Driving into Waverly, Alabama – population 185, give or take – harkens to a slower, simpler time, with its tiny post office and historic homes along the main thoroughfare that’s still a two-lane street (thankfully, U.S. Highway 280 was routed around the town).
Careful, or you’ll drive right by the Waverly Local, the Southern-cuisine eatery opened by executive chef Christian Watson and Andy Anderson, a partner in the company that makes Wickles Pickles. Watson and Anderson revived an old commercial space that was originally the home of one of the state’s first Ford dealerships.
Over the years, the space housed two restaurants – Peyton’s Place and then the Yellowhammer Cafe. When that restaurant closed, it sat vacant for five years, but Anderson, who lives across the street, kept his eye on the building. When the timing was right, the childhood friends decided to open their own restaurant.
It needed a good cleaning and some repairs, but they took care not to compromise the building’s historic integrity. The result is an atmosphere that is understated, but clean and comfortable. The booths and banquettes are custom-made, and the copper tables, bar and host stand are handmade by a local metalworks artisan. The floors were cleaned and sealed, but the remaining imperfections add character.
“We really just wanted to accentuate what was already here, not mask it and cover it up, but kind of revitalize it,” Watson says.
It was the rich history of the building that inspired Watson to start reading old cookbooks, some dating to the late 19th century. These cookbooks featured foods that were clean and real, and recipes that were simple and Southern – which is exactly what Watson and Anderson wanted their restaurant to be.
“You’ll never see microgreens or coconut foam here,” Watson says.
The menu is small, by design. Watson’s focus is on the execution of the cooking.
“This isn’t a fine dining restaurant, but we serve fine dining food. Our service is fine-dining style without the pretentiousness. We’re Waverly; there’s no pretentiousness here,” Watson said, with a laugh.
Before going to culinary school, Watson lived and worked on a farm for three years, an experience that gave him a deep appreciation for small farming operations and fresh, healthy food. He uses as much locally sourced food as possible, preferring to buy from local farmers and purveyors to keep money in the community while still using quality ingredients. The eggs, dairy products and most of the vegetables are locally produced, and Waverly only serves domestic Gulf seafood (except for a smoked salmon BLT at Sunday brunch, which is wild Alaskan).
“The food we put on the plate is what we’d feed our family,” Watson says. “It’s clean. No antibiotics, no growth hormones, organic as much as we possibly can.”
The menu is seasonal and is updated frequently to reflect the availability of the local and regional products. A mainstay is the best-selling ribeye, served with horseradish cream; coming in at a close second is the daily Gulf offering (barrelfish, on a recent day), served over caramelized mushrooms, peas, potatoes and asparagus with an orange rum vinaigrette.
The menu isn’t all upscale entrees. The tasty burger is a double stack, served with all the trimmings and an herb mayo – and the necessary Wickles Pickles.
The bar menu is seasonal as well. Watson and manager Spencer Bradley collaborate on the specialty cocktails and wine lists.
In the beginning, the restaurant was dinner service only; Sunday brunch was added earlier this year. In late July, they added Saturday lunch.
“We’ve done things at our own pace and our own comfort level, so we do it right and we don’t compromise our integrity,” Watson says.
The Waverly Local
1465 Patrick St. Waverly, Alabama 36879
4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday;
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday;
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday for brunch.
Visit The Waverly Local on Facebook for specials and live musical lineups.
This story originally appeared in Alabama Living magazine.