Honeysuckle Café: Worth The Drive To Rogersville

Every two weeks I get in my ’93 Sierra pickup truck and drive to Florence to pick up the latest “run” of Athens Now. Working my way back to Athens, I have two deliveries in Rogersville—one is an outdoor box on Lee Street, right next to a restaurant in the historical section of town. That café, located at 1609 Lee Street, had always felt to me like the “heart” of Rogersville, much like a kitchen being the heart of a home. Then its owners decided to retire, and boy, could you feel the absence of a place that served “Southern comfort food.” Well, happily, those days are now over, and I am pleased to announce that the Honeysuckle Café is up and hummin’!

OK, you say, this is good news, but how’s the food? In a word, “worth the drive from Athens, or anyplace else for that matter.” Before Honeysuckle opened, I was told there was a good chance that they would be interested in advertising. Once open, I hopped in the truck, headed west, and decided to have lunch. I have eaten a cold lunch there, as well as a hot supper; I expect that the Honeysuckle Café is going to get Rogersville revvin’ because both meals, while being completely different from each other, were truly delicious. There are homemade potato chips with a queso dipping sauce, and chicken salad. There are daily specials along the lines of a “Meat-and-three,” with Southern classics such as “hoecakes,” fried green tomatoes, black-eyed peas, pimento cheese, and hash brown casserole. Signature sandwiches include “the Paw Paw,” a classic grilled cheese named for Honeysuckle owner Beverly Scott’s dad, and the Angry Rooster, a shredded buffalo chicken and American cheese grilled sandwich. Desserts include Mama’s Best Banana Pudding, the chocolate chip mug cookie, and special daily desserts. They can hardly keep up with the demand for the banana pudding.

Beverly has cooked for family, friends and co-workers all her life. She also spent more than 30 years as a nurse at Athens-Limestone Hospital. She worked in the ER, has had supervisory positions, and genuinely loved what she did. However, there came a time when she and her husband just knew it was time to make a change, take a risk, and open a restaurant, which has always been her dream. They looked “everywhere,” and finally ended up in Rogersville, ironically, not all that far from Beverly’s ancestors’ homestead farm. They opened on April 18, and on both of my visits they have been happily busy. “We have always loved LuVici’s in Athens, and wanted to do something similar in Rogersville,” Beverly said.

As someone who spent years working in the hospitality business, one of the first things I notice when I go to a restaurant is the staff. Are they happy? Does it show? How do they treat the guests and each other? The Honeysuckle Café staff is mostly young, Beverly allows “no cussin’ or fussin’,” and you can tell that they genuinely enjoy working there. I also appreciated learning that they gather together for prayer at the beginning of the shift, although it’s not mandatory. This certainly gets things off to a good start, now that “putting love in the food” is no longer thought of as something corny. “I wanted people to come in here and feel like they were eating a meal I made for them in my own kitchen, and that they were welcome here,” she said.

One of the most enjoyable features of the Honeysuckle is the wall art. All of the walls and down the service hall are covered with sayings, maxims, scriptures and just plain common sense observations and admonitions, and they are literally a “conversation piece.” Beverly told me that her “son has a saying for everything, and I started writing them down.” The wall art is recorded on every imaginable type of surface, and most are framed. Then they are hung with care, and even decorate the restrooms! People from out-of-state who are staying at Joe Wheeler State Park have come to the Honeysuckle Café for the food as well as a cultural immersion experience, and it’s not unusual to see someone read a saying on the wall and chuckle.

Beverly wanted Athens Now readers to know that she is indebted to her family for all the hard work they put into getting the Honeysuckle transformed into a cozy café. “It took about five months, and there were times I thought we would never get it done, but here we are because of them,” she said. Come and taste her time honored recipes in an environment where “the secret ingredient is always love.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner