Travel Birmingham: A Guide to the South’s Rising Star

Once in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, Birmingham is making headlines as a burgeoning capital of the New South. A celebrated culinary scene, revitalized historic districts, and plenty of homegrown cultural currency, Birmingham’s place on the map is no longer a pass-through–it’s a proper destination.

Day 1: Check into the Tutwiler, called “The Grand Dame of Southern Hotels” when it opened in 1914. As the city’s top historic property, the Tutwiler still holds all the Southern grace and charm it was founded upon, yet there’s no lack of modern convenience here.  For an early dinner, take a short walk to Café DuPont, located on 20th Street North in the heart of Birmingham’s North End. A staunch proponent of slow food principles, Chef Chris Dupont’s menu changes daily in accordance with what’s fresh, though perennial favorites include fried oysters and okra with cayenne butter sauce and the duet of grilled lamb T-bone and rabbit tenderloin. End the night with a final tipple at The Collins, a lovely cocktail bar on Second Avenue North.

Day 2: A short skip from downtown, Pepper Place Saturday Market is the perfect place to begin the weekend. It’s the mix of Alabama farmers, local artisans, celebrated chefs and the occasional noteworthy musician that’s made Pepper Place a hub for Birmingham’s increasingly culinary-minded population. James Beard award winning chefs like Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings share their secrets at occasional cooking classes and live bluegrass or jazz is typically in the air. Sip a cup of Birmingham’s famed Icebox Cold-Brewed Coffee as you walk through rows of heirloom vegetables fresh from the ground.

From there, head to Saw’s Soul Kitchen in nearby Avondale. This gas station turned soul food joint serves up a mishmash of Southern classics – braised pork and collard greens spread over cheese grits may sound less than appetizing, but Saw’s infamous Pork ‘N Greens has become one of Birmingham’s best loved dishes.  After lunch, walk next door to Avondale Brewery for a taste of the city’s growing craft brewing scene. Once home to a more “questionable” venture (try Brothel Brown Ale), Avondale features a casual outdoor lawn that often hosts live music during the warmer months.

After a languid afternoon at Avondale, head to Five Points South where you’ll find three culinary gems helmed by Birmingham’s most noteworthy chef, Frank Stitt. His French bistro Chez Fon Fon and Italian café Bottega are exceptional, though it’s his Highlands Bar and Grill that’s become the city’s standard-bearer for fine dining. Long on the shortlist for the James Beard award for America’s most outstanding restaurant, Highlands has garnered high praise since opening a couple decades back.  Having trained in the kitchen of Alice Waters in the 1970s, Stitt is an ample captain in the kitchen, and dishes like his duck breast with veal sweetbreads offer a culinary experience on par with those found in America’s typical food capitals.

When the check comes, gather your belongings and head back downtown and finish the night off with a cocktail and some skee ball at Paramount Bar.

Day 3: Begin your morning at Octane Coffee’s downtown location. If you’ve remembered to pack your Sunday best and plan to rise before noon, drop in for a soulful service and a touch of Civil Rights history at 16th Street Baptist Church. Afterwards, head to Galley & Garden, formerly known as the Veranda on Highland for their classic Southern brunch. An exceptional sweet tea Duroc pork chop is on the menu, as well as gluttonous Gulf Shrimp and stone ground grits dish. Dedicated to seasonality and locality, Galley & Garden’s farmers provide their kitchen with quality produce picked fresh at the height of every season.

Also of note:

Hot and Hot Fish Club helmed by Chef Chris Hastings

Harrison Limited in Mountain Brook for classic, Southern-inflected menswear

The Alabama Theatre for its 1920s charm and blue-chip musicians

Trim Tab Brewing Co. and Good People Brewing for a taste of the city’s best craft beers

[Highlands Photo Credit – Beau Gustafson]

Updated 07/18/2016 by Chase McPeak

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