Curbside Service has Become the New Normal

Social distancing has changed our food-centric state in ways we never imagined. Curbside service has become the new normal for many eateries. Others are relying heavily upon delivery services. Still others are altering their business models in more significant ways. 

While lives depend upon safe interactions, livelihoods depend upon businesses remaining in business. I wrote a story for Alabama NewsCenter about some of the ways food- and drink-related establishments are addressing the coronavirus crisis.

You can read the entire story here.

Meanwhile, here are some things you should know:

The dining rooms at all four Ashley Mac’s stores are closed, but Ashley McMakin, who owns the company with her husband, Andy, is still making homestyle casseroles and salads and desserts for pick-up and limited delivery. 

You can still get cupcakes at Ashley Mac’s.

And now, the Ashley Mac’s team is offering something else, too. 

“We were just trying to think of some things we could do for the community,” McMakin says, “and one thing we can get—that a lot of people cannot get at the grocery store—is produce.” So, they are packing boxes full of fresh fruits and vegetables. For $30, you can get a box of produce ranging from romaine, onions, broccoli and tomatoes to strawberries, cantaloupe and pineapple. McMakin says they will offer the produce boxes, which will vary according to what’s available and fresh, as long as there’s a demand and they can get enough produce in. 

Be sure to check Ashley Mac’s social media outlets for availability of items and produce boxes. Call 205-822-4142 for free pickup or 205-968-4126 for delivery with a $100 order.

Panache, Domestique Coffee’s charming little coffeeshop down an alley off 20th Street in Five Points South, is closed for now. So is Domestique Coffee Café inside Saturn in Avondale, but the Birmingham-based, small-batch coffee importer and roaster that specializes in single-origin coffeebeans is banking on a brighter future. 

Get Domestique coffee sent straight to your home.

Domestique is a multifaceted business that buys coffee from specialty growers all over the world including Haiti, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Mexico and elsewhere, so it’s not just local employees who are counting on this company.

So, CEO Nathan Pocus, who co-founded Domestique with his brother, Michael, says the company is inviting its customers to become co-founders, too. 

They are offering a Founder’s Card for $100. Sales of the cards will help the business now and allow buyers to enjoy lots of benefits later including a free batch brew for a month upon Domestique’s reopening, (a $90 value alone), 10% off all purchases for life, free digital products for life, early access notifications for all special events, monthly discount codes to use on the company’s online platform,  a ticket to the fun Founder’s Day party and more.  Go to www.domestique.com to learn more.

Big Spoon Creamery, the Birmingham-based small-batch, artisanal ice cream maker, has closed both its stores for now. But their handmade frozen treats (pint packs and sammie packs) are available for 24-hour delivery in the Birmingham area. 

This small-batch ice cream is like nothing else!

Ryan O’Hara, who owns Big Spoon along with his wife, Geri-Martha, says everything is done online, and “it’s a great way for us to try to keep going and a great way to promote social distancing. People don’t have to leave their homes.” 

So every day, they deliver as much ice cream as they can. “We didn’t think there would be such a huge response,” O’Hara says. “We’ve only been doing it for three days now, but we’ve had to cut off deliveries for the day when we reach our capacity. … We’re going round the clock. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We’re trying to do what we can to stay afloat.”

This home delivery allows Ryan and Geri-Martha to keep employing most of their full-time staff. Many of the part-time employees were college students who have since gone home. “We are prioritizing taking care of our people who rely on this job to support themselves,” he says.

To place your order visit https://www.bigspooncreamery.com/shop.

Little Savannah Restaurant & Bar is a fine-dining establishment, although Chef Clif Holt likes to say when you’re there, you’re simply “dining fine.” His customers are still dining in fine style, but they’re doing it at home with takeaway dinners for two and four. And Chef Holt has figured out another way to help his historic Forest Park neighborhood where he has operated his restaurant for 16 years:  He’s opening a neighborhood grocery. 

The grocery will stock raw protein by the pound (ground beef, ribeyes, chicken and fresh Gulf shrimp and snapper); dairy and French baguettes; fresh produce (oranges, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas and apples); and even toilet paper(!), paper towels, bottled water and boxes of latex gloves. 

All the necessities for right now. All at fair market prices.

“We’re not going to get rich off it,” he says of the grocery. “But it’s a service we can provide at a reasonable cost and keep our flow going.” 

That flow involves his employees, whom he’s trying to keep at work, and fish purveyors and truck drivers and even the folks who pick up the garbage.  “People don’t think about that,” he says. “We have a shortage of thought sometimes about how these things are going to go. For me, the main thing I’m trying to figure out is how we can retain as much normalcy as possible.” 

Normalcy currently means dinners for two or family dinners for four with the kinds of foods Holt’s customers have come to expect from Little Savannah. Things like hand-rolled pasta Bolognese or beef Bourguignon with herbed rice, Caesar salads and homemade focaccia. 

You can check Facebook for the daily meal specials and follow Little Savannah on Instagram for more info. Orders must be placed by 4 p.m. for pick-up or delivery the next day. Curbside pick-up hours are 4-6 p.m., and there is a $5 delivery fee. Call or text 205-616-0995 or go to info@littlesavannah.com to place your order.

Kay Bruno Reed, owner of Everything IZ, which includes IZ Weddings & Events and IZ Café, is one of the state’s busiest caterers, easily handling parties for hundreds and even thousands. On a smaller, more local level, she has been part of the Rocky Ridge neighborhood of Vestavia Hills for more than 20 years. Now, with weddings and large events canceled, she’s working to feed her neighbors—one family at a time. 

