Wade on Birmingham

Archive for 'Food'

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

Video: The surprising origins of Thanksgiving foods

Happy Thanksgiving, my little butterballs! Enjoy this double play on favorite foods on this #blessed holiday.

Video: Vegans represent! #UNameItChallenge

Books: Excerpt from Kathy G’s ‘Food, Fun and Fabulous’

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

Kathy G. Mezrano - Food, Fun and Fabulous

The following is an excerpt from Birmingham caterer Kathy G. Mezrano’s “Food, Fun and Fabulous.” Kathy G. and Company has been a city fixture for more than 20 years. Mezrano draws on her Lebanese heritage and Southern roots for her first cookbook, which features recipes and ideas for many party themes. 

In this excerpt, she shares her dishes based on fresh produce from farmers’ markets.

• • •

Chapter 6: Farmer’s Table

The farm-to-table movement basically refers to food that is ultra-fresh. Produce is harvested at the perfect moment — as opposed to picked early and then left to ripen in a box while it gets shipped from who knows where — and other products are sourced just as fresh as can be. This concept is near and dear to my heart. I have a special appreciation for local fresh produce, because my dad had a wholesale produce business for 50 years.

When I was growing up, we always had the freshest produce in season. We were doing farm-to-table long before it was chic. But I’m glad it’s popular now, because what better way to get excited about creating and sharing wonderful meals than going straight to the source. When you start with fresh and delicious ingredients, the rest is a breeze.

Yellow Tomato Gazpacho

Golden tomatoes are a new twist on a refreshing summertime favorite. You can also use red or green tomatoes. Or try layering all three in a mini-pilsner for a unique presentation. The soup is thick enough that the layers will stay intact beautifully.

Yield: Six to eight 1/2-cup servings

  • 12 ounces fresh ripe yellow tomatoes, cored
  • 2 cups mango puree
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, small diced
  • 1⁄2 medium red onion, small diced
  • 1⁄2 medium white onion, small diced
  • 1⁄2 jalapeĂąo, minced
  • 1⁄2 small zucchini, small diced
  • 1⁄2 small yellow squash, small diced
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 1⁄4 cup olive oil
  • Juice of one lime

In large pot, boil enough water to cover tomatoes. Add tomatoes to boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes to blanch them. Pull them out of the pot, and immediately transfer to ice water. Once cool, peel tomatoes, and cut in half. Gently squeeze over a fine-mesh strainer sitting inside a bowl to remove the seeds. Reserve the juice.

Puree tomatoes and combine with reserved tomato juice and all other ingredients. Season to taste with lime juice and cilantro. Chill and serve.

•

Okra Casserole with Tomatoes

This is one of my dad’s specialties. He and my mother both loved to cook but, of course, when he cooked, she was the prep chef! Okra is one of my favorite Southern vegetables. It’s so versatile — you can fry it, pickle it, stew it or bake it. People usually love it or hate it, there’s no meeting in the middle, and that’s just fine. If you’re a fan, this is one delicious way to enjoy it.

Yield: 8-10 servings

  • 2 pounds baby okra
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3-4 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon organic chicken base

Wash and trim okra. Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent and set aside. Sauté whole baby okra in same pan, add salt and pepper. Remove okra and line it up in rows in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Spread onion and garlic mixture on top of okra. Slice tomatoes in 1⁄2-inch rounds. Arrange on top of the okra mixture. Mix teaspoon of organic chicken base (I like Better Than Bouillon brand) with 1 cup warm water. Pour over mixture, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

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corn pudding

Corn Pudding

Corn pudding goes with everything. It’s wonderful with grilled meats, chicken or fish. I like to use a sweet corn such as Silver Queen, but bicolor corn works as well. It may be baked in a buttered casserole dish or in individual ramekins. Be sure to use a water bath when baking.

Yield: 8 servings

  • 8 ears sweet corn
  • 1 Vidalia onion, minced
  • 1 quart half and half
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • Nutmeg, dash

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Shave corn off the cob and use the back of the knife to scrape all the corn milk. SautĂŠ onions in butter until translucent, add corn and half-and-half, and simmer until tender. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Blend in food processor or blender until smooth and kernels are no longer whole.

Whisk in eggs and pour the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch buttered casserole dish or ramekins and cover. Place the baking dish into a larger baking dish and add about 1 inch of water to the larger pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until set. Remove cover and bake until crust is golden.

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farmer's market pizza

Farmer’s Market Pizza

Everyone loves pizza, and what a great meal for the whole family. Any combination of summer vegetables may be used. I like to add some fresh pesto and garnish with fresh basil just before serving.

Yield: 1 pie

  • Pizza crust (prebaked or dough)
  • Fl
our
  • 3 tomatoes, variety of heirloom, Roma and globe
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1⁄2 cup basil pesto (see below)
  • 2-3 heads of sweet corn, roasted
  • 8 ounces mozzarella, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons basil, chopped
  • Handful of arugula
  • Handful torn kale
  • 1⁄2 cup Parmesan
  • 1⁄2 Vidallia onion, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sprinkle flour onto baking sheet, then lay prebaked pizza crust on top, or roll out pizza dough with a rolling pin before placing on the sheet. Spread pesto over pizza crust.

Cut roasted sweet corn off the cob and spread it over pesto. Cut tomatoes into slices, laying them on top of the pesto and corn. Sprinkle salt and pepper over tomatoes. Add sliced mozzarella and kale leaves to pizza top.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Garnish with arugula and Parmesan.

Basil Pesto

  • 2 cups spinach leaves
  • 4 cups basil leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1⁄2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups fresh Parmesan, grated

In food processor, process spinach, basil and garlic, and with processor running, slowly add oil. Pulse in Parmesan, and set aside. Mixture should be thick.

•

Hit the Produce Stands

Wherever you are, whatever the local produce and products, you can just feel the excitement in the air when the farmers’ markets open in late spring and run through the summer. Here in Birmingham, markets pop up everywhere — in hospital lobbies, corporate parking decks, downtown parks, community developments and Pepper Place Market, which is a personal favorite.

Our farmers grow everything from heirloom tomatoes, Silver Queen corn and okra to rattlesnake beans, lady peas and Chilton County peaches. In addition to the produce, there are farm-fresh, free-range eggs, pork and beef products, Alabama’s McEwen and Sons’ organic grits and cornmeal and other great offerings.

Our local chefs strive to preserve our Southern heritage and work with farmers to support locally grown food. So, if you want farm-to-table inspiration, you have to go to the farm — or at least the fabulous markets. Make a day of it!

• • •

“Food, Fun and Fabulous” (December 2015, Inspired Intermedia)

Kathy G. Mezrano

Books: Excerpt from Tanner Latham’s ‘Know Thy Farmer’

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Tanner Latham, Know Thy Farmer

The following chapter is an excerpt from San Francisco author Tanner Latham’s “Know Thy Farmer.” He is a Piedmont native and a content strategist, writer, editor, radio reporter and multimedia storyteller. Latham is also a former Southern Living colleague of mine.

His book profiles 30 Alabama farmers and the food they provide to chefs and restaurants.

In this excerpt, Latham recounts a farm-to-table dinner at Sanctuary Farms.

• • •

Farm Dinner

The guests rolled in slowly in near-idling cars and discovered the bright, mid-afternoon sun bathing warm light over the house, barn and a patchwork layout of heirloom fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs anchoring this little farm. A freshly mown path welcomed them and led their steps through naturally wild lawn grasses. It served as an entre to the evening’s event — a first scent of a seven-course dinner, a true farm to farm table experience. And at the path’s end, awaiting each guest, was the first sip — Peach Cobbler Moonshine cocktails stirred and seasoned with locally made popsicles. There, too, was the first bite — skewers of hushpuppies and fried green Sun Gold tomatoes picked earlier that morning from the vines beside which they now mingled.

•

Garlic. That was what initially sparked chef Drew Terp’s interest in Milan Davis and Jeannine Freed of Sanctuary Farms. “It was some of the most incredible garlic I had ever seen,” says Drew, who first met the couple at their booth at the Market at Pepper Place. “They had some of the most beautiful produce I’ve ever seen in any restaurant I had ever worked for. I’ve used ginger imported from all over the world, and Sanctuary’s was the most gorgeous I can remember.”

The couple was fairly smitten with Drew as well. “He had this very positive and boisterous presence,” says Jeannine. “His passion for food was contagious, and his personality went along with it.”

The chef visited the farmers at the market each week, buying produce, chatting and slowly, strongly building a relationship. One Saturday morning, Drew offered to volunteer on the farm just to see what the couple was doing and learn more about their process. The farmers obliged, and throughout the summer, he and his girlfriend visited the farm in Etowah County, Ala., and helped clear brush, till, plant seed and harvest.

After working one day, Jeannine and Milan began talking to Drew about their idea of hosting a fall dining event similar to those held among their network of farmers. It was an opportunity for a chef to show off his or her culinary skills at a farm, sourcing most of the ingredients on site.

“We were reaching a point where we had enough food in our garden,” says Jeannine. “We envisioned it more as a celebration of accomplishments of the season and sharing them with those who come and experience it.”

Yet, the farmer couple had never done anything like that before and weren’t sure how to even begin, but they knew they wanted it to be right. Lucky for them, Drew had experience hosting such events, and he willfully partnered with them as an organizer.

“Drew’s obvious passion left us with no doubts that we were going to plan a wonderful experience for everyone who came,” says Jeannine.

