It’s Nice to See you Birmingham

A few months back we had an amazing weekend getaway in Birmingham, Alabama. Easily lured by some longtime friends to attend a Martin Sexton concert on Saturday evening, we decided to head up on Friday night and make a weekend out of it.

During the day on Friday, I got a notification that one of our friends was attending a show at Iron City in Birmingham, and it was a new band that I’ve recently been turned on to and desperately wanted to see live, Tank and the Bangas. A New Orleans based band, I first heard of them when they came to Montgomery a few years back to play at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. Their music is lively, soulful, playful, fun,  and just makes me want to bounce all over the room smiling. Us getting to see them was fate because we rolled into town right as they came onto the stage. The timing could not have been any more perfect.

After a night of seeing friends and dancing all over Iron City, we retired to an AirBnB that we had rented for the weekend just a few blocks away from Iron City, near Five Points. It was the cutest little bungalow, and it was SUPER convenient for everything. Everywhere we went the entire weekend was only a five dollar Uber ride, and the free parking on-premise was nice as well. It allowed us to have easy access for our daytime adventures further out from downtown.

The next morning, we were up and out early, and we were able to make brunch at The Essential about a mile from our apartment. There was parking along the street, and we were there early enough that we had no wait to be seated. Described as a refined neighborhood cafe, The Essential is located on the historic cobblestone roadway, Morris Avenue. There are two murals close by the cafe, the “Before I Die” chalkboard and the John Lytle Wilson Robot mural just beyond the overpass. As we walked into the restaurant, we were warmly greeted, and I could hear my favorite band of all time playing over the speakers, The Allman Brothers. I knew immediately we had chosen the right place to start our day. My husband started with a latte and a mimosa to drink. I had already had several cups of Mama Mocha’s brew that I always travel with back at the apartment. So I started off with a one of their house Bloody Mary’s. The Bloody Mary, aka the Hair of the Dog, hit the spot! It was spicy and woke my mouth up. I ordered the quiche of the day, which was Gruyere and caramelized onions, and my husband ordered the smoked salmon eggs Benedict. Everything we had was delicious. The service staff was very attentive and we had a lovely breakfast.

After fueling up for the morning, we started our adventure around downtown Birmingham and the Avondale area in search of some of the many murals scattered throughout the city. As you have seen in some of our previous trips, seeking out murals and art in cities we visit is a must on my to-do list. It provides us the opportunity to not only see some great art but also see parts of the cities we may have not visited otherwise. I had researched mural locations online before our trip and knew all of their approximate locations before we set out for the day. I also had discovered a local place called MELT that had a pretty unique, delicious-looking menu. The ambiance of the place was casual and comfortable. It was packed when we arrived, and we bellied up to the bar. We ordered cocktails and a few appetizers to share. To eat we tried out the mac n’ cheese egg roll. Yes that is macaroni and cheese, wrapped, fried inside an egg roll, and served with spicy, sweet and sour dipping sauce. I really was not sure if I would enjoy such a savory dish, but it was incredibly delicious. We also tried the Food Truck Nachos, which were a base of kettle chips, loaded with  BBQ pulled pork, nacho cheese, BBQ sauce, jalapeno ranch, and fried jalapeno crisps. You would not think that we had just had breakfast just a short couple of hours or so before. We devoured both dishes and cocktails quickly! There is a mural directly outside of the restaurant, as well as a waiting area equipped with a corn hole set. Not far from Melt is HOT BOX, another favorite spot of ours for cocktails and delicious food. Located within an Air-stream trailer, it’s a pretty cool scene.

That evening we were able to grab a table at the newly opened Automatic Seafood and Oysters. They had just opened their doors a few weeks prior to our visit. The restaurant is located in what was at one time Automatic Sprinkle Co. in downtown Birmingham. Upon entering the restaurant you are immediately blown away by the breathtaking, stylish interior. Even the bathrooms were unique and interesting. I loved the color scheme, vintage feel, and excellent use of astonishing wallpapers.

Chef Adam Evans, a graduate of Auburn University, and his designer wife, Suzanne Humphries Evans are the visionaries behind this beautiful establishment. With her style and his culinary skills, this place is destined to be a long-standing, hugely successful restaurant in Birmingham. The menu is largely fresh seafood-focused, and they have an excellent beverage selection as well. I tried several of their specialty cocktails, including one of my favorites, frosé. As a group, I think we may have ordered everything on the menu. We shared dishes so that we could experience as much as we could during our visit. The fried whole snapper was amazing. I have only ever had that before in Culebra, Puerto Rico, so being able to have seafood that fresh and delicious in the heart of Birmingham is incredible.

