Full Moon Shines Across Our State

During times of unimaginable uncertainty in the restaurant industry, Full Moon Bar-B-Que continues to cook. Low and slow, of course. But steady, too. Even during a pandemic, it seems, people still want their ‘que. 

In the 23 years since the Maluff brothers—David and Joe—purchased Full Moon Bar-B-Que from Pat James, they have grown the business from a single store on Birmingham’s Southside to 15 locations all across the state. The Birmingham metro area has eight locations, including one in the Hill Student Center at UAB (it is scheduled to reopen in the fall). The brothers are even moving ahead with plans for a new store in Huntsville by the end of 2020.

James, a former football coach who spent a dozen years as Paul “Bear” Bryant’s assistant, started the business in 1986 with his wife, Eloise. They called it Pat James’ Full Moon Bar-B-Que. David and Joe, sons of Lebanese immigrants, purchased the original Birmingham location in 1997.

I talked to the brothers for an Alabama NewsCenter story. You can read the entire story here.

The brothers have stayed true to the initial vision with colorful, sports-centric décor celebrating favorite regional teams; made-from-scratch dishes; and hands-on involvement in the business. Perhaps most importantly, they have always used hickory wood-fired pits to cook the meats. They even have five big, portable pits, allowing them to cook Full Moon barbecue anywhere—feeding groups of 10 to (once restrictions are lifted) 10,000.

These wood-fired pits make a world of difference, David says. “We have a passion to do barbecue right.  That’s why all of our stores still have wood-burning pits in them. And we do it the old-fashioned way—fresh, from scratch, every day. We cook our meat low and slow right in front of our customers, and they see it, smell it, taste it. And that’s what’s kept us thriving through the years.”  

During its flavorful 35-year history, Full Moon Bar-B-Que has gathered fans from across the country. It’s cheekily called the “Best Little Pork House in Alabama,” but Full Moon offers a comfortable, family-friendly atmosphere that has served generations and appeals to all nationalities, David says. “We’re real big on making the customer feel good. That’s our job. When you come into our house, we make you feel warm and welcome. We’re here to make you happy.”

Full Moon was named one of the top 10 barbecue restaurants in the U.S. by Huffington Post. The restaurant’s red and white sauces are on grocery store shelves along with the signature chow-chow, which is served on every sandwich.

Full Moon boasts two items on Alabama’s list of 100 Dishes to Eat Before You Die:  the crisp vinaigrette slaw and the baked-fresh-daily Half Moon chocolate chip and pecan cookies (half dipped into glossy, dark chocolate). Both these items are made according to Eloise James’ original recipes. 

There really wasn’t much of a pivot, David says, besides shutting down the dining rooms. “We were already set up for drive-thru, catering (and) curbside. That’s our model. We got stronger in that sense, but we’ve been doing it forever. You know, we’re one of the few restaurants that can have a full menu like we have on the drive-thru menu. So, it’s automatic for us to thrive in a situation like this, because we do it every day.” Besides, he adds, barbecue travels well.

What has changed, though, are the expanded health and safety precautions at each restaurant, Joe says. Things like maintaining social distancing between tables, hanging plexiglass between the booths, regular temperature checks for employees, masks and gloves for everyone who works there, extra attention given to sanitizing surfaces and washing things in the kitchen. 

“We have to take these measures every day to keep our employees safe, to keep our guests safe,” Joe says. “That’s the most important thing at this point.” 

“I’m proud of our people,” David says. “Being in the restaurant business is tough enough. Then adding all these measures on top of their jobs. You have to remember:  These guys are wearing a mask in the kitchen! It’s hard for them. It’s hard for us to manage because we’ve never been through anything like this before, right? That’s our duty … we’ve got to keep everyone safe. We’re going to do whatever it takes to keep our business thriving and our employees safe. Whatever it takes.”

