Monday, March 08, 2010

Eating the Magic City: Birmingham

Last weekend, my Cliff and I returned to Birmingham, Alabama, for a wedding. A friend of mine, with whom I interned with at Cooking Light magazine, was marrying a guy I told her she should marry a year ago. I told you so, MaryAnne.

We stayed with my roommate, Donna, senior food writer for Southern Living magazine. Her intern roommate now is a chef - and this is how our delicious weekend started:

When Liz walked in the house, she said, "I have some pretty nice semi-aged goat cheese here, if you're into that." Yes, Liz, I'm into that. It was then that I remembered why I stayed at Cooking Light after all - free high-quality comestibles.

I think, during the time I lived and worked in Birmingham, I maybe went grocery shopping once or twice. All of my food came from the test kitchen, where 'grocery giveaway' is a Friday event. Anything left over from the test kitchen's week goes up for grabs, and sometimes, there are real finds - like this goat cheese. The stuff smelled a lot funkier than it actually tasted. Though it smelled like wet workboots, it's creamy, grassy and tangy.

Full Moon BBQ, labeled as 'the best little pork house in Alabama,' is one of my favorite eateries in The Magic City.

In the thick of downtown, Full Moon does pulled pork right (above), and their coleslaw is unique enough that I think about it almost weekly from 600 miles away. It's vinegar-based, rather than creamy, and brims with cabbage and sweet onions and celery. The half-moon cookies are on's food bucket list, "Top 100 Things to Eat in Alabama Before You Die." They're crispy and half-covered in thick, tempered chocolate.

That night, we took Donna out for her birthday to Bettola, an italian spot in Pepper Place, the spot of the ancient Dr. Pepper bottling plant. Now a chic pizza joint, Bettola makes fresh-as-can-be pizzas with sauce as vibrant red as fresh-picked tomatoes and mozzarella that bubbles and squeaks.

We enjoyed the mascarpone pizza with ham and arugula far too much. An appetizer platter with wild boar salume and velvety white bean dip was the perfect palate tantalizer.

The wedding was lovely, ended early, and afforded us the opportunity to visit the second location of Richard Blais' new FLIP Burger Boutique in the Summit Mall area. We'd enjoyed our meal at the original location in Atlantic Station, Atlanta, Georgia, so we couldn't help but indulge in a liquid nitrogen milkshake (I ordered the Krispy Kreme shake - hot and NOW!) and the Southern Burger.

This thing was EPIC. It's a little hard to see in the photo, but it was so rich and full of fat, I felt my HDL-levels rise and my arteries harden like plaster. A chicken-fried burger patty, topped with pimento cheese, fresh cucumber pickles and doused in red-eye gravy. I felt almost embarassed. But not embarassed enough not to eat most of it (Cliff enjoyed the rest after his rBQ brisket burger smothered in Arby's-style red bbq sauce, crowned with North Carolina slaw).

On Sunday, we were lucky enough to eat at home. Donna made delicious omelets and grits - pure Southern comfort. A Greek grocery in Birmingham, the name escapes me, makes a sort of Greek version of pimento cheese - feta and olive oil spiked with oregano and other spices. Folded into the grits, it was heaven.

I just recieved an e-mail from IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) revealing the nominees for their annual cookbook awards. Birmingham residents Frank Stitt of Bottega and Chris and Idie Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club, as well as my dear friends at Cooking Light and the Southern ladies and gentlemen of Southern Living were all nominated. Maybe, as New York feels the stretch of the Great Recession, Birmingham will be our next foodie destination...

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