•

The cocktail hour spilled seamlessly into supper, and the guests moved to the barn to seat themselves on wood-topped bales of hay at tables built by Milan from wood he had milled. Above them, string lights and herbs hung from rafters. Around them, used burlap fabrics draped doorways. Before them, flower centerpieces colored the tables. Overhead, the sun was just beginning to set.

As Chef Drew’s team brought out the first course, a charcuterie board with cured meats, local cheeses, a savory okra jam, radish pickles, pickled garlic and local honey, the guests’ eyes widened and lit up, a response repeated with each course presentation throughout the evening.

Then came wrinkled potatoes with Spanish tortillas, a small-bite dish Drew had learned about while traveling through the Canary Islands. After that, mixed greens with seared goat cheese, figs and honey vinaigrette followed by a sweet potato soup with sage farmer’s cheese and brown butter emulsion.

“Everything had a really nice balance. Each course allowed the vegetable to be what it was without covering it up,” says Jeannine.

For the main course, Drew presented a suckling pig with rosemary polenta, glazed baby carrots and wild persimmon pork jus. It had actually been supplied and cooked on site by Will and Liz Doonan of Heron Hollow Farms located in Lacon, Ala.

“We structured the menu so that we would have intricate courses followed by easier courses,” says Drew. “We wanted plenty of time to prepare the more difficult dishes.” With each course, servers poured wine and beer pairings provided by Grassroots Wine from Birmingham and Gadsden-based Back Forty Beer Company. As they placed the plates, the chef stood before the guests and guided them through the dishes, explaining the sources and answering questions.

“It’s my passion,” says Drew. “If you take a plate, and you set it down in front of somebody, they can just taste it and decide if they like it or not. But when you can put something out in front of somebody and tell them a story about it, now they are eating through your eyes and looking at the food through the creator’s vision. They get the story behind the food. It’s so important when people are eating to know there is a background behind the food.”

•

A big, beautiful pecan tree stood next to the barn, its branches extending far enough that their ends sagged to the ground and created a natural canopy and seating area. With the supper courses finished — the fork-clinking silenced — the guests moved from the table to the tree to watch a bonfire grow into a cozy blaze that popped sparks upward to the dark sky.

Local musicians provided a post-dinner soundtrack, picking and singing folk and bluegrass songs. And for the final taste, the chef’s team served dessert, sea salt caramel popsicles from Gadsden-based Frios Gourmet Pops and Drew’s grandmommy’s recipe pecan pie made from nuts that had fallen from the large tree.

•

According to Jeannine, watching someone taste the produce she and Milan grows is akin to the moment you feel when you meet your soulmate. “It’s like, ‘Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!'” she says. “When someone gets the whole process, it’s kind of like a camaraderie. There’s a lot of passion in that moment. I think, ‘These are my people!’ Those moments contribute to making it all worth it. We can grow beautiful food, but there has to be someone there who truly enjoys it.”

She says that this event could not have occurred without their “farm community of friends” who willingly helped to make it happen in a passionate and selfless way. Those farmer friends and musicians sat and dined at the tables alongside the guests and added another depth and dimension to the atmosphere.

In a broad sense, Jeannine believes that events like this only occur when people care from where their food comes. Drew agrees, stating that a major problem today is that people lose track of their food sources. “You go to the store or drive-through and you buy food that is packaged, but that’s not real food,” he says. “The realness of an event like this is picking carrots that morning and serving them that night. You take the food right from the farm, make something beautiful and then share it with those around you. That is what is all about.”

These intimate dinners symbolize the best that has come from the farm-to-table movement and from literally knowing your farmer. They display a through-line that connects those who participate. Chefs respect and revere the live produce and even animals that grow just steps away from the diners. And the guests, a table full of strangers sitting elbow to elbow who quickly bond over their commonalities, can directly ask the farmers about their challenges or the chef about his vision for the dishes.

“This was not only the best of a beautiful harvest and a talented chef,” continues Jeannine. “But it was also a gathering where new friendships came together to show love and support among one another.”

•

Slowly, the guests peel away from the group and the bonfire’s warmth. With bellies full and smiles grand, they turn into the chill of the October evening and follow the same path, now lit by flickering, lighted bags, out to their cars. They occasionally steal a glance over their shoulders to view the glow of the barn and garden. But they have to return. Back to their homes. Back to their families. Back to their lives. Still, they now carry a memory that they’ll recount about a dinner that connected them to the land and to each other.

“This is how a community grows,” says Drew. “One person and story and experience at a time.”

• • •

“Know Thy Farmer” (November 2015, Friends of the Market)

Tanner Latham

The Future of Birmingham: Food

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Video: Ike Pigott reflects on the food movement in Birmingham.

•

Get more essays from more contributors in our free ebook.
Details at the end.

•

By Ike Pigott

[Note: video transcript]

The future of Birmingham is food.

The Future of BirminghamSo what do I mean by that?

We’re not going to become this agrarian paradise. We’re not going to have urban farming everywhere.

But food is going to be the thing that changes Birmingham and alters its future for the better.

If you think about it, that simple picture I took at the food truck has represented something, for me anyway. It’s one of the areas of the city where you are inclined to see about a third laborers, a third hipsters and a third businesspeople. It’s one of the most egalitarian areas that you’re going to come across in the city.

Every little food truck is like its own little Railroad Park in Birmingham, having just the right mix of people, having a good diverse group of people and having a group of people getting along and communing around something.

It’s been that way for a long time.

And I’m going to take that from the present, and I’m going to go back to the past.

•

More on the Taqueria Guzman Taco Truck.

•

The images of segregation in Birmingham, the images of segregation in the city, often very violent. But the ones that stand out are the ones that seem so innocuous: the restrooms, the lunch counters, where people could be eating together but were prevented from doing so. And that in and of itself was part of the abomination.

But then you look to the future, and I see a future for downtown, I see a downtown that has been trying to grow and trying to build its culture and try to bring people for a very long time.

And what’s the piece that is the linchpin that is really going to spur a renaissance in downtown Birmingham in bringing people in? It’s the Publix — it’s the grocery store, it’s food. You put the kind of food in there that brings people together, and people can’t help but be together.

So there’s your answer: It’s food.

• • •

Ike PigottIke Pigott is a veteran communicator based in Birmingham who got out of television news and back into life. Now working for Alabama Power, he specializes in corporate communications, but has interests that are all over the place.

• • •

The Future of BirminghamEssays from other contributors are available in the free ebook, “The Future of Birmingham.”

All you need to do is fill out this simple form. We’ll email you a link to download the book. (And, at no extra charge, we’ll add you to the mailing list for the free Y’all Connect newsletter.)

  • I WANT A FREE BOOK!




• • •

Read more essays in our special 10th anniversary series, The Future of Birmingham.

Taqueria Guzman Taco Truck

Photo: Ike Pigott (reprinted with permission)

The First Avenue North gas station lot is a gathering place for
fans of the Taqueria Guzman taco truck. Food can be the basis
of a coming together in a city long divided.

The Future of Birmingham: Modest incremental improvement

Friday, September 11th, 2015
moe - Avondale Brewing

Photo: Shannon (CC)

The band moe. performs at Avondale Brewing’s outdoor stage.
The transformation in Avondale could spread to other
Birmingham neighborhoods.

•

Get the full version of this essay in our free ebook.
Details at the end.

•

By Karl Seitz

The future of Birmingham is not likely to be as bright as it could be. A lack of strong local leadership and obstacles beyond local control limit the improvements that can be achieved.

The Future of BirminghamOh, some promising signs have appeared, primarily from nontraditional sources of leadership that will make some difference. But the political, business and institutional segments of public life from which municipal leadership typically comes are not doing much leading these days. And looming in the background is the obstacle Birmingham has faced throughout its history, a state government that is more dysfunctional than usual even as it retains its traditional antipathy to urban areas.

So, with all these obstacles, does Birmingham have any hope for a better future? Yes. Perhaps not as much as one would like, but more than we could expect depending on traditional sources of leadership.

Although they could be separated into distinct threads, the combination of the local craft beer industry, high-quality restaurants and the local music-entertainment business has already transformed Avondale and is well on the way to changing other parts of the city. Add the developers who are transforming — not always benevolently — the areas near these dining-entertainment venues, and significant parts of Birmingham will be very different places in 10 years.

Another change, this one in attitudes, that has been going on for more years than most of us realize and is likely to continue is LGBT acceptance. It is no coincidence that Jefferson County probate judges were ready to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples the day it became legal. In marked contrast to the handful of probate judges in Alabama who are refusing to issue any marriage licenses to avoid issuing a same-sex license, Judges Alan King and Sherri Friday had prepared for the change they rightly expected was coming. They had even worked with the state Health Department to change the license application forms to remove gender references.

While one hopes they would have done the same regardless of public opinion, it is likely they knew that a majority of county residents at least tacitly accept equal treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. After all, bars in this city have openly catered to gay customers for at least 50 years. More recently, UAB has been a leader in treating AIDS, which primarily affected members of the gay community early on. And Jefferson County does have an openly gay state legislator in Patricia Todd.

Acceptance and equal treatment of LGBT individuals is not universal in Birmingham, but the trend is clear here as it is across the country. Acceptance will only grow in the years ahead.

Public education might produce positive changes in the next few years. New superintendents always stir hope. However, the cynic in me says such predictions are risky. Better to wait and see.

One would like to be more optimistic about the brightness of Birmingham’s future. But from my perspective, modest improvements appear to be the best we can do. The strong, broad-based community leadership that is necessary for a better result doesn’t currently exist.