IZ cafe has been serving since 1999; they are not stopping now. Photo from Everything IZ.

She says, “Our staff has been working nonstop to keep our freezer stocked for our customers. We have been offering curbside pick-up for years but are now offering free delivery.” 

She’s also stocking basic staple items like milk, bread and eggs. Reed says the response has been amazing. “Customers are thanking us for being open and feeding them.”

All of the company’s full-time employees who want to be there, continue to work there. Those who have chosen to self-quarantine, she says, are taking a portion of their paid time off. 

Reed is approaching her work amid the COVID-19 pandemic in a positive way. 

“My hope, first of all, is that it is over soon and with very few deaths.” She also says she hopes “parents will take this time to teach their children basic domestic skills while they are studying at home. 

“My prayer is that this will bring our nation together for the good of all.”

Go to everythingiz.com to see what’s available and to order.

Drive-Thru Farmers Market at Pepper Place

The Market at Pepper Place has, for decades, promoted a “know thy farmer” way of doing business full of meaningful human interaction and conversations that make buying fresh produce and enjoyable and entertaining.

from the Market at Pepper Place

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the market is taking a different approach these days with a Drive-Thru Farmers Market and a pre-ordering system that still gives you access to locally grown veggie boxes, farm eggs, baked goods, meats and more.

The second week of the Drive Through Farmers Market, will happen on Saturday, March 28 from 7 a.m. to noon in the “big parking lot” on 2nd Avenue South.

In response to health and safety restrictions related to COVID-19, this “contactless” market will allow farmers to continue selling the freshest locally grown produce available in the state directly to customers, and minimize the elements of traditional farmers market transactions that have been deemed high-risk in the current climate.

Here’s how this Drive-Thru Farmers Market at Pepper Place works.

• Click on this link to find out which vendors are participating each week. Vendor listings and links are updated on Monday.

• Each participating vendor’s name will be noted with their offerings, how to order, the order deadline and how they will accept payment.

• Place your orders, pre-pay online, and you’re done until Market day.

• Saturday, 7am-Noon, come to the Pepper Place Drive-Thru Farmers Market in the Pepper Place parking lot on 2nd Ave. South.

• Please remain in your car at all times. The farmer will load the back of your vehicle with pre-purchased goods using gloves and social distancing!

from the Market at Pepper Place

Please note that there will be no walk-ups or onsite purchases. Market staff and a security guard will be onsite to assist and answer any questions. The farmers, staff and customers are expected to follow all recommended safety precautions, including social distancing and hand washing. If you are sick or feel unwell, please send someone else to pick up your orders.

from the Market at Pepper Place

The folks at the Market at Pepper Place say they hope this drive-thru market will be successful for their farmers and shoppers while complying with the latest safety recommendations of the CDC and our State and County health officials.

With everyone working together and supporting each other—and supporting our farmers and local businesses—we will get through this time stronger and better than ever.

Again click here for this Saturday’s vendor list and links to their order pages.

from the Market at Pepper Place

Since 2000, Pepper Place Market has offered a special space for local and regional farmers and many makers to sell each Saturday. We’ll be back to that again. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll continue to support them all.

Baking Bread

Here’s something you can bake that will be very satisfying (on so many levels) … even if you are not a baker.

It’s No-Knead Bread. It requires very special equipment, few ingredients, no kneading and not much baking experience. Really, time is the only big factor here.

It takes 24 hours to make this bread, but much of that time the dough is unattended.

We got the recipe from The New York Times, they got it from Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery. It is one of the most popular recipes the Times has ever published, and my husband has made it for years.

It calls for only three ingredients–flour, yeast and salt–and you probably already have them in your pantry.

He bakes our loaves in a cast iron dutch oven, and it comes out with an amazing crust.

Get the recipe here.

Enjoy!

T-Bone’s Brings Some Philly to Birmingham’s Southside

When Anthony “T-Bone” Crawford was just a kid, he dreamed of having a cheesesteak restaurant. He drew pictures of what his place would look like – with lots of happy customers and a mailbox out front.

Today, the Philadelphia native, who was raised in Oakland, California, owns and operates T-Bone’s, a cheesesteak shop in Birmingham’s Five Points South. True to his dream, there are lines out the door during busy times, and there’s a mailbox out front.

But realizing his dream was not easy.

Crawford first opened the restaurant in Center Point in 2002. He had a second location on Highland Avenue until he lost that lease, but his Birmingham customers followed him to the original store.

“The people from the Southside, bless them,” he says. “They helped keep us going. They would travel – it’s not far, but it’s far – and they would come and support us. I mean, ‘Shout out to the Southside.’”

I sat down with Crawford recently for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.

He moved back to Birmingham’s Southside and opened his Five Points location in 2014. And now his Center Point customers come here. 

And through all this moving around, Crawford weathered some of the toughest economic times in recent memory. 

“I’m not supposed to be here. There’s no reason why I should be here. I didn’t finish college. No bank would loan me any money. I did it all myself. Maxed out my credit cards. Went into debt. When times got tight, I doubled down my effort. Worked around the clock. Got up every day thinking about it. Sometimes that’s what it takes, you know. If you want it, you gotta get it. It’s as simple as that. 

“I worked hard. My family pushed me. I had support from friends. I felt like I had a good product, and I wasn’t going to stop. It was a struggle, believe me, but I felt like it was it was my time. And I was blessed.” 

Of course, it also helped that he had (and has) a solidly delicious menu.

Crawford knows a good cheesesteak when he tastes it and makes it. And his mantra at T-Bone’s is: “We make cheesesteaks, not mistakes.”

