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Florence, Alabama doesn’t lack for exciting breakfast dining options year-round, but during ShoalsFest music festival happening October 1st and 2nd, it’s not unusual to find yourself sharing the morning meal across from rock stars. Hazy ShoalsFest mornings bring local love and Nashville star power together at welcoming breakfast tables dotted around the sleepy college town. This year, the annual music festival returns to McFarland Park once again, and brings with it a slate of Americana’s top acts and thousands of hungry festival goers. Shady groves and a mighty river form the perfect backdrop for what is becoming one of the most anticipated festivals in the southeast. ShoalsFest was founded in 2019 by Greenhill, Alabama native son Jason Isbell, whose humble beginnings on the Shoals music scene blossomed into a remarkable career, including four Grammy wins. If your plans this weekend include a trip to ShoalsFest, you won’t find a sour note at any of these breakfast spots.
Located on North Seminary Street in the shadow of the Shoals Community Theater, Rivertown Coffee Company has been a Florence favorite for breakfast, lunch and coffee since October of 2004. Owner and Chef John Cartwright, a native of Corinth, Mississippi, decided to locate his business in Florence after graduating from Mississippi College. Originally a coffee shop, Rivertown Coffee Company has grown to include a full breakfast and lunch/dinner menu. A favorite local hangout and known for its famous Soup & Sandwich, the relaxed and friendly atmosphere attracts an eclectic crowd hungry for freshly made soups, burritos, sandwiches and of course a wide variety of coffee and coffee-based drinks.
It is common that restaurants ascribe to the local food movement on menus and through marketing these days to attract conscientious consumers, but it takes a certain amount of dedication to consistently put this ethos into practice. For Chef John Cartwright, it is a way of life. He and his family live in Florence and he can often be seen biking around the city, purchasing produce and ingredients from local purveyors like Kodachrome Gardens and supporting community events. His restaurant spotlights local art by displaying the work of Florence-based artists and has also played host to local musical acts. Rivertown Coffee Company expanded to include patio seating, which provides the best spot in town for people watching.
Cartwright has also become known as a standout among a growing community of culinary talent in Florence. Originally focused on coffee, his interest in food and cooking continues to evolve. Under his direction as Chef, Rivertown Coffee Company’s catering service is popular among businesses and individuals seeking inventive, fresh menus to feed a hungry crowd. He is frequently invited to cook for charity events and collaborative dinners around Florence including the Friends of the Factory Dinner Series at Alabama Chanin’s Factory Café and Florence-based fashion designer Billy Reid’s bash, Shindig.
If you find yourself in Florence for ShoalsFest, Rivertown Coffee Company should be on the top of your list for breakfast plans. Pull up a chair, order a famous breakfast burrito or a freshly baked muffin and enjoy your morning with the local crowd. This is one of those special places that merits a visit when you’re looking to experience a true sense of community and a welcoming atmosphere. Go see John and hang for a while.
Rivertown Coffee Company is located at 117 North Seminary Street and is open Monday-Thursday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Find them online at rivertowncoffee.co
A newcomer on the Florence food scene, All the Best sits in a historic corner building located a few blocks Rivertown Coffee Company. Like so many Shoals area businesses, All the Best occupies a comfortable spot at the intersection of food and music. Owner Kristy Bevis is a Shoals native whose love of local music holds a more personal meaning than it does for most. All the Best’s co-owner, Ben Tanner, keyboard player extraordinaire and fixture on the Shoals music scene, is also her husband. So it’s only natural that All the Best serves up a perfectly edited selection of vinyl records alongside its eclectic bodega style menu.
Go in, take a seat at the sunshine-flooded bar and peruse the excellent menu of snacks while the staff spins the latest record releases from the Shoals and beyond. All the Best serves Domestique coffee and cold brew, along with a variety of other hot and cold beverages. The eatery, newsstand and music shop recently celebrated its first anniversary by hosting a rollicking community block party where food and music shared equal billing. You can check out the party soundtrack on Spotify. All the Best also carries a curated selection of locally crafted items, branded tee shirts and merchandise as well as gifts.
“Shoalsfest is one of the most anticipated weekends of the year for us at All The Best, as well as Florence as a whole” says Kristy, adding “We love seeing music, visitors, and this community collide. All The Best will be offering our usual curated vinyl selection alongside grab-and-go snacks and coffee, and will have an extended vinyl section featuring Shoalsfest artists. We will also have extended hours (8-5 on Saturday and 8-2 on Sunday). We’re looking forward to a beautiful weekend”.
