Atlanta Restaurant Bucket List: King + Duke

A few months ago, I posted about my Atlanta Restaurant Bucket List. I have a good friend in Atlanta who is always down to go on foodie adventures with me, and every few months I try to get back over to Atlanta to check some more restaurants off the list.

This past weekend, I had to go to Atlanta for a friend’s party, so I came in a night before to check a restaurant off the list. Prior to my visit, I had sent my friend the list and told him to just pick one and make reservations. He chose King + Duke, another Ford Fry masterpiece (last time we visited The Optimist), this one focused on open-hearth seasonal cooking.

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We like to go all out on our meals together, so of course we never can pass up drinks or starters. K+D has an incredible craft cocktail menu and I was immediately drawn to the Duke “James and the Giant Peach.” With Buffalo Trace Bourbon, honey roasted peaches, lemon, and mint, it was so refreshing and a cocktail I could drink all summer long.

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With some many great starter options on the menu, we couldn’t choose just one, so we opted for three: Deviled Eggs, Pimiento Cheese Hushpuppies, and Avocado Toast. Had we known we would also be getting Yorkshire pudding as the complimentary bread offering, we probably didn’t need to indulge so much, but we couldn’t resist! And can I just interject here that Ford Fry is a master with his breads? The Yorkshire pudding was so deliciously eggy and warm inside with a crisp outside and just pure perfection. Remember my last Atlanta post where I raved about his dinner rolls at the Optimist?!

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Ok, back to the appetizers. The deviled eggs had an incredibly creamy yolk filling, the pimiento cheese hushpuppies were moist and served over a bed of homemade pimiento cheese and topped with a spicy pepper jelly, and the avocado toast was incredibly fresh with micro greens, salty ricotta salata, and crunchy radish on top of avocado mash smeared on a thick slab of crusty bread. And aren’t they all so beautiful?!

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For my entree, I ordered the Springer Mountain (half) Chicken. It was phenomenal. It had a roasted-on-the-hearth taste that gave it a smoky, earthy flavor. The chicken was moist and the skin was just slightly crisped. It was served over panzanella, but we’d had so much bread in our appetizers, I really just focused on the chicken.

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My friend ordered the Duck “Coq au vin,” and while I can’t speak on it because I don’t like duck, he said the chicken was much better. Although, the roasted summer vegetables it came with were great.

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For our dinner side (as if we needed any more food), we got the Heirloom Tomato salad. Oh my lawd. This was hands-down the best tomato salad I have ever had. We couldn’t get enough of it. It was full of gorgeous, colorful heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, mixed with cucumbers and topped with shaved pecorino cheese. AND THE DRESSING — literally could not get enough. It was a peppercorn dressing with such a rich, milky flavor that complemented the tomatoes perfectly. After we ate all the tomatoes, we started taking pieces of bread from my panzanella and dipping in it (so much for too much bread). We even took home what remained of the sauce to eat with my leftover chicken.

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And then because how could we come this far and not have dessert?! We ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream. Again, incredible. Did we need it? No. Are we glad we got it? Hell. Yeah.

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Definitely check out King + Duke next time you’re in Atlanta. Request to be seated on the patio if the weather is nice. We sat outside and it is a lovely place for happy hour, drinks, or dinner.

A New Addition

The next morning for breakfast, my friend took me to a place that wasn’t originally on my bucket list, but he informed me it should be. Home Grown has been around in Atlanta for a long time, serving up breakfast and lunch made from local produce, but at an affordable price. It’s your typical no-frills Southern joint, and has become a staple for down home Southern cooking; even the likes of Presidents have visited.

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We went Sunday morning and waited for about 25 minutes for a table, but not to worry, Home Grown puts out coffee for those who just can’t wait for their table. We were eventually seated in a cozy table in the back, across from the consignment thrift store housed in the back of the restaurant! Such a unique atmosphere.

We all ordered the Comfy Chicken Biscuit because it’s one of their specialties and it couldn’t have been a more perfect Southern breakfast. Thin sliced chicken cutlets were fried in a crispy, peppery batter and served over fluffy biscuits, and topped with an incredible sausage gravy. The gravy was just as rich as you’d hope it to be, but wasn’t too heavy or salty. I ate every single bite of my dish. And now I’m craving it again. Why am I writing this while I’m hungry?!