They also make these cheesesteaks in a number of ways. 

There’s the Famous, of course, a savory mix of freshly cooked sirloin steak and grilled onions under melted white American cheese. You can add mushrooms and bell peppers if you want. Crawford likes to say the most popular sandwich “is the one you like.” So they make it like you want it. 

“We like to give people something fresh when you come in the door. We take your idea, and we make it happen,” Crawford says. “You know that your food is cooked fresh every time.” 

Crawford has his own riffs on the classic Philly sandwich, too. 

The Irie, with grilled lean sirloin, red onions, lettuce, tomato and white American cheese, features a delicious, sweet-spicy jerk sauce and is one of his top-selling items. Mexicali steak dresses the sirloin with salsa and cheddar cheese sauce. There’s even a Philly made with grilled chicken instead of steak. 

All these cheesesteak sandwiches are served on rolls from Amoroso’s Baking Company.  “Cheesesteak is not a cheesesteak without Amoroso rolls,” Crawford says, “and we get our rolls straight from Philadelphia.”

They also make hoagies like the Carlo Gambino with Black Forest ham, cheese, tomatoes, red onions, basil, olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper. Wrap versions of the cheesesteaks and hoagies are served on flatbread. Bone wraps include the Meat Haters with lettuce, tomato, red onions, green peppers, mushrooms, cheese and a special sauce as well as the Jive Turkey with honey-roasted turkey, lettuce, tomato, red onions, mushrooms, cheese and sauce.

“We do salads,” Crawford says, “incredible salads. If you order a salad from us, we go make it in the back. They don’t just sit around.”

There are burgers like the Dirty South version with a half pound of lean ground beef, lite mayo, mustard, ketchup, pickles, white American cheese and Jack Daniel’s grilling sauce. The crisp, panko-breaded onion rings are delicious, and the fry choices are many. There are Plain Ole Fries; cheddar fries; spicy fries; ranch fries; and cheesesteak fries, which are topped with steak, onions, peppers cheese and chipotle aioli. You also can get homemade cheesesteak eggrolls. And there’s a nacho take on cheesesteak with sirloin, onions, melted cheddar, tomatoes, lettuce, jalapenos and chunky salsa on a bed of tortilla chips. It’s called “Dat Damn Dip.”

The near-steady metallic clink of spatulas chopping and tossing ingredients on a hot cast-iron cooktop just adds to the distinctive ambiance of this colorful little restaurant. Walk alongside the busy, open kitchen to place your order. “If you’re in here and you see us and it’s crunch time, we’re moving,” Crawford says. “It’s like a dance—we’re doing twists and we’re listening when you’re not thinking we’re listening. We do restaurant good. We do food good. You know what I’m saying?”  

Crawford says he’s proud to have achieved his lifelong dream. “Sometimes you have to pat yourself on the back. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and say how proud you are of yourself and what you’ve done, because a lot of times nobody’s going to tell you that. You have to feel good about yourself. … I come in on my days off, and I walk around the store and I thank the ice machine; I thank the grill. It’s real. It’s real. It’s amazing.”

T-Bone’s Authentic Philly Style Cheesesteaks and Hoagies

1017 20th St. S. 
Birmingham, AL 35205

Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 1 a.m.

Closed on Sunday    

205-582-9993

https://www.tbonescheesesteaks.com

Birmingham’s Miami Fusion Cafe is Nourishing Body and Soul

There’s a lot going on at Miami Fusion Café, and the food is only part of it. 

The restaurant does a brisk lunch business with the nearby city center office crowds; it draws diners downtown for dinner on Fridays and caters special events. El Conquistador, the Miami Fusion food truck, takes flavorful dishes, salsa music and Caribbean culture on the road throughout the greater Birmingham area and beyond. (The schedule is posted on Miami Fusion’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.)

Mofongo topped with pork is a favorite dish at Miami Fusion Cafe.

The café owners are expanding to a space next door with plans of a tiki bar in time for The World Games. There’s already an event space upstairs, and people come here for private parties and Latin dance lessons.  And the restaurant’s popular Jesus Cake is now in local grocery stores. 

But Luis and Samantha Delgado also quietly serve another community—employing people in recovery, helping them gain life skills, and supporting local organizations that combat addiction. It’s part of what Samantha says is a three-in-one approach to recovery—building self-esteem, offering structure and training (occupational skills, money management), and providing guidance and hope for the future.

I recently visited Miami Fusion Cafe for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.

Most people know Miami Fusion Café for the lunch dishes—the deliciously authentic Cuban sandwich; the fried ripe plantains (maduros) that are perfectly caramelized; tostones (unripe plantains sliced thin and twice fried) that are delightfully crisp; earthy, rich black beans; the popular mofongo made with a garlicky mash of green plantains topped with your choice of chicken, pork (our favorite), steak or veggies; subtly spiced jerk chicken with a fresh mango salsa; a kids’ menu with grilled cheese and empanadas.

The husband and wife team—with Luis as the executive chef and Samantha as the operations manager—started Miami Fusion Café in 2010. They first opened their business inside a gas station in Alabaster with “six little tables, a panini press and a little camping stove we got from Costco,” Luis says. 

They serve comfort food—even if the dishes and flavors are a tad unfamiliar. 

Luis jokes that it’s “South-a-rican,” but it’s really much more than that. “What people don’t understand is that the Caribbean islands were the first stop,” he says. “It was the first migration point where all these different cultures stopped. The cultures melted in the Caribbean islands.” What he makes each day at Miami Fusion Café is just a different type of soul food, he says. “It’s Southern comfort food—just more south.” 

