When the James Beard Foundation named Highlands Bar & Grill as America’s Most Outstanding Restaurant, foodies everywhere took notice of what Birmingham locals and visitors have long known: Alabama’s largest city is a seriously delicious food destination.
From sleek dining rooms to street cart counters, a spirit of relaxed refinement prevails in Birmingham, making dining an act of pleasure. Maybe it’s the ingrained notion of Southern hospitality which leads restaurateurs to welcome all with smiles and friendly banter. It could be the pride that comes from living in a state which produces bountiful produce (the tomatoes alone are flight-worthy). Or perhaps it’s the diversity of cultures and international flavours that mingle here, influencing Southern favourites and cultivating new ones. Whatever the reason, creating and sharing good food is a city-wide obsession – and an easy conversation starter. Ask any local for his favourite eatery or her preferred plate and you’ll receive an insightful list.
To get started, here are a few of Birmingham’s most pleasurable dining experiences and their pairings.
Highlands Bar & Grill
Naturally, Highlands Bar & Grill sets the tone by blending classic French technique with fresh-picked Alabama ingredients and provisions. The combination is irresistible, as are the confections of America’s “Most Outstanding Pastry Chef,” Dolester Miles. Pro-tips: Make reservations well in advance and don’t skip dessert.
Pairing: Steps away, appreciate the artistry – and photo opp – that is the beloved and whimsical fountain sculpture, The Storyteller.
Step up to the popular lunch counter of Yo’ Mama’s, where a mother-daughter team shares their love for Southern comfort food. Order "chicken & waffles" and fried "fish & grits" too. (Because, why not?) Portions are generous and the gluten-free options are pleasing.
Pairing: For a much-needed post-lunch walk, head over to the treasure-filled Jim Reed Books and Museum of Fond Memories, a Birmingham institution.
Along the historic cobblestones of Morris Avenue, The Essential lives up to the name, serving delicious nourishment and buzzy vibes. Sip a sparkling fig cocktail and soak up the downtown ambiance while awaiting a Gulf shrimp salad or lamb shoulder confit.
Pairing: Mere steps bring you to Alabama Peanut Co., roasting here since 1907. Try one of 15 flavours of boiled peanuts and score a "Southern & Salty" T-shirt.
Pepper Place Saturday Market
Each weekend, Pepper Place Saturday Market spills onto the streets of a former Dr. Pepper bottling plant and showcases Alabama farmers, bakers and makers. Join locals in hunt of the ripest heirloom tomatoes, juiciest peaches and tastiest pastries. Cooking demonstrations and live music add to the festivity.
Pairing: Grab a seat at Hop City, a watering hole pouring Alabama’s largest selection of craft beer with a 66-tap draft beer wall.
SAW's Soul Kitchen
Barbecue, aka BBQ, is pure Southern art. Ask anyone for their favouite spot and you’ll receive a dissertation on styles and sauce. Queue up at one of Birmingham's most popular BBQ joints, SAW’s Soul Kitchen, for a heaping plate of pulled pork – and to taste what the fuss is about.
Pairing: Stroll around historic Avondale Park, then dip into Avondale Brewing Company to imbibe some craft beers.
Pizitz Food Hall
Bustling Pizitz Food Hall illuminates a diversity of culinary talents under one grand roof. Alabama Biscuit Company’s pecan and goat cheese biscuits are reason enough to visit, but don’t stop there. Good eats abound in a dozen-plus stalls. Don't miss MO:MO: for Nepalese dumplings with an Alabama tomato vinaigrette twist and Ghion Cultural Hall’s Ethiopian platters.
Pairing: Venture downstairs and go indie with a screening at Sidewalk Cinema (the new home of the award-winning Sidewalk Film Festival).