Prescribing Books

Lots of Alabama’s pediatricians are prescribing Pete the Cat. 

We’re talking about Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses, to be exact. It’s a children’s book by Kimberly and James Dean, and it’s being prescribed by pediatric healthcare providers statewide as part of Reach Out and Read-Alabama’s 11th annual Rx for Summer Reading campaign to encourage families to read aloud together.  

Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses is the featured book for Rx for Summer Reading.

For 14 years, Reach Out and Read-Alabama’s partnerships with pediatric practices and clinics across our state have placed more than 1.7 million brand-new books in the hands of Alabama’s youngest and most underserved children. Currently, 52 of Alabama’s pediatric practices and clinics serve as Reach Out & Read-Alabama program sites in 30 counties, impacting 40 percent of the state’s children under the age of five. 

Actor and Alabama native Clayne Crawford reads Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. Through his Clayne Crawford Foundation, he partners with organizations across our state to help children, women and veterans.

Even as clinics adjust to new safety measures and logistics to keep families and children safe during the pandemic, well-child visits are still highly encouraged to prevent more disease and to keep children on track with regular vaccinations, says Polly McClure, RPh, statewide coordinator for Reach Out and Read-Alabama. “We remain committed to supporting families with young children, continuing to provide books and encourage reading aloud at every checkup from six months through five years of age.” 

The evidence-based Reach Out and Read-Alabama program builds on the ongoing relationship, beginning in a child’s infancy, between parents and medical providers to develop critical early reading skills in children. The idea is to give parents the tools and knowledge to help ensure that their children are prepared to learn when they start school.

With more than 15 peer-reviewed studies and a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Reach Out and Read is an effective intervention that incorporates early literacy into pediatric practice. During regular, one-on-one visits with the doctor, families grow to understand the powerful and important role they play in supporting their children’s development. 

Parents gain the confidence and skills that enable them to support the development of their child, early language and literacy at home. And the children get books of their very own.

Teaming up with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the lead agency for Alabama’s Early Intervention System, Reach Out and Read-Alabama practices and clinics are hosting events throughout the summer that give parents practical information about building moments and routines to help their families manage during these anxious times. In addition, information about services and support through Early Intervention referrals and Child Find (1-800-543-3098) will be available for parents and caregivers at each event.  

Using Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses as a basis to explore new feelings and emotions as well as the world in which we live, each event provides one simple reminder to families that spending time together with books can offer a safe harbor, even if only for a few moments each day.

 “We are excited about our partnership with Reach Out and Read-Alabama and the summer reading campaign,” says Betsy Prince, coordinator of Alabama’s Early Intervention System/Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. “This provides a great opportunity to get the word out about early literacy and about the importance of Early Intervention in supporting infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities and their families.”

According to the Urban Child Institute, children’s experiences in their earliest years affect how their brains work, the way they respond to stress, and their ability to form trusting relationships. During these years, the brain undergoes its most dramatic growth, setting the stage for social and emotional development. Language blossoms, basic motor abilities form, thinking becomes more complex, and children begin to understand their own feelings and those of others. 

“I have found the Reach Out and Read program to be a critical component of our primary care clinic,” says Elizabeth Dawson, MD, FAAP, medical coordinator of Charles Henderson Child Health Center and founder of the Troy Resilience Project. “It is incredibly powerful to not only be able to talk about but also demonstrate the power of books and reading for our children and families every day, as we are able to observe how children interact with books as well.” 

“Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses seems to be the perfect book for this summer,” says McClure. This book, in particular, promotes positive thinking, which is so important in these uncertain times.

“I look forward to sharing this book in our clinic for the upcoming summer reading program,” Dawson says. “I love that it gives parents and kids the chance to feel a little brighter while promoting literacy and relationships and building a healthy foundation for every child and caregiver to become more resilient.”

Go to Reach Out and Read-Alabama to learn more about the Rx for Summer Reading program and how you can help get books to children.

Reach Out and Read-Alabama kicked off its 11th annual campaign on its Facebook page with a live virtual event on Friday, June 19. Guest speakers included Betsy Prince of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services; Elizabeth Dawson, MD, FAAP, of Charles Henderson Child Health Center and the Troy Resiliency Project; Anna Dailey of Dothan Pediatric Clinic; and Alabama-born actor Clayne Crawford of the Clayne Crawford Foundation who read Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. You can listen to Crawford reading the book here.

U-Pick Lavender

The u-pick opportunities in Alabama abound—strawberries, blueberries, sunflowers, muscadines, tomatoes, pumpkins and even Christmas trees. 

Now add fragrant lavender to that fun list.

Lavender Wynde Farm in Harvest, located in the rolling foothills north of Huntsville, is inviting the public to the farm to pick their own lavender Friday and Saturday, June 12 and 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. (The 10 a.m. to noon timeframe is filling up. They suggest visiting after lunchtime.)

There’s a Zen sort of vibe in the sunny, manicured fields of what owners Lora and Mike Porter call their “farmlet.” Some folks sit in chairs scattered around under a few shade trees while dozens of others kneel or sit in the grass next to knee-high plants quietly snipping the fragrant stems. 

