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
        )

)
1528845950 
1467369180

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.

 

 

 

 

More Arts and Culture Coverage

To Curb Gun Violence In Gulf States, Activists Are Taking A Closer Look At Policing Alternatives

Over Memorial Day weekend, at least 26 shootings were reported in major cities across Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. At least 10 people were killed and 17 others were injured. It was the latest example of rising homicides and gun violence across the Gulf states this year.

People in Alabama Prisons Confused, Frustrated As State Officials Withhold Their Stimulus Checks

Thousands of people in Alabama prisons received COVID-19 stimulus payments from the federal government, but state officials are holding the checks. They say people in prison will get their money, but maybe not all of it.

Birmingham Mayor Combats Violence Against Children With $125K Incentive

Since January of this year, six children under the age of 10 have been shot in Birmingham, according to police reports. Only one of the shooting incidents has led to an arrest.

Controversial New Alzheimer’s Drug Approved Despite Reservations

The drug, aducanumab, is expected to help slow the progression of the disease, but not to improve current memory impairments, according to a release from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Why Alabama’s Declining Vaccination Rate Could Spell An ‘Uncomfortable Summer’

Close to 70% of Alabamians are still not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but many people have stopped wearing masks and returned to normal activities.

Birmingham City Council To Hear $13 Million Vaccine Sweepstakes Proposal Tuesday

Council President William Parker's plan includes gift cards, savings bonds, college scholarships and drawings in an attempt to encourage more people get vaccinated against COVID-19.

More Arts and Culture Coverage