What’s Cookin’: Kamama Café

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Kamama Café continues the evolution of a diverse venue that showcases the best of Lookout Mountain area talent.

by ANITA STIEFEL | photos by STEVEN STIEFEL and RANDY GRIDER

For culture-loving couple Ray and Sandra Padgett, retirement involves anything but sitting down.

They are the owners of Kamama, a 5,000-square-foot art gallery, coffee shop, farm stand, music venue and restaurant in Mentone, Ala., that provides a platform for the area’s artists – from sculptors and composers to chefs. “Opening this place has been the best thing that ever happened to us,” Ray says. “It forces us to get out of the house and stay active, but it’s also so rewarding to meet so many people. None of this is work to me. This is fun.”

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]The Padgetts are busy not only with the business, but also as community volunteers. They have worked tirelessly over the years to promote local artists and to restore historic landmarks such as the Mentone Springs Hotel, which they rescued from disrepair in 1980 and spent a decade restoring before selling in 1991. “My goal, in everything I do, is to make Mentone work better,” Sandra says.

The Padgetts opened Kamama in 2012 to fill a need for a gallery to display the multitude of works from local artists. “There are so many talented artists here, but there was nowhere to display their work, just a little room upstairs above an office, which we were thankful for, of course,” Sandra says. “But this community really needed and deserved more.”

Kamama’s culinary side started with a coffee shop that also featured fresh-baked pastries and decadent desserts. “Next we started doing lunch sandwiches, and then we moved on to fine dining,” Ray explains.

For lunch, the restaurant now serves up classic soups, salads and sandwiches. On Thursday nights, Kamama offers a special dinner, followed by live music by some of the area’s finest musicians. Check out kamamamentone.com to see the upcoming schedule.

Kamama offers a fine dining experience on Friday and Saturday nights. Candlelight fills the gallery as guests enjoy dining among the beautiful paintings, drawings, photography, sculptures, pottery and antiques. The venue is ideal for cozy romantic dinners, and larger groups can be accommodated with advance notice.

The dinner menu changes weekly, depending on the availability offresh ingredients. Chef Jimmy Rogers, a Rainsville, Ala., native who was trained in Dallas and has run the kitchens at renowned locations such as Simply Southern in Perdido, Fla., and the Chattanooga [Tenn.] Choo Choo, keeps diners coming back for more. His signature dishes include rainbow trout, which is delivered fresh weekly from North Carolina, and jumbo crab cakes made from fresh lump crab meat from Florida.

“The prime rib is as good as you’ll ever eat anywhere,” Ray says. “Probably my favorite thing he makes is a dish he calls Pork 2-Ways, with pork tenderloin and deep fried pork belly – it’s absolutely amazing.”

Diners agree the food is delicious, and they keep coming back for more. “This is the best crab cake I’ve ever had,” says Colin Dawson, a visitor from Portland, Ore. “And I’ve been a lot of places and eaten a lot of crab cake. This is the best, hands down.”

Quinn Head, a visitor from Ohachee, Ala., who owns a vacation cabin nearby, adds: “I come here fairly often just to get the trout.” He quickly turns his attention to the fresh appetizers being delivered to his table, including house-made fried pork skins and cheesy spinach-artichoke dip.

On Sundays, Kamama serves brunch featuring entrees such as pot roast and shrimp with grits, traditional breakfast foods including pancakes, eggs cooked to order and fresh Conecuh sausage, as well as sides of roasted vegetables and fresh fruit.

“We have our regulars, some of whom come in every weekend, and of course we have many tourists visiting the area,” Ray says. “Living in Mentone, you’re around all kinds of people, from plain country folks who’ve never been outside this county to millionaires who’ve traveled around the world. I’ve encountered the most diverse, interesting people I’ve ever been around in my life.”

“I love people, and I love talking to people,” Sandra says. “Kamama is the Cherokee Indian word for butterfly, and I like to think Ray chose this name to honor both my Cherokee ancestry and the way I flutter around like a social butterfly,” she teases, flashing her contagious smile.

“Every other week she’ll get a post card from somebody who was passing through, and they’ll take the time to write and tell her how much they enjoyed meeting her,” Ray says.

“Now, Ray, that’s not true,” Sandra protests. “It’s only about every other month.” And out comes that smile again, the one you can’t help but return.

If You Go

GETTING THERE: Kamama is at 5951 Highway 117 in Mentone, Ala.

BE SURE TO: Check out the music schedule first and the artwork while you’re there.

HOURS: Seasonal; Check kamamamentone.com for current hours.

COST: Lunch: $7 to $12; Dinner: appetizers, $6-$12, entrees, $16-$30; Brunch: $14.95

RESERVATIONS: Appreciated for dinner

MORE INFO: 256-634-3001; kamamamentone.com

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