What Makes Birmingham a “Food Town?”

 ========= Old Image Removed =========Array
    [_wp_attached_file] => Array
            [0] => 2016/07/Unknown-e1467387102804.jpeg

    [_wp_attachment_metadata] => Array
            [0] => a:5:{s:5:"width";i:640;s:6:"height";i:480;s:4:"file";s:35:"2016/07/Unknown-e1467387102804.jpeg";s:5:"sizes";a:10:{s:6:"medium";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:35:"Unknown-e1467387102804-336x252.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:336;s:6:"height";i:252;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:9:"thumbnail";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:35:"Unknown-e1467387102804-140x140.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:140;s:6:"height";i:140;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:9:"wbhm-icon";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:33:"Unknown-e1467387102804-80x80.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:80;s:6:"height";i:80;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:13:"wbhm-featured";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:35:"Unknown-e1467387102804-600x338.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:600;s:6:"height";i:338;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:20:"wbhm-featured-square";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:35:"Unknown-e1467387102804-600x480.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:600;s:6:"height";i:480;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:18:"wbhm-featured-home";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:35:"Unknown-e1467387102804-415x311.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:415;s:6:"height";i:311;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:22:"wbhm-featured-carousel";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:35:"Unknown-e1467387102804-353x265.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:353;s:6:"height";i:265;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:28:"ab-block-post-grid-landscape";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:35:"Unknown-e1467387102804-600x400.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:600;s:6:"height";i:400;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:25:"ab-block-post-grid-square";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:35:"Unknown-e1467387102804-600x480.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:600;s:6:"height";i:480;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:14:"post-thumbnail";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:35:"Unknown-e1467387102804-125x125.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:125;s:6:"height";i:125;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}}s:10:"image_meta";a:12:{s:8:"aperture";s:1:"0";s:6:"credit";s:0:"";s:6:"camera";s:0:"";s:7:"caption";s:0:"";s:17:"created_timestamp";s:1:"0";s:9:"copyright";s:0:"";s:12:"focal_length";s:1:"0";s:3:"iso";s:1:"0";s:13:"shutter_speed";s:1:"0";s:5:"title";s:0:"";s:11:"orientation";s:1:"0";s:8:"keywords";a:0:{}}}

    [_imagify_optimization_level] => Array
            [0] => 1

    [_wp_attachment_backup_sizes] => Array
            [0] => a:8:{s:9:"full-orig";a:3:{s:5:"width";i:640;s:6:"height";i:480;s:4:"file";s:12:"Unknown.jpeg";}s:14:"thumbnail-orig";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"Unknown-140x140.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:140;s:6:"height";i:140;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:11:"medium-orig";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"Unknown-336x252.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:336;s:6:"height";i:252;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:18:"wbhm-featured-orig";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"Unknown-600x338.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:600;s:6:"height";i:338;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:25:"wbhm-featured-square-orig";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"Unknown-300x300.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:300;s:6:"height";i:300;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:23:"wbhm-featured-home-orig";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"Unknown-415x311.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:415;s:6:"height";i:311;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:27:"wbhm-featured-carousel-orig";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"Unknown-353x265.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:353;s:6:"height";i:265;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:19:"post-thumbnail-orig";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"Unknown-125x125.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:125;s:6:"height";i:125;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}}

    [_imagify_data] => Array
            [0] => a:2:{s:5:"stats";a:3:{s:13:"original_size";i:226414;s:14:"optimized_size";i:142762;s:7:"percent";d:36.950000000000003;}s:5:"sizes";a:8:{s:4:"full";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:48:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2016/07/Unknown.jpeg";s:13:"original_size";i:92297;s:14:"optimized_size";i:50702;s:7:"percent";d:45.07;}s:9:"thumbnail";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}s:6:"medium";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:56:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2016/07/Unknown-336x252.jpeg";s:13:"original_size";i:21029;s:14:"optimized_size";i:15689;s:7:"percent";d:25.390000000000001;}s:13:"wbhm-featured";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:56:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2016/07/Unknown-600x338.jpeg";s:13:"original_size";i:39342;s:14:"optimized_size";i:24042;s:7:"percent";d:38.890000000000001;}s:20:"wbhm-featured-square";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:56:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2016/07/Unknown-300x300.jpeg";s:13:"original_size";i:21883;s:14:"optimized_size";i:16332;s:7:"percent";d:25.370000000000001;}s:18:"wbhm-featured-home";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:56:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2016/07/Unknown-415x311.jpeg";s:13:"original_size";i:28919;s:14:"optimized_size";i:19055;s:7:"percent";d:34.109999999999999;}s:22:"wbhm-featured-carousel";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:56:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2016/07/Unknown-353x265.jpeg";s:13:"original_size";i:22944;s:14:"optimized_size";i:16942;s:7:"percent";d:26.16;}s:14:"post-thumbnail";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}}}

    [_imagify_status] => Array
            [0] => success


People in Birmingham love their city’s food so much they write songs about it.  We found Ja-Neen Gandy hanging out with her kids at Railroad Park eager to share her ode to Gus’ Hot Dogs.