When you arrive, you’ll be handed a pair of sterilized garden scissors (but you are encouraged to bring you own, which they will sterilize for you). They give you a small plastic sleeve with rubber bands. These sleeves will hold 100 to 120 stems. You’ll pay $10 for each bundle. You’ll be instructed how to dry your bundles of food-grade lavender (upside down in a cool, dry place for a few weeks). My bunches are making my closets smell amazing right now.

Lora Porter says, “growing lavender in north Alabama was a learning process.” Lavender is a Mediterranean plant, she explains, and it loves rocky soil. Our Alabama clay was too dense, so they learned to augment the soil with gravel and mound the plants for drainage. The long, beautiful rows of full, healthy plants, each bristling with hundreds of stems, is proof they’ve figured it out.

In addition to the u-pick opportunity, there’s a pop-up shop selling soaps and other bath and beauty products like body butters, lotions and sugar scrubs; essential oils; teas; and lavender-filled sachets. While they specialize in lavender, the Porters raise a variety of herbs and botanicals. They distill, on-site, many of the hydrosols and essential oils that are used in their natural, handcrafted aromatherapy products.

During the u-pick events, they will be distilling mint and lavender throughout the day, and they’ll have lavender lemonade for sale, too. Visitors can buy their own mint, rosemary and lavender plants (and they’ll even sell you bags of gravel to get those lavender plants started properly). 

Lavender Wynde Farm is at 492 Robins Road, Harvest, Alabama 35749. For logistical purposes, you should go to the Facebook page to let them know you are coming for the u-pick days. Or call 256-714-4144 and leave a message. Otherwise, visits are by appointment only. 

A few things to know:  Use the farm’s gravel driveway to enter. Do not use the neighbor’s driveway or cut across their grass for ingress/egress. And bring your own garden clippers/scissors if you have them; several of the farm’s scissors were lost during the first u-pick weekend. They will sterilize yours as you enter and leave. Finally, feel free to share photos of your lavender-picking adventure. Lora says that “makes all the weeding worthwhile.” 

Virtual 5K = Real Results

Run, walk (or skip, for that matter) to benefit service industry workers.

A virtual 5K can make a real difference to local hospitality workers right now.

COVID-19 has hit Alabama’s restaurant and hospitality industry hard, and thousands of service industry workers across our state have seen their hours reduced or have lost their jobs altogether.

Will Wilder saw a way to help them.

Wilder has teamed up with The Trak Shak, Redmont Distilling Co. and EW Motion Therapy for the Redmont ‘Rona Run, a virtual 5K to benefit Alabama’s service workers. 

All proceeds from the Redmont ‘Rona Virtual 5K, set for May 8-10, go to the AL Hospitality Workers Relief Fund, which distributes cash directly to Alabama food and beverage workers to help cover rent, utilities and medical expenses during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Wilder, an avid runner who loves the outdoors, says, “Running has kept me sane since COVID-19 arrived. I’ve been running almost every day, and other than trips to the grocery store, it’s about the only time outside I have each day. 

“I’ve also always thought our incredible restaurant and bar scene is one of the best things about Birmingham,” says Wilder, who grew up here and attended college at Washington University in St. Louis and then Columbia Law School. “There is nothing I love more than showing people from out of town around our city and letting them taste our incredible food. It’s been tough to see how hard the pandemic has hit service sector workers. I thought that putting on a virtual 5K fundraiser would be the best thing I could do to use something that has kept me happy and sane to help the rest of my community.”

Participants can walk, run or walk-run—at a safe distance from others—either outside or inside on a treadmill. They will have almost an entire weekend to complete their virtual 5K. With social distancing practices in effect, participants are encouraged to exercise by themselves with the satisfaction of knowing they are part of something larger than themselves.

The window for folks to run the virtual race and submit their results begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 8th and ends at 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 10th. To be eligible for Top Finisher Awards, participants must submit photographic evidence of their time to AlabamaServiceWorkersRelief5k@gmail.com. This can be a photo of their treadmill screen or a screenshot of results from a GPS-based exercise app such as Strava or Nike Run Club or Runkeeper, Wilder says. (These apps have limited versions that are free.)

Awards will go to the Top Three Overall Women and Men, and there will be cool raffle prizes, too, including gift baskets from Dreamland Bar-B-Que and Redmont Distilling Co.

The winners will be announced during a Virtual Happy Hour at 6 p.m. on Sunday hosted by Redmont Distilling. Everyone who signs up or donates will get a link to log in through Zoom, a free video-conference website.

The cost to register is $20 plus a $2.50 RunSignUp fee. Registration closes at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 10.

For more information or to sign up, go to https://runsignup.com/Race/AL/Birmingham/AlabamaServiceWorkersReliefVirtual5k

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.

Hand-sewn masks

Back in mid-January, we got two weeks’ worth of pasta, beans and canned tomatoes. For Valentine’s Day, I gave my kids the usual heart-shaped box of chocolates along with some disinfecting wipes and their choice of lavender- or lemon-scented spray hand sanitizer. I thought I was prepared.

