To say that globetrotting gastronome Andrew Zimmern is smitten with Birmingham’s food scene is an understatement.
He has featured the Magic City three times for his roving food shows on the Travel Channel, “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” (2013), “Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations” (2016) and “The Zimmern List” (2018).
Asked last year in an episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Food Network for a dish that’s so good he’d eat it over and over again, he raved about the smoked chicken in Alabama white sauce at Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q in Cahaba Heights, a suburban Birmingham community.
After a 2018 visit to metro Birmingham, which ranks 50th in population nationally, he called it “the hottest small food city in America right now,” pointing to Highlands Bar and Grill and its pastry chef Dolester Miles, both lauded that year by the prestigious James Beard Foundation as the nation’s “Outstanding Restaurant” and “Outstanding Pastry Chef.” He’ll be singing Birmingham’s praises again on the Cooking Channel in an episode of “Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations” that premieres Monday, July 12 at 9 p.m
Billed as unveiling the city’s “must-have eats,” the upcoming Cooking Channel episode recounts Zimmern’s 2016 visits to restaurants around greater Birmingham, and a side trip to Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur. Filming at Big Bob Gibson, credited as the inventor of barbecued chicken with Alabama white sauce, must have been a pilgrimage of sorts for Zimmern given his oft-stated love for Miss Myra’s version. (Before they opened their Cahaba Heights barbecue restaurant in 1984, Myra and Clark Harper lived in Hartselle, about a dozen miles from Big Bob’s, and cite it as an influence for their tangy, creamy white sauce.)
Also on the itinerary for the July 12 episode is the Irondale Café, whose fried green tomatoes are celebrated in song and story, and Bogue’s Restaurant, an 83-year-old restaurant now occupying Birmingham’s historic Fire Station No. 22 building on Claremont Avenue. Another segment will showcase Sam’s Super Samwiches in Homewood, which started out in 1970 as the second location of Sneaky Pete’s Hot Dogs (owner Sam Graphos’ brother, Pete, started the chain). Graphos rebranded his tiny breakfast-and-lunch counter as Sam’s Super Samwiches before his brother sold Sneaky Pete’s in the mid-1980s.
Graphos still sells the distinct style of hot dogs popularized by Greek immigrants and their children in Birmingham during the 1900s, including at Sneaky Pete’s (Sam, Pete and their late restaurateur brother, Jimmy, are second-generation Greek-Americans). The “Special” is a griddled dog in a steamed bun dressed with mustard, sauerkraut, onions, house-made spicy beef and a separate special sauce. Zimmern and a film crew visited the restaurants in 2016 and they were featured in an episode of “Delicious Destinations” on the Travel Channel later that year.
A New York City native now based in Minnesota, Zimmern started working in kitchens as a teenager. The chef also is a writer and had food-related radio shows before starting his television career in 1997.
“Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” premiered on the Travel Channel in 2006. A pleasantly goofy guy with a broad palate, Zimmern won four Beard Awards for his work on the “Bizarre Foods” franchise, and an Emmy for “The Zimmern List.” The professional traveler said he feels the love every time he comes to the ’Ham. “I never get as nice a welcome as I do in Birmingham,” he tweeted after one visit. “People stop their cars, pause on the street or use social and actually say ‘Nice to have you back.’ It’s amazing. Love the B’ham people!”
This story was originally published by SoulGrown.
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