The semester is close to being over, more and more cap n gowns grace our campus for photo shoots, and parents eagerly ready their cameras to snap this once in a lifetime moment for their kids. It’s exhausting. Being this close to finishing college, it can feel like you’re anywhere on Earth. Every day is spent trying to plan the next and meet all the deadlines and requirements that pile up in the final lap of college. It can be so overwhelming you might forget where you are. You might forget you’re in the one and only Tuscaloosa, and that there is still so many iconic places and things you want to do before you head off to the real world! Take some time, gather some friends, and leave the library for a much-needed tour of the college town you’ve called home for the past four years.
The Holy BBQ Trinity
By now, you’ve had to of tried one of these local and regional staples of the grand meat tradition that is Barbecue, but you can’t leave until you’ve sampled all three.
If you don’t know about dreamland by now it’s concerning, but it has earned a permanent spot on anyone’s Tuscaloosa bucket list and to not mention it would be insulting to leave it off. With the original on the outskirts of town and a franchise across the Southeast, Dreamland is known for their iconic sauce and rib combo served with a healthy portion of white bread. The original is truly their red brick mecca, but if you find yourself across the river at the Northport location there won’t be any love lost.
If there was ever any doubt Alabama has made a name for itself with barbecue, that doubt is washed away with the savory spare ribs and sweet tea found in a little house out in Northport. A Tuscaloosa original that has grown into three locations and a food truck, you can’t wander around town without bumping into one of their fine establishments. Again, the original is the classic move to make, but with the food truck now on campus during the week, your reasons for not sampling this heavenly meat is pretty questionable.
While the first Moe’s is found way up north in Colorado, the Tuscaloosa world of barbecue-inspired the men behind this eatery to become the growing sensation it is. Bama grads themselves, they came back to mama to show their success in grilling with their spot on University. Their patio and live music can make for a great way to cap off your last final or last day of class.
Splash down in these Dives
The foodie scene is growing so fast with new exciting flavors and concepts, but there are some originals that predate this trend with a great deal of respect. From the shadow of Bryant-Denny to the woods on the outskirts of town, there are some classics that you can’t leave without exploring.
By now, someone local or in the know has to have mentioned this T-Town classic; If not for its all too tantalizing bacon wrapped filets but for the famous original cocktail “the Nicodemus”. Far past downtown, you can find this old school classic that has been open since 1939. It only moved once in the ‘50s to its current spot and changed owners over the years but they have kept this place the same as it was making it a time capsule with the best steak around.
If you plan to graduate from the University of Alabama, you have to pass through this shrine to the Crimson Tide and the classic American Burger. Located in the shadows of Bryant-Denny and a staple of Tuscaloosa tailgating, this burger joint is a critical course requirement if you expect to graduate. From the grill, their milkshakes to the Alabama memorabilia that rivals the Paul Bear Bryant Museum, there’s something inside for everyone to love.
Oasis is probably a less than common name to hear especially for out of state students, but it’s by no means a new establishment. A true ‘50s era burger bar in Cottondale, you’ll find arguably one of the best burgers in the south with giant onion rings to match the massive patties. If there was any place to have a true American burger it’s here.
The Kings and Queens of Coffee
The coffee scene in Tuscaloosa is kicking off to some incredible growth, but there are some classic shops you have to patronize to truly show off your T-Town cred.
You might have noticed this hole in the wall shop on some nights in Temerson Square, if not it’s certainly a slice of German heaven you have to check out. With authentic pastries and dishes made by the sweet German woman who owns it, you’ll find yourself dreaming of exploring the rich culture of Deutschland
Long before the invasion of Starbucks both on and off campus, Tuscaloosa had an original house of coffee across the river. Heritage House opened in the dark roast decade of the ’90s with a lot of charm and has since grown across the black warrior with two new locations in the new digital media center, and in the Riverfront Village. Each has their own unique look and feel of sipping some delicious brews under antique lights on well-worn sofas with the sweet smell of their baked goods wafting in the air
University of Alabama Grads fresh back from Nashville, the dynamic duo behind this new coffee bar has brought a fresh energy to the Druid City. With beans from Lyons Coffee and craft cocktails made in house, they are a smash hit with locals and visitors alike. Inside the brick walls, you can find homemade Oreos, cereal milk coffee, and all kinds of creative and simply delicious treats. It’s a perfect place for last minute final studying or to cheers with some coffee-infused cocktails
Wake up and smell the Bacon
Tuscaloosa is far from lacking when it comes to breakfast food. There’s the all too popular brunch on Sundays, along with the old school classics on both sides of the river that serve up the morning staples that never go out of style.