• • •

Karl SeitzKarl Seitz arrived in Birmingham in 1964 to attend Birmingham-Southern College after serving 3 years in the Navy. While still a student, he began what would turn out to be a 38-year career at the Birmingham Post-Herald. For more than 30 of those years Seitz served as editorial page editor. Since retiring with the 2005 closing of the newspaper, he has been editor of a quarterly newsletter for the USS Caliente Association, a group of men who served on that Navy ship from 1943 to 1973. He has also written for genealogical publications.

• • •

The Future of BirminghamThe full version of this essay and many more are available in the free ebook, “The Future of Birmingham.”

All you need to do is fill out this simple form. We’ll email you a link to download the book. (And, at no extra charge, we’ll add you to the mailing list for the free Y’all Connect newsletter.)

  • I WANT A FREE BOOK!




• • •

Read more essays in our special 10th anniversary series, The Future of Birmingham.

Books: Excerpt from Emily Brown’s ‘Birmingham Food: A Magic City Menu’

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

Emily Brown, Birmingham Food

The following chapter is an excerpt from Hoover author Emily Brown’s “Birmingham Food: A Magic City Menu” [aff. link]. She is a Birmingham native and a food writer with a bachelor’s degree in English from Birmingham-Southern College and a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She’s also a good friend of mine who once gifted me with a cookbook of her favorite recipes.

Her book looks at the vibrant food scene in Birmingham, including its roots in immigrant culture.

In this excerpt, Brown looks at a Southern and a metro favorite, barbecue.

• • •

Chapter 5, Barbecue

When it comes to barbecue, Birmingham has more than its fair share of options. Whether you prefer sandwiches or plates, traditional sides like slaw and potato salad or more modern accompaniments like organic cheese grits and sautĂŠed local greens, there’s a barbecue restaurant serving up what you want. Local franchises can be found in any corner of the city and surrounding suburbs, and loyalty to a particular brand can sometimes be passed down through generations, much like ownership of the restaurants themselves. Supposedly more than 500 barbecue restaurants have opened in Birmingham since 1920, and though some remain only in the hearts and memories of residents, the new guys in town are earning reputations for seriously good meat.

Golden Rule

One particular brand of Birmingham barbecue grew from a small mom-and-pop establishment to a chain with popularity across the state. In 1891, in the community of Irondale, just east of Birmingham, the Williams family opened a small barbecue joint named Golden Rule BBQ, a good stop on the road to Atlanta for travelers. They served pit barbecue, specializing in pork plates, but also sold beer and cigarettes and did the occasional automobile repair as years went on. In the 1930s, two Williams sisters still ran the business when one, named Ellene, married a man named Jabo Stone, an electrician who owned Stone Electric Company. Soon Ellene brought her husband in to help with the restaurant, and the two ran it together for almost 40 years, serving the same pork plates and selling beer to the locals.

The Stones sold the original property and location of Golden Rule, with its dirt floor, shortly after taking ownership to move closer to the county line, a large spot with room for the family home behind the restaurant. This new location kept the dirt floor in the kitchen, but customers were invited to dine on the wooden floor spanning the walls of the dining room, much like a deck on top of the ground. With the expansion of U.S. 78, Golden Rule moved again and took the opportunity to modernize equipment in the kitchen as well as add metal awnings and neon signs to help with visibility from the highway. With all these changes, it’s no wonder the Stones spruced up the menu with the invention of their barbecue sandwich, which customers could order with chopped inside or outside meat or a mixture of both. The Stones ran Golden Rule when there were separate dining areas for whites and blacks, but they also ushered the business through desegregation in the 1960s.

Since Ellene and Jabo had no children of their own to pass on the business of the Golden Rule, when they were ready to retire in the late 1960s, Jabo began searching out a savvy businessman to whom to sell the restaurant, someone he could trust to keep Birmingham’s oldest continually operating restaurant going. He’d become a fan of Michael’s Sirloin Room and its proprietor Michael Matsos, so he approached him about buying the Golden Rule. Matsos eventually agreed, though he claims to have brokered their particular deal so that the Stones’ only significant payment for the restaurant was a 20-year royalty deal because he didn’t want to pay anything for the restaurant. He joked that Jabo got the better end of that deal for sure. “Jabo Stone made lots more money than I anticipated paying on the royalty,” Michael said, which must have hurt his pride a bit as a well-known sharp businessman. But Michael and his son, Charles, whom he eventually brought on to help run the business, made their own large successes with Golden Rule in franchising and selling the sauces. When the family sold a majority of the chain in 2009, there were almost 25 Golden Rule restaurants across the Southeast.

But back in 1969, when Michael Matsos first bought Golden Rule from the Stones, the restaurant had to move once again, this time due to construction of Interstate 20. This move was essentially across the street from the previous location, and the restaurant has been in the same spot for over 30 years now. The Matsoses pride themselves on selling the same pork plates and sandwiches, and this original location still sells Coke in glass bottles, something old-timers remember fondly. Michael made sure to keep the same style pit for cooking, though the current one is considerably larger than in the old days. “All the cooking is done right out there in front of the customer,” Michael said. “And he knows what he’s getting.” Matsos put his own spin on Golden Rule though, aside from the expansion. He was responsible for bringing in chicken, ribs and beef brisket to the menu and even adding french fries as a side. Each type of meat has its own special sauce to go along with it. The original tomato-based sauce for the pork plate or sandwiches has changed only slightly from the days of the Williams and Stone families, and the Matsos family has added a sweeter sauce to better accompany ribs and chicken. They’ve even developed a mustard-based sauce for customers who might have grown up with a different style of barbecue and for franchises outside the state. These changes have helped with franchising, giving Golden Rule a universal appeal, and Michael credited his son, Charles, with being instrumental to the franchising idea and process.

These days, the Golden Rule does a booming business, even selling pies, such as the lemon icebox pie, made famous at Michael’s Sirloin Room. The menu might have changed a lot from the days of pork plates and cigarettes; customers can enjoy a barbecue salad made with smoked chicken and honey mustard dressing if they’re not up for one of Golden Rule’s pork sandwiches smothered in thick barbecue sauce. And while variety might be good for business, attracting a wider range of customers, Michael knew the cornerstone of a successful restaurant is always good, friendly service. “The restaurant business as a whole is very difficult because you may have a good product, but if you don’t have good service to go with it, you have nothing,” he said. “I’ve always believed you can’t compromise quality for a price. Quality comes first. That’s been our motto, and I think we’ve been very good at it.”

In an especially Birmingham-style twist of fate, Michael’s son, Charles, who was the driving force in franchising Golden Rule and a savvy restaurateur in his own right, decided to open a hot dog restaurant in 2012: G-Dogs and Gyros. The idea came to Charles after eating hot dogs topped with his mother’s special recipe for thick and tangy sauce with his mom and dad one day. Unfortunately, Michael Matsos passed away just a few weeks before his son’s newest venture became a reality, but Charles said his dad was excited about the prospect of his casual restaurant serving their family’s version of the historic Birmingham hot dog.

Ollie’s

It’s no secret that barbecue in Birmingham can spark controversy, even if the issues only arrive in the form of debate over sauce preferences. But one longtime Birmingham barbecue institution made national history in the 1960s for a different type of controversy, namely refusing to serve African Americans at its counters and tables even after the national civil rights movement successfully brought an end to the 1914 Birmingham law requiring racial segregation in public eating places. Ollie’s Bar-B-Q in Southside put itself at the center of national discussion when it challenged the segregation law’s repeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — and lost.

Ollie’s wasn’t always such a den of contention, however, and had even been a favorite spot among African Americans and Caucasians alike. In 1926, James Ollie McClung, a former Merita Bread deliveryman (when it was delivered by horse-drawn carriages), opened Ollie’s Bar-B-Q in a small wooden shack on Green Springs Highway. The original building sported a tar paper roof, plank floors and screens nailed in the windows, but the signature thin, vinegary sauce that topped trimmed, lean pork slow smoked over both hickory and charcoal for 10 hours — a process that kept the original owners and cooks working through the night — drew crowds from the predominantly African-American neighborhood in which the restaurant resided as well as from surrounding areas. The McClungs claimed the slow-cooking process, which encouraged any remaining fat in the meat to drip down onto the coals and further flavor the smoke, made their barbecue the “World’s Best.” The barbecue stand found such success that the McClungs had to expand in 1949 and again in 1959, passing the responsibilities of the restaurant down to a second and third generation.

In 1964, James Ollie’s son and grandson Ollie Sr. and Ollie Jr. ran the business, closing on Sundays to show their conservative principles and placing signs on every table that read, “No profanity please. Ladies and children are usually present. We appreciate your cooperation.” White customers made up the restaurant’s base, and regulars could be served at the tables. But even after repeal of the restaurant segregation law, the McClungs continued to serve African Americans only takeout from the end of their counter. By the end of that year, the Ollie’s case ended in the Supreme Court, where the law requiring that “all persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any public place of accommodation … without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion or national origin” was upheld. A major victory for the civil rights movement, the ruling inspired Reverend Edward Gardner of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights to remark, “There will be no more sit-ins, but from now on there will be walk-ins.”

The McClungs and Ollie’s Bar-B-Q complied and continued to change with the times. In 1968, when Interstate 65 was constructed right in the path of Ollie’s, the barbecue place moved again, this time just a bit farther down Green Springs Highway to the memorable round building it occupied for the next 30 years. As Ollie Jr. took over more of the restaurant’s operations, the restaurant saw changes to the original menu as well — though never to the original sauce. Barbecued chicken and barbecue salads were added to the menu that also included a seasonal mincemeat pie (with meat). In the early 1970s, the McClungs also began bottling and selling their sauce, which sold well at select locations. By 1999, Ollie’s Bar-B-Q had moved once again, this time to the city of Pelham, about 20 minutes south of downtown Birmingham. The final incarnation of Ollie’s lasted until only 2001, when declining sales and a lack of long-term interest by younger family members to maintain the business forced it to close. But despite the troubled history of Ollie’s, the restaurant is still remembered fondly by many, as evidenced by the continued sales of its unique sauce.

