Located in the center of the most charming city in Alabama, Opelika, you will find an equally charming restaurant, Café 123.
First of all, I must give full disclosure that Opelika is my hometown, so I am somewhat biased on it’s lure. As a child, I remember going with my father to what was, Haynie’s Drugstore, in this exact location. Haynie’s was, during its heyday, a drugstore in the heart of a bustling railroad town. During the 1990’s, the store was revitalized to be very reminiscent of the drugstore days, and they served milkshakes, ice cream, and sandwiches. My dad would take me here to order a limeade, “made the real way” as he would say, and a muffaletta sandwich. He still swears to this day there is no other muffaletta that can come close to the one served at Haynie’s.
Café 123 was born in the early 2000’s, and although the restaurant has taken over the location, there still maintains much of the drugstore charm; with the black and white tiled floors, and the nostalgic and historic soda fountain bar as the focal point of the main dining room. The amount of ambiance provided by this location definitely enhances your dining experience.
Chef Eron Bass, has never prepared a dish that I did not enjoy. He did not disappoint this evening either. Eron is also an Opelika native, and he graduated a few years ahead of me in high school. He started out his culinary career as a line chef at the Auburn-Opelika Marriott at Grand National. He then advanced from sous chef under Chris Cannon in the early days of Café 123, to now, having been the executive chef over the restaurant for over the past ten years. His undeniable culinary prowess has undoubtedly been the driving force in propelling his career in a positive motion.
We started our dinner with a 2016 Ancient Peaks Winery, Sauvignon Blanc. This was paired with a “Saltine Cracker” Fried Oyster, served with a cornbread salad, Ralf’s locally grown bibb lettuce, and a buttermilk dressing. Not to discredit the rest of the dinner right off the jump, but this was my favorite pairing of the evening. The most surprising thing about this is, I do not like oysters! The crispness of the batter encompassing the oyster, combined with the sweetness of the delicious cornbread salad, made for a delightful bite. Cornbread salad, does not get much more southern than that! The sauvignon blanc had a brightness and a nice acidity that paired perfectly with this dish. I can imagine many things that this particular wine would pair nicely with.
The second course was a Prime Rib bruschetta that had been prepared in a Dijon, red onion, and crispy caper sauce, atop a crostini, and garnished with arugula and horseradish cream. This was paired with a 2014 Paolo Cottini Winery Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore of Veneto, Italy. The flavors of the dish were brillant, and paired excellently with the Ripasso. This was the favorite of several guests at our table. I am not a fan of rare beef, so this was not a particular favorite dish of mine. I did however really enjoy the Ripasso, and could agree that the pairing went together seamlessly.
The third course, and my second favorite dish of the evening, was a Springer Mountain Farms chicken coq au vin. The chicken was succulent. The fresh pappardelle pasta in a bed of Burgundy braising jus, cremini mushrooms, bacon, and pearled onions, was exquisite. This was a magnificent dish that I would definitely order again if it were on the menu. The wine pairing for this course was a 2015 Cave des Vignerons de Buxy, Mercurey of Burgundy, France. This old world pinot noir played very well with the coq au vin.
The fourth course was a seared duck breast glazed in a blueberry port sauce, served with golden potatoes gratin dauphinois, and braised carrots. This was paired with a 2015 Revelry Vintners, Merlot out of the Columbia Valley in Washington state. It’s palate of red and blue fruit and nice tannic structure were a perfect match for the dish. The duck was tender, and the blueberry port sauce was a welcomed addition to the palate of the dish. The potatoes gratin dauphinois, is a French style preparation of sliced potatoes baked in milk from the Dauphiné region of southeastern France. There are not many preparations of the potato that I do not enjoy, but the creaminess and tastiness of this dish, definitely made this dish shine.
To end the dinner, we were served a dessert consisting of a salted caramel peanut butter silk pie. This was paired with a Coste Petrai, Prosecco Treviso Brut of Veneto, Italy. I was tremendously satiated at this point, and I could barely indulge in the peanut buttery richness of this dessert. However, the bite I had was divine. The bubbles were a perfect way to cap a wonderful evening spent in very good company.