Full Moon has long been known for scratch-made Southern sides like collard greens, baked beans, fried green tomatoes, potato salad, fried okra and mac & cheese.  But over the years, the brothers have expanded the offerings to suit a variety of tastes and lifestyles adding freshly made salads topped with a meat of your choice, hand-breaded chicken tenders, and gigantic baked potatoes overstuffed with meat and fixings. They put wings (Buffalo and smoked) on the menu several years ago, and the fried catfish (farm-raised in Mississippi) is extremely popular. 

But it’s the savory, smoky barbecue that is most famous here, especially the pork. Whether you get it chopped or request it sliced, you’ll want to order it like the regulars do—with “a little of the outside meat” mixed in. There are classic spareribs as well as baby back ribs. The brisket is from Black Angus cattle. Smoked chicken, turkey and spicy pork links are other options.

All this food is made using decades-old recipes and time-honored techniques; it’s comforting and familiar. And it makes people happy.

Back in March, the brothers started a “Feed a Friend” campaign, and they’ve extended it through June. It’s not something they talk about much. For years, David and Joe have quietly worked behind the scenes with churches, schools and nonprofits, but they had to enlist the help of people on the restaurants’ email lists to find families in need. 

When the pandemic hit, David says, “we saw a lot of people unemployed, not working, hungry. It broke my heart; it broke my brother’s heart.”

Each week, they get 300 to 400 responses to their Feed a Friend query. They go through these messages every day, identifying families in need and then sending food to their homes.  “I’ll tell you,” David says, “the reactions we get … will bring tears to your eyes. When they hear they are getting fed today … they are overwhelmed with joy. … It’s anonymous, who suggested that they need food. We bring it to their front door. We don’t say a word to them except, ‘Enjoy.’ 

“We’ve gotten a huge response,” David says. “A lot of this we don’t advertise, and we don’t want to advertise. This is from our hearts to the community. And I don’t care who it is, whether they’ve been a customer of ours or not. That doesn’t matter. We need to feed the kids and the families in our community and support them when we can.” 

The brothers do this every day, and sometimes they’re feeding two or three families a day. But that’s not all.

“It’s a wonderful feeling in your heart, doing something for others,” Joe says. “Feeding the first responders, feeding the nurses for nurses’ week, feeding the firemen. We’re not doing it just in Birmingham, we’re doing it in Tuscaloosa, we’re doing it in Auburn, we’re doing it in Montgomery. We’re just … trying to help our community out when they need it.”

Full Moon Bar-B-Que

Locations in Alabaster, Dothan, Fultondale, Homewood, Hoover, Inverness, Jasper, McCalla, Montgomery, Opelika, Pelham, Southside in Birmingham, Trussville, Tuscaloosa and UAB’s Hill Student Center. 

Check individual locations for current hours.

fullmoonbbq.com

Pizza

Thank you, Birmingham Breadworks, for getting me out of my house. At an acceptable distance, of course.

Because I ate a full half of one of your pizzas, I felt compelled (really compelled and fueled) to walk five miles in my hilly neighborhood today.

I really am grateful. That pizza with its savory bacon and thick, chewy Gouda on your delicious airy crust was amazing.

And it’s available for pick-up only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. Options include pepperoni, three cheese, Margherita, sausage and cheddar, onion and arugula, chicken bacon ranch.

You order online. Designate a pick-up time and you’re golden. And full.

A fun way to support our favorite local businesses

I love the folks at Yellowhammer Creative. For one thing, I can always count on them for fabulous shirts to send to my friends across the country and across the world even. (There are more than a few It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham shirts in Munich.)

This is one of the shirts in Yellowhammer Creative’s Locals Series. Love my friends at Ted’s Restaurant!

But now, they’ve created something even more awesome called the Locals Series. They’re partnering with some favorite local small businesses to make a limited-edition line of t-shirts to support these places we love so much–places like Ted’s Restaurant, Queen’s Park, Make Bhm, Parkside, Eugene’s Hot Chicken, Mom’s Basement, Battle Republic, Left Hand Soap Co., Paramount and Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

Queen’s Park is fabulous all the time. It is especially fabulous during Christmastime.