Jim ‘N Nick’s

Nick Pihakis of Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q has wanted to be in the restaurant business since he was 15 years old. At age 19, he started working at Rossi’s, one of Michael Matsos’ establishments, and stayed there for the next 8 years, learning the trade. By then his father, Jim, was ready to retire from his career in insurance and suggested they start a family business together. Nick jumped at the chance to join his father in living out his restaurant dream, and in 1985, they purchased a pizza franchise. The company’s corporate headquarters decided not to allow transfer of the franchise and asked them to take down the signs, basically to cease and desist, which is when Nick and his father decided to try their hands at a Southern tradition: barbecue. They hired a former cook from Ollie’s to come and teach them everything he knew about cooking pit barbecue. Once they had their technique down, customers started coming in, though for the first few months the restaurant operated without a name or a sign. Nick said he and his father kept polling their customers, asking for suggestions for the new restaurant’s name. Most suggested they name it after themselves since they were always around, and Jim ‘N Nick’s was born. Soon, they expanded to a second location in the over-the-mountain neighborhood of Riverchase in Hoover, and once suburbanites got a taste of Jim ‘N Nick’s delicious food, which they could easily enjoy at night and on the weekends, the restaurant’s growth really began. As of 2014, there were 34 Jim ‘N Nick’s restaurants around the country, each owned in partnership with a local, and five more are expected to open in 2015.

Now Nick focuses on a business philosophy he calls “lateral service,” which essentially means he believes in taking care of his employees, nurturing them, teaching them and helping them achieve their goals, which translates into good service and a good experience for the customers. Even with 3,500 employees, Nick still considers Jim ‘N Nick’s to be just a big family, and he believes in treating everyone as such. To him, barbecue has always been about family and sharing good food and good times with friends, forging those connections between people over a plate of food of which everyone involved can be proud.

Aside from cooking really great barbecued pork and smoked chicken with traditional sides like greens, macaroni and cheese and more, Jim ‘N Nick’s is famous for its addictive cheese biscuits. Each party gets a basket of these buttery mouthfuls served when it is seated, but customers often keep asking for more and often have to wait while a new batch comes out of the oven. Everything is done fresh at Jim ‘N Nicks. The restaurants don’t even have freezers. Nick says that when they hire people who have come from a chain restaurant background, they basically have to teach them how to cook. He has some quality help at his Southside location, however. Harry Pasisis, who ran Tom’s Coney’s hot dog stand from the 1950s to the 1980s, still comes in a few mornings a week to prep sauces and cheese biscuit batter and a few other things. Nick got to know Harry growing up in the Greek church and said their families have been great friends ever since he can remember.

Though Nick didn’t grow up in the restaurant business like a lot of second- and third-generation Greek immigrants in Birmingham, he does recognize the tradition he’s continuing by owning such a successful restaurant business for almost 30 years. Jim Pihakis was the first generation of Pihakis men born in America, after his parents immigrated to Pennsylvania from Greece. His job in insurance transferred him to Birmingham, which is where Nick grew up, among a community of Greeks who were mainly in the produce, hot dog or restaurant business. Some, like Michael Matsos, even owned her. “It’s about the experience more than it is just about the food. We connected with it. We understood it. I understood food.”

In fostering a sense of personal pride in his employees and local owners, Nick has empowered them to give back to their own communities in meaningful ways. Part of Jim ‘N Nick’s agreement with its local owners is that at least 1 percent of sales will go to support community outreach programs. The company does not advertise, relying instead on these outreach programs focused in schools and churches and on teaching children and adults more about healthy eating to gain name recognition in each neighborhood. In Birmingham, Nick sits on the board at both Jones Valley Teaching Farm and Pepper Place Farmers’ Market, two places dedicated to increasing the quality of and access to healthy food in our community, as well as educating people, whether through classes or cooking demonstrations, about better food choices. (Both organizations are covered in a later chapter.) “Our goal is to develop the next generation to be good servants to the community,” Nick said.

As a companion to service and outreach, serving the best-quality food available is also at the core of Jim ‘N Nick’s philosophy. “We want to always use the best-quality food we can afford and buy local as much as we can,” Nick said. Honesty in preparation and choosing the best recipes for its guests extends beyond the food served in Jim ‘N Nick’s restaurants, too. Since 2003, Nick and his restaurants have cultivated a close relationship with the Southern Foodways Alliance, a group dedicated to recording and preserving the history of Southern foodways, a process that encourages conversation and a democratic atmosphere in which change and growth can come about. Through this relationship with the Southern Foodways Alliance, Nick and a group of other chefs, restaurateurs and writers have formed the Fatback Collective, an organization whose members come together to learn, share and help one another. The Fatback Collective has competed in the Memphis in May barbecue competition and also helped rebuild two barbecue restaurants that burned down, but its biggest enterprise of its brief existence has been the Fatback Pig Project. No longer satisfied with just serving the community through their restaurants, Nick and the Fatback Pig Project have purchased a pig-processing plant in northern Alabama to try to fill the gap left in pig farming and processing since Bryan Meats closed in Mississippi. They’re trying to find a steady and sustainable market for farmers to grow heritage breed hogs. Then the plant processes the meat into things like bacon for Chef John Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast, which opened a second location in Birmingham, and Donald Link’s Cochon. The final goal for the group is to market its higher-quality product for wholesale. “We feel like we can carve a niche out,” Nick said. “With our buying power, we felt like we could make a difference putting farmers back to work.”

The fact that Birmingham is home to two distinct and successful barbecue chains with appeal beyond the state just proves that it’s more than the food that makes customers loyal to a restaurant. With Jim ‘N Nick’s, the warmth and communal spirit honor the particularly Southern spirit of hospitality while the focus on quality and sustainability for the future of hog farmers across the region brings the restaurants into the forefront of modern food concerns. Considering the first Jim ‘N Nick’s opened just a few short years after Frank Stitt began his crusade to make Birmingham a notable food town and the fact that Jim ‘N Nick’s has flourished for this long, the future of barbecue in Birmingham is in good hands.

Saw’s

Speaking of the future of barbecue in Birmingham, one of the newest and most original and forward-thinking barbecue franchises around town still maintains a steadfast connection to traditional roots, even when it comes to its unique vinegar-based sauce. Since Mike Wilson first opened Saw’s BBQ in Homewood in 2009, Birmingham residents have been clamoring for his pulled pork, smoked chicken, savory sauces and traditional sides, which is impressive in a market already known for lots of great barbecue. And with Mike’s expansion into two other restaurants, Saw’s Soul Kitchen and Saw’s Juke Joint, plus a food truck, Saw’s Street Kitchen, it’s clear that Birmingham can’t get enough of his artful and unpretentious food served with soul. Mike came to Birmingham initially in 2000 to work in the test kitchens at Cooking Light magazine, one of the publications put out by Southern Progress in Birmingham. At the time, Birmingham was just beginning to see an awakening in terms of notable high-end cuisine, but there weren’t a lot of non-chain, casual places to eat that still offered quality eats. In his native North Carolina, Mike had often spent weekends off from his job as sous chef at Dean and Deluca barbecuing with friends, experimenting with different cuts of meat, smoking times and eventually coming around to mixing his own rubs to season and color the meat. “I’m one of those guys trying to make everything homemade,” Mike said. So eventually, he even developed his own sauces, which are vinegar based, like those from Ollie’s were long ago. Once Mike came to work at Cooking Light, he still kept up his weekend hobby of smoking meat, and occasionally, he’d bring in leftovers to share with his co-workers. Word got out, friends raved and begged for more and Mike started thinking about finding a food truck so he could sell his barbecue more professionally at nights and on the weekends when he wasn’t at the test kitchens. A photographer friend suggested a space in Homewood for Mike’s commissary kitchen, something he’d need if he could find a food truck to purchase, but since it was so close to Broadway Barbecue, he balked, not wanting to step on anyone’s toes. Mike did like the Broadway Barbecue space, though, and mentioned on a Thursday he’d be interested in buying it if the owner ever felt like selling. By the next Tuesday, the deal was done, for less money than it would have cost to start up a food truck, and Mike took 2 weeks off from Cooking Light to open his Saw’s BBQ restaurant, keeping all the equipment from Broadway and even keeping on two employees, one of whom, Ms. Anna, runs the Homewood location still. By the end of those 2 weeks, Mike knew he couldn’t return to his job at the magazine. The restaurant was an immediate success.

Saw’s BBQ is small, like an old-school barbecue joint. Aside from the delicious meat, which Mike says stands out because he doesn’t chop it, it’s all pulled, customers enjoy traditional sides like greens, macaroni and cheese, corn, deviled eggs and more. The place felt immediately like it had been around forever and is warm and inviting with its close tables and smoky scent wafting to the street. “I try to take care of the little things and instill it in other people I work with,” Mike said when asked why he thinks he had such immediate success. “You’ve got to take care of the little things, and the big things will come. It’s all about the food, to me.” He also takes pride in the fact that they serve the same ingredients, from the same places, that high-end restaurants around town use.