Anyway, I’m so glad my friend introduced me to Home Grown and I highly recommend you all add it to your ATL Bucket Lists!

Stay tuned for more posts in the future as I regularly update my restaurant list!

In and Around Banner Elk, North Carolina

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Ok, I know I missed Travel Tuesday, but I feel like I’ve been slacking on my travel content lately and didn’t want to wait until next week to put this one up. (Side note: y’all let me know if you like the idea of Travel Tuesday or if you’d rather just see travel content as I have it.)

Anyway, I grew up in western North Carolina, about an hour from the mountains, and going up to the mountains was always an integral part of my childhood. We would take day trips or weekend trips to go up and hike, eat, and just enjoy the cooler weather and beautiful views. About two years ago, my parents decided to invest in a little cabin in Banner Elk, North Carolina. I love going up to visit, and although I don’t get up as much as I’d like to be able to, it’s always a nice treat to go home and be with my family in our little mountain abode.

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I headed up to the cabin for Memorial Day just the other week, and we had the most beautiful weekend we could have ever asked for. The sun was shining without a cloud in the sky, the temperature was between 65 and 75 degrees every day, and the rhododendrons were in full bloom. We hiked, we drank wine on the deck with neighbors, and we had a Memorial Day cookout to wrap up the weekend. It was wonderful.

If you’ve never been to the mountains of western North Carolina, it needs to be on your bucket list. My favorite areas are Banner Elk (where our cabin is) and the surrounding areas of Boone, Blowing Rock, and Valle Crucis. They mountain views are breathtaking, the hiking trails have something for every age, and there are great restaurants and watering holes. I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite places and hidden secrets for eating, drinking, and exploring!

Eat:

Coyote Kitchen – Boone
This is the place I crave most when I’m gone. It’s in a strip mall in Boone, but don’t let that sway your opinion of it. Their style is “Southwest Caribbean Soulfood” and it is so darn good. They have these “boats,” which are personal casserole dishes layered up with protein and veggies and topped and broiled with Jack cheese. There are 10 options and my favorite is the Taos boat: rosemary chicken, cornbread, black beans, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted corn, fried plantains, Roma tomatoes, Jack cheese, chipotle cream cheese, and scallions. The combination is incredible and it’s delicious, filling, warm-you-to-your-toes comfort food.

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The Ham Shoppe – Valle Crucis
This is an unassuming wooden home on the side of the road that you probably wouldn’t think twice about if you drove by. But inside, they have some of the most delicious sandwiches that are perfect for taking on a hike or for a picnic in the park. They are huge sandwiches packed full of protein between slices of delicious fresh bread. You can create your own sandwich or order from their specialty sandwiches. My personal favorite is The Rhett with homemade pimento cheese, spinach, cucumbers, onions, sprouts, and bacon on toasted sun-dried tomato bread (although sometimes I get it on sourdough). My dad loves the Russian Mistress (never thought I’d write that sentence) with turkey breast, fresh spinach, tomato, bacon, and Swiss cheese topped with Thousand Island dressing on multigrain bread. (PS Google will tell you this place is permanently closed when you google it, but that’s not true.)

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Vidalia Restaurant and Wine Bar – Boone
This is my favorite fine dining restaurant, located in downtown Boone. They specialize in refined Southern cuisine, which means all your favorite Southern dishes re-imagined and made a little fancier. People go crazy for the Chicken and Waffles with creole battered fried chicken, sawmill gravy, collard greens, waffles, and whiskey infused cane syrup, but I absolutely love the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Cheerwine BBQ sauce, griddled mac n’ cheese, grilled Vidalia onion chowchow, jicama, and baby greens. For a true taste of the mountains, try the oat-crusted North Carolina Trout with pecan brown butter sauce. I love how they take North Carolina staples – like Cheerwine, sawmill gravy, and trout – and incorporate them into their menu. Last time I was there we also had this fabulous lemon poundcake with lemon basil ice cream. Don’t skip dessert!