Luis was born in Puerto Rico, but he moved to the States when he was 8 and grew up in Little Havana in Miami enjoying foods from throughout the Caribbean. “I grew up with a grandmother who cooked Caribbean flavors, Puerto Rican flavors. … I learned the basics from her.” Those basics include dishes from Puerto Rica, of course, as well as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Cuba and more, and all these places are represented, at some time or another, at Miami Fusion. 

Whether you visit for lunch or Friday dinner, don’t forget your Jesus Cake. There are signs throughout the restaurant telling you this. So seriously, don’t forget it. It’s important.

The Jesus Cake helps fund a mission to help battle addiction in our area.

The Jesus Cake, a tres leches (three-milk) cake, is a traditional sweet made with sponge cake soaked in a syrup of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream and then topped with whipped cream. 

At Miami Fusion Café, it’s a ministry-driven dessert. 

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each cake provides funding for local recovery programs. Luis and Samantha, both recovering addicts, have long wanted to start a multi-cultural rehabilitation program to “provide an opportunity for recovery to anyone, no matter the language or cultural background.” Samantha says, “We’ve been given the opportunity by someone else to improve our life. So we want to give back to anyone who needs a second chance, if they want a second chance.” 

Right now, they partner with City of Lights Dream Center in Walker County for production and distribution of the Jesus Cakes. People in the rehab program at City of Lights, along with those employed at the Birmingham café, learn job skills as well as life skills.

Meanwhile, they continue to build their own community in Birmingham. It’s a community that invites people to stay downtown after work, to walk over to the café from their lofts and apartments or to make the short drive from West End or from over the mountain.  

“On a lot of days, it does look like a melting pot here,” Samantha says. “We have a wide variety of people with different backgrounds and cultures in here. Working-class, people with a lot of money, people with not a lot of money.” 

“The homeless people come in, and we feed them,” Luis adds. 

“I really believe that God has called this bi-racial couple to the center of Birmingham to bring everybody together,” Samantha says. “That’s what I believe.”

Miami Fusion Café

2015 5th Avenue North

Birmingham, Alabama 35203

(205) 730-9003

www.miamifusioncafe.com

Hours: 

Lunch served Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 
Dinner served Friday 5 to 8 p.m. 
Closed on Sunday 

Little India: deliciously different and convenient, too

Some of Birmingham’s best Chinese food is at the Shell gas station on Highland Avenue. The one next to Bottega.

But this is not just any Chinese food. It’s Chinese-Indian fusion that combines cultures and flavors in exciting, delicious ways we haven’t seen here before.

After eating there several times, I wrote a story on Little India for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.

The dishes reflect what owner Rahim Budhwani and his family occasionally ate when he was growing up in Bombay (now Mumbai). There have been food trucks in India for a long time, he says. When he was 10 or 11 years old, he remembers going to them about once a month. The foods with culinary influences from neighboring China were favorites, something they longed for and looked forward to eating. One day, Budhwani’s brother, Karim, suggested he bring the Indo-Chinese concept here.

Budhwani, a businessman with an engineering degree, is the CEO of Encore Franchises, LLC. He had originally entered the Birmingham restaurant market the way a lot of people have done—with a hot dog stand. He put a Sneaky Pete’s franchise in his Highland Avenue convenience store. But at the continued urging of family and friends, he and his wife, Kulsum, decided to put their duel culinary degrees to work on something of their own.

“We started playing with it a little bit here and there,” he says. “We started sampling some stuff out, and people really liked it. And I said, ‘Well, that’s a good start.’ And that’s how Little India was born—out of nowhere and a conversation with my brother.”

Budhwani and Kulsum opened Little India in January 2019 (sharing counter space with Sneaky Pete’s), offering “flavorful, healthy, made-to-order food at a reasonable price.”

There are familiar Chinese dishes here, like hot and sour soup, Mongolian beef, shrimp-fried rice and Szechwan noodles, but they are different—lighter and brighter with noticeable Indian spices and ingredients like turmeric and tamarind, red chili powder imported from India, cardamom and saffron and garam masala. But then there also are dishes like Manchurian paneer that combine Chinese spices with the traditional Indian cheese.

“I think if you’re in for a different kind of cuisine, then this is your restaurant,” Budhwani says. “If you like flavor, then this is your restaurant. If you like freshness, then this is your restaurant. If you like healthy, this is your restaurant.” Prices range from $1.99 for a dessert to $3.99 for soup to $8.99 for an entrée. “Economics also plays a part,” he adds. “So it’s all here at this restaurant.”

Little India Birmingham on Highland Avenue is served by Grubhub and Waitr, but you can eat in if you’d like. The 300-square-foot eatery has a few colorful highboys and chairs and a counter in front of the convenience store windows near the Doritos and Cheetos.

On the weekends, and increasingly with the regular, weekday menu, diners at Little India on Highland can enjoy Bombay-style street foods like pav bhaji (thick, spicy vegetable curry served with a roll), ragda pattice (a dish of white peas and potato cakes that is part of the street-food culture in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat), dahi vada (lentil balls in a yogurt sauce topped with chutney), and papdi and samosa chaat.

If you’re lucky, you can try the dahi sev puri (made with yogurt) and pani puri (with a tangy, spicy herb-infused “water”) that absolutely must be eaten in one big bite; fans of these little, filled fried dough balls call them “bombs,” and one explosive bite explains why.

