By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
If you love all things Southern, you’ll love this book. Although you can’t actually label it a cookbook because there are no recipes — it’s so much more — I guess what it actually amounts to is a travelogue of foods, restaurants and chefs from the Alabama/Tennessee line to the beaches of its southernmost shore.
It takes us from glorious farmers’ markets featuring bins filled with the freshest farm-to-table offerings, to the most elegant fine-dining establishments. It also gives us a little behind-the-scenes glimpse of the personalities behind the famous dishes.
From Frank Stitt’s baked grits at the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, to sea bass in banana leaves at Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar in Orange Beach or crispy BP&J in phyllo at the Cotton Row in Huntsville, this book is filled with delicious descriptions, glorious photographs, and interesting tidbits about the chefs who create these epicurean delights.
Written and designed in conjunction with the Alabama Bureau of Tourism’s 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die, this is one book that encompasses all that we know and love about our Southern culinary heritage.
With a forward by Sister Shubert (who, by the way, is not a nun as my friend Karen first thought) who was born and bread (I couldn’t resist that one) near Troy, Alabama, this book is Southern to the core. And it didn’t leave out our local favorites, either!
Big Bob Gibson’s is prominently featured in chapter two, the Ol’ Heidelberg Café in Huntsville, and Luvici’s on the square in Athens, as well as Trinity’s Caddo Cafeteria and the All Steak, right here in Cullman.
One of Decatur’s newest fine-dining establishments, the Albany Bistro, also made the final cut.
The All Steak’s famous orange rolls got a nod, with a description guaranteed to make your mouth water, featured prominently on page 14.
And this book didn’t just list the most extravagant restaurants, they actually searched around and found the smaller places that the locals rave over, like the Dodge City Restaurant located in the Dodge City Travel Center and gas station in Dodge City, where the fried cheeseburger comes highly recommended.
If you ever head north to Tuscumbia, you’ll want to try out the Palace, located in a historic drug store (circa 1833) complete with an authentic, old-fashioned soda fountain. The Palace sells more than 30,000 milkshakes each year and you’ll understand why once you try one. They serve their shakes in frosted vintage stemware, along with the aluminum container from which it was poured, so that you get the whole serving — right down to the last delicious drop!
Cullman native, Frank Stitt, is recognized in Alabama Foods as a leader in Alabama’s rise to national culinary status. Stitt has received multiple nominations in the Outstanding Chef and Outstanding Restaurant categories, and was named Best Chef in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2001.
Stitt also earned the prestigious Southern Foodways Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as being inducted into its Restaurant Hall of Fame in 2011. He is the owner of three award-winning Birmingham restaurants — Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega Restaurant and Café, and Chez Fonton.
The beautiful cover of the book which depicts a mouth-watering shot of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club’s tomato salad was photographed by Karim Shamsi-Basha (see page 42). Dozens of photographers vied for that coveted spot. Throughout the entire book are other excellent photographs of various dishes, restaurants and chefs.
Also included are sections on the Alabama Craft Beer Trail, wineries in Alabama, and the great selection of packaged foods that have their roots right here in Alabama. This chapter includes Cullman’s Southern Fried Pies, Barber’s Dairy in Birmingham, Dean’s Sausage in Attalla, Golden Flake in Birmingham, Milo’s Tea Company in Bessemer, and of course, Sister Shubert’s in Luverne, Alabama. A brief history of each is included, some accompanied by a full-color photograph.
The section on Farmers’ Markets is helpful to travelers who want to stock up on fresh local foods. The names address and contact information, as well as hours and the specialty of each market is listed, and in some instance is accompanied by a photograph. Many U-Pick farms are also listed.
Cullman’s Festhalle Market Platz is listed on page 92, as well as Burk’s Farms on Highway 69, on the opposite page. Filled with colorful photos of all your favorite produce including ripe red tomatoes, yellow squash, green beans, cabbage, sweet potatoes and eggplant, this section will have you planning a trip to your famer’s market very soon.
In the 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die section, you’ll find, among many others, Wentzell’s Oyster House, the Bright Star Restaurant in Bessemer, the All Steak’s orange rolls, the chocolate lava cake at Daniel George in Mountain Brook, the ribs at Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, the Duke Rustler Burger with applewood bacon and fried snake eyes at the Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia and the crab cakes in dill sauce at Our Place Café in Wetumpka.
The glorious Gulf Coast is also well represented in Alabama Foods. Not only its red snapper, shrimp and other tantalizing offerings from the sea, but its other homegrown crops like pecans and Satsuma oranges are also featured.
So, no matter where you go in our great state, there are culinary delights just waiting around the corner — just be sure to have your copy of Alabama Foods with you so you won’t miss a bite!
You can order copies of Alabama Foods from:
Alabama Media Group/Carl Bates
2201 4th Ave. North
Birmingham, AL 35203;
Books-A-Million, Barnes and Noble, the Alabama Governor's Mansion Gift Shop, other selected book stores across the state and online at Amazon; or call 205-325-2237.