These young foodies prove the path to good food doesn’t have to include a drive thru.
Written by Scott Jones
Photography by Beau Gustafson
When my wife and I dreamed of starting a family, I clearly remember making all kinds of grand, foodie-centric pronouncements about how our kids would—and wouldn’t—eat. I was a culinary school grad and, by then, had spent years either cooking food or writing about it. When allowed on my soapbox, I declared, among other things, that I would make all their baby food from scratch and have them making béchamel sauce by second grade. But most of all, I swore they would grow up to be full-fledged foodies just like their dear old dad.
Oh, you silly man.
We started off like gangbusters with our first daughter, homemade baby food and all. In fact, we had her mixing up and rolling out cookie dough before she made it to preschool. By the arrival of our second daughter, however, our trusty immersion blender that had dutifully pureed so many batches of peas, squash, and carrots, was stashed in the dark recesses of our kitchen pantry, nowhere to be found. Before we knew it, both our then kindergartener and toddler were living off of chicken nuggets and boxed macaroni and cheese. Sadly, when we did venture out of the house to eat as a family, finding a restaurant serving at least one of these two foods (preferably both) was mission critical.
Like many parents, my wife and I wanted to eliminate any potential food-related stressors like a restaurant that didn’t have a “kids’ menu” or having to ask the chef to make something special or, the worst, taking a risk on ordering something they wouldn’t touch. I dreamed of our family dining together at a hip, local eatery, noshing on all sorts of yummy foods. Instead, I most often chose the path of least resistance opting for big chain restaurants (even after our girls had outgrown the kids’ menu). So much for my overblown pronouncements, huh?
The truth is, there are plenty of locally owned spots in Birmingham offering foods kids will love—even if chicken nuggets are missing on the menu. Don’t believe me? Just see what these budding food critics have to say.
Will Andress, 10
This spunky young man knows his way around ’cue and says he can’t get enough of Saw’s rib sandwich. “The barbecue is awesome, and I can go to Edgewood Creamery when I’m done,” he says. Will, along with his older brother, John, are both keen on Dram’s Sunday brunch and look forward to a giant stack of the restaurant’s fluffy pancakes.
Mary Catherine Touloupis, 12
“I think Mr. Chen’s in Hoover has the best Chinese food in town,” she says. A bold statement, indeed, and this tween raves about their egg drop soup and sweet and sour chicken. She’s also a fan of FoodBar and Ocean because, according to her, both “have cool food presentation.” Her go-to dishes: fried catfish at FoodBar and crabcakes at Ocean.
Callahan Luke, 6
If only all 6-year-olds were as adventurous as Luke, who likes nothing more than ordering a plateful of Paramount fries, dipping them in rosemary and garlicky mayo, then hitting the restaurant’s arcade. Her other Paramount favorite? The Standard Burger. “I could eat one every day,” she says.
Hannah Fulmore, 14
I don’t know many eighth graders who seek out spicy hot wings, but Fulmore certainly knows her stuff. “I like The J. Clyde’s chicken wings a lot. They’re really hot and just right—not too crispy, not soggy,” she says. If you love sweets, Fulmore recommends trying the Fatso pudding. As she sees it, this decadent dessert is the perfect combination of tastes and textures—from the thickness of the chocolate pudding to the creamy ice cream on the side. The staff is also very friendly, she says. “Whenever I walk in, Susan always says ‘Hi!’”
Emily Knerr, 12
With dreams of one day becoming a food writer, Knerr loves to discover new foods. But when talking comfort food, her top pick is the grilled cheese at Urban Standard. Filled with three different kinds of cheeses, Knerr says it’s the balsamic jelly dipping sauce that sends this combo right over the top. But she doesn’t stop there. “I like to finish with a red velvet cupcake. It’s so delicious and the cream cheese frosting is to die for,” she shares.
Drew Goolsby, 10
This third grader grader was born in Birmingham, but he’s all about the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at Tortugas. “I like the one with the whole wheat crust that’s topped with pepperoni and mushrooms,” he says. What’s more, Goolsby is an IndyCar fan who loves to talk shop with the restaurant’s owner Carlos Vizcaino, who’s a big racing fan, too.
Even this silly man can see that the local food scene is filled with all sorts of yummy-sounding, kid-approved dishes. Not to mention the fact that Mom and Dad will probably love them, too. As for my family and me, an order of those Paramount fries has “Jones” written all over it. Stay hungry, Birmingham.