Move over, New Orleans. Step aside, Charleston. Get out of the way, Nashville. Foodies are flocking to a different city in the South now. It’s in Alabama, of all places. And it’s home to some of the most exciting restaurants in the country.
No, it’s not the capital of Alabama. That would be Montgomery. It’s not along the popular Gulf Coast either. But it is the largest city in the Cotton State. It was named after England’s second-largest city. While it sits in between Atlanta, Georgia and Jackson, Mississippi along Route 20. The city is Birmingham.
Birmingham has a rough history to say the least. It was founded in 1871, when three rural farm towns merged during the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War. It quickly grew around the railroad and the iron and steel industries. It even earned the nickname the Pittsburgh of the South. Those weren’t the problems, though. The segregated city became the center of activity for the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and the 1960s. The period was marked with peaceful protests, racial violence, and even bombings. Birmingham was not a city you wanted to visit.
But times have changed. Downtown Birmingham is undergoing a major revival. It’s now one of the largest banking centers in the country. The University of Alabama has transformed into a major medical and research center. The Birmingham Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the South. New condos and hotels are luring people back into the city. Parks, once abandoned to crime and drugs, are being cleaned up. Plus new restaurants are popping up everywhere.
So where should you go to eat in Birmingham? You should start in Avondale. The long-forgotten neighborhood is now a hip spot around 41st Street. Satellite, the bar at the music venue Saturn, serves Stumptown Coffee and locally made doughnuts during the day. Melt, which began as a food truck, creates cheesy sandwiches as you play board games or draw on the sidewalk with chalk. SAW’s Soul Kitchen is the spot for your barbecue fix. Their pork and greens plate is piled atop creamy grits. Oysters and burgers are served at the casual Fancy’s on 5th. Post Office Pies, one of the best pizzerias in the country, makes pies in a hickory-fired oven. While the Avondale Brewing Company and 41st Street Pub & Aircraft Sales are the best spots for seasonal beers and cocktails, especially a Moscow Mule, respectively.
That should keep you busy during the day. For the evening—at least your first one—there’s no doubt that you’re going to OvenBird. The restaurant has a marble bar and an open hearth inside. Myrtle surrounds the courtyard outside. The menu marries Latin American and Southern flavors. While everything that’s served hot is cooked on the open fire.
Once you’re seated in the garden, order an Ovenbird beer—Back Forty Beer Company helped them make it—as you look over the menu. You’re drawn to the dishes—like baked oysters, Alabama shrimp and clams, and gulf fish with salsa verde—that use local ingredients. Your server is raving about the rabbit empanadas. They even have beignets, served with muscadine jam, on the dessert list. You may need a second night here just to taste everything that sounds delicious. Or perhaps a return trip to Birmingham is already in the works.