A Pork Rib Tour of Alabama

From the Black Belt to the Wiregrass to The Shoals, we crisscrossed our great state stopping only for pork ribs. It was heaven on earth for a Southern food lover.

I was on a tasty mission to discover Alabama’s best pork ribs with two other judges – Daniel Tubbs, an Alabama pig farmer, and Bob Plaster, who is a competitive cook. We were riding with Marlee Moore, Guy Hall and Debra Davis from the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Bama’s Best Pork Ribs was an inaugural statewide contest sponsored by the Alabama Pork Producers, which is a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation (the state’s largest farm organization with more than 357,000 members). The contest began with a social media campaign, and people posted their nominations on Facebook and Instagram.

We took two days to visit the Final Four and ultimately name Smokin’ on the Boulevard in Florence our winner. Heard’s BBQ & Soul Food in Maplesville in Chilton County got the People’s Choice Award for receiving the most nominations. Wiley’s Smuteye Grill in the tiny town of Smuteye in Bullock County and Whillard’s BBQ & Grill in Marion in Perry County rounded out our top four for various delicious reasons.

I had the absolute pleasure of representing Alabama NewsCenter on this delicious journey, which took me by Civil War monuments, the former site of Jim’s Funk Junction (now, incongruously, a law office), dozens of peach stands and one good-looking bird dog statue. Looking along the highways, I noticed that armadillos are having a tough spring. On a brighter note: Queen Anne’s lace, showy primrose and goldenrod are everywhere.

The people we met, those folks cooking these award-winning ribs, were the real draw on this journey. I was blown away by their stories and by the incredible support their communities have shown them.

You can read the entire story here.

Whillard’s BBQ & Grill

12267 Highway 5, Marion, 36756

334-683-4200

 

Heard’s BBQ & Soul Food

8341 Alabama Highway 22, Maplesville, 36750

334-543-6856

 

Wiley’s Smuteye Grill

14162 County Road 35, Banks, 36005

334-474-3623

 

Smokin’ on the Boulevard

4080 U.S. Highway 72 (Florence Boulevard), Florence, 35634

256-757-0099

Dine Out and Make a Difference

Go ahead and set your calendar. I know I am. On Thursday, April 26, your dining dollars will make a big difference to a lot of people … if you’re eating at the right places.

Dining Out For Life is an international event that has been taking place for more than 20 years. Here in  Birmingham, it will benefit AIDS Alabama. At the same time, it will promote lots of local restaurants that are committed to making our community better.

My friend Caroline Bundy, director of development for AIDS Alabama, told me:  “Since bringing this event to Birmingham in 2010, more than 50 local restaurants have helped to raise over $180,000 for AIDS Alabama’s programs and services! These funds enable us to provide critical programs and services that include housing, supportive services, HIV testing and prevention education efforts to thousands of Alabamians.”

Caroline said each participating restaurant commits to contributing at least 25 percent of food and beverage sales (including alcohol!) from breakfast, lunch and/or dinner to AIDS Alabama on April 26. This year there are 30 local restaurants participating, and many are contributing more than 25 percent of sales that day.

For a complete list of restaurants and when they are serving, go here.

Silvertron Cafe in Forest Park is donating at a 50 percent level during lunch and dinner! Those donating at the 35 percent level include 5 Point Public House Oyster Bar, Slice Pizza and Brew, Bistro V, Bamboo on 2nd, Avondale Common House & Distillery,  Sky Castle and Ocean.

These eateries join others in 60 cities across the country and in Canada.

Many of these restaurants are personal favorites of mine like Chez Lulu in English Village and Cantina Tortilla Grill at Pepper Place. Melt, Fancy’s on 5th and Saigon Noodle House in Avondale are participating. Chez Fonfon, Galley and Garden and Bottega Cafe in Five Points South are, too. So are Roots & Revelry and Yo’ Mama’s Restaurant downtown. And in Hoover, you can eat at Vecchia Pizzeria & Mercado as well as at Moss Rock Tacos & Tequila. All are amazing choices!