I am ready to start planning our next trip to Birmingham. There are other murals to see and more food to try! I have been so delightfully surprised to see the culinary world in Alabama elevate and progress, most notably in recent years. I am grateful for the risk all of these restaurateurs have made in changing the culinary face of Alabama. I am excited and hopeful for the future food scene of Alabama.

That’s So Fetch mural located at 3027 6th Avenue South.
Know your History mural located in Avondale across from Melt on 4th Ave S.
Miss Fancy mural on the side of a salon located  at 400 41st St S Suite 100.
Tre Lilli Mural located on side of Alabama Ballet 2726 1st Ave S.
Homewood Is Always A Good Idea mural located at 2790 B. M. Montgomery Street.
It’s nice to have you in Birmingham mural located on side of John’s Diner @ 112 Richard Arrington Jr Blvd N.
John Lytle Wilson Robot mural located on Morris Ave just past The Essential.
Before I Die chalk board mural located just past The Essential on Morris Ave.
What’s Up Birmingham? mural by Paul Cordes Wilm just past our AirBnB on 18th St. S.
Tank and the Bangas at Iron City Birmingham.
Very simplistic outdoor area of The Essential on Morris Ave.
Yummy, yummy latte from the Essential. Cocktails not pictured.
Gruyere and caramelized onion quiche at the Essential.
Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict at the Essential.
The “Waterever is Meant to Be” cocktail from MELT.
“Bitter Peach Symphony” cocktail from MELT.
BBQ Nachos on homemade chips with fried, crispy jalapenos on top. Delicious!
Mac N’ Cheese Egg Roll with sweet n’ sour dipping sauce!
Deep Fried Double Stuffed Oreo’s covered in confectioner sugar.
Delicious frozen drink from Automatic Seafood.
“Spring Time In Mexico” cocktail from Automatic Seafood- Tequila, Vida Mezcal, Herbsaint, cucumber, lime, mint.
Menu from Automatic Seafood 4/20/19
Marinated Spring Vegetables from the starters at Automatic Seafood.
Oysters for dayzzzzz….at Automatic Seafood. The Murder Points were my favorite!
Whole B-Line Snapper Fried. Felt like I was ocean side in Puerto Rico!
Chris Trapper opening for Martin Sexton at Workplay Birmingham.
Martin Sexton at Workplay in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

Downtown Auburn Family Supper

On a warm spring evening residents of Auburn and Opelika gathered in downtown Auburn for the first ever Downtown Family Supper. We had previously attended a similar event in downtown Dothan a few years back, and I was really excited to see the idea brought to the “Loveliest Village on the Plains”. Tichenor Avenue, between College Street and Gay Street in downtown, was blocked off for the evening for this special event. Farm tables and sparkly lights were lined down the center of the street for the most picturesque scene. The dinner was served “family style” which is comprised of large portions passed and shared among the tables. The weather couldn’t have been better, and the night was overall blissful.

Six of downtown Auburn’s chefs came together to create the food offerings.  The dream team was comprised of  (in no particular order) David Bancroft & Caleb Fischer of Acre, Leonardo Maurelli and of Ariccia Trattoria, Scott Simpson of The Depot, Robbie Nicolaisen of The Hound, Miguel Figueroa of Amsterdam Cafe, and Patrick Gallagher of Hamilton’s on Magnolia. They all donated their talents & time for the evening, along with much of their restaurant staff also volunteering their time to help with the serving of the food and wine. All the proceeds from the supper will benefit the non-profit organizations, Downtown Merchants Association and Nourish Alabama. Nourish, AL was created through a partnership between Hornsby Farms and Pediatric Associates of Auburn with a mission of providing food insecure families in Lee County and the surrounding community with healthy nutritious foods and the tools to prepare them. This dinner with out a doubt embodied, in so many ways, the great community we are so fortunate to live in.

Each attendee enjoyed a five course meal, wine, and entertainment by Martha’s Trouble. The wines for the evening were Hahn Pinot Noir and Flint & Steel Sauvignon Blanc. Both wines paired really well with all the dishes served. The Sauvignon Blanc was especially nice with the Togarashi tuna poke prepared by Scott Simpson of The Depot and the bright beet salad prepared by David Bancroft of Acre. The Hahn Pinot Noir was particularly good with the incredible, fall-apart Heritage Farm pork ribs with the watermelon molasses prepared by Chef Robbie Nicolaisen.

Every dish that was served was incredibly delicious and every bite was thoroughly enjoyed. All efforts that went into making this inaugural event special were above and beyond. Although Auburn is changing in many ways, the core of who we are as an Auburn family is strong and unwavering. Proud to be a part of this place we love calling home.