(Follow Little India on Instagram or Facebook to see these Indian specials as well as the $5 lunch specials, usually a gravy of some sort – vegetarian and not – with steamed rice; these change daily, so you can try something new often.)

All these dishes—Indian or Indo-Chinese—are made with attention to detail and absolutely fresh ingredients.

“We try to get most of the vegetables from the local farmers’ markets,” Budhwani says. “All our meat is halal meat, so that way it’s basically good for everyone. The halal part is expensive, of course, but it brings the right flavor out of the product. So we try to use the top-quality products to get the right flavor and the right taste. We don’t compromise on the ingredients part of it, because we think that shouldn’t be done.”

They make their own sauces at Little India (including the soy sauces) every day, import the spices they need and cook every single dish to order.

“It could be totally customized to the way you want it,” Budhwani says. “We’ll make it the way you want it because our purpose is to make sure that you are happy and satisfied when you leave. That’s how … I would like to be treated when I go somewhere. … It’s the same thing we want to offer our customers.”

While his customers might wish for more tables and an open kitchen instead of beverage coolers and chip stands, Budhwani says he is happy right now with his convenience-store locations.

He is, however, planning to put a Little India food truck on Birmingham’s streets within the next few months.

For now, Budhwani is content to “bring the flavors of India in a different fashion to the people of Birmingham. I’m pretty proud of that,” he says.

“And giving a different flavor that people were not used to—I think that’s what I’m really proud of.  And to do it in such a small footprint. I think that’s the best part. Because a lot of people said, ‘You can’t do it.’ And I said, ‘I’ll show you how to do it.’ And that’s how we did it. It worked out.”

Little India

2236 Highland Avenue

Birmingham, AL 35205

205-933-6512

https://littleindiabhm.com

HOURS

Monday – Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday 10 to 10 p.m.

Farm Bowl + Juice Co. is Convenient, Flavorful and #Fresh

Andrea Snyder is all about healthy, convenient and local dining – whether that’s a full, family meal; an easy, nutritious breakfast; a cup of coffee with a friend; or a quick, vitamin-rich juice shot on the way to a gym.

The Birmingham entrepreneur has all that covered.

Snyder and her husband, David, first brought us Urban Cookhouse, a farm-to-fire-to-table fast-casual restaurant, in 2010.  They now own a licensee group that includes the Homewood, Summit, downtown Birmingham and Tuscaloosa locations, and Urban Cookhouses are in three other Alabama cities as well as four other states.

“We were one of the first concepts to bring local food to the fast-casual segment and figure out how to do it at that price point, which is $10 to $12 a meal,” she says.

Farm Bowl + Juice Co., which the Snyders founded in Homewood in January 2018, is just as forward-thinking.

I recently sat down with Andrea Snyder for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.

The small, bright storefront with an Instagrammable abstract mural outside and charming rope swings on the porch, is a neighborhood wellness stop specifically designed to promote a lifestyle of clean eating. There are two locations–one in Homewood and the other in Tuscaloosa.

“We wanted it to be a wellness brand, and so we decided that we would be plant-based,” Snyder says.

“We have no animal products. We want you to always feel good. So we make cold-pressed juices. All of our smoothies are exactly what’s listed on the menu with whole ingredients like almond milk and coconut milk. We have overnight oats and coffee. It’s just a good place to come for clean eating,” she adds, whether that’s a snack or meal replacement or breakfast or lunch or something in between.

Acai berry bowls are at the center of the colorful, healthy menu, which includes oatmeal bowls, cold-pressed juices and smoothies, juice shots, toasts, juice cleanses and a kids’ menu featuring acai and oatmeal bowls and a strawberry smoothie.

Some of the ingredients, like acai berries and mango, are tropical but the Snyders source Alabama ingredients as much as possible. The same area farmers and makers who supply Urban Cookhouse also deliver here. This not only insures the restaurants have fresh, flavorful foods, but there’s also an economic impact and a sense of social responsibility in supporting the farms. “We’ve partnered with these farmers for a long time,” Snyder says, “So it was easy to … just get them to come next door and drop off another batch of something.”

There are in-season strawberries, blueberries and blackberries from Smitherman Farms; kale, spinach, honeydew and watermelon from Southern Oaks Farm; and year-round honey from Eastaboga Bee Co.; wheatgrass from Southern Organics; and coffee roasted locally at Seeds Coffee Co. Framed photos of these trusted partners line the walls of the restaurants.

The ingredients are made into things like the popular Nutty Professor, a bright, satisfying acai bowl. It has Sambazon Açai Berry Sorbet as the base, and then they add strawberries, almonds, granola, peanut butter and local honey. The staff can recommend add-ons, like sliced bananas, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds or cacao nibs.

Oatmeal bowls, with Farm Bowl’s blend of overnight oats, come topped with a variety of things, such as almond butter, local honey, chia seeds, hemp seeds, blueberries, strawberries, apples, nutmeg, cinnamon, toasted quinoa, walnuts and pecans.

The Power Up smoothie is a blend of almond milk, coconut water, avocado, blueberry, spinach, banana, coconut butter, cocoa nibs, chia seeds, hemp seeds, local honey and cinnamon. Recommended add-ons include vegan protein, nutmeg, spirulina or freshly made Seeds coffee ice cubes. The Bounce Back has kale, chard, almond milk, banana, local honey; chia seeds, cinnamon, vegan protein and ginger can be added.

There are cold-pressed juices for every need.

The Refresh is made with watermelon, mint, cucumber and beets; Hydrate works with coconut water, pear, cucumber and honeydew; Gym & Juice is a mixture of honeydew, apple, spinach, spirulina, lemon and celery.