All the Best is located at 128 East Tennessee Street, Florence, Alabama and serves refreshments Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and is open Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m until 2 p.m. You can find them online at allthebestflorence.com
A growing tradition on the Southern breakfast scene, Big Bad Breakfast opened its fifth location in Florence, Alabama in March of 2018. The brainchild of Oxford, Mississippi based Chef and Restaurateur John Currence, the much-loved breakfast spot that began in his hometown is taking over the South like an errant kudzu vine. With multiple locations scattered around the southeast, Big Bad Breakfast continues to satisfy diners looking to begin their mornings with fresh Southern ingredients on the breakfast table. We spoke with the Big Bad Chef himself about his expanding biscuit empire and his relationship with renown Florence-based fashion designer, Billy Reid.
SG: How did the Florence location of BBB come about? The interior of the restaurant is so fun and reflective of the local scene. Can you tell us how your vision for the design of BBB Florence came to life?
JC: Billy Reid and I had been talking about doing something on Court Street for over a decade. I knew Florence well. I was glad to get to spend time there and experience the community like a local. Florence is just a special place and we looked at it and it finally made sense.
SG: How did you first meet Billy Reid?
JC: I blame Angie Mosier [Mosier is a writer, photographer, stylist and cook]. Angie, like my friend Nick Pihakis [of Jim ‘N Nick’s Restaurant fame], loves nothing more than to curate souls in their lives and see what magic they can create by bringing people together. They are a pair of soulful alchemists. Billy and I are from Louisiana and have so many common interests; when we met it was like gasoline and a match.
SG: I have heard on good authority that sometimes folks might overindulge during Shoalsfest from time to time. What are your top tips for the slightly hungover?
JC: My personal remedies include cold Popeye’s fried chicken or cold pizza loaded down with hot sauce. Hot sauce brings me back to life. Ice cream is also a good option. For an eye-opener, you can’t go wrong with a soothing milk punch with bourbon, milk, a little cream, nutmeg, simple syrup.
Just down the street from Billy Reid’s store on Court Street in downtown Florence, Big Bad Breakfast Florence offers hungry and sometimes hungover guests a wide-ranging menu. From cathead biscuits, to a “redneck” eggs benedict, each dish is built on fresh ingredients from some of the best Southern sources and makers including The Original Grit Girl.
Big Bad Breakfast is located at 315 North Court Street in Florence. The hours are 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. For more information, visit the website at bigbadbreakfast.com or call 256-415-8585. The building that houses Big Bad Breakfast has also expanded to include a boutique hotel, The Stricklin, as well as a bar and bowling alley, The Boiler Room.
It’s always darkest right before dawn. The definition of morning varies on some days and one should remain flexible on this point if you’re in Florence and your day stretches a little too far into the night. Sometimes that can happen during ShoalsFest. There are a few twenty-four-hour dining options in Florence including The Waffle House if you’re in the scattered and smothered club. But if you find yourself downtown and it’s technically morning, an after-midnight breakfast can be yours courtesy of the friendly and eclectic crew at Wildwood Tavern and The Chicago Cafe.
The two establishments are next door to one another, and Wildwood Tavern expanded to include an arcade area. Although you won’t find traditional breakfast fare on the menu, everyone appreciates an expanded definition of the first meal on certain occasions. Your options include pizza and locally famous Chicago-style hot dogs. When owner Tyler Ross is not overseeing operations at Wildwood Tavern and his newest restaurant, Lava Room, he spends his time navigating the waters of the Tennessee River on a not-yacht and occasionally trekking the Pacific Coast Trail. When the curtain falls at ShoalsFest and you need “breakfast” before bedding down, Wildwood Tavern and The Chicago Cafe are there for you.
Wildwood Tavern is located at 108 E. Mobile St., Florence and is open 365 days a year; Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. and on Sundays from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. For further details, call (256) 349-2139 or visit online at www.keepflorencefunky.com
The Chicago Café is located at 106 E. Mobile St., Florence and is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 3 a.m., Saturdays from and on Sundays from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. For more information, call (256) 710-3607.
If you’re in Florence for ShoalsFest beyond Saturday and Sunday, do not miss Stagg’s Grocery. Weekdays only. Bologna biscuit. Trust us.
Stagg’s Grocery is located at 1424 Huntsville Road and is open Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Rise and Shine
Florence, Alabama is the kind of city you love to wake up and linger with over a very long breakfast and a dark cup of coffee, especially after a full festival day spent soaking up that Muscle Shoals sound. We can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate ShoalsFest than with an eye-opening meal at any of these outstanding breakfast spots. When you’re in town for ShoalsFest, down home service and soul warming food is always on the breakfast menu at these Florence restaurants and eateries.
ShoalsFest October 1 & 2, 2022 McFarland Park, 200 James M. Spain Drive, Florence, Alabama; tickets available at shoalsfest.showticks.com; 12 and under free admission. For full details, visit www.shoalsfest.net.