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 

Fox 6 Books: February

These are the books I took to WBRC Fox 6 in February. Timely page turners include a picture book to celebrate Black History Month (and our state), a novel about words, another about food and a survival guide that will make a great guy gift.

The Slave Who Went to Congressby Marti Rosner and Frye Gaillard with illustrations by Jordana Haggard, is a timely way to celebrate Black History Month and the bicentennial of our state. This picture book celebrates the remarkable story of Benjamin Turner, who spent the first 40 years of his life as a slave in Selma before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 1870. Turner, who taught himself to read, was the first black Congressman from Alabama and among the very first in the House of Representatives after Emancipation. An amazing man of strength, determination and compassion, he rejected the idea of punishing his white neighbors who had fought for the Confederacy, and he supported racially mixed schools and the right to vote for former slaves. Turner also argued that land should be set aside for former slaves so they could create new lives for themselves. Written in the first person and beautifully illustrated, this book for young readers makes Benjamin Turner’s story come alive.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine is about Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, identical and inseparable twins who love words. As toddlers, they had their own twin speak; as adults, they make their livings with words. But their shared love (and obsession) of words is driving them apart. Daphne, a grammar columnist, is devoted to preserving the elegance—and rules—of Standard English. Laurel, a poet, approaches language in a decidedly less-structured way. Their differences take a really bad turn when they begin to fight over custody of their prized, shared family heirloom—Merriam Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition. This super-smart novel is a fun and enjoyable celebration of language as well as an exploration of self. It has a great bookgroup guide, too.

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones is a story of friendship, self-discovery, love and food. Lots of really good food. Widowed American food writer Maggie McElroy learns of a paternity claim against her late husband’s estate and heads to Beijing to sort it all out. It’s a working trip—her magazine editor asks for a profile on rising culinary star Sam Liang. Turns out, Sam is the grandson of a chef who cooked for the Emperor and in 1925 wrote The Last Chinese Chef, which became a food classic. In China, Maggie finds out more about her husband than she expected, of course. But, with Sam as her guide, she also discovers more than she expected about a cuisine rooted in centuries of history. It’s this discovery that’s most transforming for Maggie who finds herself easily drawn into Sam’s delicious world—especially its family of cooks and customers.

While looking for a Valentine’s Day gift for my guy, I was reminded of How to Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford Angier. It’s already in our home library, so my gift search continues. Your search might stop here. This is a  fun and informative 320-page book is full of practical advice for “roughing it” in the woods, where, as the author says, “every necessity is free.” Of course, it’s important to know what you need and don’t need. In these pages, you’ll learn how to build a shelter, how to make a soup hole (in the ground), how to fish with your bare hands, how to make a fire with just a spark, how and when to steal food from a bear, how to signal for help and what kind of plants you can (and can’t) eat. Or how to play it safer:  Avoid mushrooms altogether; the risks outweigh the gain. A few quick takeaways:  Ice is never safe. Wolves are not to be feared. Spruce-needle tea has as much vitamin C as fresh orange juice. All birds are edible.

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

Fox 6 Books: January 2020

These are the books I took to WBRC Fox 6 in January. A great way to start the reading year!

How to Walk is by Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the best-known Zen teachers in the world today. IMG_6341In this little book, he shows how the everyday act of walking (walking!) can offer opportunities to realize and express gratitude. I usually walk with a friend or, if alone, listen to the podcast Stuff You Should Know. But this book, which I first saw at Ten Thousand Waves spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this past summer, kept calling for my attention. It’s tiny, but filled with Hanh’s practices, meditations and touching stories. Each one shows how each step has the impact to increase our concentration, insight and joy. He makes it sound easy: “When you walk, arrive with every step. That’s walking meditation. There’s nothing else to it.” Of course, there’s more to it. But Hanh’s gentle guidance is there every step of the way to help readers become more aware of each step and of their breathing. Jason DeAntonis’s pen-and-ink drawings are the perfect playful accompaniment. Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, has been teaching mindfulness for more than 70 years, and he has written scores of books including the other tiny, tip-filled books:  How to See, How to Eat, How to Relax and How to Love.

I should have already read Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson. I think everyone in the entire state of Alabama should read this book. IMG_6338That it should be taught in high schools. I’ve heard Stevenson speak (he’s amazing) and this book has been on my shortlist for a while, but the new movie out now made me finally get to it. It is, as the subtitle says, a “story of justice and redemption.” It also is about the sweet, overwhelming power of mercy. Stevenson, one of the most influential lawyers of our time, founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, wrongly condemned and those underserved (or just flat-out forsaken) by our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian who was sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit. The story, I’m sure, is transitioning to the big screen quite well. It’s one of political dealings, legal wrangling and tangled conspiracies—and a black man accused of killing a young white girl in south Alabama in the 1980s. But Walter’s is just one of several cases detailed here that, together, have made Stevenson a champion for justice and mercy.