The tablescape for the evening.
Chef David Bancroft adding the secret sauce to his brussel sprout salad.
What an appetizing menu!?!
Amazing collaborative effort! Go team!
Chef Scott Simpon’s Tuna Togarashi Tuna Poke.
Chef Scott Simpson of The Depot on Mitcham Avenue downtown Auburn.
Chef Bancroft’s golden beet salad, sultanas, fried peanuts, and mint.
Chef Bancroft’s shaved brussels sprouts, peach vinaigrette, smoked bacon and blue cheese.
Chef Miguel Figueroa’s chicken chicharrones with a garlic mayo ketchup.
Chef Robbie Nicolaisen’s roasted carrots, pepper jelly, burrata, and pistachio dukkah.
Chef Patrick Gallagher’s signature macaroni and cheese.
Chef Leo Maurelli’s extruded pasta primavera, local veggies, arugula, and pecan pesto.
Chef Figueoa’s pineapple upside down spiced rum cake with piña colada buttercream.

 

Wine selections for the evening, Hahn Pinot Noir and Flint & Steel Sauvignon Blanc.

Hornsby Farm Spring Harvest Dinner

Last night we attended the Spring Harvest Dinner at Hornsby Farms in Auburn, Alabama. The farm is a short drive from Auburn,  located just south of town off College Street. After turning off the main highway, you make a short drive down a dirt road and you land in what feels like the middle of the country. The weather was mild and enjoyable, and there was not a cloud in the sky. The beautiful orange and blue sunset sky that is the embodiment of life on the plains was a beautiful backdrop for the commencement of our evening.

The chef for this particular dinner was Caleb Fischer of Acre in Auburn, Alabama. The chef for these dinners rotates around, and we were really pleased to have to opportunity to enjoy some of Caleb’s cooking. He is currently the Chef de Cuisine at Acre, and he will be the Executive Chef at their new restaurant Bow & Arrow when they open later this year. We were able to celebrate a little bit Caleb making it to the finale of the Spring Baking Championship on the Food Network last evening. I know the entire community has enjoyed watching him succeed in the competition, and cannot wait to see what other great things are in the future for him.

All the food that was served for this event came directly from the farm, including the pork. Truly farm to table. Hornsby Farms grows over one hundred varieties of fruits and vegetables on their farm year round. They offer weekly produce basket deliveries in the local area. They also work with many of the local restaurants that you may have dined in, such as, Acre, Moores Mill Club, Amsterdam Café, and SpringHouse, to name a few. We were able to tour the farm prior to dinner, and I really enjoyed getting to see all the chickens, ducks, pigs (Okra and Squash), and hear Josh tell us about what he had planted for the upcoming summer months.

After the sun had set, we all gathered around the barn. The Hornsby family welcomed everyone out for the evening, and Chef Caleb discussed his preparation of all the food we were about to eat. It was interesting to hear his story of harvesting the pig and the care and consideration they took in the butchery of the animal. The event was very reminiscent of a boucherie in Lousiana, which Caleb made reference to, full of food, libations, and fellowship.

Along with the savory pork we were served stewed cabbage with radishes, succotash full of limas & corn, a roasted cauliflower and broccoli crudité salad, and very tasty dirty rice. Instead of providing the traditional, typical sauces served with barbecue, we were offered a variation of their farm made jams and jellies, my favorite being the peach habañero jelly. I also put a dollop of the jelly in my succotash, like you would a chow- chow. The meal was soulfully delicious and getting to know all the other people at our table made the evening that much more interesting.

For dessert, Caleb finished the meal with a cornbread cake with strawberry preserves. The cornbread cake was divine, and Caleb incorporated some of Beth’s Sweet Heat Pepper Jelly into the strawberry mix, adding a little bit of a surprising heat to the dessert. The only thing that could have made it better, would have been a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

As the night dwindled down we gathered around the bonfire while we finished our desserts and sipped on what wine we had left. I could have stayed in that exact spot all evening if my schedule would have allowed. The peaceful silence, cool air, and the starlit skies almost made me want to consider farm living. If you ever have the chance check out Hornsby Farms and all the wonderful things they have to offer!

Beautiful skies over the farm.
Farm tables made by Josh Hornsby.
Campfire seating area.
All food, minus the pig, this evening was cooked in cast iron on the open fire.
This little piggy went to market.
Happy plate full of dirty rice, succotash, pork with Beth’s pepper jelly, cabbage with radishes, and broccoli & cabbage crudité salad.

Iron Chef Wine Dinner

Last evening we were able to attend the Iron Chef Wine Dinner at Acre in Auburn, Alabama. David Bancroft, chef and restaurant owner, won the Iron Chef battle on the Food Network back in December. Our community could not be more proud or happy for him, his family, and his team. The dinner featured a five course menu based around the dishes that helped David win the competition on Iron Chef. Tickets for this event sold out in minutes. We felt very fortunate to be able to attend.

