Opinion: Best local restaurants to visit while attending JSU

Coley Birchfield, Correspondent

Jacksonville State University is a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds from around the globe, all of which share the traditions of the South. 

Whether it’s church or football, you have probably already been introduced to the Southern way of life. 

However, the true hidden gem is Southern cuisine and the “religion” of homestyle cooking. Sweet tea, cornbread and barbeque are just the beginning of what restaurants in Alabama have to offer. Here is a list of local restaurants that are necessary to attending JSU and living in the Calhoun County area.

Chef T’s — Alexandria, Ala.

Our list begins with a personal favorite: Chef T’s in Alexandria. Resting along U.S. Highway 431, this Calhoun County staple has been in operation since its reopening in 2012. The owner, Anthony Soles, keeps his business booming from morning to night. 

Chef T’s menu ensures that everyone finds something to satisfy their appetite. Customers can order anything from a classic hamburger or barbeque to meatloaf or fried green tomatoes. 

Located 20 minutes from JSU’s campus, Chef T’s is the perfect choice for a weekend afternoon lunch. They are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week. 

Jefferson’s — Jacksonville, Ala.

A plate of Jefferson’s “World Famous Wings” can be found just outside of the campus of Jacksonville State University. There are also 26 other locations to choose from around the South including Oxford and Gadsden. 

What is so special about this atmosphere? Just ask the thousands of one-dollar bills that, before COVID-19, covered the walls. They are a way of allowing customers to add their own twist to the restaurant’s decor and remember their time at the establishment. Jefferson’s offers delicious hamburgers, televised sporting events and a welcoming staff. Making for a perfect option for anyone’s night time plans. 

They are open at 11 a.m. everyday and close at 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday, 10 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, and 11 p.m. on the weekends.

Elevated Grounds — Piedmont, Ala.

One thing that Jacksonville lacks is the getway, quiet study environment. Particularly, after the town’s signature coffee shop, Java Jolt, closed their doors last summer. However, just 15 minutes down Alabama Highway 21 is a place with the perfect coffee shop environment. 

Located on Center Ave. in Piedmont, Elevated Grounds always welcomes its guests with a cozy study place and almost 30 delicious flavors of coffee. Seasonal decor fills the restaurant as well as various items available for sale. Other than coffee, their menu also includes treats, ice cream, sandwiches, muffins and more. 

Customers have the choice of sitting inside, along the street or on their outside patio. They’re open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday, while opening at 8 a.m. on Saturdays and having afternoon Sunday hours.

Loco Mex Jacksonville, Ala.

We head back to Jacksonville to recognize a restaurant popular among JSU students. Loco Mex is home to the weekly “Taco Tuesday” tradition where tacos are offered for only one dollar. 

It can also be credited with the popularity of local country music artist, Riley Green. Although he no longer performs weekly at the establishment, Loco Mex still offers a variety of local musicians for weekend concerts. This restaurant is the perfect combination of an entertaining campus restaurant and welcoming family environment. If you are paying them a visit I recommend the “Loco Mexican”. 

They are open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days and close at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. 

Betty’s BBQ — Anniston, Ala.

Betty’s BBQ is credited with having the best sweet tea and homestyle cooking in Calhoun County. This restaurant located along Quintard Ave. in Anniston is the closest a customer can find to “grandma’s kitchen”. 

Although the barbeque doesn’t live up to that of Dad’s BBQ (also in Anniston), their side dishes and homemade desserts are worth the drive. Don’t be confused, however, by the neon Goldpost BBQ sign in the front of the building. This was done when a local restaurant closed and their sign was relocated to preserve the tradition of the sign.

If you plan the 15-minute drive to Betty’s BBQ, I recommend the lunch menu and especially their catfish. They are closed on Sunday but open from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every other day of the week. 

The Rocket — Jacksonville, Ala.

Just five minutes south of campus, The Rocket has operated since 1958. It fits the age old phrase “big things come in little packages”. 

Although seating inside the restaurant is limited, guests still crowd inside for their delicious barbeque sandwiches and hamburgers. Also, their corn nuggets and fries are only a few of their popular sides.

The Marbut family has kept the same small-town feel of the establishment since opening its doors over 60 years ago. If you are looking for a delicious choice for lunch or dinner, The Rocket is one of the best choices. 

The restaurant is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the weekends, and 11 a.m to 9 p.m. on Sunday. 

 Big Chief — Glencoe, Ala.

A restaurant less familiar with local residents is Big Chief in Glencoe. After originally opening as a Jack’s Hamburgers, it reopened in 1963 to its current name. A visitor would have a hard time finding a better tasting hamburger in Alabama. 

Big Chief embodies the small town local business operations of most Southern restaurants. Plenty of outside patio seating is available for guests to dine on. It is located just over twenty minutes off campus on U.S. Highway 431 and makes for the perfect lunch option for anyone. And their milkshakes are perfect for every hot day.  They are open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and closed on Sunday.

This list is the beginning of the many other restaurants that deserve to be recognized. I encourage you to take the time to explore the local restaurants of the area while around the campus of JSU. You will always leave with a full stomach and better understanding of what is so special about Southern cooking.

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