Exploring and Eating in Birmingham, AlabamaNovember 25, 2011 No Comments
A recent trip to Birmingham, Alabama showed us art, history, and a great city view. But one of the most enjoyable past times in this interesting Southern city is – dining. We indulged in some wonderful meals in town, consoling ourselves with the caloric input as we walked almost everywhere in the heart of the city, or explored walking destinations outside city center.
Here are some of our favorite, child friendly food stops and tourism options. Breakfast brought us to English Village and adjoining Mountain Brook Village on the suburban edge of the community of Mountain Brook, just outside Birmingham proper. Here you’ll find the delicious Continental Bakery, a small shop recommended to us by so many locals that we just had to try it. Sidewalk tables make this a pleasant stop for all ages, and the croissants are every bit as fine as those I consumed years ago in Paris.
And once fulfilled, its a short walk down hill to Mountain Brook Village, with pottery galleries, antique stores, and jewelry shops excellent for browsing. If the kids are restive, window shopping may be advised, but its a great location for walking off breakfast. And walk you should, because my lunch suggestion is indeed a rich one: Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q. Packed full at lunch its worth waiting for a table, and you’ll almost taste the bar-b-q sauce on the air around the place. Once a convenience store, this eaterie offers pork sandwiches, fried chicken, and ribs for carnivores, but even our vegan was easily accommodated with fine vegetable dishes. Inexpensive and friendly, the restaurant also features a large display of porcelain pigs, donated by customers in honor of the non-porcelain variety served up daily. Another dining option right in Mountain Brook Village is Gilchrist Drugs. Here you’ll find an exceptional egg salad sandwich appropriately rated as one of the “100 Alabama Dishes you Must Try.” If eggs aren’t your thing, or you’ve already dined, you’ll still enjoy one of their fresh-squeezed limeades, a sweet, tart alternative to the sweet iced tea, which I might note, they also serve.
While we couldn’t walk there, we got our exercise in once we arrived at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum about fifteen minutes outside of the city center. This cavernous five story museum contains one of the largest motorcycle collections in the U.S. in a setting that feels more like a massive art gallery than a car museum. Outside there’s the Motorsports Park, where if you’re lucky you can view bikers putting the track to good use racing or practicing for same.
We saw Birmingham’s past personified and walked off more of our Bar-B-Q at The Iron & Steel Museum of Alabama which offers a look at the Roupes Valley Ironworks at Tannehill which once operated in the area. Once a series of charcoal blast furnaces operated during the Civil War, the iron works went on to become the massive Birmingham Iron & Steel District. The Tannehill museum includes military shells from the Civil War era as well as exhibits such as some of the oldest steam engines in America, and the Dotterer engine similar to the Tannehill blast engine which once operated here. Interactive displays about the iron making process made this a fascinating stop for kids of all ages. Best exhibit we felt was the bloomery exhibit using parts of the original Six Mile Forge from 1863 to demonstrate the early iron making process. Fascinating and just gritty enough to hold any child enthralled.
Although walking the grounds of a former Foundry doesn’t burn as much calories as actually working in one, surprisingly, we were ready for dinner when we arrived back in Birmingham proper at the Hot and Hot Fish Club. Another iconic Birmingham eaterie with a laid back, friendly vibe, we loved the healthy, fresh grilled fish, and our plant-based diner enjoyed the couscous and collard greens tremendously. Casual, reservations are a must here, particularly on weekends.
While we spent two nights of our visit outside Birmingham itself at a convention I was attending held in the suburbs, we moved into town for our last evening, and were glad we did. The elegant Tutwiler Hotel is ninety-seven years old, centrally located, and recently redone, retaining its old world charm while offering the amenities of flat screen televisions and sleek bathrooms. We loved the great city views from the broad windows, and after our experiences with cabbing into town, walking, and relying on the kindness of newly made convention-going locals to transport us, being in city center was a treat. An audio-guided tour of the hotel’s historic photo gallery was an added bonus, and the whole family enjoyed this look back in time.
Our final city dining experience was at Little Savannah, which bills itself as a quaint Southern bistro. Rich food choices include cranberry-pecan cream cheese French toast and amazing crab cakes. On the healthy eats side of the dining spectrum, their organically sourced salads were plenty delicious, too. The Birmingham Botanical gardens, with its lovely Japanese gardens and beautifully manicured lawns made an apt final stop for our visit to Birmingham – plenty of room to run off those calories before the long plane ride home, and a beautiful look at the soft greenery and blossoming flowers that are as much a part of this Alabama city as its all-too-tasty sweet iced tea.