Under Stevenson’s leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. He led the creation of EJI’s highly acclaimed cultural sites, the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened in 2018. Stevenson’s work has won him numerous awards, including 40 honorary doctorates, the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, and the ABA Medal, the American Bar Association’s highest honor.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides promises a thrilling twist, and it delivers. IMG_6343I never saw it coming in the day and a half it took me to devour this book. Alicia Berenson was living a lovely life as a famous painter married to a famous fashion photographer—until she shot her husband five times in the face and then stopped taking. She refused to talk—to try to explain her actions—and that made Alicia even more famous. She ends up housed at a secure psychiatric unit in North London. And criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber is determined to unlock her silence and figure out why exactly she shot her husband. This therapist-turned-detective is very good at uncovering clues, and he ends up finding out more than he ever expected.

Dreyer’s English is by Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House, and in this book, he champions clarity in a way that is informative, interesting and even entertaining. IMG_6339We are not all writers, but yet, we are. We all write all the time:  emails, texts, more texts, blogs, online reviews, more emails. In his book, Dreyer shares much of what he has learned in his more than two decades of professional life. And it’s a playful, useful guide for writers of any sort who want to simply write better.  He offers lessons on punctuation—from the underappreciated semicolon to the en dash. He explains the basic rules of grammar; “Only godless savages,” he says, “eschew the series comma.” He advises against what my kids’ elementary school teachers called “dead words” like “very” and “actually.” And he says it’s OK to start a sentence with And (thank goodness!) and But (even better!).

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

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.

Fox 6 Books: December

Thrilling distractions. These are some of the year’s best books.  They all are well-written, thrilling works of fiction that will offer the perfect distraction during a busy season.

 Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson shows why you need to stay on topic during your book club discussion. Amy Whey, a loving wife and mother, lives a pretty ordinary life and runs a fairly conventional book club with her best friend, Charlotte. But then the mysterious and alluring Angelica Roux arrives one night for the book discussion. Angelica charms the group and lures them into a game of telling secrets. It seems like harmless fun, but Amy knows it is not. And somehow, Angelica knows the truth about who Amy really is and what she once did. To protect her family and save the life she’s built, Amy must match wits with Angelica in a war of best-forgotten pasts and treacherous secrets. The book is full of dark twists and Jackson’s trademark humor. Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of eight novels. A former actor, she also is an award-winning audiobook narrator. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, and enjoys a huge following here in Birmingham.

Cemetery Road is by Greg Iles, who spent most of his life in Mississippi and writes what he knows. This book, set in a small Mississippi town on the edge of economic ruin, is about powerful families and dangerous secrets. Marshall McEwan is a successful journalist in Washington, DC, but he returns to his Mississippi home (something he swore he’d never do) where his father is terminally ill. Bienville is not the town he remembered. His family’s 150-year-old newspaper is failing; his former lover has married into a powerful, connected family. A small group of patriarchs, who rule the town, are planning a deal with a billion-dollar Chinese paper mill, but then that turns deadly. So Marshall joins forces with his former lover and begins doing what he does best:  investigating to uncover hard truths. Iles has written 16 New York Times bestsellers. His novels have been made into films and published in more than 35 countries.

Fun fact:  Iles is part of the lit-rock group The Rock Bottom Remainders. The band is made up of some pretty famous folks including Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount Jr., Stephen King, Amy Tan and Matt Groening.

The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter will thrill her fans because this is another novel with medical examiner Sara Linton and her partner, Will Trent, an investigator with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Bad things are happening in Atlanta:  A scientist from the Centers for Disease Control is kidnapped in a shopping center parking lot. A month later, an explosion rocks one of the city’s most important neighborhoods—the location of Emory University, two hospitals, an FBI field office and the CDC. Sara and Will quickly discover a conspiracy that threatens thousands of lives. When Sara is abducted by the assailants they are seeking, Will has to go undercover to save her and prevent a massacre. A native of Georgia, Slaughter lives in Atlanta. She has been published in 120 countries with more than 35 million books sold worldwide.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn is a thrilling work of historical fiction where lives and nations collide. Nina Markova grew up in Soviet Russia, and when war came to her homeland, she joined the infamous Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment attacking Hitler’s eastern front. But then she’s downed behind enemy lines and encounters a Nazi murderess known as the Huntress. Ian Graham is a British war correspondent who leaves journalism to become a Nazi hunter. One target eludes him:  the Huntress. So he joins forces with Nina, the only person who has ever escaped from the Huntress. Jordan McBride, 17, grows up in post-World War II Boston. When her long-widowed father brings home a fiancée, she’s sure the quiet-spoken German widow is hiding something. But uncovering her new stepmother’s past also uncovers secrets in Jordan’s own family. Quinn, a life-long history buff, is a New York Times bestselling author of seven historical novels, including the wildly popular novel The Alice Network.

