Best You Ever Tasted

Recently our area was featured in Southern Living magazine. I read that photo-studded feature with interest, nodding like a proud parent when I recognized familiar places. Turns out there are quite a few places I don’t know around here. And it turns out the editors of that great publication missed a few places I’ve discovered in my decades here as a geographical in-law. Like where to go for certain things. And when I’m looking for a one-stop shop for some of the best local produce, baked goods, and now a brand-spankin’-new seafood counter, I know exactly where to go.

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Ever had a near-religious experience sifting tiny red-skinned creamer potatoes through your fingers? Driven an hour for the season’s first Silver King sweet corn? Followed your nose to heaping flats of fresh local strawberries stacked near a giant inflatable strawberry?

Burris Farm Market in Loxley, Alabama is a favorite Gulf Coast vegetation destination. It’s usually a challenge to find a parking spot in the gravel lot because so many people are discovering the place. Tourists and locals alike meander through shoppers deep in thought and market workers restocking the broad tables and enormous bins, weighing the merits of pole beans versus snap beans, reaching for baskets of perfectly ripe local tomatoes still warm from the field, and hefting watermelon, cantaloupe, grapefruit, and crisp apples into their carts. I plan whole meals around a solid head of broccoli and a straw basket of sweet potatoes. All the ingredients for the freshest pico de gallo are laid out on beds of crushed ice, ready for the picking, and I daydream down the length of a whole wall of dressings, pickles, preserves, and the best local honey anywhere. A bottle of Vidalia onion–tomato dressing seems to have my name on it and it lands in the cart next to a bunch of the sweetest new Vidalia onions.

When the season is right, cartons of fresh marionberries big as a man’s thumb turn up near buckets bursting with bouquets of fresh cut flowers. Tables heavy with local peaches sweeten the summer air. Outside, a deep overhanging roof provides just enough shade for giant hanging ferns.

Waiting in line to pay for my bounty, I page casually through a couple of cookbooks written by the grand dames of the market’s Burris family. I’m immediately struck by the sense of being in the writer’s kitchen, getting a firsthand lesson on how to cut up a chicken for chicken and dumplings, glaze a Smithfield ham, and assemble banana puddin’. Of course the cookbook finds its way into my basket. How can you put a price tag on a lifetime of Southern kitchen experience?

A cheerful café anchors the market’s north end. Colorful posters, vintage metal signs, and antique kitchen tools brighten the walls. Ceiling fans trace lazy circles overhead, stirring the air and sending the heavenly fragrance of fresh baked breads and pies past the noses of folks patiently waiting their turn at the counter or settled in sturdy metal chairs around wood-topped round tables that have heard a lifetime of conversations. Because you can fit more people around a round table. Everybody knows that, right?.

And the glass-faced counter is a triumph. Crusty loaves of homemade bread, fresh-baked pies oozing jeweled fruit filling, thick, chewy chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies, inch-thick lemon bars dusted with powdered sugar…it’s almost impossible to choose just one thing. The menu, written on a chalkboard behind the counter, changes by season. Spring is always strawberry shortcake. Summer is cobbler — peach, blackberry, apple, and strawberry. Fall is apple crisp and pecan pie, and the cooler winter months are given over to chocolate temptations including, near Christmas, triple layer Red Velvet Cake. Banana puddin’ is always on the menu, and so is Mississippi mud cake, and bread pudding.

No matter how disciplined I am going in to the café, I always seem emerge with something for now, and something for later, and a guilty grin on my face. In fact, wandering through the market, it’s pretty much impossible to find anybody unhappy in there. You know you’re surrounded by people who hold the secrets to life — or at least the secrets to eating well.

You know you want to go. Burris Farm Market is on the corner of South Hickory Street and Highway 59 in Loxley, Alabama, about 40 miles west of Pensacola. It’s open every day, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Trust me. It’s worth going.

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