SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — Back in '69, Payne's was brand new on the courthouse square in Scottsboro, Ala. — 1869, that is.
I don't think I've dined in a place with such a long history, though the 1950s-era decor belies its 148 years on the corner of East Laurel and Broad streets in the Jackson County seat.
Payne's Sandwich Shop & Soda Fountain calls out to passers-by with inviting cafe chairs outdoors and lots of nifty '50s stuff inside, where they pitch the lunchtime diner as a "working antique."
I immediately felt a kinship.
As the name implies, it's a sandwich shop and soda fountain, but the menu features a lineup that should satisfy foodies and those who want something a little lighter than a burger.
If you go
› Where: Payne’s Sandwich Shop & Soda Fountain, 101 E. Laurel St., Scottsboro Ala.
› Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. All times Central.
› Price range: $2-$8.
› Alcohol: No.
› Phone: 256-574-2140.
Sandwiches include the Classic Reuben with thin-sliced corned beef, sauerkraut, melted Swiss and Thousand Island dressing piled high on a grilled marble rye ($7); and the Italian Stallion ($7), which comes with two kinds of grilled salami, ham, pepperoni, melted provolone and pepper jack cheeses, onions, peppers, lettuce, tomato and Italian dressing on a hoagie roll.
The Great Southern Pimento Cheese ($4) is a toasted sourdough presentation of pimento cheese spread topped with sweet pickles, leaf lettuce and tomato; there's The BLT ($6) on toasted white bread; BBQ Ham Sliders ($7), which come with grilled ham, tangy barbecue sauce and house-made coleslaw served on three traditional slider buns; and The Veg ($6), a choice of bread topped with veggie cream cheese, mushrooms, yellow squash, shredded carrots, roasted red peppers, cucumbers, onions, pepper tomatoes and spinach.
The triple salad sliders ($7) are chicken, shrimp and egg salads with lettuce and tomato on three slider buns; shrimp croissant ($7), bite-size shrimp in a remoulade topped with baby spinach and tomato; Broad Street Dagwood ($7), a 6-inch-high, towering sandwich that comes with roast beef, turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss and American cheeses on three pieces of sourdough bread with lettuce, tomato, mayo and pickle; Lisa's Grilled Cheese ($4), made of American and provolone cheeses on grilled French bread; and a grilled chicken melt ($7), a combination of grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and baby spinach topped with melted Parmesan and provolone cheeses served on a grilled hoagie roll.
There's also a listing for a do-it-yourself sandwich that allows customers to combine ingredients as they like, priced — depending on ingredients — at $5 and up; and hot dogs at $1.50 for a plain one and $2 for a red-slaw dog, white-slaw dog or kraut dog.
Salads tally four larger selections, three of them with at least one type of meat, all priced at $8, as well as a side salad for $3.50, and a pasta salad, house potato salad or seasonal fruit salad for $2.50 each.
Soda fountain drinks are $2. Milk shakes, malts and floats are $3.50, a banana split is $4.50, a sundae is $3.50 and a frappe is $4.50. The paper menu falls way short of the colorful chalkboard fountain menu that hangs on the wall behind the bar.
I was in Scottsboro on assignment, so I made a quick decision to try the grilled chicken melt with a side of potato salad and, of course, sweet tea. The chicken came in big, juicy chunks of white meat, teamed up with fresh spinach and really tasty and tender mushroom slices on a good hoagie roll. There was some homemade mustard sauce on the side — delicious.
I overheard other customers ordering most of the other items listed, so all the fare on the menu must have fans.
The service was what you'd expect from a town-square dining institution: fast and friendly, and my server was happy to offer suggestions. Even as a newcomer, I was treated like one of the regulars, and the other customers were as friendly as the staff.
As I was waiting in line to pay my bill, I noticed there were some interesting specials advertised — on Thursdays, seniors can get a scoop of ice cream for 5 cents, and on Saturday, everybody can get 50-cent scoops.
Now this place is really cool with brightly upholstered booths and tables in a decor styled in a 1950s look even though the place itself harks back almost a century and a half. The walls are plastered with 45 RPM records — the vinyl kind, for those with ear buds — and historic photos that appear to be mostly or all of downtown Scottsboro and the surrounding area. The ceiling is oddly adorned with spent straw wrappers. I'm sure this has some kind of interesting or funny story behind it.
I've repeatedly gone on assignment to Scottsboro with the intention of grabbing lunch at Payne's but always got sidetracked or ran too short on time. Now, I'll make sure it's part of the travel plan.
I like Jackson County for its beauty, anyway, so I'll encourage my wife to take a short road trip with me to see the sights and grab a sandwich on the square and a little something from the famous soda fountain that even led to the declaration of Soda Jerk Day on July 19, 1992.
Now, go make a little of your own history at Payne's.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.