October 2015
Homeplace & Community

Hungry for Grandma’s Cooking

 
  Wenona Moorer, owner of GrandMother’s House restaurant, serves one of three courses she created on the popular Food Network show “Chopped.” Representing the South, she placed second out of four entrants. The other three were from Boston, Utah and California. All four participants were grandmothers in keeping with the theme of the episode. It was the first trip to New York City for Wenona and her husband, Milton.

Customers can find all their favorite homemade dishes at
Wenona Moorer’s restaurant in Owens Cross Roads.

Hungry for big helpings of Grandma’s cooking? You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving or go "over the river and through the woods." Just travel a bit off the beaten path in Madison County, and you’ll find all your homemade favorites – chicken and dressing, country fried steak, pot roast, creamed potatoes, fried okra, field peas, corn muffins, fried catfish - and an abundance of other foods including homemade desserts.

What you’re looking for is GrandMother’s House Restaurant. Set in an almost 90-year-old family farmhouse off Old Highway 431 in Owens Cross Roads, owner Wenona Moorer and her staff serve guests Wednesday through Sunday.

"This (restaurant) smells just like my grandmother’s house," said a friend who recently joined me for lunch. Moorer expressed that same sentiment in regard to the restaurant.

 
Originally the family home, GrandMother’s House was constructed almost 90 years ago. Wenona Moorer was born in what is now a small dining room off the waiting area. Additional space for the kitchen and storage area was later added. In the dining room to the right of the waiting area is a large mural of a farm in autumn.  
   

The chicken livers I ordered that day were tasty and not greasy or overcooked. My friend Jayne pronounced the chicken tenders as some of the best she’d ever eaten. Two sides were plenty for each of us, but if you’re really hungry you can order three. We both enjoyed the creamed potatoes. Since we already felt full, but wanted to try a dessert, we split a serving of banana pudding between us. It had a creamy texture and quickly became a favorite of mine.

The lemon icebox pie is also quite good. I chose it for dessert on another occasion. If you’re a sweet potato fan, be sure to order the casserole. The wonderful sourdough bread served before your meal with honey butter is made fresh daily.

Moorer is an avid reader of AFC Cooperative Farming News and always reads the columns of "The Herb Lady" and "Herb T. Farmer." A gardener, she began growing wild azaleas after reading an interview in the magazine with two Auburn University professors. Intrigued by what she read, Moorer phoned and asked if they had any seed she could buy. They sent her some at no charge. She’s been nurturing the tiny azaleas in her greenhouse, and they’re a few inches tall now.

The success story of GrandMother’s House, now just over 8 years old, is one of prayer, persistence and hard labor. Moorer’s husband Milton was still working fulltime, and she raised and showed horses.

"I was praying one day, and the Lord spoke to me," she said, about opening a restaurant.

She felt puzzled. A responsible renter lived in the house, so she prayed, "Is this what you really want?" The answer to that question came from the renter who soon told Mrs. Moorer she wanted to buy a house. Despite many setbacks the building was eventually transformed into a restaurant. Filling each room is family-owned antique furniture once belonging to relatives – decades old, black-and-white family photographs, old mirrors of various sizes, a mural depicting a farm scene and even a family member’s large arrowhead collection. The carefully chosen décor speaks to a personal touch and portrays a rich family history.

Moorer’s ancestry is linked to John Hunt, the founder of Huntsville. The house which is now the site of the restaurant was built in 1928 by George and Vinnie Craft, her grandparents. Ezechiel Craft, forefather of the Craft family, lived in Claiborne County, Tenn., before moving to this area in 1808. He knew John Hunt, who also lived there at the time.

In 1820, Craft began serving as Justice of the Peace. Three years later, he became the first member of the Madison County Commission.

For Moorer, being a grandmother has brought her some national attention. In an unexpected and exciting turn of events, Moorer won the opportunity to participate in a Food Network presentation of "Chopped" in New York City. The popular show features chefs vying to pass muster with the judges as they create a three-course meal from a selection of ingredients unknown to the cooks before the show.

The theme of this episode was "Grandma’s Cooking," and Moorer represented the South. The other three participants were from Boston, Utah and California.

"It was a chance if a lifetime," she said.

Putting her skill and passion for cooking to work, she created Mock Crab Cakes as an appetizer; hamburger steak, sweet potato fries and sautéed green beans as the main course and sides; and, for dessert, oatmeal cookies with melted ice cream. She decorated the dessert plate with strawberries and drizzled chocolate.

Back at home in Alabama, she names her customers as the favorite part of this business adventure with GrandMother’s House.

"We have such good customers, and we want everyone to feel like they’re going to grandma’s."

Maureen Drost is a freelance writer who lives in Huntsville. She was a career journalist for The Decatur Daily and The Huntsville Times.