Just got back from a wedding weekend [well-spent] in the Deep South of Birmingham, Alabama. Two friends from college were getting hitched and I thought it would be nice to share in the celebrations and catch up with old colleagues. After spending four years in Dallas, TX with true (egh ugh) southern gentlemen and belles, I thought I had seen my "fare" share of what the south has to offer...until now. Until B'ham. Roll Tide!
I was picked up by the groom from the airport and taken directly to Garage. Traveling with one of the groom's pledge brothers (my boyfriend), we joined his groomsmen for a low-key guy's lunch. Bar, by night, and by day a courtyard seating with eclectic and antique decorations for sale. The no-fuss menu was simply your choice of: BREAD, MEAT, CHEESE, TOPPINGS and CONDIMENTS (yes, they used the word condiments). To my surprise they came up with an extraordinarily tastyturkey sandwich. The whole wheat bread seemed home-made with a nutty crust. Fresh turkey, spicy mustard, lettuce and tomato with salt and pepper over a bed of potato chips and a crispy pickle. I devoured my sandwich while listening to drunken stories (that of which seemed straight out of the movie Varsity Blues) from the previous night. They were all "drunk as a buck" from all of the "hunch punch" (think extremely southern twang here). Perfect start to a full weekend.
Dinner that night was spent at the highly recommended (2001 James Beard Award recipient) Bottega Restaurant. I was really looking forward to some all-star food and this seemed like just the place. Upon entering, the vibe was highbrow and elegant. The staff was on-cue and ready to serve. We were seated immediately and ordered cocktails at once: Dirty Grey Goose Martini for me, and Scotch straight up for him. The waiter seemed thrilled that we were in town from New York. We took his word and ordered his recommendations that you can only taste in "these parts of the states". We started with the Fried Green Tomatoes and Okra with craw fish aioli and the Beef Carppacio with horseradish and arugula.
Mouthwatering. Um...need I say more? I then ordered the Grilled Grouper with sweet peppers, eggplant and capers and he had the chicken. The waiter paired wine perfectly with our main courses. We were heading to a rehearsal party from here and did not want to fill up on dessert so he convinced us to try their watermelon sorbet, while we enjoyed our espresso.
The following day started with a Wedding Brunch at a family friend's estate. The house was located on a hill in Mountain Brook with the most amazing view of the city. Brunch consisted of Bloody Mary's, Biscuits with Ham and creme fraishe, different varieties of egg souffles, grits (of course), fruit salad, and coffee cake. That evening was the wedding. We enjoyed ourselves at their country club with 600 other guests (serious southern celebrating). I had the opportunity to catch up with a sorority sister who was born and raised in Bhama, now married and residing there...along with the rest of the family- all lawyers or teachers. I wasn't leaving until 5:00 the next evening so we made a plan to grab lunch the next day. She got so excited she screamed in her utmost southern twang "Girl! I will take you to the best meat-and-three around!" I had absolutely NO IDEA what she was talking about. Baffled. [confused smile]. Ugh. Sure?? She definitely got one huge patooty kick out of the fact that I was completely clueless as to what she was talking about. "Meat and three vegetables, of course!"
Tracy's- B'ham's "go-to" for filling down-home meat-and-threes (again, one meat and three vegetables). The friendly folks behind the counters and the smell of
wholesome home cookin' as you entered (and the fact that Harris knew everyone there) made me realize how far away I was from home. The menu was written on a chalk board and consisted of Today's Meats: Fried Chicken, Hamburger Steak (still not fully aware of what exactly this is), Turkey and Dressing and the like. Their ever-ending list of vegetables included all of the country classics: Fried Okra, Fried Green Tomatoes, Black Eyed Peas, Mac and Cheese, Baked Apples, Squash Casserole and Avocado Salad. Of course you also had your choice of corn bread or a roll. So not my typical lunch, but definitely one that I was looking forward to experiencing! I ordered the Turkey and Dressing (asked for dressing on the side, but they obviously don't get that much because they didn't come through on that one), Fried Green Tomatoes (can't get enough of these) the Avocado Salad and my corn bread. Pure country.
The rest of the day was spent, well, quietly. This city is a ghost town on Sundays! I tried to walk around but only found luck with a Starbucks to be opened (and a NY Times!!). Just a few breathing beings strolling around. And the dry cleaners had only pastel dresses (both women and children's) hanging in the windows?? It was oddly perfect. Yet couldn't imagine having to set all of your "to-do's" for Saturdays!
Enjoyable weekend overall...I think I fell in love with Bhama.