The line is called the YHC Locals Series, and 50% of the profits from each shirt will be donated to the featured business.

These styles are available via web pre-order ONLY. Act now or miss out.

Here are the details: unisex crewneck t-shirt, tri-blend, slim fit with an eco-friendly water-based ink imprint for the great vintage feel we’ve come to expect from Yellowhammer.

Also, there’s free shipping.

This homegrown hot chicken restaurant is one of my favorite things.

Pre-order closes at midnight on 4/16/2020. You’ll need to allow two weeks for printing and delivery.

Still Serving: Crestline Bagel Co.

We’ve been baking bread here at my house. Well, my husband has been baking bread, and I’ve been really enjoying it. Here’s my blog post with the tried-and-true, no-knead, made-in-a-cast-iron-dutch-oven recipe. The original recipe is from Sullivan Street Bakery.

But one bread we always buy: bagels. We just can’t do them like my friend Jennifer Yarbrough and her teams at Crestline Bagel, so we don’t even try.

Luckily Crestline Bagel is still serving during this current crisis.

The downtown location is temporarily closed, but the Mountain Brook and Cahaba Heights stores are open 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. seven days a week.

Photo by Jennifer Yarbrough.

They are doing delivery through UberEats and Waitr. Or you can order online for curbside and takeout at Crestlinebagel.com.

So my go-to whole wheat everything with honey-walnut cream cheese–the perfect mix of savory and sweet, creamy and crunchy-remains something to enjoy.

And I’m truly grateful for that.

Fish Market Family Meals

Right now, when life is so very different, it’s nice to know some favorite things remain available.

The Fish Market Southside is still serving with curbside takeout and delivery (through DoorDash, Uber Eats and Bham Takeout) Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The restaurant’s full menu is available as well as some family meals.

Family Menu #1 ($38) includes Greek salad, house-made focaccia, Greek chicken (or chicken tenders), Mediterranean-style green beans and Greek potatoes.

Family Menu#2 ($50) includes Green salad, house-made focaccia, green beans and Athenian-style grouper or salmon (or half and half because both are awesome) served over orzo.

photo from The Fish Market

Both these meals feed four, but Fish Market owner George Sarris is known for his generous portions. He is, after all, Greek; they like to feed people. These family meals are available with an hour’s notice all day.

All dishes–from the family menus or the regular menu–are in safely sealed takeaway containers. There’s half-price wine and beer available to go, too.

photo from The Fish Market

The Fish Market’s fresh seafood market is open (9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday). There are grocery items there, too:  the Fish Market’s own extra virgin olive oil, coffee beans, pastas, Mediterranean sea salt, organic grits, assorted imported olives and cheeses and house-made condiments like Athenian sauce and Greek Island sauce. Grab some baklava, some bananas.

Additionally, some of the Fish Market’s most popular items are now “grab and go” – things like West Indies Salad, their famous gumbo, smoked salmon spread, shrimp or chicken Creole, red beans and rice with Andouille, feta spread, roasted eggplant and hummus dip.

This is comfort food when we all need some comfort.

photo from The Fish Market

National Attention, Local Efforts

Our state’s James Beard Foundation semifinalists should be enjoying a boost to business, but this is not business as usual. 

When the James Beard Foundation announces its highly anticipated best-of semifinalists, our state usually has plenty of nominees. 

This year started out no differently with restaurants from across our state named semifinalists in a number of categories:  in Birmingham, Automatic Seafood and Oysters (Best New Restaurant); The Atomic Lounge (Outstanding Bar Program); and Chez Fonfon (Outstanding Hospitality). Three Alabama chefs are semifinalists for Best Chef South:   Bill Briand of Fisher’s Upstairs at Orange Beach Marina in Orange Beach; Timothy Hontzas of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood; and Duane Nutter of Southern National in Mobile

But now, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit close to home, and these restaurants are closed to the diners who would come from across the country (and even across the world) to experience their dining rooms, savor their food and drinks and enjoy their hospitality.

There are no more 30-day-out reservations, no more lines out the door. 

