10 Best Bites From Birmingham
I was honored to attend the Birmingham Public Library’s Eat Drink Read Write Festival at the beginning of October. A tasty celebration combining Southern literature with Southern food, EDRW gave me the chance to spend a week in The Magic City and discover its booming culinary scene. Most folks are probably familiar with signature restaurants The Highlands Bar And Grill and Hot and Hot Fish Club, but Birmingham has lower-key spots serving internationally inspired cuisine, favorite food trucks, coffeehouses, plenty of vegetarian options and establishments with desserts that are hard to forget. At the end of the festival, a new book celebrating the city’s food scene, Birmingham’s Best Bites, was unveiled. In celebration, I decided to compile my own list of best bites from Birmingham (listed in the order I ate them).
1. Deviled Egg BLT with fried pickled okra from Saw’s Street Kitchen
Sunday in Avondale Park gathered several of the city’s food trucks, including Saw’s Street Kitchen. Among options for barbecue and a Sweet Tea Fried Chicken Sandwich, I couldn’t pass up the Deviled Egg BLT. Between two slices of toasted white bread came a sandwich stuffed with deviled egg filling, lettuce, tomato and bacon. A side of pickled fried okra and a sweet tea completed this messy yet memorable meal.
2. Chef Clayton Sherrod’s Bananas Foster
After enjoying food trucks, crafts and music in the park, we headed inside Avondale Library for a cooking demonstration with Chef Clayton Sherrod. Founder of the Birmingham Chapter of the American Culinary Federation, Chef Sherrod showed the crowd how to make Bananas Foster, a dish he learned from Brennan’s in New Orleans. After wowing the crowd with a bit of fire, his caramelized bananas over ice cream with walnuts and brown sugar hit the spot.
3. Century Restaurant Burger
The Tutwiler Hotel was kind enough to put me up for the week, and I was told I had to try the burger in the hotel’s Century Restaurant. Only served at lunch, The Century Burger combines beef, bacon, a fried green tomato, grilled onions, mixed greens and smoked gouda on a fresh-baked bun. You may have a hard time eating a burger any other way after this.
4. Hippie Gumbo from Urban Standard
A vegetarian take on gumbo? This South Louisiana gal was in. A “what’s in season” item for this downtown restaurant sporting a funky decor, the Hippie Gumbo has chunks of crispy tofu and brown rice in a nice medium roux topped with green onions and served with a bottle of Tabasco sauce. Accompanied by an iced chai and finished off with a strawberry cupcake, this is definitely one of Birmingham’s best bites for me.
5. Literary Cocktails at The Collins Bar
Wednesday night’s Literary Cocktail Competition at this swanky downtown bar was one of the highlights of EDRW. Who knew Birmingham had so many lit-loving bartenders (two with a penchant for Zora Neale Hurston)? One pear-flavored cocktail inspired by the pear tree in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God was served with a nibble of blue cheese, and another Hemingway-inspired drink came inside a hollowed-out red pepper. The prettiest cocktail was “A Rose For Emily” with a pink rose petal floating on top, but this one will also put some hair on your chest. Photo courtesy of Birmingham Public Library.
6. Abyssinian Latte from The Red Cat
Oxford writer Jack Pendarvis and Arc Light Stories provided the entertainment at “Storytelling and Latte Art” on Thursday night. I ordered The Red Cat’s Abyssinian Latte (with cinnamon and vanilla) and settled into a club chair for stories about eating overseas, working for Chef Frank Stitt and Pendarvis’s finale about taking a road trip with a Gulf oyster. Photo from Urban Spoon.
7. Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Bourbon Caramel Glaze from Dreamcakes
My final bites were tasted during the “Best Bites” party with Food Network Star Martie Duncan, which unveiled Birmingham’s Best Bites cookbook and presented tastes from about 17 local restaurants included in the book. It was difficult to wait for dessert with Dreamcakes‘ stunning pound cake sitting there all evening. Drizzled with bourbon caramel glaze, topped with pecans and bacon, and decorated with a ring of fall leaves, this cake is a taste of the season and would be perfect for the Thanksgiving table.
8. Sweet Potato Vichyssoise from The Gardens Cafe
Located inside Birmingham Botanical Gardens, this charming cafe by Kathy G. is a picturesque spot for lunch serving fresh salads and sandwiches. Their sweet potato soup topped with cinnamon creme fraiche at the Best Bites party was so good it had me wanting to steal another taste! Photo courtesy of Birmingham Public Library.
9. Duck and Mushroom Pizza from Slice
I didn’t get a chance to make it over to Slice earlier in the week, so I was thrilled to get to taste their pizza on Friday night. That evening they were serving up duck sausage, mushroom and goat cheese pie that was savory and delicious, but other pizzas on their menu like the Soul Pie with turnip greens and black-eyed peas are still calling my name. Pictured is a similar seasonal pie from Slice’s Facebook page.
10. Roast Pork Salad from Hot Box
Served up at the party in Chinese takeout containers, Hot Box‘s refreshing salad combines rice noodles, shaved carrots, cucumbers and nuoc cham (a Vietnamese sauce). I wanted to just sit in a corner and devour the whole thing, but alas there was more to taste.
Note: I didn’t include Tau Poco on the list because I didn’t have a chance to taste their food, but locals raved about their global street food concept all week so this is the first place I’ll hit on my next trip to Birmingham.
To purchase a copy of Birmingham’s Best Bites cookbook, visit the Friends of the Birmingham Public Library bookstore.