If this name is foreign to you, it’s high time you familiarize yourself with this Northport legend. City Café is a true old school southern meat n threes café located in the historic district of downtown Northport. Open in the early hours of 4 am through a late lunch at 3:30 pm, you will find some of the classics properly represented on their menu. Leaving here without having the same food that fueled the late great Bear Bryant is surely something you’ll regret not doing as a UA student
On the other side of a sunny morning, Five has made a name for its self as the brunch spot in town. While others have opened their doors to mimosa filled mornings, there’s nothing like being under the shining chandeliers or the shade of the patio of Five. With a simple menu and complex flavors, it’ll be a delicious memory to make.
When a place offers a twist on a classic southern breakfast, this is where that classic started. This little red house south of downtown has been cooking up locals and students breakfast since as far back as 1906. This place wrote the rulebook on breakfast in Tuscaloosa and still offers one of the finest morning delights in the city.
There is far more to this city than just great BBQ and old-school dives, on the other end, there are more than plenty of trendy places to try. Out of them, there are the top dogs in town you got to try before leaving.
Seriously delicious and has set the standard for foodie scene in Tuscaloosa, this gastropub wins awards and gives back the bacon on top of their prized burger. But it’s not just the American classic you need to try, their cocktails and Thai nachos will change the way you look at eating out.
We’ve had plenty of fine dining in the city, but nothing has been able to do it with the style and flavor of River. Since its opening, River has been taking classic southern dishes and infusing them with modern culinary techniques that have made for some of the most delectable dishes in Alabama.
If you missed out on the creative genius that went into Epiphany Café, the minds who brought it to life have returned with Animal Butter. Bringing the farm to your table before it was cool, they are doing it again but now focus on creating exotic street style food while maintaining that flair of southern flavor. With fried chicken bao buns to Alabama catfish rice bowls, it’ll be somewhere you’ll dream about coming back to
Outside your dorm or apartment, there is so much more waiting for you than just what meets the eye here in Tuscaloosa. There are so many classic sights and places you need to visit before walking off into the crimson sunset.
Graduate from Wine Wednesday for some true wine sampling at Carpe Vino
You can find wine almost anywhere nowadays, but Tuscaloosa has a true hidden gem downtown for those who want to go beyond a bottle of Barefoot. Carpe Vino doesn’t just allow you to pretend to know about the regions of wine, they offer very reasonable tasting nights from Wednesday through Saturday for just $10. You get five to six wines to try and if you like it you get $5 off the bottle!
Explore the Cliffs
For those with more adventure in their soul, Lake Nicol may already be on your map but you don’t have to jump off the cliff just because your friends do if Moms have anything to say about it. With beautiful views of serene waters, the trails along the cliffs at Lake Nicol are perfect to take in the natural side of town without having to go over the edge.
Climb centuries worth of history
Just outside of town past Shelton State, are the ancient native American mounds of Moundville Archeological Park. This archeological site hosts towering mounds that feel both totally alien and completely natural at the same time. Hike to the top and see how the powerful viewed their empire above. Inside the museum, you can learn more about the mysterious people who built the mounds.
See beyond the Student Section
Sure you’ve spent some serious quality in Bryant-Denny, but really you’ve only ever seen it from a student’s perspective. The stadium is such a massive marvel of architecture, so take one of the many tours and see the view from inside the President’s Box and what it’s like in both our locker room and the Fail Room for those who make the mistake of coming to play against the Tide.
Get Close to our Trophies
The Paul Bear Bryant Museum is the Mecca for all things Alabama. Sure Bryant-Denny Stadium is a temple, but the museum has every bit of memorabilia and artifacts from the Crimson Tide’s history you could ever dream of seeing. From a recreation of Bear’s office to the crystal football trophy, you’ll feel full of Crimson pride.
Have the fluffiest Happy Hour of your Life
Most if not all towns have wonderful animal shelters, but our Tuscaloosa Metro Shelter offers a happy hour that’s hard to beat. You can take one of their dogs out for the day from 12- 4 PM on Mon-Tues and Thru- Fri. You can take them for walks; take them home, or really anywhere besides the UA Campus due to a legal request from the University. It’s a great chance to get some much-needed puppy love but without the full commitment of owning the dog, and the dog gets a chance to explore the great outdoors with a new buddy! It’s a true one and only Tuscaloosa experience.
While there may be so many places you still haven’t been or food you want to taste before leaving; it can feel overwhelming if you’re nearing the end of your time at UA. That’s why we want to remind you that Tuscaloosa is always here for you, and ready for you to come back to visit. Whether you want to cross off a few more things on our list, or even a list of your own. Whether you want to come back to show future loved ones your old haunts, or to revisit the excitement of Gameday. Tuscaloosa will welcome you back with open arms, and will always be your College Town.
Written By: Deven Wilson – Intern & University of Alabama Senior