DOTHAN, AL, January 2, 2013 — One of the things we enjoy about living in the south is the mild weather that enables us to explore back roads and small towns all through the year. Sometimes wandering about in the country will result in finding something very special, whether it’s an historic site, a quirky restaurant or just plain friendly people. If you are lucky enough to visit Abbeville, AL, you will find all of that.
The real gem in the town is a restaurant called Huggin’ Molly’s. The name comes from a local legend about the ghost of a very large women dressed in black who after dark will chase you down, give you a hug and scream in your ear. No one knows where the legend originated from, but a local named Jimmy Rane, also known to many as Yella Man, swears he encountered her as a boy.
Huggin’ Molly’s is fully functioning soda fountain that looks like it came through a time warp from the 1950s. It has a long marble counter, tile floor, wooden booths, display cases with goods and products from 60 years ago and advertising signs we’ve not seen since we were kids. Even the soda fountain equipment is authentic, right down to the green Hamilton Beach mixers and shiny soda dispensers.
The energetic staff is about as friendly and chatty as you’re likely to find in any small town and they know their recipes. Want a NY-style egg cream? No problem. Vanilla Coke? Root beer float? It’s all right there, but be prepared for huge portions. The fountain also serves a variety of overstuffed sandwiches, burgers and fries. What more could anyone possibly ask for in a lunch counter? How about a full restaurant to return to for dinner?
On the other side of the fountain area is a regular restaurant that serves fresh, homemade local entrees like fried quail with cheese grits, chicken pot pie, chops, steaks and kabobs. They also offer a variety of seafood dishes and salads if you want a lighter fare, and for appetizers you can get fried green tomatoes or fried pickles along with more traditional dishes. Many recipes are from the late Anthony Rane, known to locals as Mr. Tony, who migrated from New York years earlier and opened restaurants in Abbeville and nearby Eufaula.
Huggin’ Molly’s was opened by Mr. Tony’s son, Jimmy Rane, as a tribute to his father. Jimmy was set to become a lawyer in the early 1970s but inherited a small lumber treatment plant. With his father’s help and a healthy dose of American spirit and marketing savvy, Rane grew the plant into Great Southern Wood, the largest wood treatment plant in the country with outlets from Florida to Canada. Despite what anyone might say, he definitely built it himself.
If you live in the south and ever had to replace something made of wood, you are familiar with a treated lumber product called YellaWood, and you can’t miss all the billboard signs along every major highway. Jimmy markets his lumber with a series of humorous television ads in which he plays a cowboy named Yella Man who rescues old western towns from rotting wood. If you’re a cowboy, there could be few things worse than losing your horse because the hitching post was rotted through.
Huggin’ Molly’s is a visual treat as well as a treasure for anyone with a sweet tooth. While waiting for your burger and shake you can spend time examining display cases full of 1950s memorabilia, check out the actual musket used in the movie Old Yeller or just spin around on your counter stool like a little kid until you are served.
What makes the place truly unique however, is the fact that it is a real, functioning soda fountain and restaurant with local patrons who eat there every day. It is not part of a glitzy chain with ersatz decorations and tasteless food, and it doesn’t exist to promote a theme park fantasy. It’s about the food, it’s about the real world of small town America, and it’s about a son’s love for his father. Way to go Jimmy.
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