The James Beard boost to business—which happens even with semifinalists—makes little difference now.

Some of these restaurants are still serving customers, offering curbside pick-up and deliveries. They are cooking for their employees who have been laid off and for other restaurant workers and for first responders while they wait to get back to business as usual.

I wrote about this for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire piece here. It’s long, but these folks are still working hard even with their dining rooms closed. Read on to see how you can help them.

Automatic Seafood and Oysters

The husband-and-wife team of Adam Evans and Suzanne Humphries Evans work side by side at Automatic Seafood and Oysters—he with his award-winning kitchen skills and dedication to the fresh flavors of local and regional ingredients and she with her eye for design and her genuine warm hospitality. 

Their winning approach has resulted in weeks-long anticipation for tables, great local (and national) buzz and a James Beard semifinalist nomination for Best New Restaurant. 

Most of that is on hold now, but Automatic is still serving customers curbside with a takeaway menu Wednesday through Sunday. They also offer cocktail kits as well as wine and beer to go. They recently added delivery service.

On April 1—the restaurant’s first anniversary—the menu featured smoked Gulf fish dip; grilled oysters with parmesan and smoked chili butter; fish and chips made with Gulf-fresh speckled trout; roasted chicken with crispy potatoes; seared Gulf tuna with smoked bacon, sweet potato and cabbage; and roasted Gulf snapper with asparagus, baby carrots and spring onions. 

It wasn’t quite the anniversary they envisioned, but Evans says, “We’re glad to still be standing.”

Tips for these to-go orders go to hourly employees who have been temporarily laid off, and customers can help those staff members with a GoFundMe page Suzanne set up. Also, Evans is working with his farm suppliers to help them sell their produce.

from the local farmers are as important as the seafood, in my opinion. And I don’t want those guys to have to close a farm.”

So customers who come to pick up curbside meals might see Andrew Kesterson from Belle Meadow Farm or the folks from Ireland Farms or Justin Hill from Eastaboga Bee Company in the Automatic parking lot with their CSA-style boxes. 

“We’re just trying to be positive and trying to do something good during this time, because there’s still a lot of hope. That’s something that we still have. So we’ll kind of take it as it comes and try to figure it out and know that we’re all doing it together.”

Chez Fonfon

Chef Frank Stitt and his wife, Pardis, have temporarily closed all their restaurants—Bottega and Bottega Café as well as Chez Fonfon and the flagship Highlands Bar & Grill, which has earned lots of James Beard attention over the years: Outstanding Restaurant (2018), Dolester Miles won Outstanding Pastry Chef (2018) and Stitt won Best Chef Southeast in 2001.  

Lately, Stitt has been cooking with the chefs de cuisine from his restaurants in his Highlands kitchen for his restaurant family. They make bagged meals—braised lamb with spring vegetable rice pilaf, duck and white bean soup, hamburger steak with green beans and mashed potatoes—using ingredients from local suppliers like baker Corey Hinkel. Stitt is sharing his own farm eggs—bringing in 45 flats of them recently to distribute to his staff.

This was the first JBF nomination for Chez Fonfon, which got the nod for its hospitality. This is fitting. In happier times, this French bistro is full of exuberant customers sitting around the bar; filling the tables; waiting for tables, drinks in hand. But even in the bustle of this high-energy dining room, the gracious servers can make you feel like your table is the only one that matters.

photo from Chez Fonfon

Hospitality looks different now. “We’ve been communicating more by phone, by text, by email, reaching out to friends and family and colleagues,” Stitt says. “Also, there are a number of our regulars who have reached out that they want to contribute some money for our staff, for the servers who take such great care of them. And so there seems to be that thread of love and care. We can express our hope and express our hospitality in those exchanges.”

Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina 

Executive chef Bill Briand of Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina in Orange beach oversees two different restaurants under one roof: the breezy and relaxed open-air Dockside with stainless steel bars and pecky cypress walls, and the more sophisticated Upstairs with its relaxing seaside colors, onyx bar (impressively lit from below), antique cypress tables and reclaimed heart pine floors from the Godchaux Sugar Mill mule barn, built in 1892 in Raceland, LA. He’s also in charge of the nearby Playa at Sportsman Marina with its local seafood, steaks and tacos with homemade tortillas.

