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.

 

New Mexico

Over the holidays my husband and I were fortunate to spend some much needed time with his mother. We do not get to see her very often, as she lives in a small town near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, called Pinedale. We have been there twice before to visit her and were blown away with the beauty of Wyoming.  Visiting her is always an adventure!

Now that my “mother-in-love” is retired, she and her husband are spending the warmer months in Wyoming, and have become “snow-birds” flocking to their home in Las Cruces, New Mexico, avoiding the feet of snow, and opting for what are typically warmer winter months. We were very surprised that we came all the way to New Mexico to see the first snow of the year. The weather was unusually frigid, even snowing a few inches during our visit.

We spent most of the time being led around like tourists, taking in all the Southwestern sites and tastes. The first restaurant we dined at ended up being my most absolute favorite of the trip, La Posta de La Mesilla in Old Mesilla.  The picturesque adobe building that the restaurant is located in dates back to an estimated 1840s, originally housing a freight and passenger line; the restaurant later occupying the space in 1939. It was easy to determine why this place is ranked as one of the top 10 Mexican restaurants in the United States.

To eat, I had the combination plate #1, which consisted of a tamale, their famous red enchiladas, a rolled taco (a taquito), all served aside rice and beans. There also was a red chile con carne, which was as tender as a pot roast, but with all the loved Mexican spices and flavors. It was one of the most delightful meals I have had in a long time. To drink, I had the “La Patrona” margarita. Not sure if the name was for the Patrón tequila in the margarita, or if it was because this margarita is a BOSS! By far, the best margarita I have ever had. I could have sat there and drank myself silly. No nasty margarita sour mix put in this drink. Pure lime, tequila, and the faintest hint of simple syrup. I want one just thinking about it right now.

For New Year’s day, we stayed around “la casa” and enjoyed Southern holiday traditions, such as no washing clothes or sweeping of any kind. We dined on the traditional New Year’s day foods, ho-cakes, black-eyed peas for luck, collard greens for money, and we threw in pork chops for good measure.  My mother-in-law and I enjoyed a nice walk around their surrounding neighborhood. The views of the surrounding Organ Mountain are breath-taking. I was surprised to discover that New Mexico is a large producer of pecans. The orchards surrounding their neighborhood were large and bare this time of year.

On the last day of our adventure out west, we drove down to Puerto Palomas, Mexico. This was just a short hour drive south of Las Cruces. We chose to go into Mexico via this route versus through Juarez via El Paso, due to proximity, smaller border patrol lines, and safety. Unbelievably, it was snowing as we made the drive from Las Cruces into Mexico. It was a strange feeling having come all the way from Alabama to see snow in the desert.

Puerto Palomas boasts as the location where Pancho Villa launched his attack on New Mexico in 1916; a small border town, adjacent to Columbus, New Mexico. As we approached the border walls, we parked in a make-shift parking lot adjacent to a Dollar General on the American side of the border wall. Nothing says “Welcome to America” like a Dollar General Store. We put on our coats and scarves, and made the quick five-minute walk across the border, passing armed Mexican troops along the way.

The border perimeter is lined with pharmacies, liquor shops, and other novelty shops. One of the favorites frequented by my in-laws, and just a block from the border is the “Pink Store.” My mother-in-law thought we would enjoy shopping here because they serve you margaritas as you shop, which just made us shop more. This was a perfect stop to collect some Mexican folk art and other souvenirs. My husband was able to purchase some Cuban rum we cannot find in the United States, and my in-laws were able to refill their prescriptions for far less than they could in the United States. The store has a restaurant adjacent, and once we all had finished our shopping we enjoyed an authentic Mexican lunch, before crossing back into the United States.

It is always a sad day when we have to part. We had a delightful breakfast before leaving Las Cruces at Mesilla Valley Kitchen. The portions were large, and everything was cooked to order. It was the perfect base for what would be a long travel day home. As we approached El Paso, I asked if we could stop at the Lincoln Park underpass murals. It was just off the freeway and an easy stop coming into El Paso to the airport. Dozens of murals cover the underpass here. We spent a little time leisurely walking around taking photos. I love seeking out murals and other local art when visiting new cities. El Paso has over 100 murals. You could probably spend a week here and not see them all. I think that says volumes about the culture, and appreciation of arts in this community. Also, the art is a magnification of the people from the area producing it. My love for murals is very close to my love for seeking out local food. I love to find and immerse myself in the local environment in which I’m traveling. It makes the experience that much more enriching. I encourage you to do the same when you are traveling. Try something new, experience life.

 

La Patrona margarita from La Posta de Mesilla. The best margarita I’ve ever had!

Combination Plate #1 at La Posta de Mesilla. Tamale, enchiladas, carne rojo, ensalada Méxicana, frijoles, and arroz.
Albertson’s Grocery Store in Las Cruces. Not something you see in Alabama grocery stores, fresh tortillas being made, by the thousands.
The Organ Mountains in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
La Posta de Mesilla. My favorite place to eat near Las Cruces.
The Lodge Resort in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, covered in snow.
Beautiful snowy view. In a distance you can see the desert below the mountains.
Our Lady of Guadalupe in Las Tortugas neighborhood near Las Cruces, NM.

Unknown home. Just loved the colors and architecture. Adobe-style, flat- top homes were abundant in this area.

Armed Mexican officer that you pass when entering Mexico.

My mother-in-love after a few margaritas at the Pink Store in Puerto Palomas, Mexico.

How we felt about White Sands National Park being closed due to the government shutdown.
Murals beneath the “spaghetti bowl” underpass in El Paso, Texas.