Since there are breakfast, lunch and dinner options, I’m thinking I’ll be out of my own kitchen all day long. Maybe a progressive dinner is in order, too.

 

 

Bello Moments at Bettola

Chef James Lewis has made a name and a niche for himself in a city that is increasingly famous for its food.

The chef-owner of Bettola, in the Martin Biscuit Building at Birmingham’s Pepper Place, makes great, authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas, but his inventive entrees are just as popular and he enjoys quite a loyal following. Customers flock to this trattoria, wine bar and pizza place for counter-service lunches, table-service dinners, and wine and craft cocktails on the patio any time.

They’ve been doing so for 12 years.

I visited Bettola for Alabama NewsCenter recently and had a fine time talking with James. You can read the entire piece here and see Brittany Faush’s great video.

“Bettola is a lot of things to a lot of different people,” James told me, and he’s not afraid to experiment with food in ways that appeal to a variety of tastes. “We want to have things that have root in tradition, but we also want to have things that are rooted in change and in depth of flavor and the meshing of ingredients that are both bold and subtle.”

James was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine in 2011. In 2012, he was a semifinalist for the James Beard Awards Best Chef: South. He insists, though, that what he does is “about sharing. It’s about giving. A lot of chefs approach it, and it’s about themselves. But for me, it was never supposed to be about me. It was supposed to be about what I want to give to others.”

Bettola

2930 3rdAvenue South

Birmingham, Alabama 35233

205-731-6499

https://www.facebook.com/BettolaBirmingham/

Au Revoir, Winter!

It’s a Springalingadingdong! 
Go ahead. Say it out loud, because it’s fun.
Then make it part of your plans for Saturday, April 21 because that’s even more fun.
Springalingadingdong! is a European-style street carnival and giant puppet parade in Mountain Brook’s English Village.
It’s a celebration born from another celebration.
In 2009, Carole Griffin wanted to mark the 25th anniversary of her amazing Continental Bakery. She didn’t want the usual anniversary hoopla like a big ad or even a sale. Instead, she wanted a way to break through seasonal gloom and anxiety over that year’s economic woes. Remember those?
 
“I felt such a burst of hope once spring began appearing, that I had an urge to celebrate,” Griffin says. “Everyone had had such a hard time that year; they seemed so dispirited. I wanted to put all that behind us and show appreciation for our loyal customers with a big shindig. Just like that, Springalingadingdong! was born.” 
 
Fast forward to 2018, and Continental Bakery, Chez Lulu and the merchants of English Village are presenting a Springalingadingdong! that will be bigger than ever. It will be held on April 21st from 10 am to 3 pm in English Village, with Cahaba Road blocked off for the festivities.
 
“Springalingadingdong! is based on a long human tradition of communally putting winter and its challenges to rest, and, in turn, celebrating Spring’s promise of new birth and hope,” says Griffin. “Springalingadingdong! is about gratitude and delight, the human spirit, creativity, hope and community, not only in the face of hardship, but in response to it.” 
 
Festival-goers can expect a hula contest; a bread toss; a ukulele band and a drum circle; crafts; children’s activities; and a Parisian-style street market with artists, vendors and delicious food
 
There’s drama, too, as the cold monarch “Marie Antoinette” (representing Winter and stuffy, mean-spirited times) gets a mock “beheading” before her transformation into the lively, lovely May Queen. The festival culminates as everyone in the crowd is invited to join the May Queen as she leads a walking parade through English Village, accompanied by giant, 12-foot-tall, handmade puppets and a 60-piece Mardi Gras-themed band, Atlanta’s Seed and Feed Marching Abominable.
 
“We’re hopeful people,” Griffin says. “We believe in the goodness of life, so we’re going to stake our claim on it and have a festival that celebrates joy, rebirth and the pursuit of silliness.” Oui, oui, oui to Spring all that!
 
Admission is free, and absolutely everyone is invited.
 