Briand’s creative riffs on Southern coastal cuisine—crafted with locally made products and just-caught Alabama Gulf seafood and spiced with the flavors of his Louisiana heritage—have earned him his fifth straight semifinalist nomination for Best Chef South. 

Upstairs is closed now, and Briand and his team are doing zero-contact curbside—and boat—pick-up from Dockside and Playa. Burgers and po’ boys and Cuban sandwiches. Shrimp and quarts of tuna dip. Tacos, soups, salads. At night, they do family packs of tacos, barbecue, fried chicken and peel-and-eat shrimp that will feed 4 to 6 people. There are cocktail kits and beer and wine to go.

photo from Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina

We feed anybody who asks, he says. “Any employee who needs food. We send food to all the other restaurants that are open, on a daily basis, giving them their own family meals. Any police who come driving through our parking lot, we feed them. Whatever we can do.”

“We were fully staffed and ready to go for the spring push, spring break and it just all stopped.  And that’s hard.  We just want to get back open. We have a clean, freshly painted restaurant. We want to see our locals and see our people come back and sit out here and have a good time, eat some oysters and, you know, really get back at it. That’s what I’m looking forward to—normalcy again. We’ll get there.”

Johnny’s Restaurant

Timothy Hontzas, the classically trained chef-owner of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood, has been a JBH semifinalist for Best Chef South for four straight years. He has attracted national attention or his fresh takes on Southern classics like fried chicken thighs drizzled with chipotle- and coriander-spiked Eastaboga honey, bechamel mac & cheese, a Parmesan grit cake. But this happens to be a Greek-and-three, and so Hontzas honors his heritage with authentic Greek favorites like spanakopita, souvlaki, rolo kima (Greek meatloaf with lamb) and tzatziki made with homemade yiaourti (Greek yogurt).

Weekday lunchtime usually sees lines out the door of his restaurant in Homewood’s downtown. Sundays after church are even busier. These days, Hontzas is still cooking, but he’s serving his customers with curbside pick-up from a menu posted on Instagram. 

He’s making comfort food when we all need some comfort. Things like pot roast with toasted black peppercorn gravy served with field peas and snaps and mac & cheese; meatloaf with chipotle BBQ sauce; a Greek Pack with keftedes, house-cultured tzatziki, fasolakia (Greek green beans with tomatoes) and individual tiropita (cheese pie). 

He does meal packs that feed six, but, as he says, “It’s a lot of food. I’m Greek. I’m not going to let you go hungry. There’s a little extra in there, too.” He recently added more choices to this menu so people can customize their meat-and-three like they’re used to doing. These foods are delivered cold. You can heat them up as you want, or freeze some for another day. 

His curbside service allows Hontzas to keep buying from his longtime produce partner Dwight Hamm, who has farms in Cullman and Hanceville. He’s still buying meats from Evans Meats, a local family-owned business. He’s still employing his sous chef, and the staff out front alternate days so everyone gets some hours. Staff meals are the Greek foods he grew up eating—comfort food for them, too.

“It’s hard, but the easiest thing to do is quit,” he says. “Obviously, we have to be smart about it … but, I mean, we can’t just quit. … We’ve just got to push through. It’s kind of like Jason Isbell says, we’ve got to ‘keep dropping the hammer and grinding the gears.’

“We just push through and support one another because we’re all family,” he says. “I hope, I just hope it all brings us closer together and shows us how fragile we are and how important we all are to one another.”

 Life will eventually go back to normal, or some semblance of normal that we can—and will—happily embrace. These beloved restaurants will still have their James Beard status months from now. Some might be finalists by then. Some might be winners. 

Meanwhile, we can help them by ordering takeout or contributing to their staff GoFundMe campaigns and ordering gift cards to use now and on a brighter day.

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.

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.