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

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

Fox 6 Books: November

It’s not too early to think about gift giving. And when you give the gift of a book, it just keeps on giving. All these are worth wrapping, and I brought them with me to WBRC Fox 6 on November 5.

 Inland is the latest book by Tea Obreht, and it’s awesome. Two remarkable lives intersect in the lawless, drought-ridden Arizona Territory in 1893. Nora is a tough frontierswoman awaiting the return of her husband who has gone in search of water. Her two elder sons have vanished after an argument, and Nora waits with youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking them.

The other main character, Lurie, is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sets out on a momentous expedition across the West with camels! The way in which Lurie’s death-defying trek intersects with Nora’s plight is the surprise and suspense in this great book by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tiger’s Wife, which I also loved.

Ordinary Girls:  A Memoir by Jaquira Diaz is a Barnes & Nobel Discover Great New Writers Fall 2019 selection. These selections are pretty much always spot on. Jaquira Diaz has won two Pushcart Prizes and has been published in the New York Times, Rolling Stone and the Guardian. This shining life surely seemed unlikely when she was growing up a black sheep in housing projects in Miami and Puerto Rico. She will tell you she was a juvenile delinquent—arrested over and over, a street fighter, a runaway, a high school drop out and a suicide risk. She always longed for love and security and a family and a home. This incredibly candid and beautiful and powerful memoir is a true story of survival and more. Diaz says she was a kid who loved to read. “You could say that books saved me.” But as much as she loved books, she didn’t see people like herself in the pages. “I wrote Ordinary Girlsfor girls and women who are like the girl I was, like the woman I am now. For those who never saw themselves in books.”

God Save the Queens:  The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop by Kathy Iandoli recognizes that the history of hip-hop has, for far too long, revolved around men. But women have always been incredibly important to this musical movement. From rap’s earliest moments, they have been out front and keeping pace with their male counterparts. These “queens” have paved the way for Nicki Minaj and Cardi B and those who will top the charts after them. Music journalist Kathy Iandoli offers a fast-paced, heavily researched history of ambition and spirit and attitude and girl power. She tackles issues of gender, sexuality, violence, body image and objectification and more in this feminist history of hip-hop.

The Ryman Remembers with a foreword written by Will Campbell is a hybrid kind of cookbook that traces the colorful history of a building and those who played within its walls and ties it in with easy-to-follow recipes for foods from all over– just like the people who have played here.

Readers might be surprised to know just who has been on the beloved stage of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Long before bluegrass and country music legends played here, orchestras and symphonies from New York, Boston and Chicago played the Ryman. Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Nijinski and the Ballet Russe all danced on its wooden stage. Charlie Chaplin, Katherine Hepburn and American explorer Robert Edwin Peary appeared here, too. Then, of course, there was the Grand Ole Opry, which made its home at the Ryman beginning in 1943. Over the next 30 years, the greats of country music played here—from Hank Williams to Loretta Lynn to Johnny Cash and Elvis and more. After falling into disrepair, the Ryman has been restored and is once again a thriving theater. It is, in fact, Nashville’s most revered venue.

The recipes here make this book extra special and trace a Southern heritage of favorite foods associated with famous names who have played this stage—ranging from Amy Grant’s Buttermilk Fudge to Nashville Symphony conductor Kenneth Schermerhorn’s Soul Pasta to John T. Hall’s favorite Hot Water Cornbread to Dolly Parton’s Beefy Cowboy Beans.

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

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

Fox 6 Books: October

Let’s get cooking! It’s not too early to think about holiday dinners with friends and family. A new batch of cookbooks is just what we need right now. I brought these with me to WBRC Fox 6 on October 1.

Seeking the South:  Finding Inspired Regional Cuisines by Rob Newton with Jamie Feldman is part inspiring travelogue, part user-friendly cooking guide. “There’s no genre of American cuisine as storied as Southern,” Newton writes. “It has the longest history, most distinct terroir, and the most pronounced traditions of any food in the country, built largely by enslaved Africans and their descendants. For these reasons and more, Southern food can be a tricky topic, with a tendency to rile people up both in and out of the geographic boundaries of the South itself.”