Wellness shots, which Andrea showcased at a chef’s demo at The Market at Pepper Place this summer, are made to order like all the smoothies and bowls and avocado and honey toasts. Juice cleanses are daily combinations of juices and shots that cost $40 and $50. The “summer cleanse challenge” is popular with Farm Bowl’s Instagram followers.

Farm Bowl + Juice Co. provides a fresh, fun and convenient way to consume optimum nutrition, but Snyder wants it to be a place of fellowship, too. She has been pleasantly surprised by the social media following Farm Bowl has inspired. The store features photos of #farmbowlfamous fans online and in stores.

“I want people to make this a part of their lifestyle, to realize that this is convenient. It is a good value. We’re always going to take care of our customers. We also love for them to think of us as an alternative to your coffee shop. I want more of this,” Snyder says, pointing to two young women deep in conversation at a nearby table. “Come and have something healthy besides a muffin. We have great Wi-Fi, and we’d love for you to just come and hang out all day.”

Farm Bowl & Juice Co.

1920 29th Ave. S.

Homewood, Alabama 35209

205-848-2929

1470 Northbank Parkway #170

Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35406

205-710-2990

HOURS

Monday-Friday

7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Saturday-Sunday

8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

https://www.farmbowlandjuiceco.com

On Being Thankful

I love Thanksgiving. I dread Thanksgiving.

There’s so much expectation with this holiday. I love going around the table and saying what we’re thankful for, but before that happens, I get stuck on the food and family and the perfection of those things. Of course, I know nothing is perfect. But still.

And I really, really stress about my menu.

It was so much simpler when all I had to do was bring an appetizer to the feast my grandmother put together each year. Turkey and dressing and fried chicken and the assorted casseroles—green bean, sweet potato, squash—and pecan pie and sweet potato pie and coconut cake.

Now that Thanksgiving is up to me, I spend hours researching recipes and then days comparing them. This stuffing or that one? Green beans or Brussels sprouts? Mashed potatoes or sweet ones?  Pie or cake?

Not this year.

This year, I gave myself permission to simplify. I took one look at the New York Times Cooking suggested menu from Alison Roman who cooks her big feast in a tiny Manhattan kitchen and said, “That’s certainly good enough.”

It took all of five minutes to make this decision. And it will be just fine.

So I’ll make Alison’s Dry-Brined Turkey and (maybe) Sheet-Pan Gravy, Buttered Stuffing with Celery and Leeks, Green Beans and Greens with Fried Shallots, Crushed Sour Cream Potatoes, Spicy Caramelized Squash with Lemon and Hazelnuts and Leafy Herb Salad.

I ordered a chocolate-bourbon pecan pie from Pie Lab, because I am not a baker. And that also is OK. Besides, we have tons of Lebkuchen from friends in Germany.

I’ve assigned appetizers to my kids. We’ll start with Bavarian pumpkin soup and move on to Ashley Mac’s strawberry jam cheese ring. We’ll probably throw in some Dean’s Dip and chips. Maybe just a board with cheeses and nuts. Or rounds of Continental Bakery baguette baked with blue cheese and drizzled with honey.

Even the leftovers are simplified.

I’ll make Becky Satterfield’s Day-After Turkey Soup and Sweet Potato Biscuits (recipes below). And the day after that, it’s the Silver Palate’s Turkey Hash Salad. My family loves that. Then, if there’s still turkey left, I’ll do Sour Cream Turkey Enchiladas with Coriander from the Penzey’s website.

It’s still a lot of work. But I feel really good about it. I am thankful.

Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Soup with Sweet Potato Biscuits

Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes (prep time: 30 minutes, cook time: 2 hours)

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Turkey Soup

8 cups chicken broth (fresh or boxed) or turkey broth that has been strained through wet cheesecloth before starting new stock

1 turkey carcass, all meat removed

1 carrot, washed, peeled and halved lengthwise

1 whole stalk celery, washed, halved lengthwise

1 medium onion, peeled and halved

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

  • Put everything into a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, and then simmer while covered, about 1 1/2 hours, then strain.
  • When you strain the broth, remove the large bones and carcass with tongs. Strain the broth through a sieve covered with wet cheesecloth. Discard the solids. Add strained broth back into the stockpot.

While your stock is boiling/simmering, prepare:

1 whole carrot, washed, small dice

1 whole stalk celery, washed, small dice

1 medium onion, peeled, cut in small dice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped roughly

1 bunch rough-chopped, blanched and shocked parsley

leftover Thanksgiving Day vegetables (like green beans, Brussels sprouts and squash)

3 cups leftover turkey meat, white and dark, diced into pieces no larger than a soupspoon

  • In a separate skillet or pot, heat the garlic in the olive oil over medium heat. Allow to brown slightly, about 3 minutes. Add the diced carrots, diced celery and diced onions. Sweat over medium-low heat until softened, 7 or 8 minutes. Set aside until broth has been strained.
  • After broth has been strained and added back to the stockpot, add these sweated vegetables from the pan into the stockpot containing the strained broth along with a medium bunch of rough-chopped, fresh blanched and shocked parsley. Also, add 1cup leftover green beans cut in two-inch segments, 1cup leftover Brussels sprouts cut in fourths, 1cup leftover yellow sautéed squash cut in fourths, 3 cups leftover turkey meat light, dark and also turkey neck meat, if on hand. Dice the turkey meat. Make sure the meat pieces are no larger than the size of a soupspoon.
  • Continue to simmer covered for 25 minutes and then serve 6-8 people with sweet potato biscuits on the side. (Store leftover soup in an airtight container after completely cooling in an ice bath. It should be good for a couple of days.)