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Drink:

Blowing Rock Brewing Company – Blowing Rock
Blowing Rock Brewing is a brewpub in the adorably charming downtown of Blowing Rock. They brew their own beers in the style of “mountain artisan beers” meaning they use the fresh mountain spring water and incorporate flavors of the area. All the beers are crisp and complex. I like the High Country Ale (their flagship) and the Farmhouse Peach Ale (available seasonally). There is also really good food at the Ale House, the restaurant in the brewery. The Grilled Carolina Bison Burger with charred tomato jam, smoked mozzarella, peppered bacon, stout glaze, and grilled onions is probably the best burger you’ll find in the area. The brewery’s beers are incorporated in almost every dish on the menu. They also have fun seasonal specials like this lobster roll below with pickled okra.

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Grandfather Vineyard – Banner Elk
This is a beautiful little vineyard just down the road from our cabin, so we take full advantage of it. You can come and do tastings or just grab a bottle and enjoy a glass (or three) out on the patio or down by the bubbling stream. The vineyards are grown on the side of the mountain, which makes for some beautiful scenery. They have a variety of reds, whites, rosés, and specialty wines like ice wines and muscadine wines (a North Carolina specialty).

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Do:

Mast General Store – Valle Crucis
Take a trip to the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis one day. It’s an old-fashioned candy store and general store. We always grab our favorite candies and a Cheerwine or Peach Nehi and sit outside on the porch swings or the picnic tables out back and enjoy the beautiful weather. There’s also a little park with a nice walking trail right near the store.

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Hike: 

There is so much good hiking in the area, and while I love to hike and would gladly do some of the more challenging trails, my family likes the easy but scenic ones. Here are three of our favorites.

Rough Ridge – Boone
Rough Ridge definitely has the nicest views of these three hikes. It’s a fairly easy hike – it can get a little rocky – but the views are extremely rewarding for little effort. And you’ll see why these mountains are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s only about .3 of a mile.

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Crab Orchard Falls – Valle Crucis
These waterfalls are easily accessed from the parking lot at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Valle Crucis (don’t worry, it’s allowed – there are signs for it). It’s a short hike to the falls – a bit steep in places, but nothing dangerous. The falls are really nice and there are massive rocks and boulders that you can climb on for different vantage points. Watch out though, the rocks can be slippery if they’re covered in moss.

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Grandfather Profile Trail – Banner Elk
If you’ve seen Grandfather Mountain (see photo at top of post), you know it looks like the profile of an old man’s face from afar. Well this hike is along that profile. The entire trail is one of the most challenging, with steep hills, large rocks, and even ladders to climb, but the first mile of it is a really nice and easy hike with beautiful scenery. You walk through the woods and cross the Watauga river and other streams. It’s really quite scenic and you can say you hiked the profile trail even if you don’t do all of it. 🙂 We were told a good stopping point is when you get to the point where you have to go between two large rocks. But if you want to go a little farther, it’s 1.7 miles from the parking lot to Foscoe View. After that, things start to go uphill and get challenging quickly.

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I hope you enjoyed these tips and consider planning a trip to the beautiful state I was lucky to grow up in!

Friday Lunch Edition: Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q

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There is no shortage of good barbecue places in Birmingham. If you ask around, everyone has their favorite, and you’ll often hear Saw’s BBQ and Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q topping the lists. I’ve already written about Saw’s, and you can read that here, but today I went to MIss Myra’s with a couple of friends.

When you walk into Miss Myra’s, the smell from the barbecue smoker overwhelms you, which means you’ve found a good place since they’re smoking the meat fresh daily, all day. We watched guys constantly going outside to the wood pile to get more wood for the smoker.

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As with most barbecue places, Miss Myra’s is no frills. There are knick-knacks and little decorative pigs all throughout the restaurant and on the walls. You order at the counter from a menu on an old marquee board. Your food is served to you on a cafeteria tray with plastic utensils, and the tables are covered with advertisements from local businesses.

Miss Myra’s is known for their smoked chicken and white sauce (an Alabama specialty barbecue sauce), so I opted for the chicken sandwich with a side of potato salad, and their famous banana pudding for dessert. The chicken was so good, and had a great smoked taste. The white sauce was perfect. I hate white sauces that are too thick and taste too mayonnaise-y but this was the perfect balance of flavors. However, I ended up just eating the chicken out of the sandwich and disregarding the bread because it overwhelmed the flavor of the meat.

