EATING IN BIRMINGHAM


True love = A bowl full of locally-grown baby carrots that are almost too beautiful to eat!

WHERE FLAVOR IS KING!

There’s a Spanish proverb that goes something like this, “The belly rules the mind.”  And then Garrison Keillor summed it up with, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn.”  You have no idea…especially when there’s a bowl of freshly plucked baby okra sitting on my kitchen counter.

A few nights ago, I had a dream where I left my husband for travel and food celebrity Anthony Bourdain.   If I remember correctly (and who can really claim accuracy when it comes to recalling dreams), I woke up just as he was offering me the chance to join him on one of his well-scripted/well-edited/well-fed culinary adventures.  No doubt my guilty conscious is what jolted me from sound sleep, as I had reached the point where I’d have to let my husband know that I was choosing travel and food over our wonderful life together.  At least in my dream, I didn’t think twice about it.  (Love you honey.  Mean it.)

Full disclosure:  I’ve been fantasizing about food, constantly.  All types, all flavors, all preparations.  (Blame it on the pregnancy hormones.)  At the gym, I bide my cardio time by watching the Food Network.  All the books on my nightstand have some connection to gastronomy.  Just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being an attendee at the first ever FoodBlogSouth (which was amazing) and walked away with four new cookbooks.  Even now, as I type, I’m sitting in the food court at Whole Foods, licking my lips and relishing the three variations of pasta I’ve just consumed and am contemplating what type of confection I should secure for the car ride home.

Okay, okay… I might be a little obsessed.  (I’m hungry, for crying out loud!)  Perhaps you’re wondering if I’ve always been such a food fanatic.  The answer is yes…and no.  Growing up Southern I have a natural fondness for food, of course, but you see, it’s only been within the last decade or so that I’ve come to appreciate the elements of dining:  flavor, ingredients, presentation and experience.  Seven years waiting tables at mediocre restaurants in college towns gave me, at the very least, my first real taste of what it takes to create an epicurean experience.  Life (and work) experience has since led me on a succulent journey as I’ve worked on lavish special events that require an amazing menu, or festivals that cater to wine and food aficionados or, most recently, with Birmingham’s very own Restaurant Week, which unites the city’s diverse range of cuisines into a ten-day event that can truly please any palate.  Given my resume, it’s inevitable that I would be drawn to food.

I believe I was ten years old when I first decided I wanted to get acquainted with the kitchen.

I had flipped through every page of my mother’s extensive cookbook collection and found exactly the recipe I wanted to create.   Brownies, via The Ultimate Ten-Minute Cookbook.  The recipe had all your typical ingredients one might think of when baking brownies:  eggs, flour, cocoa, etc.  But this lucky batch of brownies never saw the inside of an oven; rather, they got nuked on high for ten minutes in a boxy black microwave.  They tasted like cardboard, though I savored them like they were the most delicious, moist, decadent bites I’d ever tasted.  I think I prepared that recipe well over a dozen times and it always yielded the same, jerky-like result.  I didn’t yet possess the prowess of a bona fide kitchenista or foodie, but oh, I so enjoyed the process that was “baking brownies”.  I knew that being in the kitchen and creating food for the people I loved was, in every way, special.  It just took me a little while to develop my… palate.

So what does all this say about me?  It’s simple.  You can stuff cornbread in my cheeks right before you throw dirt on my grave…and, come to think of it, go ahead and throw in a little pasta, a little curry and maybe a chile relleno or two.  (Like mother like daughter:  My mother wishes to have a Hershey’s Kiss wedged in each cheek.)  Lawd, yes, I’m thankful for a life that continues to offer opportunities to mature my taste and my affinity to good food.  I’ve grown to value food and where it comes from.  I’ve learned to respect the chef and his process.  Furthermore, some may say, I’ve developed a fanatical curiosity with food.  (It could be worse, right?)

Which brings me to Birmingham…  Hallelujah, Amen!  This city breeds deliciousness.  We have an inventory of James Beard-recognized chefs.  We have a firm handle on regional specialties such as soul food, sweet tea and glorified pork soaked until soggy in smoky sauces.   The Magic City has all the seasonings and ingredients needed to make for a city full in flavor and downright (or better yet, down-home) good food.

And the real beauty of the food you’ll find in Birmingham doesn’t begin and end with dining out, per se.  It’s a deep current that truly makes the city unique.  We, by our very ancestral hand-me-downs, are a people that epitomize the act of fellowship.  For starters, the unique customs and rituals that have been passed down throughout generations of once immigrant families offer an impressive inventory of ethnic eateries that line Green Springs Highway:  Lebanese, Korean, Mexican, Thai, Italian, Greek, Indian, Vietnamese – take your pick (and take me with you!).  Even more, our region is characterized by the uninterrupted tradition (note:  not trend) of living off the land.  Birmingham is home to an array of talented, committed farmers who provide delicious and wholesome produce to the community, year-round.  Modern society might not include a garden in everyone’s back yard, but for just a few extra dollars you can have your weekly CSA (Community Share Agriculture) delivered right to your front door.  There’s an abundance of markets that are open during peak seasons (and one that’s open year-round) throughout the metro area that provide fresh, local produce and locally-made products.  This has been an integral part of our region’s character without interruption.  We’re just doing what we do best…

My, we certainly are lucky to be eating in Birmingham.  So, in the spirit of good food I encourage you to treat yourself!  Whether it’s take-out from Pho Que Huong or Full Moon BBQ,  a table for two at the infamous Highlands Bar & Grill or maybe The Bright Star, or even a pot full of slow-cooked local veggies at home, enjoy some flavor!  However you get fed, do so with an appreciation for this region, for its delicious characteristics and qualities, for the tremendous inventory of wonderful eateries that abound throughout the city and for the fellowship that makes everything just taste better.

All (food) obsessions aside, it’s important to note that my dear, sweet, talented-cook-in-his-own-right husband has not a thing to worry about.  No need to run off with Anthony Bourdain when all my culinary dreams can come true, right here in Birmingham, where flavor (and food) is king!

2 Responses to “EATING IN BIRMINGHAM”

  1. Hi there, I definitely agree that it’s a treat to eat your way through the Magic City. I wanted to pass along some information on a Birmingham-based Web site that streamlines over 20 of Birmingham’s most experienced and professional caterers and restaurants into one convenient place, including Full Moon BBQ, Chef Bob, Olexas, Happy Catering and more.

    With the holiday season upon us, tis the season for holiday parties. Numerous Birmingham businesses and people are using ConnectToCatering.com to view over 20 catering menus, holiday menus and order online. It’s such a time-saver so you don’t have to make 20 calls or visit 20 sites, not to mention how convenient their ready-to-pick up meals are so you can spend more time with family and friends and not in the kitchen. This could be a timely and great resource to pass on to your readers.

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