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or cooking release spray. I prefer parchment paper. Set aside.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

  • Sift all above dry ingredients together

2 tablespoons of finely chopped blanched/shocked parsley (optional)

2 tablespoons of finely chopped blanched/shocked chives (optional)

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (2 ounces)

1 cup leftover sweet potato casserole with marshmallows (or mashed sweet potatoes)

1/8 – 1/4 cup milk (or more, if needed

  • Mix dry ingredients in food processor. Pulse butter into flour mixture until all butter has been blended into the flour. Process in the sweet potatoes to the flour mixture, just until fully combined with flour.
  • Add 1/8 cup of milk to mixture. Add more milk, a tablespoon or two at a time, if necessary, to achieve a ball of dough in your processor. Dough should be soft and smooth, not dry or too wet. If you end up with dough that is too wet and sticky, add a bit more flour so that it can be handled and rolled. If too dry, add more milk.
  • Roll dough on your lightly floured surface so that it is approximately 1/2-inch thick. Cut in 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter. Place rounds on prepared baking sheet. Re-roll remaining dough and continue cutting rounds until all dough is used.
  • Bake for 9-10 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown.

If you don’t have a food processor, you can prepare this recipe by hand or in a mixer with a paddle attachment. Simply do all the steps in a bowl. If by hand, combine butter with flour using a fork or pastry blender to work the butter into the flour.

If you don’t use leftover sweet potato casserole (a casserole that has had sugar and marshmallows added to it) but use mashed sweet potatoes, I recommend adding 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to your dry ingredients.

Once baked and out of the oven, brush lightly with melted butter or honey or serve plain depending upon your preference.

—Becky Satterfield

Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham: Where the Food is as Popular as the Beer

Photo by Russ Bodner

Invariably, whenever someone mentions Back Forty Beer Company at the Sloss Docks in Birmingham the talk turns to food.

That’s because an award-winning chef with a fine-dining background helms this open kitchen (next to the open brewing production) and is turning out dishes that are delicious and inventive, seasonal and locally sourced and perhaps more than you’d expect.

 I visited Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham recently for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.

Owner & CEO, Douglas Brown says the full restaurant here is one thing that sets Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham apart from other great breweries in the Magic City. That was part of the plan from the very beginning, and executive chef Russ Bodner has led the restaurant since before Back Forty Birmingham opened in the summer of 2018.

Photo by Russ Bodner

Bodner, a St. Louis native who studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, worked in the kitchen of the Michelin-starred, haute Greek restaurant Anthos with celebrity chef Michael Psilakis and restaurateur Donatella Arpaia. He was the sous chef with James Beard Award-winning chef Gerard Craft at Taste in St. Louis. He honed his unique blend of fine Southern comfort food and exciting global influences on Lake Martin at SpringHouse (with acclaimed chef and Hot and Hot Fish Club alum Rob McDaniel—a five-time James Beard “Best Chef: South” semi-finalist) and then at Kowaliga as executive chef.

“Our goal here,” Bodner says, “is to provide not just regular brewery fare but to have a restaurant that brews beer or a brewery that has a restaurant.”

Either way you look at it, it’s working.

Chef Bodner has created an impressive yet casual farm-to-table menu that is way more than just pub food. Most everything here is made from scratch—the pickles, the mustards, the sausages and sauces. Bodner relies upon local growers like BDA Farm near Tuscaloosa or Ireland Farm for his seasonal produce. He visits the farmers markets for smaller, specific quantities of things, and he turns to locally owned Evans for most of his meats and Gulf-fresh seafood.

photo by Russ Bodner

So you’ll find a beet salad that’s colorful with mustard greens and radishes or local butternut squash soup topped with pickled golden raisins and homemade crème fraiche. Pan-seared jumbo scallops might come with caramelized bok choy, local sweet peppers, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and radishes in a homemade dashi broth. The Niman Ranch pork porterhouse is paired with sweet potato hash, Benton’s ham, peppers and onions. Pastas are homemade, and chef Bodner is excited about the Asian noodle bowls and ramens guests can enjoy during the cooler months.

It’s comfort food, Bodner says, “but done in a really nicely presented way and using the best ingredients that we can.”

That approach gets you wings that are confit-cooked and perfectly spiced whether you choose the mild Naked Pig sauce or Puck’s smoky-sweet heat.

Beautiful, thin-crust pizzas are popular and range from a simple margherita with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil to a bright, flavor bomb of a pie topped with pancetta and broccolini, mozzarella, garlic, fennel pollen, Calabrian chilies, chili crunch and preserved lemon.

The Burger Throw Down-winning Back Forty cheeseburger is the most popular item on the menu with two patties, American cheese, homemade aioli, house-made pickles and onions sliced so thinly they cook on the burger. They’ve sold some 50,000 so far. It comes with some of the best fries in this city and more of that homemade aioli for dipping.

Then there are beer dinners on Mondays—usually five or six courses all paired with a beer. “It’s a pretty big hit,” Bodner says. “Sometimes we have beers that aren’t necessarily on the menu, that we have smaller quantities of, that we can pour.”

Master brewer Tosh Brown, who trained with Back Forty Gadsden’s master brewers, is responsible for those. He freshly brews popular core, year-round Back Forty beers like Naked Pig, Truck Stop Honey, Freckle Belly and Paw Paw’s Peach Wheat Ale, but he also brews a steady stream of new, experimental beers you’ll only find here. Beers like Hop Tosh West Coast IPA, Unbridled Passion Wheat and “Hike Out” Hefe.

