Southern tourism is often associated with historic cities with antebellum pasts—Charleston, Atlanta, Richmond. While a “newer,” post-Civil War city, Birmingham holds its own and is receiving a rise in attention for its downtown renaissance and Southern cuisine.
The largest city in Alabama by population, Birmingham was founded in 1871 as an industrial and migrant town. In fact, it was so prominent in the steel industry that it gained the nickname, “The Pittsburgh of the South.” Today, the city still ranks as an important business center of the region, but for banking. Beyond business, as the arts and culture capital of the state, Birmingham is also home to many museums and festivals.
Another draw to this destination is the food. Birmingham’s prime location gives its chefs access to a bounty of fresh and local ingredients, from seafood caught fresh off the Gulf of Mexico to produce grown in Appalachia. All these regional treasures combine to create Alabama’s staple — soul food. Below are five places to enjoy comfort food at its best.
SAW’s Soul Kitchen
Opened in 2012, SAW’s Soul Kitchen is part of the SAW’s restaurant family, which includes Southern fare from barbecue to soul food. The Soul Kitchen offers traditional down-home Southern dishes cooked to order, served up in a Styrofoam tray for a casual experience that leaves your stomach full and your heart happy. Specialties include pulled pork, pork n’ greens and shrimp n’ grits, along with a side of deviled eggs, potato salad or fried green tomatoes. There’s also a selection of stuffed ‘taters, with toppings ranging from homemade chili to chicken piled high. The perfect ending to a perfect Southern meal? Banana pudding.
215 41st St. South
The Southern Kitchen and Bar
The perfect place for a date night with a fellow soul food lover, The Southern Kitchen and Bar is chic, yet still comfortably casual. Here, Southern delicacies are served alongside specialty cocktails. Start your dining experience off with a Southern Sampler, which includes Southern fried pickles, fried green tomatoes and hoppin’ John dip. For your entree, while you could stick with a steak or salmon, more regional options include the seared scallops and grits and the Southern stir fry (grilled chicken or black shrimp, sautéed Conecuh sausage, okra, grape tomatoes, corn and onions). Have no fear: banana pudding is also served here, but in the form of a crème brûlée, topped with whipped cream, vanilla wafer and strawberries.
2301 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd., Suite 300
Serving award-winning barbecue, Carlile’s opened in 1945 and is still serving the same great stuff. The menu is limited (a trend you’ll notice at all the “great” barbecue joints) because the focus is on the quality, not the quantity of food. Choose from barbecue sandwiches (even a vegetarian option), burgers, salads, and plates or platters of barbecue, from pork to chicken to smoked sausage. Signature dishes include the barbecue-stuffed potatoes, open-faced pork and fries, and barbecue wings. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with a fried apple pie.
3511 6th Ave. South
Hot and Hot Fish Club
For soul food with a twist, Hot and Hot Fish Club blends French, Southern and Californian cooking styles to create an upscale experience that sets itself apart. While dishes are certainly eye-catching and unique, the ingredients still harken back to the rural roots of Alabama, whether you’re enjoying the signature tomato salad (with sweet corn, field peas, fried okra and smoked bacon) or the wood-fired chicken roulade (with marinated cabbage, cornbread, pickled green tomatoes, black-eyed peas and chicken skin).
2180 11th Court South
The Yard brands itself as a Southern progressive restaurant, with outstanding food and classic Southern hospitality. The chef has an impressive resume and it shows on the menu. Among the breakfast options, you’ll spot plenty of buttermilk biscuits, farm eggs and country ham. Dinner is a little more extravagant, but you can still find traces of those Southern roots in dishes like the braised Mississippi rabbit and grilled tenderloin, served with spring peas and wild mushrooms. The top dessert option is, of course, pecan pie with molasses ice cream.
1928 1st Ave. North