CMH in BHM, (Bham, AL Y’all from December, 2006)
I made my first visit to the South with one goal – to eat at Johnnie’s BBQ which my friend Andrea has been talking about for several years. Since she was expected to have a hangover after a holiday party – I would be driving Ms. Andrea to her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama and flying back. This also gave me a chance to take a peek at Nashville, TN. And, as a Kansas City BBQ Society Certified BBQ Judge – I would have a chance to expand my palate, knowledge base, and belly.
I am fairly positive a saw a roadkill Bigfoot or monkey on the way down – but I did not have time to confirm this – there was eating to be done.
It is nine hours from CMH to Birmingham. We paused in Nashville for a late lunch at Corky’s BBQ (Brentwood location). Decent BBQ but not epic – however since it is only 1 minute away from the interstate – well worth the effort.
A BBQ Primer –a good southern BBQ joint adheres to a few basics. You should expect: a small menu, paper towels on the table, and sliced white bread served as a napkin alternative / delivery device for BBQ. Also, there will be extra sauce on the table. Tea – sweet tea (lots of sugar) and unsweet – will be the beverage of choice and you will have the option of half and half (1/2 sweet and 1/2 unsweet, Y’All). And since this is the south – expect PORK.
Upon arrival in Birmingham – it was time to eat again. Pickings were limited on a Sunday night – but we ended up at Dreamland BBQ. This was a surprise. Dreamland has been renown for ribs for years – so having a shot at this spot was a bonus. This is a franchise – but still good, I am sure the original is even better.
Sampled were the ribs, fries, baked beans, and Banana pudding. The ribs were well-cooked, tender, and meaty with good flavor. The sauce had a good kick to it. The Banana Pudding – was perfect.
The next day – with a bow to southern hospitality and for the sake of a birthday we dined at a Thai Restaurant – Surin West. This was good Thai. I really liked the Coconut soup and the Chicken Noodle Bowl. This is in the Five Points section of Birmingham.
Dinner was at Niki’s West. The restaurant does have a menu offering steak and seafood in it – but people head to Niki’s for the Meat and Three buffet. There are 5-7 Southern style cooked meat items and about 40 various side dishes to choose from including macaroni and cheese, greens, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc. Just choosing three is a struggle. There are also desserts. The Pecan Pie was perfect! The crust was a masterpiece. I loved it.
Day Two –
O’Carr’s Deli & Catering
2909 18th Street South (Homewood)
Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm
(No credit cards)
I had a crush on the (Homewood) O’Carr’s the second I walked in. The place is flowing with character. The prep area is overflowing with fresh fruits. This location has been around for 30 plus years – evidence of this can be found in some of the signed photos on the wall from the likes of 70’s rockers Boston, Ted Nugent and Foreigner. O’Carr’s has stood the test of time better than the people in the aforementioned photographs.
The menu is impressive. O’Carr’s puts the ham in Birmingham. The sandwich selections are filled with top grade meats including Prosciutto, Westphalian, and other types of ham as well as kuemmelwurst, braunschweiger, genoa salami and kosher salami
The salads and starters include broccoli salad, hearts of palm with blue cheese dressing, nut bread with cream cheese, asparagus and turkey on field greens with mango vinaigrette, crabmeat with cream cheese dip, cheese plates, etc. There are several soups offered daily.
Did I mention that have a big crush on O’Carr’s. Looking through the menu – I was hard pressed to pick just one thing. Looking around the crowded room, I noticed that 90% of the diners were getting the Chicken Salad and Fruit Plate. I sampled this and found it to be perfect. A generous serving of chicken salad (with a few cut grapes mixed in) was served with a selection of various crackers and a wide variety of cut fresh fruits. This is a destination dish. In 2002, the Chicken Salad and Fruit plate was listed in Birmingham Magazine’s 101 Best Things To Eat. I can tell you – I think there are at least 50 more things at O’Carr’s that should have been on that list.
Another must eat item at O’Carr’s is the cheesecake – thick and rich with real whipped cream on the top and a thin layer of fudge or fruit near the top. If the cheesecake is famous enough to be on a T-shirt – (for sale at the restaurant) – it is good enough for my belly.
The slogan for O’Carr’s is Eat by Color – there are many colors to choose from and I hit the rainbow pretty hard in one trip. However, there are several other things I wanted to try – including – the milkshakes, seven layer bars, a couple sandwiches, and another serving of the chicken salad.
Cameron Carr and his wife June have been running the restaurant for about 30 years and are starting to franchise. I think they have a great operation – but if you go to an O’Carr’s, go to the Homewood location, and go early to beat the crowd – the original can not be beat.
Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs
I will let these web sites do the talking. If you go to Pete’s, appreciate the history of the place.
Tip Top Grill
588 Shades Crest Road
This little stand offers a great view of the area since it sits on a cliff right by Lover’s Leap. I had a good slaw dog here.
Johnnys Bar B Q
1401 4th Street Southwest
Cullman is about 45 minutes north of Bham. In a state saturated with good BBQ and a city with several famous places, my hosts insisted that we head to Johnnies for the “best”. Johnnies is a good spot. It was ranked as one of the best of 2006 in National BBQ News – not an easy thing to do.
The standout here is the (Bulldog Slappin’ good) Bar-B-Q Potato. This is a giant baked potato filled with shredded cheese, sour cream and a big pile of shredded BBQ. Yum.
The Original Pancake House
Leaving town the next day, I went back to Five Points for a “Dutch Baby” at
The Original Pancake House. The Dutch Baby – is gigantic – kind of a fusion of a pancake and dumbo ear from a state fair – with lots of butter, powdered sugar, and lemon (if you choose) for good measure. This is a mini chain that started in Portland, Oregon. It was ranked as one of the best pancake houses by USA Today a few years back
I wish I would have had time for:
Another trip to O’Carr’s
Sneaky Pete’s (a small hot dog chain in Bham)
2304 Tenth Terrace South
A hard to find bar / Café famous for offering create-your-own sandwiches. You pick the bread, meat, cheese and toppings. Sounds good to me.
Golden Rule is a respected chain in the area. They have a mini location at the airport but I was too full to think about eating when I left Bham.
OK – it was not all food – I did some other things including –
A nighttime trip to Vulcan Park for a view of the City
This is Vulcan’s Butt.
And I went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum (very good). I also had a look at the 16th Street Baptist Church across he street – site of a lot of civil rights history.