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If you like mustard-based potato salad, you’ll love Miss Myra’s. The potatoes are chopped up very small, and tossed in a mustard and relish mixture. It was perfectly creamy without being too saucy.

The banana pudding was also really good. It had sizable chunks of vanilla wafers and bananas and was topped with a homemade meringue. There is no better way to end a barbecue meal than with banana pudding!

And, like most down-home barbecue places, Miss Myra’s won’t break the bank – I got my sandwich, potato salad, and banana pudding for $10. So if you are in the Cahaba Heights area for lunch, definitely make Miss Mrya’s part of your routine. Just plan to smell like a barbecue smoker for the rest of the day. 🙂

Dr Pepper Pulled Pork with Cherry Broccoli Slaw

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Since it has been so warm in Birmingham the past couple of weeks, I wanted to make a dish that felt like summer and celebrated the warm weather’s return. However, when I originally planned to make this dish, it wasn’t going to be in the 30s-40s this weekend… But oh well, I was already committed to it so I rolled with it and it was delicious (and will be at any time of the year). This is the perfect dish to make for an easy weeknight dinner or a Saturday barbecue.

I knew I wanted to make some sort of pork dish, and remembered seeing recipes for pork cooked in a slow cooker with Coke, Root Beer, or Dr Pepper and have always wanted to give it a try. I opted to go with Dr Pepper and made a Cherry Broccoli Slaw to go with it, since cherry is one of Dr Pepper’s 23 flavors. The meat was so tender and definitely had slight hints of cherry in it. Topped with the slaw, this was a flavorful combination that I will definitely be making again and again.

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I used a 2.5 lb Boston Butt Roast since it is a fattier cut, which makes the meat more tender. The Boston Butt Roast (you’ll probably also see it marked on packages as Pork Shoulder), is cut from the shoulder of the pig, not the butt. It got its name from New England butchers in colonial times who would pack similar cuts of meat like this into barrels, called butts, for storage.

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This recipe isn’t very involved at all. You just put the roast into the slow cooker…

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…pour the Dr. Pepper over it…

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…and let it cook for 6 hours on low.

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While the pork is cooking, prepare the slaw. I opted to use a Broccoli Slaw mix, but you can definitely use a regular Coleslaw mix. For the dried cherries, try to find dried tart cherries instead of using something like Craisins with cherry flavor. The tart cherries don’t overwhelm with their sweetness.

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All you have to do for the slaw is chop up the dried cherries, whisk together the dressing, and stir everything together. And here’s a tip: To keep the cherries from sticking to your knife blade, spray the blade with a little cooking spray before you begin chopping.

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After 6 hours hours, remove the pork from the slow cooker, drain the liquid, and shred pork with forks. At this point you can remove any extra fatty pieces. Return to slow cooker and mix in barbecue sauce (I used a local restaurant’s sauce but any tomato-based sauce will work). Cook on low for an additional 30 minutes.

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Top hamburger buns with pork…

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…slaw…

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…and enjoy!

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Dr Pepper Pulled Pork with Cherry Broccoli Slaw

Pork:
1 (2.5 lb) Boston Butt Roast
Salt and Pepper
1 (20oz) bottle Dr Pepper
1 cup barbecue sauce

Slaw:
1/4 cup mayo
1 1/4 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 (12 oz) package broccoli slaw mix
1/4 cup dried tart cherries, chopped

1 pkg. (8-count) Hamburger buns

1. Sprinkle roast all over with salt and pepper. Place roast in slow cooker and pour Dr Pepper over it. Cook on low for 6 hours.

2. Remove pork from slow cooker and drain liquid. Shred pork with forks and return to slow cooker. Stir in 1 cup of barbecue sauce. Cook on low for 30 minutes.

3. To prepare slaw: In a large bowl, whisk together mayo, vinegar, and sugar, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in slaw mix and cherries.