Mike’s second location, Saw’s Soul Kitchen in Avondale’s newly vibrant neighborhood, came about just as much by chance. A friend suggested Mike meet Brandon Cain, a former chef de cuisine at Ocean who was ready to go out on his own in the restaurant business. They started talking with Coby Lake, one of the brothers who owns Avondale Brewing Company, an anchor in the neighborhood, and bought the spot with all the kitchen equipment and utensils almost the second they saw it, knowing it would be perfect for Mike’s dream of a casual restaurant with great hamburgers and seafood sandwiches, plus his barbecue. The standout at Saw’s Soul Kitchen, however, is the pork and greens. Perfectly seasoned and sauced pulled pork sits on top of a bed of cooked greens and creamy cheese grits, all topped with crispy, thin onion rings. When Alton Brown came to town in 2014, he raved about the ribs at Saw’s. The third Saw’s location, Saw’s Juke Joint, opened in the Crestline neighborhood in 2012 and allows Mike and his partners Doug Smith and “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks to combine the signature Saw’s flavors with the atmosphere of a fun, neighborhood bar. The latest Saw’s iteration is the food truck, serving a mobile version of customer favorites like huge, deliciously messy burgers and bringing Mike’s restaurant dreams full circle back to a food truck.

Always on the move and looking for his next opportunity has helped Mike find spaces for new concepts and expansions of his brand at the right time, every time. His partnership in Post Office Pies, the new artisan pizza joint down the street from Avondale Brewing and the Soul Kitchen, has gained national attention for Birmingham and the restaurant’s chef and partner John Hall. John Hall is a Birmingham native but spent time at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York after culinary school. While in New York, John ran a bike-delivery pizza restaurant out of his apartment kitchen, and his love for crafting pizzas was born. Post Office Pies is a modern take on a classic, with toppings like house-made sausage and local vegetables on wood-fired crusts, but they keep a foothold in tradition with the restaurant’s booths, which came from the old Michael’s Sirloin Room. Within months of opening, Post Office Pies was named one of the Top 33 pizza places in America by Thrillist.com, and Chef John Hall was featured in the New York Times, high praise indeed.

With hints that expansion into other states, in some form, is in the works for Mike, he’s poised to become one of the more recognized chefs and restaurateurs from Birmingham. But his humble and grateful attitude makes Mike’s successes well deserved. “Without the customer you don’t have any of this,” Mike said. “It’s just about right and wrong. If you’re not going to serve that plate to your mother, don’t serve it to my guests.” He believes in treating people right and treating people fair, from the customers to his staff. “You’ve got to be honored,” Mike tells his staff. “These people worked hard for their money and are going to spend it on something we’ve created.” Birmingham has definitely been welcoming to Mike, and he’s grateful. “I’m thankful people in Birmingham embrace us and are adventurous … I think [Birmingham’s] changing for the good, and it’s only going to get better.”

• • •

Emily Brown has her launch party for “Birmingham Food: A Magic City Menu” from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Alabama Booksmith in Homewood. Upcoming signings include 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 18 at Chickadee and 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 18 at Birmingham Bake and Cook Co., both in the Cahaba Heights neighborhood of Vestavia Hills.

“Birmingham Food: A Magic City Menu” (Aug. 3, Arcadia Publishing)

Emily Brown

Books: Excerpt from Carla Jean Whitley’s ‘Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City’

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015
Carla Jean Whitley, Birmingham Beer

Cheryl Joy Miner

The following chapter is an excerpt from Birmingham author Carla Jean Whitley’s “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” [aff. link]. She is a features reporter at Alabama Media Group, a freelance writer and a journalism instructor at the University of Alabama and Samford University, plus a good friend.

This is her third(!) book in 13 months, and the second to be featured on this site. (Read an excerpt from her book, “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.”) “Birmingham Beer” traces the century-long rise and fall and rise of local brewing.

In this excerpt, Whitley takes us behind the scenes of the real battle, not in Birmingham but in Montgomery …

• • •

Chapter 6, Brewery Modernization Act

Free the Hops initially identified alcohol limit and container size as its top priorities. After the success of the Gourmet Beer Bill, the organization considered continuing along that path. However, lobbyist Michael Sullivan recommended launching the Brewery Modernization Act instead. Because 2010 was an election year, the Gourmet Bottle Bill was unlikely to see much attention. However, the brewery efforts stood a better chance as a pro-business, economic initiative.

Dan Roberts, of both Free the Hops and Alabama Brewers Guild, explained that the Brewpub Act of 1992 was insufficient because it was so difficult to find an approved location. He, too, expected fairly quick progress with the Brewery Modernization Act since it focused on business operations rather than the alcohol itself. “We are severely limiting the growth of an industry that is finding success and creating jobs in other states,” Roberts said to the Birmingham News. “It’s really about making an environment more friendly for business, which ordinarily we would all be in favor of.”

Five Alabama production breweries were in operation as the Brewery Modernization Act made the legislative rounds in 2011. But if visitors wanted to tour Good People, Madison’s Blue Pants Brewery, Huntsville’s Yellowhammer Brewing, Old Black Bear Brewing or Straight to Ale Brewing, they could admire brewing equipment without appreciating the fruit of its labor. State regulations meant breweries were unable to serve even a sample on site. And by 2011, all brewpubs had closed.

“Why are breweries and brewpubs under different legislation? At the end of the day, they both manufacture beer,” Stuart Carter said to the Birmingham News.

“Everything about it [the Brewpub Act of 1992] is set up to make a brewpub fail,” Carter told Birmingham magazine. Why should 21st-century businesses be bound to Prohibition-era precedents? The proposed legislation would loosen the historic district requirements and allow taprooms in breweries. But the Brewery Modernization Act, which passed the Senate, didn’t get a final vote in the House because time ran out.

“Alabama law will not allow us to even charge $5 for a tour followed by free beer tastings like they can at wineries. Why are we treated differently?” Craig Shaw asked the Birmingham News. Shaw was brew master at Avondale Brewing Company, which was gearing up for business as the legislation went through the 2011 session.

That wasn’t the only lost opportunity. Because of the existing laws, Alabama breweries — and therefore the state itself — missed out on tourism dollars, proponents said.

“In many states, breweries are tourist destinations. Our phones are ringing and our email inboxes are filling with travelers looking for interesting places to stop while heading to the beach, in town for business, or looking for places to take their out-of-town guests. Currently we must deny their request for tours or to sample our products at the brewery,” the Alabama Brewers Guild wrote in its statement supporting the Brewery Modernization Act.

“That’s what it’s all about — enabling Alabama business to grow,” Roberts, the ABG’s executive director, explained to the Birmingham News. “If you go to other states, taprooms are the most common things in the world. Tasting rooms and tours are the way small breweries grow their brand. When you’re dealing with beer on this level, it’s not a commodity like the big beer brands.”

“At a time when we need more job creation and economic activity, our laws are preventing growth in one of the industries that is trying to grow here,” past Free the Hops president Stuart Carter said to the Birmingham News.

“It’s taken the hard work of hundreds of craft beer makers several years to change things. Of the 50 million cases of beer sold in Alabama last year, wouldn’t it be better if more of that revenue stayed in this state?” Back Forty’s Jason Wilson asked the News.

The city’s existing brewery and brewery-in-the-making both hoped to utilize freedoms a successful bill would offer. The repeal of brewpub laws would allow for on-site taprooms at Good People, Avondale and any breweries to come.

“At the end of the day, it’s about two things: economic development and competitiveness for Alabama businesses. It’s a travesty we can’t have a group of tourists stop by our brewery, show them around, sell them a pint of beer, talk to them about our brewery and Birmingham, tell them which grocery stores carry our products and recommend a great lunch stop or a hotel. We are constantly contacted by out-of-town people wanting to stop by the brewery to buy a pint of beer, and upon our explaining the restrictions of Alabama law, I doubt many people take the exit off of I-65,” Good People brewmaster Jason Malone told Black and White City Paper. He noted that taproom revenue would help subsidize brewery growth.

Likewise, the paper noted that breweries could stimulate growth in other ways. “Avondale Brewing’s [Coby] Lake says that he and his partners advocate SB 192 because they have spent considerable dollars to renovate a building that could easily become a hotspot in a Birmingham neighborhood that has been challenged for years,” the paper’s Chuck Geiss wrote.

Free the Hops’ Gabe Harris explained in the same article:

“The Brewery Modernization Act will help create jobs and revive dying neighborhoods in local communities. In addition, this bill allows brewpubs to provide tours and samples, which in turn would increase receipts from such taxes that go straight into Alabama’s education fund. Existing data supports how the earlier legislation has benefited the businesses that are now carrying these beers and all the things that our opponents once railed against simply haven’t happened.”

Budweiser Boycott

The act’s proponents ran into another obstacle before the bill could come up for vote, and a surprising one: an area distributor. In April 2011, Birmingham Budweiser, the local Anheuser-Busch distributor, worked against the bill. Gadsden’s Back Forty Brewing co-founder Jason Wilson said distributors worried that, with breweries being allowed to sell beer on premises, larger breweries like Anheuser-Busch and Coors could challenge the three-tier system. That system requires manufacturers to sell their beer to distributors, which then sell to stores. If breweries were permitted to self-distribute, Wilson explained to the (Mobile) Press-Register, distributors could see their business decline.

Free the Hops (by then 1,700 members strong) quickly called for a boycott of all beer carried by Birmingham Budweiser, which meant not only avoiding products such as Budweiser but also national and even local favorites, including Back Forty.
Harris told Black and White City Paper:

“Anheuser-Busch and their individual distributors have every right to work the legislature against the Brewery Modernization Act. They can be opposed to a jobs-creating, economic development bill that would benefit local business. They can oppose craft beer and Free the Hops. But the craft beer community and Free the Hops can oppose them, too. Anheuser-Busch products and products from their distribution network are now banned from Free the Hops events. This will have its first big effect on the Rocket City Brewfest and will continue with the Magic City Brewfest unless the Brewery Modernization Act becomes law in a form we find acceptable. The state can support many more breweries and we think it is in the best interest of consumers, the economy and the state to see [the legislation] move forward.”

