By Marlee Moore
In the quest for Bama’s Best Chicken Tenders, one eatery rules the roost — Bobby’s Restaurant in Eva.
The Morgan County institution, owned by April and John Hall, is known for basketfuls of deep brown tenders covered in crunchy bits of breading. Crinkle-cut fries, fresh-cut slaw, perfectly buttered Texas toast and homemade sauces round out the judge-approved meal.
“Everything is homemade,” April said. “That’s the kicker. We have a sign in the back that tells our staff, ‘Sauces always need to be done.’”
The Bama’s Best Chicken Tenders slate of judges agree: The sauces complement Alabama’s No. 1 agricultural commodity to a T. The Alabama Farmers Federation Poultry Division sponsored the contest, which highlights how Alabamians flock to their favorite bird (poultry is a $15 billion industry in the state).
As the winner, Bobby’s Restaurant receives bragging rights, a cash prize, plaque and a feature on “Simply Southern TV.”
“This is so exciting. We try to be excellent, but we were simply honored to be among the finalists for this contest,” said April. “Serving our community is a labor of love. We do what we love, and we love what we do. This whole contest was a great experience.”
The trio of judges visited Bobby’s Restaurant July 15 as part of a two-day judging journey across Alabama. Bama’s Best Chicken Tenders judges were “Simply Southern TV” reporter Melissa Bowman; Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries Deputy Commissioner Tami Culver; and Federation Poultry Division Director Russ Durrance.
“We are so thankful for the hospitality we experienced as we hit the road to judge this contest,” Durrance said. “Each restaurant puts so much care and attention into serving their loyal customers. While it was hard to separate these great restaurants, at the end of the day, we were blown away by the folks and food at Bobby’s. As soon as we tried their chicken (paired with all four of their sauce offerings), we knew we’d found Bama’s Best Chicken Tenders.”
The saucy lineup includes homemade white barbecue sauce, fresh ranch, sweet honey mustard and chicken sauce, a local favorite April considered dubbing “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sauce.”
April inherited her cooking chops from her restaurateur parents, the late Bobby Smith and his wife, Trish. The restaurant pays homage to its roots with the original Bobby’s Fisherman’s Catch Restaurant sign blanketing a wall. John collects vintage signs, which also pepper the walls.
The original Bobby’s closed in 2014. Five years ago, April and John dove back into food service with Bobby’s Restaurant, where they dole out to-go orders and quickly serve customers in their 80-seat joint on the corner in Eva.
April admits — the recipes are courtesy of Trish. Think hush puppies, banana pudding, fried catfish and strawberry pretzel salad. And the chicken tenders aren’t just served in baskets. One of April’s specialties is fried tenders doused in white gravy; it’s served with biscuits, mashed potatoes and peas.
A repeat visit to Bobby’s is on the to-do list for Bama’s Best Chicken Tenders’ judges, including Culver.
“Bobby’s made an impact with delicious food, excitement for the work they are doing and the family environment they extend to their employees,” Culver said. “April has a vivacious personality and has created a fun atmosphere. It’s exciting to see the continuation of a family business and community legacy.”
Bobby’s is open Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 4-7:30 p.m. Find Bobby’s Restaurant on Facebook to view their daily specials.
Bama’s Best Chicken Tenders nominations were accepted on the Alabama Farmers Federation Facebook page. Fan voting narrowed the Edible Eight finalists to the Flavorful Four — which judges note are all worth a taste.