Musical tributes are just one way residents of the Magic City express their appreciation for Birmingham’s food culture. Others write about it.

“Maybe this is an over generalization, but people who aren’t from the south like me, I’m from Pittsburgh originally and affiliated in New York, become a very specific perception of the south. You know a monotone one-dimensional perception, but it’s really not like that at all here,” says Jessica Merlin. She and her husband Scott Doty are the creators of the food blog What to Eat in Birmingham. 

Birmingham is a smorgasbord of chefs, and people, with a deep enthusiasm for expanded offerings, Merlin says. Retracing the routes of the city’s culinary renaissance, we end up in the kitchen at Bottega Café with the man who’s considered the godfather of Birmingham’s modern food culture, Alabama native Frank Stitt.

The chef altered Birmingham’s culinary DNA in the 1980s when he blended foods from his Cullman roots with classic European recipes. Stitt’s a passionate supporter of locally sourced ingredients, something he’s proudly passed down to several protégés, many of whom have opened their own restaurants in Birmingham.

“I’d like to think that we’re a family of folks that have had a positive impact on Birmingham and that we’ll continue to, says Stitt.”

Food is entertainment for the taste buds and restaurants are theaters, he says. One recent performance included an entrée Stitt calls Spaghetti Nero, pasta infused with squid ink giving the spaghetti a deep black color. Gulf Coast crab and sweet Alabama corn accompany this dish.

Spaghetti Nero, a dish served recently at Stitt's Bottega Cafe, is spaghetti infused with squid ink, Gulf Coast crab meat, sweet corn, bread crumbs and chillies.

Esther Ciammachilli,WBHM
Spaghetti Nero, a dish served recently at Stitt’s Bottega Cafe, is spaghetti infused with squid ink, Gulf Coast crab meat, sweet corn, bread crumbs and chillies.

“I think Birmingham as a community respects more diversity. And I think that food has allowed us to expand our appreciation of diversity,” Stitt says.

From regional Italian to Mexican fusion, we travel to El Barrio Restaurant and Bar on 2nd Ave North where we meet co-owner Neville Baay. Originally from New Zealand, Baay has worked in restaurants all over the world. He says there are three main components that make a city a food town. First, there have to be local producers and farmers…and second, of course, chefs to prepare the food. Lastly, there needs to be a built in population that loves to eat.

“Those three ingredients are here in abundance. You can try all you want, but you can’t manufacture those,” Baay says. “Those have to exist and there has to be this organic growth of all three.”

Baay says Birmingham’s economic revitalization will only further this trend. He’s been here for ten years and he says, in that decade, the city has transformed…. and that transformation has only just begun.

“This is like every great city you’ve ever been to, but it’s in its infancy,” he says. “You have this downtown that is slowly developing and slowly reemerging, and we’re on the ground floor.”

While Birmingham continues to mature, so does its food culture. And it doesn’t matter if you’re savoring squid ink spaghetti, Barrio cornbread or munching on Gus’ hot dogs, Baay and the other culinary experts agree that Birmingham is a food town because of the people that live here. And those people love their food.

The mural at El Barrio Restaurant and Bar on 2nd Ave North.

Esther Ciammachilli,WBHM
The mural at El Barrio Restaurant and Bar on 2nd Ave North.





News from WBHM will never be behind a paywall. Ever. We need your help to keep our coverage free for everyone. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. You can support our journalism for as little as $5. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.


Birmingham takes part in embrace mothers guaranteed income pilot

Single-mother households represent about 60% of all Birmingham households with children, according to Mayor Randall Woodfin's office. The mothers involved in the program will receive $375 a month for a year.

Birmingham debuts new tech hub to help solve crime in real time

Birmingham leaders officially opened the city's Real Time Crime Center Tuesday, a project intended to give the Birmingham Police Department new technological tools to help resolve crime more quickly.

More Black families in Birmingham find freedom in homeschooling

The face of homeschooling is changing and diversifying. In just a year, the number of Black families has increased five-fold— and for more reasons than COVID-19. Several families told WBHM they see homeschooling as a way to protect their children from educational racism.

As southern workers quit in record number, restaurants struggle to meet demands

Wages have gone up as restaurants try to hold onto their staff amid a record number of people quitting their jobs in the U.S., especially in the South.

A missing Alabama woman’s body is found in a parked, unoccupied police van

Christina Nance had been missing since Sept. 25, her family says. Video footage from that day shows her entering the van, which was in a police parking lot. Her body was found 12 days later.

Alabama Board of Education cements state’s ban on critical race theory

At the October meeting, the Alabama state board of education cemented its ban on critical race theory into policy. But, attendants of the meeting reacted in disapproval.

More Arts and Culture Coverage