(In 2012, the Alabama Wineries Association called for a similar boycott on beers distributed by opponents to a bill that some said aimed to create an exception to the three-tier system for wineries alone.)

It wasn’t a decision Free the Hops members took easily, the organization’s Stuart Carter explained to the Birmingham News:

“The only power we have is the content of our wallets. What we’re saying with this boycott is we as consumers don’t want to be channeling profits to wholesalers who are using those profits to prevent other consumers from getting the beer we want to drink. This is hurting friends, either friends we know or friends who brew the beer we love to drink. The problem is they’re the innocents in this who are caught in the crossfire.”

Those beers would have been excluded from Huntsville’s Rocket City Brewfest and Birmingham’s Magic City Brewfest had negotiations not resulted in a compromise prior to the events. But within weeks, the parties reached an agreement. Free the Hops conceded to maintain a distinction between brewpubs and production breweries. As a result, breweries were allowed to offer tastings without restriction or an additional license, but sales were limited to on-site consumption. Draft-to-go must still be purchased elsewhere. Brewpubs, on the other hand, still faced a number of the existing restrictions. Some were modified: the historic requirement was expanded to include economically distressed areas as determined by the municipality, not just a historic building; they were allowed to sell to wholesalers for outside distribution; and while a restaurant was still necessary, the minimum seating requirement was eliminated. This compromise was necessary in part because distributors wanted the brewpub license to remain special and limited.

On the Free the Hops blog, Alabama Brewers Guild executive director Dan Roberts wrote that the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), favored the economically distressed area addition. “Does an area with an empty building — a building that would be perfect for a brewpub — constitute an economically distressed area? That’s up to a city council,” Roberts wrote.

In addressing the media, he explained that the compromise was preferable to the alternative. “It will not be everything we wanted, but it is definitely a workable solution and represents a significant improvement over the current restrictions,” he told the Birmingham News. “We were not going to get everything we wanted. The bill we ended up with is still a vast improvement over what we currently have.”

Jason Malone echoed those sentiments in an interview with the paper. “Anything in the right direction is better than the current status quo. Obviously, some compromises did have to be made, and while we would have rather not had to give up anything that we were going after, that’s not realistic.”

Moving Forward

Birmingham Budweiser became a top-level member of Free the Hops after the gourmet beer boycott, and the legislation gained forward momentum. On June 1, 2011, the Brewery Modernization Act passed the Senate and awaited Gov. Robert Bentley’s signature. Many worried that he would veto the bill, but Bentley explained that responsibilities as governor differed from those of state representative. “When I represented my local community, I voted against Sunday alcohol sales and things of that nature,” he said to the Birmingham News. “As governor, it’s a little bit different. I don’t feel I should impose my views on everybody in the state. The legislature has had a chance to look at it and passed it. I’m sure I will sign it.”

He did so, and Free the Hops again celebrated success. “It’s the biggest change in Alabama brewing laws since the repeal of Prohibition,” then Free the Hops president Gabe Harris told the Associated Press. The bill was expected to result in more breweries and brewpubs opening in the state. The bill opened up the viability of the businesses by creating additional revenue opportunities.

“The state will be able to print a beer tour map of the state where people can go from Huntsville to Mobile visiting brew pubs and breweries,” Carter said to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Kline also rejoiced in the organization’s success. “We went from taking 5 years on a bill to taking 2 years on a bill,” Kline said. “There was starting to be some clear economic impact from craft beer that people could see and quantify. Free the Hops had gained the reputation of only advocating bills that do good things, as opposed to bills that do bad things. So it got easier each time,” Kline said.

The economic impact was evident almost immediately: The state’s brewery production increased by 672.19 percent in the year following the bill’s passage. Following the passage of the bill, brewpubs were able to sell beer to wholesalers, which could then distribute the beer. It didn’t stop there. Between 2012 and 2013, United States breweries increased production by nearly 15 percent, and in Alabama, the growth was even more significant: at 22.35 percent. “The thing that I think has spawned all of the growth in the industry is the taprooms. That really gives you a ready revenue source rather than having to wait 30 days for a wholesaler to pay,” Good People Brewing Co. co-owner Michael Sellers told the Associated Press. He said the brewery’s taproom would create additional jobs, and his business partner, Jason Malone, indicated expectations for continued growth. “I’m excited about where the market is headed in Alabama as people get more tuned into how much better craft beer is. We’ve come a long way and I think this trend is here to stay,” he said to the Birmingham News as Avondale prepared to open.

Although Avondale debuted later that year, it was far from the last brewery to reap the legislation’s benefits. Although only five breweries existed in Alabama as the Brewery Modernization Act began circulating through the legislature, thirteen were in operation by 2014.

In 2014, Alabama Brewers Guild president and Back Forty co-founder Jason Wilson attributed that to the act. “So when you prohibit these small microbreweries from doing things like selling pints at their production facility, that’s the difference between a profitable and an unprofitable business model. The slightest restriction you impose on them can mean the difference between it being successful and failing,” he told Business Alabama. “Since these pieces of legislation have passed, we haven’t seen a single brewery shut down in the last five years. That’s a testament to the impact this legislation has had.”

• • •

Carla Jean Whitley has book signings for “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” throughout the rest of summer and fall:

  • Thursday: 4-7 p.m., Trim Tab Brewing Co., Lakeview
  • Saturday: 2-4 p.m., Books-A-Million, Brookwood Village, Homewood
  • Aug. 12: 5:30-7 p.m., Neighborhood Hops and Vine, Homewood
  • Aug. 13: 5:30-7 p.m., Neighborhood Hops and Vine, Crestline Park
  • Aug. 14: 5-7 p.m., Little Professor Book Center, Homewood
  • Aug. 15: 1-3 p.m., Vulcan Park
  • Sept. 4: 5-8 p.m., Good People Brewing Co., Southside
  • Oct. 9: 7 p.m., Hoover Public Library

“Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” (July 27, Arcadia Publishing)

Carla Jean Whitley

The 2015 Birmingham food and drink preview

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Pepper Place Saturday Market - farmer, watermelons

The popular Pepper Place Saturday Market opens its 15th year on April 11.

Birmingham shouldn’t be the food capital of the South. It should be Food Capital of the World.

Don’t believe us? Let’s look into the world of tomorrow, the world of fantastic food ahead.

January

  • Acoustic Soup: The fund-raiser for VSA Alabama was nearly frozen out this year thanks to a burst of ice and snow. Hopefully the ninth annual event will dodge winter’s grasp. Chefs, soups, artists’ bowls and the opportunity to support arts programming for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. WorkPlay, Lakeview.

February

  • Feb. 19: The 14th annual Taste of Homewood will have more than 30 restaurants and other vendors to delight and tickle palettes. $30-$35. Rosewood Hall.
  • Feb. 27-28: The newly christened Food Media South stays in Birmingham after a change in ownership to the Southern Foodways Alliance. The digital conference once called Food Blog South is already sold out. It takes place at Rosewood Hall in Homewood.

March

April

  • April 10-11: The 17th annual St. Elias Lebanese Food and Cultural Festival serves more than 8,500 people, but also has raised more than $310,000 for area charities. Baked kibbee and spinach pies for everyone! Free. Southside.
  • April 11: The biggest farmer’s market in Birmingham, Pepper Place Saturday Market, kicks off its 15th year. Lakeview. [Previous coverage]
  • April 11: The Alabama Asian Culture and Food Festival is a fund-raiser with everything: drummers, hand-painted umbrellas, cookbooks, fashion show, dancers, a walking tour of Asia and seven cuisines. $8. Zamora Shrine Temple, Irondale. [Previous coverage]
  • April 18: The 10th annual Gumbo Gala moves to Regions Field for the Episcopal Place fund-raiser. The organization raised $50,000 in 2014 to provide housing for elderly and disabled adults. Teams compete to see whose gumbo is greatest. $12-$15.
  • April 24: AIDS Alabama and AIDS Alabama South are putting together the 5th annual Dining Out for Life, an opportunity for diners in Birmingham to support the cause at participating restaurants. At least 25 percent of the check will go to these organizations.
  • April 24-26: The 18th annual Corks and Chefs will complement Magic City Art Connection in Linn Park downtown. Two afternoons of sampling the city’s best dining, along with wine tastings and seminars. $30-35.

June

  • June 5-6: Magic City Brewfest … a hundred beers from at least a dozen breweries, a great way to welcome summer at Sloss Furnaces while raising money for Free the Hops. It will likely sell out. $34.50-$40.

July

  • Shelby County Shindig and BBQ Cook-Off: Who has the best ribs? The best sauce? These questions and more will be answered once and for all at this fund-raiser for the Shelby County Arts Council and the South Shelby Chamber of Commerce. $10 to sample barbecue. Shelby County Courthouse, Columbiana.