4. Serve pulled pork topped with slaw on hamburger buns. Add additional barbecue sauce, if desired.

Friday Lunch Edition: Niki’s West

I realize it’s not Friday, but I’m starting a new installment on this blog called Friday Lunch. My company is awesome enough to let us work a flex schedule, which means I work longer days Monday-Thursday so I can have half days on Friday. Since my office is out in the suburbs, my options for a good, non-chain restaurant lunch out are very limited. Fortunately, I can use my Fridays for meeting friends for lunch and trying out new places. Seeing as it’s Thursday and I just came up with this idea, I wanted to go ahead and write about last week’s Friday lunch so I can still post about tomorrow’s in a timely manner. 🙂

Last Friday, I finally got the chance to go to Niki’s West, a meat-and-three place that has been serving up down-home Southern food in Birmingham for more than 55 years. If you’re not from the South, a meat-and-three place is where you order your choice of meat (normally from the day’s specials) and three “vegetables” to go along with it. I put vegetables in quotes because in the South we are a little loose on our definition of vegetables. Your vegetable sides can be anything from fried okra to broccoli casserole to macaroni and cheese (like I said, loose definition).

Niki’s West is out in North Birmingham. Off the beaten path, but definitely not a secret. The parking lot was packed with cars so I knew we were in for something good. When we got inside, we joined the zigzag line and grabbed a tray and silverware. The day’s meats were posted on a board on the wall and included Fried Pork Chops, Turkey and Dressing, Greek Baked Chicken, and Lemon Pepper Catfish, among others.

Ordering at Niki’s is a process, and you have to be prepared to know what you want or else you’ll be pushed along. When you get up to the extensive buffet, there are about 6-8 people serving the food down the line. You first order your meat and before your plate is even handed to you, the next person is asking you if you want broccoli casserole or sweet potatoes and the next one is asking if you want green beans or collard greens and the next is asking about mac and cheese or salad, and so on until you’ve completed the line.

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You have to be strategic though and go in with at least an idea of what you want. My boyfriend said the first time he went he panicked and just got the first three sides they asked about and later realized there were other options down the line that he wanted. But there is nothing to be nervous about – it’s just a well-oiled machine and the process adds to the fun!

It also helps if you go with someone so you can try several different things. Luckily, I went with the boyfriend, Wesley, and we had a strategic plan to not order what the other was ordering. We ended up with a great spread of sides! After you go through the line, you are escorted to a table and a waitress will bring you your drinks and check.

Now, what did we get to eat? I opted for the Turkey and Dressing as my meat, and for my three sides I got collard greens, mac and cheese, and fried okra. Wesley got Country Fried Steak, green beans, sweet potatoes, and broccoli rice casserole (but of course we shared all our sides). You also get your choice of cornbread muffins or a roll, which don’t count as an extra side.

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Everything was so delicious. It was all hearty and comforting and tasted like it came out of your grandmother’s kitchen. The dressing that came with the turkey was a cornbread dressing, like any true Southern dressing, and the cornbread muffins were moist and flavorful. The fried okra wasn’t soggy and had the perfect light breading on it, and the green beans had a sweet, vinegary sauce on them. The mac and cheese was creamy and had a layer of cheese baked on top. Yum! My favorite side was the collard greens, though. They weren’t bitter and they had a fresh and flavorful taste. I had also never tried Country Fried Steak so I stole a bite of Wesley’s and it was so good! I loved the gravy on it.

I will definitely be going back to Niki’s West to try even more of the “vegetables” and specials. There is nothing better than good ol’ Southern comfort food. What are some of your favorite meat-and-three dishes?

The South Goes International

If you saw my previous post, you know I recently took a trip to London. And if you read that post, I talked about the blossoming food scene in the city. But in this post I wanted to share with you one food trend that I saw that definitely wasn’t around when I was there in 2010: Southern food! I almost didn’t believe it at first either, but the more places we went, the more Southern food I saw. I knew Southern food had become trendy across the United States (with BBQ restaurants opening in Brooklyn and fried green tomatoes on menus in LA), but I had no idea it had made it across the pond.