Newton, born in Arkansas, is the executive chef at Gray & Dudley in Nashville. This new book, with lovely photos of foods and places, showcases a new kind of South that draws from all corners of the world for its modern cuisine. Consider Hot Potlikker (a Chinese-style hot pot from Mississippi made with potlikker from cooking greens); boiled peanuts with lemongrass, star anise and lime; heirloom tomatoes with peanut chaat; charred okra with Sichuan pepper, garlic and green onions. Familiar recipes here include buttermilk biscuits, deviled eggs, BBQ Gulf snapper and fried chicken. But then there are lots of favorite foods prepared in a brand new way:  Raw collards with coconut and grapefruit; fried bologna sandwiches with chow chow; turnip and potato pancakes  with yogurt, dill and dillybeans.

The book is divided into five chapters representing different regions of the South—Upper South, Deep South, Gulf Coast, Coastal Plains and Piedmont, and Low Country and Southeast Coast. “I wanted to tell the story of the Southern food that I knew and loved:  dishes that went beyond the clichés and illustrated the diverse bounty across its many distinct regions,” Newton writes. Each chapter features appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts that define each region in beautiful, delicious ways.

Kindness & Salt:  Recipes for the Care & Feeding of Your Friends and Neighbors by Ryan Angulo and Doug Crowell features food and hospitality advice and prep techniques and tips especially for the home cook. Ryan Angulo and Doug Crowell are the owners of Buttermilk Channel and French Louie in Brooklyn. The book, with a fun retro cover, features 100 recipes for the foods and drinks that draw their passionate customers from around the corner as well as across the globe. They believe that every great meal starts with two essential elements:  kindness and salt. “Kindness,” they write, “is the spirit of warmth and hospitality that underlies every meal at their restaurants. Salt is shorthand for cooking carefully and brining out the best in your ingredients.” There are 21 foundational recipes from a chapter called Pantry that include aioli, parsley pistou, oven-dried tomatoes and hollandaise sauce. These are everyday items to elevate your dishes.  From there, you’ll find hundreds more for salads and veggies (radishes with butter and black olive salt), fish and shellfish (mussels Normande), birds and beasts (cast iron-roasted chicken) as well as baked things (cornbread with chile-lime butter). There’s an entire chapter devoted to cocktails and another for brunch dishes, reflecting the full range of what makes their restaurants popular. But everything is carefully explained, tips are given freely and techniques are detailed so the home cook can easily re-create this bistro cuisine, which is, after all, inspired by home cooking.

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley is a cleverly named James Beard Foundation Book Award winner that is all about real food. Namely, indigenous American fruits and vegetables, wild and foraged grains, game and fish. “Locally sourced” takes on a whole new meaning in this breakout cookbook by Sean Sherman, the Oglala Lakota chef and founder of The Sioux Chef, a group of people—from chefs to growers to food truckers and food lovers—committed to revitalizing Native American cuisine.  There’s no fry bread here. It does not rely upon European staples such as wheat flour, sugar and dairy products. The dishes are indigenous to the Dakota and Minnesota territories, but home cooks can find most of these ingredients quite easily. (There’s a list of suppliers at www.sioux-chef.com if you have difficulties.) A short guide to using this book lists straightforward techniques and simple tools such as a cast-iron skillet and a deep stockpot and essential ingredients including salt, honey, sumac and herbs. Each chapter features a short essay to explain the foods and food traditions of the recipes that follow. You’ll learn about and how to cook crispy bean cakes, deviled duck eggs, rabbit braised with apples and mint, autumn harvest cookies and real wild rice. Sherman shares space in the book with other chefs he met at the Native American Culinary Association’s “Native Chef’s Symposium.” You’ll find recipes like Chef Lois Ellen Frank’s Coriander-Cured Elk with Dried Chokecherry Sauce and Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz’s Two-Fruit Jam Scattered with Seeds. All in all, this book is a beautiful, thoughtful celebration of truly homegrown culinary traditions.

Buttermilk & Bourbon:  New Orleans Recipes with a Modern Flair is a new cookbook by Jason Santos, a Hell’s Kitchen runner-up and an expert on Bar Rescue. Turns out, a birthday trip to New Orleans inspired Santos to open his Boston restaurant Buttermilk & Bourbon. “I love everything about that city,” he writes, “the food, the people and the passion!”  In his restaurant and in this book, he relies upon food that is authentic in flavor and prepared in inventive, surprising ways. Consider Buffalo Duck Wings, New Orleans BBQ Shrimp with Jalapeno Grits and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Mac & Cheese. The chapter on adult beverages is particularly fun with a Boston-Nola Hurricane; a Who Dat? made with chocolate-mole bitters and rye; a rum-fueled Lagniappe; and a Cajun Bloody Mary, of course.

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