Regional acclaim helps local restaurant pack 'em in

Published 12:52 pm Monday, July 1, 2002

By By Staff Reports
A small restaurant in this small town has earned regional accolades for its dining delights from one of the state's largest newspapers.
Gerlach's Casual Cafe, owned and operated by Atmore native Tommy Gerlach, made the column of the Mobile Register's "Well-Fed Reporter," David Holloway. In fact, the restaurant didn't just make the column, it was the column. And that means business has been booming.
The restaurant was referred to in the column as "one of those shining moments that makes Well-Fed Reporter's job worthwhile."
Gerlach admitted the story was flattering.
The writer's words could hardly have been better if Gerlach himself had chosen the content of the story.
But words and phrases like "fantastic," "reasonably priced," "excellent service," and "incredible" are the words and phrases Gerlach hears regularly since opened in his new location, decked out with a new menu three years ago.
More at home in a pair of shorts, a loose-fitting polo shirt and his well-used apron and baseball cap, Gerlach, 56, makes the rounds at the restaurant running back and forth between the kitchen and the dining area.
He gladhands his friends, and sometimes drops down into an empty seat at a patron's table to shoot the breeze during a break from the kitchen.
But the visits are short and usually come at the very beginning or the very end of the lunch and dinner when the crowds are thin.
And as good as he is on the floor, it's in the kitchen where his skills shine, but that's really no surprise since he has spent most of his life there.
House specialties include country classics like fried green tomatoes, but topped in a rich shrimp sauce, or "citified" as the menu says. It is this combination of country cooking, cajun influence and fine-dining flavor that gives the restaurant and its dishes such a unique style. Catfish, another country favorite, is also on the menu, but it has a sophisticated style when it is served blackened with a garlic and shrimp sauce and served over Gouda grits on a plate rich in eggplant, penne pasta and rich sauces. His po-boys and fries adorn the same menu as garlic shrimp with angel hair pasta. And it is this blend of smalltown charm and big city sophistication that have helped the restaurant keep the seats filled.
The lifelong Atmore resident has spent most of his adult life serving food to local patrons, and the plates have included everything from hamburgers to Gulf shrimp and oysters, from ground beef to black angus steaks. It was a rich tradition that he learned from working with family members who owned a restaurant in Ft. Walton Beach where he got his start, said his wife, Michele.
And while Gerlach was able to study and learn by working away from home, it's being in Atmore that makes him happiest.
And with the success of the restaurant earning notice from the most widely-read publication in the south part of this state, it's something he will be able to continue doing for a long time.
Gerlach's is open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., for lunch, and is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, 5-10 p.m.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox