Tuscaloosa is branded as the town where legends are made. And, especially to Crimson Tide football fans of a certain age, few figures are more fabled than Paul William “Bear” Bryant.
Born during football season (September 11, 1913), he played end for the University of Alabama, including on the 1934 national championship team. He was an assistant coach in Tuscaloosa in the late 1930s. Most famously, he mentored and led a generation of players as multiple championship-winning head coach there from 1958 through 1982.
Like those “George Washington slept here” signs around the mid-Atlantic region, you can still find placards in and near greater T-town that proudly proclaim, “Bear Bryant ate here.”
As a new football season kicks off (under another legendary coach), here are a few places to eat around Tuscaloosa and neighboring Northport with connections to Bryant.
1512 Greensboro Avenue, Tuscaloosa
This historic landmark is a shrine to Alabama football, down to the life-sized cardboard cutout of the current coach, Nick Saban, and an exterior painted in a hue that locals call “Mal Moore red” in honor of the late player, coach, and athletic director.
But The Waysider, which opened roughly a decade before Bryant took over as head coach, is mostly strongly associated with him. A two-seater table, with a bust of Bryant that’s topped with one of his signature houndstooth hats, marks the spot where the coach regularly ate breakfast, lingering over coffee and the newspaper after finishing his country ham plate.
It’s open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday, closing at noon on Saturdays, 1 p.m. on Sundays, and 1:30 p.m. the other days. Needless to say, expect a long wait on game weekends.
408 Main Avenue, Northport
About once a month Bryant would stop in to the City Café for breakfast or lunch while chatting with the lucky fans who had stopped in for a meal or coffee. Sometimes, according to a 2017 report on al.com, he’d even sit down and break biscuits with someone he saw eating alone. Another Bama figure, Ray Perkins, was a near-daily customer at City Café after the former Tide player (under Bryant) succeeded his former head coach.
City Café, which dates back to the Great Depression, serves a standard breakfast menu with eggs, biscuits, and breakfast sandwiches. Lunch is a classic meat-and-three. The restaurant, which opens at 4 a.m. on weekdays, is tailor-made for early risers. But don’t sleep until game day to visit. City Café is closed on weekends.
400 Harper Lee Drive, Tuscaloosa
4251 Courtney Drive, Tuscaloosa
Bob Baumhower only lost four games and earned All-SEC honors while playing defensive tackle under Bryant in the 1970s. But after a distinguished career as a pro football player, Baumhower made another significant mark for football fans throughout the Yellowhammer State: He opened the state’s first chicken wing restaurant in 1981. For trivia fans, that was Wings and Whiskers on the UA campus.
Baumhower is now “CEO and Head Fry Cook” for Aloha Hospitality, an umbrella company that includes upscale restaurants and bars, a food truck, another chicken concept called Wingfingers, and the 10 locations of Baumhower’s Victory Grill.
Billing itself as “Your big game headquarters” and “Alabama’s No. 1 sports-themed restaurant,” Baumhower’s hits all the bar-food basics (plus creative additions like sandwiches made with Indian-style naan bread). Numerous televisions show games both big and basic.
1434 McFarland Boulevard East, Tuscaloosa
When Bear Bryant made the jump from coaching at Texas A&M to Alabama, Pat James was at his side. Bryant’s former player and longtime assistant helped lead the Tide to national championships in 1961 and 1964. After retiring, James opened Full Moon BBQ on Birmingham’s Southside in 1986, running the pit-pork restaurant until selling it to the current owners, brothers David and Joe Maluff, in 1997.
Full Moon now has 17 locations, mostly in Alabama. In Tuscaloosa and Opelika, the Gameday Menu includes bulk packages ($369 – $799) featuring ribs, pulled pork, wings with white sauce, and Full Moon’s famous Half-Moon cookies. Local pickup and delivery to your tailgate tent are available.
Ever wondered what’s in those letters of intent football players sign with colleges? Rod Wilkin shares his letter from the University of Alabama on the website of the Tuscaloosa-based restaurant chain he founded in 1974, Taco Casa. It also depicts the Tide’s varsity roster from 1968, where the junior education major from Wichita, Kansas, is listed as a 6-foot-1-inch, 204-pound kicker.
One thing Wilkin missed about home was the Tex-Mex food, and he dreamed of one day opening a restaurant. That ended up being Taco Casa, and he cites the tenacity and toughness he learned from Coach Bryant as factors in its establishment and success.
Taco Casa has six locations in Tuscaloosa and Northport (plus one in Homewood). It is such an institution to UA students and fans Taco Casa now ships its burritos to locations from coast to coast.