Birmingham! I thought I was coming to Waffle House country but ended up in James Beard territory. The city’s nicknamed the Dining Table of the South for good reason and has made lists of the best places to travel this year:
Condé Nast Traveler has released its annual list of best places to travel in the upcoming year, and Birmingham tops the list of 22 destinations. Included in the food travel category, Birmingham sits alongside Serbia and Trøndelag County, Norway. ~ Yellowhammer News, Birmingham
When I mentioned I was going to Birmingham, Alabama, friends said get ready for fried food. Yes, I ate my share of succulent battered shrimp and onion rings were available on most menus, but there’s a world of different tastes and options inside the best food places Birmingham Alabama offers.
Please note these meals were hosted and as always, all opinions are my own.
The Hot and Hot Fish Club
After landing in the new city, I was in need of a good meal. I unpacked quickly at the downtown Tutwiler Hotel to join foodie friends across town at the Hot and Hot Fish Club where James Beard award-winning chef, Chris Hastings filled the table with dishes inspired from recipes from all over the world.
I happened upon Hasting’s other spot in the Pepper Place Market and spoke with the bartender about his Bloody Mary spread. Ovenbird, which Chef Hastings runs with his wife, Idie, is more casual that the Hot and Hot, more influenced by Latin flavors, both Euro and South American, and works exclusively with seasonal, Southern ingredients. There are small round bird’s nests on the shelf behind the bar – hence the name for the bird and the restaurant: The Ovenbird gets its name from its covered nest. The nests dome and side entrance make it resemble a Dutch oven.
Breakfast can be a feast as well at Demetri’s BBQ. In keeping with my growing sense of amazement, I discovered that Greek Immigrants are a founding ingredient in Birmingham’s growth. A century ago, they fed hungry pedestrians from food carts, then opened cafeterias and restaurants. Demetri’s, founded in 1961, is a testament to the families skill and love of great food. It’s in the Homewood area of Birmingham.
Lunchtime found me at another city favorite, with a chef from another Greek family – Johnny’s. The place was jumping and Chef, Timothy Hontzhas shared more about the city’s Greek heritage and running one of the best food places Birmingham Alabama offers. Here I indulged in Southern Fried classics and the best collard greens ever.
After walking the Botanical Garden we headed over to Satterfields. Founded by Becky, it’s a picture perfect, simply elegant Southern dinner establishment, just formal enough for special occasions but not too serious and, of course, everything was delicious. Becky joined us for dessert, her jovial presence sweetened everything. Modest to a fault, I only discovered later that she was named the Best Female Chef in Alabama by USA Today.
Pepper Place Market
A bustling farmers market in the old Dr. Pepper Plant?! This can’t be missed. On Saturday mornings the spaces overflows with happy families, clusters of young friends and browsing couples. The Pepper Place Saturday Market overflows with passionate foodies and unique wares. After talking with the vendors, I grabbed a quick coffee at Red Cat and was back on the road to meet friends at the Pizitz Food Hall.
Pizitz Food Hall
Situated in the heart of the historic Theater District, The Pizitz is a short walk from downtown’s main attractions, including parks and museums. With residences above and the spacious food hall below, I can see why it’s become a magnet for the bright urban energy bubbling across the city. The hall is well situated with access to both downtown’s central business district and South-side destinations. The UAB campus and Railroad Park are just minutes away.
Something sweet was in order and we stopped in the French inspired, Bottega Cafe to meet James Beard Award winning chef, Frank Stitt. The building reflects his years in Paris with a menu inspired by his relationships with some of the foremost chefs in the world. Bottega, the building, has a unique, historical character as well. Owned by the Tutwiler family, who still maintain offices upstairs, the arched entry ceiling is painted in a romantic style that reminded me of Marc Chagall’s angels. The patio was full of diners with a gentle waterfall and garden atmosphere – all under peaked tents.
Six Sixteen Inside the Tutwiler Hotel
After strolling through the Birmingham Museum of Art, I headed back to the Tutwiler Hotel. It’s beautifully situated. A grand dame in the neighborhood with a gracious guest breakfast suite on the top floor. My room was spacious and comfortable. Downstairs, I met friends for dinner at Six Sixteen. In fact we met most of the family that runs the place. Under the guidance of chef, Beverly Russell, the restaurant interior is an Art Deco inspired space full of color and conscious comfort.The lighting and setting offsets groups of dinners beautifully. The menu reflects Southern influences and international flair. Chef Russell has put over twenty five years of catering and restaurant experience into every bite and knows how to throw a party. Her daughter, Olivia, oversees a creative cocktail menu too. I was sorry they were only open Thursdays through Saturdays at the time I was there.
Back Forty Beer Company
Can’t leave town without checking the local beer scene. The Back Forty Beer Company is a family favorite on sunny afternoons and located across the street from the Sloss Furnace National Landmark. The founders are on a mission to make artisinal beer popular in the South.
Alabama is widely seen as the wasteland for craft beer in America. With mass produced light beer being the drink of choice for many Southerners, the craft beer market here has been largely ignored. ~ From the Back Forty Website.
Birmingham is delicious on every level. Beautiful architecture, an important history, and with Southern ingredients, every right to be known as the Dining Table of the South.