If you’re heading to Gulf Shores, it’s natural to mark your progress on this really dull trip by one of the few landmarks available. And one of the most hellish comes after exiting I-10, onto US 90, entering one of Alabama’s most notorious trio of speed traps: the towns of Loxley, Robertsdale, and Foley. Being sooooo close to your destination, and then having a small town cop hiding in a parking lot on one of these winding municipal roads has been the start of many a bad trip for travelers to the Gulf.
It seems these towns exist solely to balance county budgets by ticketing tourists.
But, wait. That’s not wholly fair to the larger of the three — Foley.
Yes, we know: the Tanger outlets are always a great place to pick up some shoes or hit up Abercrombie without having to go to a mall (and, seriously, don’t sleep on the Beef Jerky Outlet!). Still, the greatest lure of Foley has to be the last prominent Southern diner-type restaurant you’ll see for hours, as Alabama’s meat-n-three belt gives way to its oceanic bounty. And for travelers craving gravy (and, really, you should always crave gravy), that means a stop to Lambert’s Cafe — Home of the Throwed Rolls.
Lambert’s draw is exactly as-advertised on its sign and prodigious marketing: hot, buttery yeast rolls thrown at diners — often by a legion of strapping, scruffy college kids and saccharine-sweet country girls.
And they throw a lot of rolls:
[We bake] 520 dozen rolls per day, for a grand total of 2,246,400...If Lambert’s laid all the rolls that we baked in one year side by side, we would have 177.27 miles of rolls. In the past 21 months we have baked enough rolls to reach 300 miles. That’s the distance between St. Louis, Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee.
How this bizarre tradition started was, like most creations both monstrous and genius, borne of necessity in 1977. Said Lambert’s founder Norm Lambert:
I started throwing rolls about when we were in our old cafe. It was too crowded one noon for me to serve the rolls to a customer and somebody yelled, ‘Throw em.’ So I threw them. So, now I do that about every noon meal and during the evenings too. The rolls are fresh, right out of the oven.
What began as bad table manners and good ole’ fashioned redneckery is now a tourist staple. It is also the reason for more than one lawsuit — who knew that throwing hot objects at head-height could be dangerous?! (Besides literally everyone, I mean.) Still, if you can fight your way to a table past the many tour buses, and are sick of Cracker Barrel, it is definitely worth a stop. The food is very good, particularly their catfish and chicken.
And, look, I know we’re cheating a bit here: The original Lambert’s is in Sikeston, Missouri, and another location is in Ozark. While some of us traveled extensively throughout the Show Me State, many people have never been to Southwest Missouri or the bizarre region known as the Missouri Bootheel — a geographic oddity that is culturally Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Southern Illinois in equal measure. So, if you’re heading to Branson or St. Louis, you will pass its many signs. Still, given the volume of traffic to Gulf beaches (32 million visitors in 2016), combined with the relative decline of Branson and awful winter weather in the Ozarks (just 7.2 million guests in 2018), the Foley stop would have to be considered the flagship.
So, we’re claiming it now.
72 Days until Football Season
P.S. As for the rolls themselves? I’ve always thought they were okay: basically what you’d get at Ryan’s or Golden Corral. But, I’m not much of a carb guy. So, you can defend the rolls below if you want.