The wines paired with each course were from the Honig Winery out of Rutherford, California. Michael Honig was in attendance and spoke about the winery and the wines that were paired with each course. I was lucky enough to visit this picturesque winery with my husband a few years back. We attended a wine dinner in their vineyards for the summer solstice. It is an exquisite property, and I strongly encourage you to visit if you are ever in the area.

Cocktails started at 6 PM. Guests were welcomed into the dining area by servers carrying trays of the first wine pairing, which was as 2017 Napa Sauvignon Blanc. This was paired with a short rib tartare, which was served on a crostini with an oyster mayo, lime, and radish greens. They were also passing around a delectable lagniappe David had prepared, a Conecuh sausage and oyster donut with a cheesy mustard sauce on top. They were absolutely divine! I hope to see these on the menu in the future.

The dinner was assembled in the bar area of the restaurant.  Two long tables were lined up in a farm table style setting. We had a great time getting to know our companions at the table who shared our love for food and wine. Christin, David’s wife, did an a marvelous job with the decor for the dinner. I loved the personal touches used for the place cards. They were Honig wine corks that had been halved and held the place card for each seat. The flowers arranged down the center of the tables were exquisite. C. Wayman Floral & Events  did the floral arrangements for this event, and also keep the restaurant regularly styled with beautiful bouquets of flowers. I have been a long time follower of theirs on social media and have always admired their striking floral designs.

As everyone took their seats, Christin welcomed and thanked everyone for attending. David came out and talked about the preparation for all the dishes. Listening to him describe his food is absolutely captivating. You can easily see and hear his excitement for his thoughtfully constructed dishes. He is genuinely excited for you to eat his food, and the excitement is contagious. Caleb Fischer, the Chef de Cuisine at Acre and future Executive Chef at the soon to open sister property Bow and Arrow, spoke on the final course, the bone marrow pots de crème. Caleb is also a local celebrity. We have thoroughly enjoyed watching him compete on the Spring Baking Championship, also on  Food Network. We hope he can too bring back a win for our hometown!

For the second course, we were served David’s famous Alabama tamales. He makes them with a sweet potato masa, spicy chorizo, and wraps them in collard greens, versus the traditional corn husk. On this particular evening, he had the tamales atop a bed of a melon vinaigrette. Listening to him describe the preparation of the vinaigrette had my mouth watering. The delicate sweetness of the melon vinaigrette paired perfectly with the spiciness of the chorizo. The 2016 Rutherford Reserve Sauvignon Blanc paired sublimely with these flavors as well.

The third course was a St. Louis style rib that had been coated in a chicken skin streusel and blackberry preserves. Being a true southerner, they won my heart at chicken skin; Yummy, crispy chicken skin. These were by far the best ribs I have ever had. The deep, rich flavors of the preserves coating the rib, and the subtle crunch of the delicious chicken skins were mind blowing. This course was the introduction to the red wine pairings. The pairing for this courses was a 2015 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

The fourth course consisted of another style of rib, a slow smoked beef short rib. The wine pairing for this dish was my favorite of the dinner. The bold, robust flavor of the 2014 Bartolucci Cabernet Sauvignon stood up to the rich, complex flavors of this rib dish. The beef rib was covered in a roasted beet gravy and Alabama morel jam. There was a little bit of raw celery and peas atop the rib that added a little extra crunch and texture to the savory, fall-apart rib. The beet gravy and morel jam were out of this world good! I hope these two items will be a mainstay on the menu at Acre as well.

The final course was a heavenly dessert, which was paired with a 2016 Napa Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. The dessert was a bone marrow pots de crème that had a toasted hazelnut sprinkled atop a lemon curd with a red ribbon sorrel garnish. This pairing and dish was the favorite of our dinner companions. The bright lemon was subdued by the bone marrow, and the hazelnut crunch on top added texture to the dish. Caleb really has a knack for making incredible desserts.

We had a delightful evening at the Iron Chef Dinner. The food and wine pairings were sheer perfection. We enjoyed getting to meet the other diners and share with them our love of food and wine. We are so proud of Acre and their team. They do an exemplary job of demonstrating true Southern hospitality, and we are truly blessed to have them in our community.

Beautiful tablescape.
David Bancroft (right) and Caleb Fischer (left) talking about the menu.
Michael Honig talking about his winery and wines.
Short Rib Tartare.
Conecuh sausage and oyster donut with a cheesy mustard sauce on top.
Alabama tamales.
St. Louis Style Rib with chicken skin streusel.
Personal touches!
Slow Smoked Beef Short Rib.
Bone Marrow Pot de Crème.
(L-R) David Bancroft of Acre, John Mark Davis of International Wines, Michael Honig of Honig Winery.