August

  • Aug. 14-23: Sample a wide variety of the city’s dining at reduced prices during Birmingham Restaurant Week. And don’t forget the preview party, wine tasting and beer tasting. [Previous coverage]

September

  • Sept. 7: They may drop the big Moon Pie tonight in Mobile, but how many Moon Pies can you drop in your mouth? The 24th annual Labor Day Celebration and Moon Pie Eatin’ Contest is for you. The state’s largest competition has divisions for adults and children. $2-$3. Tannehill Historical State Park, McCalla.
  • Sept. 19: Put your foot down. The Grape Stomp at Morgan Creek Vineyards will give attendees the opportunity to crush grapes in barrels, along with a wine tasting (not sure if the two are related). Harpersville.
  • Oktoberfest: Join in the fun at the 35th annual celebration at Das Haus downtown. Traditional German cuisine, kegs, beer garden, beer hall and a wide assortment of European beers.

October

  • Oct. 1-3: Opa! The 43rd annual Birmingham Greek Festival takes place at Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Southside. A fund-raiser for various area charities. Don’t even think about using the drive-through when you can stop in, eat and shop.
  • Oct. 2-3: The 10th annual Alabama Butterbean Festival isn’t just about the beans. Look for fireworks, a car show, a pageant and a carnival in Pinson. Free.
  • Breakin’ Bread: More than 40 restaurants will provide the samples, paired with beers and wines, in beautiful Railroad Park. Fund-raiser for various area charities. $50-$100.
  • Eat Drink Read Write Festival: The Birmingham Public Library puts on a week of events, many free, including competitions, tasting, a poetry slam and more. [added Jan. 3]
  • Friedman Family LJCC Jewish Food Festival: The 13th annual event has traditional foods plus desserts from the bakery. Free. Levite Jewish Community Center.
  • Magic Moments Kick’n Chick’n Wing Fest: The fund-raiser joined forces in its third year with music festival Cask and Drum. Includes a competition for Best Wings. To date, more than $40,000 has gone to Magic Moments.

November

  • Nov. 7-8: The 33rd annual St. Nicholas Russian/Slavic Food Festival is a bustling affair in tiny Brookside, a chance to sample stuffed holupki (cabbage) and halushki (dumplings). Plus, tours of the temple which dates back to 1894. Free. [Previous coverage]
  • Fall FestivAle: The 5th annual fund-raiser for Free the Hops offers seasonal, unique and rare beers from within and outside of Alabama. $29-$39. Regions Field. [Previous coverage]
  • TASTE: Or Trussville’s Art Show and Tasting Event comes back for a 7th year to the Trussville Civic Center with music, art and of course, food for everyone. $25-$35. [Previous coverage]

December

Also

  • Trader Joe’s will open its first Alabama location at the Summit in the second half of 2015. (Sorry, no Publix downtown till early 2016.)

Video: Dancing at the St. Elias Lebanese Food and Cultural Festival

Don’t miss the 2015 Birmingham sports preview!

Birmingham-area Christmas restaurant options 2014

Friday, December 12th, 2014

By the time you’re done shopping and wrapping and decorating and partying, you might not have the will to be cooking, too. Fortunately, a number of Birmingham restaurants will open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. And several offer catering and takeout service with holiday options.

Open Christmas Eve

Billy's Sports Grill

Billy’s Sports Grill: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (205) 879-2238, 2012 Cahaba Road, English Village, Mountain Brook; (205) 956-2323, 4520 Overton Road, Ste. 104, Irondale.

•

Bottle and Bone porchetta sandwich.

Bottle and Bone: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (205) 538-7106 or jen@bottleandbone.com. Uptown, 2311 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N., Ste. 200.

•

The Bright Star

The Bright Star: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (205) 426-1861. 304 19th St. N., Bessemer.

•

Cedar's Grille

Cedar’s Grille: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (205) 988-5993. 1870 Chace Drive, Hoover. [added Dec. 16]

•

Tutwiler Hotel

Century Restaurant and Bar at the Tutwiler: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (205) 458-9611. 2021 Park Place N., downtown.

•

Dixie Fish Co.

Dixie Fish Company: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (205) 924-3493. 101 Resource Center Pkwy., off U.S. 280, Inverness.

•

Galley and Garden, James Boyce

Galley and Garden: 4-9 p.m. (205) 939-5551. 2220 Highland Ave. S., Southside.

•

Homewood Gourmet Baby Blue Salad

Homewood Gourmet: 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. (205) 871-1620. 1919 28th Ave. S., Homewood.

•

Irondale Cafe

Irondale Cafe: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Open for lunch, plus takeout options including ham, turkey, side dishes and pie [2013 menu]. (205) 956-5258. 1906 First Ave. N., Irondale.

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Lone Star Steakhouse - Trussville

Lone Star Steakhouse: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (205) 661-9339. 4720 Norrell Drive, Trussville.

•

MetroPrime Steakhouse chop

MetroPrime Steakhouse: 5-10 p.m. (205) 623-5288. 1035 20th St. S., Five Points South, Southside.

•

Seasons 52

Seasons 52: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Reservations available online. (205) 968-5152. The Summit.

•

Sherry's Cafe and Catering

Sherry’s Cafe and Catering: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.  (205) 655-5260. 5800 Valley Road, Ste. 110, Trussville.

•

Silvertron Cafe pasta

Silvertron Cafe: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. (205) 591-3707. 3813 Clairmont Ave. S., Forest Park.

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Slice Pizza and Brew - Soul Pie

Slice Pizza and Brew: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (205) 715-9300. 725 29th St. S., Lakeview.

•

Taj India

Taj India: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m. (205) 939-3805. 2226 Highland Ave. S., Southside.

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V. Richards roast beef

V. Richards: 8 a.m.-8 p.m., including cafe. Christmas catering/takeout, available for pickup Dec. 24. (205) 591-7000. 3916 Clairmont Ave. S., Forest Park.

•

Village Tavern, beef, french fries

Village Tavern: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (205) 970-1640. 101 Summit Blvd., The Summit.

•

Open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

China Moon

China Moon: 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. (205) 324-2332. 3310 Clairmont Ave. S., Piggly Wiggly shopping center, Southside.

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Crestwood Tavern

Crestwood Tavern: 3 p.m.-midnight. (205) 510-0053. 5500 Crestwood Blvd.

•

Embassy Suites Birmingham-Hoover

Hoover Grille: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Christmas Eve, 5-10 p.m. Christmas Day. (205) 985-9994. Inside Embassy Suites Birmingham-Hoover, 2960 John Hawkins Pkwy. [added Dec. 16]

•

Jack Brown's Beer and Burger Joint

Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Christmas Eve, 5 p.m.- 2 a.m. Christmas Day. (205) 203-4512. 2811 Seventh Ave. S., Lakeview. [added Dec. 23]

•

Kobe Japanese Steakhouse

Kobe Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4:30-10 p.m. Christmas Eve, 4:30-10 p.m. Christmas Day. (205) 298-0200. 3501 Grandview Pkwy., off U.S. 280 near the Colonnade. [added Dec. 23]

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Max's Delicatessen sandwich

Max’s Delicatessen: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (205) 968-7600 or info@maxsdelionline.com. Colonnade shopping center.

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Wynfrey Hotel Hyatt

Merk’s Tavern and Kitchen: 6 a.m.-midnight. (205) 444-5731. Inside the Wynfrey Hotel/Hyatt, Riverchase Galleria, Hoover.

Also, Shula’s Steak House will be open Christmas Eve only, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. [added Dec. 16]

•

Mr. Chen's Authentic Chinese Cooking

Mr. Chen’s Authentic Chinese Cooking: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (205) 824-8283. 1917 Hoover Ct., Hoover.

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Mt. Fuji Japanese Sushi and Steak House

Mt. Fuji Japanese Sushi and Steak House: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 4:30-10 p.m. both days. (205) 995-0588. Village at Lee Branch, Hoover. [added Dec. 24]

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Renaissance Ross Bridge

Renaissance Ross Bridge: Restaurants open at various hours all day long both days. Reservations available by calling (205) 949-3057. 4000 Grand Ave., Hoover.

•

Ruth's Chris Steak House broccoli au gratin

Ruth’s Chris Steak House: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Christmas Eve, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Christmas Day. Holiday side dishes to go, $29.95, pick up through Dec. 24. Reservations available online. Embassy Suites Hotel, 2300 Woodcrest Pl., Homewood.

•

Silver Coin Indian Restaurant

Silver Coin Indian Grill: Christmas Eve: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-9:30 p.m.: Christmas Day: 5-9:30 p.m. (205) 823-9070. 3321 Lorna Road, Ste. 13, Hoover.

•

Tao Asian: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (205) 685-8809. 345 Huntley Pkwy., Pelham. [added Dec. 16]

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Todd English PUB

Todd English PUB: 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Reservations available by calling (205) 307-3700. 2221 Richard Arrington Blvd. N., Uptown, downtown.

•

Waffle House

Two diners remain open 24 hours a day, Denny’s and Waffle House. Also, IHOP will be open both days, hours vary by location.

Also:

Let us know in the comments if we missed a restaurant.

Friday’s Fall Festivale pouring it on at Regions Field

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Fall Festivale

Fall Festivale offers dozens of beers for attendees to sample.

Beer lovers have a new venue for sampling old favorites and new flavors: Regions Field.

The fourth annual Fall Festivale returns Friday with beers from 32 breweries, including half from Alabama. The list includes:

  • A porter (firkin with cinnamon and chocolate) from Avondale Brewing Company;
  • Oktoberfest from Cahaba Brewing Company;
  • El Gordo from Good People Brewing Company; and
  • Nilbog (American barley wine) from Trim Tab Brewing Company.

The event runs from 7 to 11 p.m. at Regions Field [map].

Tickets are $29, $39 at the door, and available online (free for designated drivers). Admission includes six pours and a souvenir glass. Free the Hops, a statewide nonprofit beer advocacy group based in Birmingham, is holding the event.

