYLE

In the center of what used to be a humming industrial complex, the Vintage 1889 restaurant courtyard offers an enclosed retreat from the daily digital drumbeat. Nestled by brick buildings that have stories of their own to tell, the courtyard’s trees, fountain, musician’s corner and string lights have the ambiance of that great spot you love in New Orleans.

The impression is completely intentional.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

To read the rest of this article, pick up a copy of the Winter 2013 issue OR Subscribe Now for instant access to our online edition, which offers more photos (including those not published in the print edition).

[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]“We love New Orleans. In fact, that’s where we spent our honeymoon, and this definitely has a New Orleans feel,” says Lynn brewer, who, along with husband Steve Brewer, owns the restaurant and its setting, the Big Mill Artisans & Antiques Mall, located in downtown Fort Payne, Ala.

It’s a balmy fall night as Lynn shows me around the courtyard. This is a place that evolved with the rise of the W.B. Davis Hosiery Mill Company, credited with being the incubator of what was once a thriving textile business in the city, formerly known as the “sock capital of the world.” entering the L-shaped courtyard from the main building, you notice a two-story 1920s building on the right. Lynn tells me this structure was called the “boarding building,” where socks underwent a process that gives them their final, recognizable shape.

In the back of the courtyard, sounds from the tiered fountain relax diners. At left is a more-than-100-foot-tall chimney attached to a boiler room that provided steam heat throughout the complex. Connecting the area to the main building is the old machine shop. Lights are strung from trees, buildings and the legs of a water tower – still visible over Big Mill’s roof – which served as the company’s main defense against fire.

This is definitely a place for unwinding.

Steve bought the complex in the early ’90s with the hope of stabilizing historic buildings in dire straits. “When you went into what is now the indoor portion of the restaurant, there was dirt below and sky above,” he says. Renovating the original office space, Steve and his then partners opened what was known as The Deli Sandwich Shop. It and the first incarnation of the antique mall ended when health issues forced previous partners to go different directions.

Lynn, who married Steve a year ago, approached him in 2011 about establishing what is now known as Big Mill Artisans & Antiques Mall. “We started all over again,” she says. “The building was totally empty. At first I didn’t even know this courtyard area was here.” The two then began talking in earnest about creating a restaurant in the former deli space, with the added bonus of the courtyard.

Opening up Vintage 1889 was a natural for Lynn, whose father Jack “Black Jack” Locklear formed a number of restaurants in the area and created the Bonanza Burger – named after the then-popular TV show – now served at The Strand in Fort Payne. “I just want this to be a destination, where you can eat and drink, listen to music and even shop in the antique mall while you’re waiting for a table,” she says. “We want to keep the building alive.”

The Brewers have obtained a liquor license for the entire building, so patrons can shop the Big Mill’s 50-plus stalls – showcasing an eclectic mix of antiques, art, clothing, jewelry, collectibles and décor – with drink in hand. “Our intent is to have around 60 beers,” Lynn says, “including craft beers. If someone has a favorite, we’ll see if we can get it.” a generous wine list also is offered. Both beer and wine can be purchased to consume on or off the premises.

Vintage 1889’s menu consists of what Lynn calls “high-end” sandwiches.

“We take common, good sandwiches and add a twist,” she says. One example: the “2 in 1” pimento cheese BLT, served open face, “so you can choose if you want to eat it separately or together,” Lynn says. Another menu item is “Nana’s Roast Beef,” which Lynn remembers her grandmother preparing. It’s dressed with arugula, red onions, gruyere and blue cheese and topped with horseradish sauce. A staple on most sandwiches is the Vintage House Sauce, made with cream cheese and yogurt.

“Our kitchen is situated in the mill’s former vault, and the food pass-through is actually the old vault door,” Lynn says. “That gives us a pretty small space to prepare food.” she eventually plans to offer weekend specials in addition to the main-fare sandwiches.

Servers wear uniforms from a local uniform shop with embroidered patches featuring their names and the restaurant’s. “We just wanted something with a vintage flair, and everyone liked the work-shirt idea,” Lynn says.

Adding to the atmosphere is the “NO’ALA Juke Joint” musician’s porch – another play on the New Orleans atmosphere – where local musicians entertain diners. When live music isn’t on tap, sounds from the 1950s and ’60s, with a dash of Sinatra, fill the space. The music plays throughout the building, so those who are just in the shop-n’-sip mood also can enjoy.

What about the colder months? The Brewers are game if you are. “We’ll have it open if someone wants to sit out here,” says Lynn. One definite advantage: protected on all sides, wind will not be a strong factor, and Fort Payne winters are usually mild. Those less inclined to bundle up have plenty of tables to choose from inside the restaurant, which offers dining on two levels.

Opening up the courtyard is just the beginning for Vintage 1889, the Brewers say. The adjacent boiler room, which once housed what Steve describes as a “locomotive-size” steam boiler, will eventually hold more interior space for the restaurant. “We’d like to offer wood-fired cooking and a microbrewery down the road,” Steve says.

The Vintage 1889 name is a nod to the building, the antique mall and the wines served. “The whole thing has be-come a wonderful combination of our personalities,” Lynn says. Steve, a practicing dentist, has a master’s degree in archeology, and Lynn’s degree is in art education. “It’s just a great reflection of us and our marriage,” she says. “This is our creative outlet.”[/s2If]