We obviously didn’t eat any of this Southern food (because why eat what we can get at home), but I couldn’t help but take pictures of a few of the menus because I just thought it was so funny. Whether it was just a few dishes infiltrating the menu, or the whole restaurant themed Southern, it was definitely a prominent food trend.

photo 1 (2)Pulled Pork from a stand at Borough Market
So funny story, this older (British) man walked by me at the market with this sandwich that smelled so delicious that I just had to ask what it was. He showed me his sandwich all excitedly and said “It’s pulled pork from a stand over there!” I couldn’t help but laugh when I realized the smell that was tempting me was a scent familiar of home. Leave off the kimchi and you’ve got yourself a good ol’ Southern speciality.

photo 2 (2)Burgers from All Bar One
These burgers from All Bar One definitely have some Southern flair to them. Pulled pork was definitely one of the most common themes I saw in London’s Southern food. And I love that they give a description for what bacon jam is. Honey, we’ve been making that in the South for years!

photo 3 (2)Southern Specialties from Stax Diner
This diner is an American-themed restaurant and the menu was definitely heavy with Southern dishes. Po’ Boys? Chicken and Waffles? And hey, you’ve gotta give them props for using buttermilk for their fried chicken. But the funniest thing on the menu was the Whistle Stop Sandwich. If you’re not familiar with the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, the Whistle Stop cafe is the cafe run by the main characters in the movie. What makes this even funnier is that the actual Whistle Stop Cafe, known as the Irondale Cafe, is just 5 miles down the road from my home here in Birmingham! It was funny to see the small little Irondale neighborhood represented so far away, and I couldn’t help but wonder if many Brits know where the Whistle Stop is.

Saw’s BBQ & Saw’s Soul Kitchen

I haven’t written a restaurant post in a while so I thought it was time I do one! Last weekend I fulfilled all my southern food desires and ate at Saw’s Soul Kitchen in Avondale (an up-and-coming neighborhood in Birmingham). There are actually three Saw’s in Birmingham: the original Saw’s BBQ (strictly barbecue), Saw’s Soul Kitchen (‘cue, along with other traditional southern dishes) and Saw’s Juke Joint (‘cue, Southern dishes, and the only location with a bar).

I went to the original Saw’s one of my first few weeks down here in Birmingham and it was delicious. Birmingham is known for their unique white barbecue sauce, eaten with barbecue chicken. I’d heard Saw’s had a great one so I opted for the smoked chicken sandwich and it did not disappoint.

Saw's Soul Kitchen's delicious Pork 'n Greens

Saw’s Soul Kitchen’s delicious Pork ‘n Greens

Last weekend, I finally had the chance to go to Saw’s Soul Kitchen. I’d heard fabulous reviews and I was dying to try it. Saw’s Soul Kitchen is known for its combinations of traditional Southern foods, like a Fried Soft Shell Crab BLT or Southern Soul Bowls. But their most popular specialty is the Pork ‘n Greens – a delicious combination of grits, collard greens, sauced pulled pork and crispy fried onions. It was literally the most down-home Southern dishes you can think of combined into one plate – and it was so good! I don’t even really like grits and I loved it! I never would have thought I’d eat all those things together in one dish, but Saw’s is great for coming up with these creations and making them work.

Since being in Alabama (and working with Southern Living – what do you expect) I’ve really embraced all things Southern. I grew up in the South, but my family isn’t very Southern (my mom is from New York and my dad is from Missouri). I never ate grits or collards when I was younger, and I certainly never said “y’all”. I don’t like country music and I don’t have a Southern accent. It wasn’t until I moved to a city that truly embraces and celebrates all aspects of Southern culture that I really fell in love with it. Being in my hometown of Hickory, NC (affectionately called Hicktown by some), all I wanted was to get out of the South. Hickory didn’t have a sense of culture like the ‘Ham does. It was just a small town in the South, with a majority of the people having bad Southern accents and no desire to ever leave Hickory. But here in Birmingham, to be Southern is classy and trendy, and people love it. And I have grown to love it too. I mean how else could you get me to eat grits and collards? They’re good, y’all! 😉

Anyway, enough of my musing. I can’t wait to try Saw’s Juke Joint next – and I’m definitely going to have to go back to Soul Kitchen to try the Soft Shell Crab BLT!