For more information, contact Continental Bakery at 205 870-5584.

 

Fox 6 Books: April

Here are the books I brought to WBRC Fox 6 on April 3. Let them inspire you to get out and enjoy the sights–natural and otherwise. Or just relax inside with a work of Southern literature or a page-turning (based-on-a-true-story) mystery.

Listen to the Land (PMT Publishing)  Mountain Brook resident Louise Wrinkle has lived most of her long life on the property she has cultivated for more than 30 years. She knows every inch of her expansive, natural garden set in an unspoiled Alabama woodland, and it’s impressive enough that professional horticulturists, plant enthusiasts and backyard gardeners all over the country know it, too. They’ll know it even more intimately through Wrinkle’s book, Listen to the Land. The book shows how Wrinkle took exactly what nature gave her and created a woodland garden that follows and honors the rough terrain and idiosyncratic character of her land with winding paths, a meandering brook, ages-old stone walls, and rustic rail fences and bridges. The book is full of stunning photographs, and the prose is absolutely beautiful.  We see Wrinkle’s garden in all seasons— a Japanese maple in golden leaf and with bare branches, a forest full of cloud-like native dogwoods, yellow Lady Banks’s rose as groundcover and even flower-shaped fungus sprouting from leaf litter. On a practical note, there are more than 200 plant profiles at the back of the book with tips on habitat and placement.

Hurricane Season (Thomas Nelson)  Birmingham writer Lauren Denton follows up her bestselling debut novel, The Hideway, with more lovely Southern storytelling. Sisters Betsy and Jenna are following two entirely different paths in life. Betsy and her husband, Ty, own a dairy farm in south Alabama. They are a family of two since Betsy never realized her dream of motherhood. Free-spirited Jenna is a gifted photographer and single mother of two girls. When Jenna has the opportunity to attend a life-changing artists’ retreat, she drops her girls off with her sister for “just two weeks.” Those couple weeks stretch into most of the summer, and Betsy and Ty adjust to a new life with the little girls and realize it suits them. As Jenna finally is finding the time to focus on her passion and gifts, hurricane season is ramping up on the Alabama coast. When Hurricane Ingrid takes aim at Franklin Dairy Farm, important decisions must be made, and those decisions will forever change these two families.

Love and Death in the Sunshine State:  The Story of a Crime (Algonquin Books This literary nonfiction book, by Cutter Wood, is a combination of memoir and good, old-fashioned reporting. In 2008, Sabine Musil-Buehler, the owner of a motel on Santa Maria Island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, was murdered. Wood, newly graduated from college and at loose ends, was a guest at the motel a few months before it was set on fire and Sabine went missing. He returns to Anna Maria Island and begins to investigate the murder himself. He first approaches this like a true-crime story—presenting the facts and persons of interest:  the victim’s husband, her boyfriend and the man who stole her car after she was killed. But then the narrative veers away from mere facts and into an exploration of how a romantic relationship can take such a terrible turn. Cutter writes, “I felt I had to learn how a relationship can spin to pieces in such a dramatic and fatal fashion … the book is an attempt, via narrative, to understand the impulse to hurt, or even destroy, the ones we love.”

Alabama Impressions (Farcountry Press)  There is very little writing in this book of amazing photographs by Robert P. Falls, Jr. Instead, he lets the beauty of our great state—from the mountains up north to the shoreline down south—speak for itself. And it has lots of say. In addition to many beautiful photos of our natural world, Falls also shows images of iconic manmade things like Birmingham’s skyline glowing at night, the Pathfinder orbiter at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, historic Rickwood Field, Clanton’s peach-shaped water tower and the boll weevil monument in Enterprise. Let this book inspire you to get out and explore all the awesome sights our state has to offer. Falls is a professional wildlife, nature and travel photographer whose work has been published by National Geographic Books, National Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon Society. The National Park Service features his images in two park locations, and the U.S. Postal Service has used one of his photos on a postage stamp.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and Books, The Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center or visit my local library.