But then masks.

photo from WBAP.com

It is nearly impossible to get them now, so I decided to make them. I started with the New York Times’ pattern, which took a while. I made one with that. Next, I moved on to an easier pattern with a pocket for a filter from See Kate Sew.

But now, even fabric is hard to come by. I placed an order with JoAnn only to get one email after another saying, “Uh oh! Items from your order have been canceled.”

Then I came across this blog post from Free People about repurposing old clothing into homemade face masks.

That post was inspired by Becky Vieira, a super mom who created the website Masks For Heroes — pretty much overnight — in an effort to streamline support for making and acquiring masks, surgical grade and fabric alike.

As Becky says: “While cloth masks don’t offer full protection when dealing with COVID-19 patients, they serve other purposes: patients with less aggressive symptoms can wear them, freeing up Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers, or they can be used as a covering for used N95 masks since, in some cases, many health care workers are having to reuse the same mask for up to five days.”

Visit Becky’s site to find an easy pattern as well as a list of nearby medical facilities in need of masks. In Alabama, Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Southern Family Health in Columbiana and Cahaba Medical Care in Centerville are listed.

Closer to home, there’s the Facebook group bham face masks. They are making masks by the thousands and offer practice tips and troubleshooting for participants.

The mask from the Free People blog is super easy. This DIY hand-sewn mask is made with elastic hair ties and whatever fabric you have around the house … even, perhaps, a shirt or skirt you no longer wear.

DIY Hand-Sewn Mask

You’ll need:

Needle & thread (or sewing machine if you have one)

Two elastic bands 

One 10-by-18-inch piece of new or freshly-washed fabric 

*NOTE: Most departments of health suggest that masks be made from two layers of tightly woven 100% cotton fabric.

Begin by folding your fabric in half along its longer edge, so that it measures 5 x 9 inches. Make sure that, if your fabric has a pattern, the pattern is on the inside. 

Take your needle and thread and sew along the long, open side of the fabric (a simple running stitch will work). You’re essentially creating a small tube, with two openings on each of the shorter sides.

Once sewn, turn the fabric inside out so that the stitches sit on the inside.

Take an elastic band and insert it around the cloth on the short side. Fold about 1” of cloth over the rubber band and sew along the length of that side, making a casing for the band so it fits securely in place. Repeat for the other side and, voila! You’ve made a mask! And best of all, you’ve played a definitive part in helping to safeguard yourself and the community around you. 

Here’s a link to a video showing you how it’s done.

(A shout-out to Free People: The retailer is partnering with Goldsheep, an LA-based factory that normally produces FP Movement leggings. They are producing masks that will be donated throughout the medical community.)

Finally, of course, here’s the simple bandana mask that requires no needle or thread–only a bandana and two hair ties.

Remember that social distancing is still key to staying safe–even with a mask.

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.

Lost and Found

Friends, we don’t know half of what this coronavirus is taking from us. 

Not even half.

Our time with family. Our time with friends. Our time to just freely walk in this world and not think about the distances between us. 

I have often taken for granted the absolute delight of a sentence spooling out—one word sewn neatly into another and another and another, but now I am simply grateful, most days, that the words I fit together make any kind of sense.

Some days I am frozen. There are no words. 

So I look to someone else’s words for inspiration, for distraction. 

Yesterday, we lost John Prine, whose words in song are poetry. Sometimes, we don’t fully realize that, or stop to consider it, until we see them written down.

Here’s Angel from Montgomery:

I am an old woman named after my mother
My old man is another child that’s grown old
If dreams were lightning, thunder were desire
This old house would have burnt down a long time ago

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

When I was a young girl well, I had me a cowboy
He weren’t much to look at, just a free rambling man
But that was a long time and no matter how I try
The years just flow by like a broken down dam

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

There’s flies in the kitchen I can hear ’em there buzzing
And I ain’t done nothing since I woke up today
How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

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 Poetry Month

I can always count on my poet friend Irene Latham to remind me of National Poetry Month.

Musings of an Old Man by Nancy Milford

Her postcard featuring a work from Baldwin County artist and writer Nancy Milford (“Musings of an Old Man”) was a sweet reminder to live my poem.

In happier times, whenever I sent a package to my kids in college, I always included a poem. Always. The poem tucked in with food or other little treats reflected what was going on my my life or their lives at the moment. Sometimes these poems were just about the season we were in at the time. (I also always had the postman stamp these packages “spoiled” just for fun.)

Irene is the author of wonderful books of poetry and fiction and narrative poetry and poetry picture books for children and adults including Leaving Gee’s Bend; Don’t Feed the Boy; The Color of Lost Rooms; The Cat Man of Aleppo (out Apirl 14); Meet Miss Fancy; Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship; Dictionary for a Better World; and more.

Read them, enjoy them and here are some other poetry resources for you:

Irene’s own tips for writers including an editing checklist and books to make you a better writer and Author ABCs. There are resources for young writers here, too.

The Academy of American Poets was founded in 1934 to support poets and bring their work to as many people as possible. The organization celebrates poetry all year long, but this month is especially special. You can search a curated collection of more than 10,000 poems by occasion, theme, form, keywords or poet’s name. I also love their poem-a-day. There are materials for teachers there, too, which should help parents these days.

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.