For more information, visit the festival website.

Fall Festivale

Admission includes six pours and a souvenir glass.

Fall Festivale

Trussville’s Art Show and Tasting Event to raise scholarship money

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

Trussville’s Art Show and Tasting Event

The 6th annual Trussville’s Art Show and Tasting Event returns next week with plenty of eats and visual treats.

The participating food and drink vendors:

  • Cakes by Sheri Arnold
  • The Chocolate Biscuit
  • Gigi’s Cupcakes
  • Great American Grill
  • Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ
  • Moe’s Original BBQ
  • Olive Garden
  • Parish Seafood and Oyster House
  • Pit Master’s Wings and Barbeque
  • Red Diamond
  • Sherry’s Cafe
  • Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe
  • The Three Earred Rabbit

In addition, jazz saxophonist Vann Burchfield will perform and Tena Payne of Earthborn Studios will create pottery.

TASTE takes place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Trussville Civic Center, 5381 Trussville Clay Road [map]. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door, available at the Trussville Area Chamber of Commerce and other locations. A portion of the proceeds go to the chamber’s scholarship fund.

For more information, call (205) 655-7535 or visit the event page.

Birmingham-area Thanksgiving restaurant options 2014

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Don’t cook — eat. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, but in that all play-no work way, see which Birmingham restaurants have special dinners and to-go options for the holiday.

Bright Star

The Bright Star: $22.95. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Menu includes roast turkey and grilled center-cut ham steak. Also, dinner for eight to go for $125. (205) 426-1861. 304 19th St. N., Bessemer.

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Cedar's Grille roast beef carving station

Cedar’s Grille: $21.95, $12.95 age 2 to 8, free for those younger than 2. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Buffet includes smoked turkey and roast beef. Reservations available by calling (205) 988-5993. 1870 Chace Drive, Hoover.

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Tutwiler Hotel

Century Restaurant and Bar at the Tutwiler: Seatings till 2 p.m. Special menu with herb-roasted turkey breast, honey butter sweet potatoes and roasted baby vegetables. (205) 458-9611. 2021 Park Place N., downtown.

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Dixie Fish Co.

Dixie Fish Company: $26.99, $11.99 children. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Three-course meal includes turkey, gumbo or salad and dessert. Reservations available by calling (205) 924-3493. 101 Resource Center Pkwy., off U.S. 280, Inverness. [added Nov. 26]

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Galley and Garden, James Boyce

Galley and Garden: $55, $25 age 12 and younger. Seatings from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Three-course brunch includes herb-roasted natural turkey, braised short rib and pan-seared mangrove snapper. Reservations available by calling (205) 939-5551. 2220 Highland Ave. S., Southside.

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Embassy Suites Birmingham-Hoover

Hoover Grille: Open from 5 to 11 p.m. (205) 985-9994 Inside Embassy Suites Birmingham-Hoover, 2960 John Hawkins Pkwy. [map]. [added Nov. 20]

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Irondale Cafe

Irondale Cafe: $16.99 for meat, three side dishes, dessert and tea or lemonade; $7.99 age 12 and younger for kids’ plate. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Menu includes roast turkey, hickory smoked ham and fried buttermilk chicken. (205) 956-5258, info@irondalecafe.com. 1906 First Ave. N., Irondale.

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Lone Star Steakhouse - Trussville

Lone Star Steakhouse: Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. $16.99 turkey dinner or $6.99 children’s meal for age 12 and younger, or regular menu. (205) 661-9339. 4720 Norrell Drive, Trussville.

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Renaissance Ross Bridge

Renaissance Ross Bridge: S49, $40 senior citizens, $25 age 5 to 12, free age 4 and younger. Seatings from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Menu includes stations for omelets, shrimp and grits, carved meats and pasta. Reservations available by calling (205) 949-3057. 4000 Grand Ave., Hoover.

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Ruth's Chris Steak House turkey Dinner

Ruth’s Chris Steak House: $38.95, $12.95 children. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Menu includes roasted turkey and cornbread-herb stuffing. Reservations available online. Embassy Suites Hotel, 2300 Woodcrest Pl., Homewood.

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Seasons 52

Seasons 52: $26.95, $12.95 children. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Meal includes roast turkey, mashed potatoes and maple-glazed butternut squash. Reservations available online. (205) 968-5152. The Summit.

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Sherry's Cafe and Catering

Sherry’s Cafe and Catering: 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Turkey and other entrees. (205) 655-5260. 5800 Valley Road, Ste. 110, Trussville. [added Nov. 15]

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Silver Coin Indian Restaurant

Silver Coin Indian Grill: Open for dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. (205) 823-9070. 3321 Lorna Road, Ste. 13, Hoover.

•Todd English PUB

Todd English PUB: 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; regular menu all day, with special Thanksgiving menu served noon-9 p.m. Special menu includes Cornish game hen, salad, butternut squash bisque and caramel pecan bar. Reservations available by calling (205) 307-3700. 2221 Richard Arrington Blvd. N., Uptown, downtown. [added Nov. 26]

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Wynfrey Hotel Hyatt

The Wynfrey Hotel/Hyatt: $41, $34 age 65 and older, $17 age 7-12, free age 6 and younger. Seatings from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Menu includes roast cider-brined turkey breast, dry rub prime rib, grits bar and omelet bar. Reservations available by calling (205) 444-5750. Riverchase Galleria, Hoover.

Take-out options

Bistro V

Bistro V: Turkey and side dishes available for pickup Nov. 26. To order, call (205) 823-1505. 521 Montgomery Highway, Ste. 113, Vestavia Hills.

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Homewood Gourmet Baby Blue Salad

Homewood Gourmet: Menu includes side dishes, sauces, soups, casseroles and desserts. Available for pickup Nov. 26. To order, call (205) 871-1620. 1919 28th Ave. S., Homewood.

If we left out a restaurant, please leave a comment below.

Russian/Slavic Food Festival: Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

St. Nicholas Russian/Slavic Food Festival dancing

St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church will hold its
32nd annual Russian/Slavic food festival this weekend.

It’s a food event like none other in the Birmingham area. The 32nd annual St. Nicholas Russian/Slavic Food Festival takes place this weekend in Brookside.

The free 2-day celebration includes homemade Russian dishes, a Saturday performance by the Atlanta Balalaika Society and tours of the church. A Beriozka store will offer souvenirs and gifts for sale.

On the menu are piroshkis (meat pies), halupki (stuffed cabbage), borscht, kolach (semi-sweet pastry with a dollop of fruit) and spiced Russian tea. Food is available in platters or a la carte.

Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church is located at 105 Park Ave., Brookside, about 15 miles northwest of Birmingham [map].

For more information, call (205) 285-9648 or visit the festival page.

Atlanta Balalaika Society

The Atlanta Balalaika Society returns to perform at the festival.

Butcher shop Bottle and Bone opens in Uptown

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Bottle and Bone, Wil Drake, Chris Izor, Jen Barnett, Victor King, Angela Schmidt

From left, Bottle and Bone’s Wil Drake, Chris Izor, Jen Barnett
and Victor King, with Angela Schmidt of Chef U.

My friend (and client) Jen Barnett is opening her new store at 4 p.m. today. It’s called Bottle and Bone, and you should stop by soon.

Located at Uptown, next to the Westin Birmingham, this butcher shop/restaurant will offer housemade sausage, bacon and hot dogs. The pub side will have beer (including local brews) and wine, by the bottle, growler or glass (once the liquor license is cleared). Stop in for lunch or dinner, or pick up steaks and stout on the way home.

Alabama Wagyu bone-in ribeye

Alabama Wagyu bone-in ribeye

Bottle and Bone offers fresh local meats, charcuterie, sandwiches and small plates, plus free weekday beer and wine tastings from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Desserts and baked goods are available from Birmingham-based Baking Bandits.

Jen was most recently owner of the Freshfully market in Avondale. Her associates are Victor King, a Nashville native who previously worked in the kitchen at Highlands Bar and Grill; Wil Drake, one of the chefs at the Knife Party pop-up dinners; and Chris Izor, front-of-house manager who previously worked at Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

Bottle and Bone is located in Uptown, 2311 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N., Ste. 200 [map]. (205) 538-7106. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Bottle and Bone

Bottle and Bone marks the full occupancy of new
Birmingham entertainment district Uptown.

Video: Alabama’s 13 reports on Bottle and Bone.

Bonus video on page 2

12th annual Jewish Food Festival adds pony rides, cornhole

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

12th Annual Friedman Family Foundation LJCC Jewish Food Festival

Homemade kosher cuisine — including brisket, kugel,
stuffed cabbage and matzo ball soup — will be
available at Saturday’s LJCC Jewish Food Festival.

Birmingham’s parade of fall food festivals continues Sunday with something kosher. The 12th annual Friedman Family Foundation LJCC Jewish Food Festival offers eats, games and outdoor fun.

The lunchtime event will be at Levite Field, taking it out of its traditional indoor setting for a carnival approach. New to the festival are pony rides, a cornhole tournament, farm stand, pumpkin patch and a performance by Memphis blues/soul act the Ori Naftaly Band.

Items available for purchase include brisket, kugel, stuffed cabbage, matzo ball soup, corned beef sandwiches and white fish salad, plus dessert breads and pastries from Ricki’s Cookie Corner in Memphis.

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Levite Jewish Community Center, 3960 Montclair Road [map]. Admission is free.

For more information, visit the LJCC event page.

12th Annual Friedman Family Foundation LJCC Jewish Food Festival

Some 1,000 attendees are expected at the
LJCC Jewish Food Festival.

Levite Jewish Community Center