“We focus on hyper localization in all aspects of what we do,” Douglas Brown says. That means offering beer and food that you cannot get anywhere else. And these offerings are always changing.

Douglas Brown credits his staff for the brewery’s success—from Diane DeBord who manages the tap room to Tosh Brown who makes the beers that flow there to Bodner and his kitchen staff to the friendly servers who deliver the foods.

“We’d like for people to walk away from here with this feeling that they were welcomed from the beginning, they were treated well, and they got served great food and great beer,” Brown says.“We ask our employees to ‘act like an owner, experience like a customer, create like an artist, and also take care of our environment and our community.’”

Douglas Brown intentionally set out to create the kind of interesting and inclusive atmosphere he saw in brew houses in Europe. He wanted something that was family friendly.

“I’m most proud of what you see here on a Saturday,” he says, “with just hundreds of people coming through here. … from toddlers up to great-grandparents. Of course, it’s always nice if they’re enjoying the food and the beer; we’re always happy for that. But I’m just happy to see the people here enjoying themselves.”

Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham

3201 1st Avenue North
Birmingham, Alabama 35222

​205-407-8025

https://www.backfortybeer.com/birmingham

Taproom & Kitchen Hours:

Wednesday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Thursday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Sunday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Monday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Tuesday: Closed

Opa, y’all! It’s time for Birmingham’s Greek Festival

It takes a village to put on Birmingham’s beloved Greek Festival.

For months before the event, now in its 47th year at Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Birmingham, hundreds of people from this city’s thriving Greek community work together to prepare. They cook, they bake and they practice centuries-old dances. They are doing what they have always done – what people still do in villages all over Greece – creating a celebration and inviting people to join them.

Some 30,000 people will show up for this year’s three-day festival Oct. 3-5. Many are Greek. Most are not, and that’s just fine. “It’s a time,” says Sonthe Burge, “when everybody gets to be Greek for the weekend.”

This story originally ran on Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire piece and see our cool video here.

Burge is chair of a cookie committee that started working early in the summer with a series of cookie workshops to make a single kind of pastry – koulourakia, the twisted, buttery one.

“It’s a great cookie,” she says. “It’s just really nice … it’s more of a butter cookie that’s not super sweet. So it doesn’t go in the category with the baklava or the melos (melomakarona). They have a syrup and are so much sweeter. This is more like a biscotti. Like a Greek biscotti.”

By the time she and her teams are done, they will have made more than 1,600 dozen of these cookies. They will sell them for $10 a dozen, and they very likely will sell out of all 19,488 pieces by Saturday morning.

Burge’s crews of 50 or so volunteers for each two-day workshop include women (and some men) of all ages who work with a few church employees to measure, mix, roll, shape, butter and bake the sweets. Young mothers drop off their children at mothers’ day out and come to the church kitchen to work – and learn – alongside older women who could roll and twist these cookies in their sleep. In the banquet hall, yayas and papous, who no longer want to stand in the kitchen sit at tables and bag the baked koulourakia.

And this is just one variety of sweets that you’ll find at the Greek Festival.

“We have koulourakia, which we’re making today,” Burge says. “We have baklava; that’s what most people are familiar with, and we are really known for our baklava. (That committee will make nearly 25,000 pieces.) We have kourambethes, that’s a Greek wedding cookie (there are 9,034 of these), and then melomakarona, which is a honey spice cookie (more than 6,000 pieces of this labor-intensive pastry are made), and we have Greek donuts (these loukoumathes will be fried to order).”

There’s also chocolate baklava; almond crescents; and kataiffi, made with shredded filo, walnuts, honey and cinnamon.

Of course, there are lots more foods at this free, family-friendly festival.

Appetizers and entrees include pitas (filo triangles filled with feta cheese or spinach and feta); dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves); lamb souvlakia; Greek-style chicken; Greek salad; pastichio (a kind of Greek lasagna topped with béchamel); beef and lamb gyros; and a veggie plate with rice pilaf, Greek-style green beans, a Greek salad, spanakopita and tiropita. These savory dishes are individually priced. Everything is handmade.

All this is available to eat there or take away. You also can use the drive-through, which is available all three days from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. No need to call ahead and place your order.

All-day entertainment includes the George Karras Band, DJ Disco Hristo and local dance troupes ranging in age from kindergartners to high schoolers.

“I always encourage people to go into the cathedral,” Burge says. “There are church tours that are guided, and also you can … just take one on your own.” This is the fourth oldest Greek Orthodox parish in the Southeast. The basilica features a stunning Byzantine interior with stained glass, and the iconography is beautiful.

The Greek Festival is lots of fun, but there’s a serious side to all this, too. The festival has donated more than $3 million to local and national charities, including The Bell Center, The Exceptional Foundation, Firehouse Ministries, The WellHouse and Greater Birmingham Ministries.

The Birmingham church has an active Philoptochos Society, which is one of the largest women’s philanthropic organizations in the U.S. (although men also can be involved). Just recently, Burge says, the national organization sent $25,000 to the Bahamas for disaster relief.

“We’re all part of something bigger … all across the country … we all belong to this national organization, and we’re just a little microcosm of it here in Birmingham,” she says. “So in Birmingham, our mission is to help the needy, to help the poor. And we give money to different sorts of organizations. We’ve paid for equipment and different things at Children’s Hospital. We also have a scholarship fund for members of our church – for children who are graduating from high school going to college.”

The local chapter’s biggest fundraiser is the sale of frozen pans of pastichio during the Greek Festival.