What do you think of when you hear “Birmingham, Alabama?” Do you think of the Old South and Steel Industry or do you instead see a city of rolling hills and great restaurants being remade in the model of New South? Birmingham is a surprise for those who haven’t been there. If you look around, you can find decaying symbols of a southern past but there are also many more signs that this city is one of many across the South that are on the rise.
Our adventure started as soon as the business meetings ended. We spent our first evening dining in the Five Points area, and specifically at Chez Fonfon, a French-themed restaurant in a trendy part of the city known for great food.
With one of us from France and the other having spent a great deal of time there, we are tough critics of restaurants that dare call themselves French. Chez Fonfon is undoubtedly the best we’ve encountered outside of France. The charcuterie entrée (the actual French word for appetizer), moule frites, swordfish with beurre blanc and strawberries and cream dessert were fantastic. The Sauternes digestif we chose with the meal was the perfect compliment to our choices. Day one ended with one of the best meals we’ve ever had.
Saturday morning started with the Pepper Place Market, an open-air farmers market not too far from downtown Birmingham. It was obviously very busy as we approached and parking took a few minutes. Our first encounter was with Steven Febres-Cordero, “The Spoon Man” who managed to sell us a tropical hardwood replacement for the wooden spoon we destroyed in the blender just a week ago. Hopefully the harder wood will survive our poor utensil practices.
We continued through the vendor stalls to find the Chilton County peaches recommended by a friend from that famous peach-growing place. We also picked up fresh plums and perfectly ripe strawberries to take on a hike planned for later that day. There were plenty of dogs, a bluegrass band and even a nut vendor dressed in a giant peanut outfit. Though the sun was strong, the day was not very humid and it was the perfect place to be that morning.
Once stocked up for our hike, we made our way to the outskirts of the city to Ruffner Mountain, the first of a series of ridges that mark the beginning of the Appalachian Mountains. We grabbed a map at the gorgeously architected Visitors Center before striking out on the network of trails that covered the ridge top. We made our way through the quiet forests and along old quarries and easily forgot that we were only a few miles from a city.
The high point of day, literally, was a rock outcrop that gave us a great view of rolling hills to the north and Birmingham’s Downtown to the south.
Cleaned up and energized, we spent the afternoon at a crawfish boil hosted by two families that brought in 150 pounds of live crawfish from Baton Rouge, LA. Both were LSU alumni that stuck close to their roots in Cajun country by having the annual event that brought together many friends to enjoy steaming piles of gradually spicier crawfish, corn, mushrooms and sausages. We were warned about the mushrooms’ ability to soak up the spices, but were surprised to find that the corn on the cob actually was a strong competitor for ‘hottest item.’
We arrived with few expectations and left with a series of great memories of a weekend spent enjoying a historic Old South city. If you get the opportunity to spend time in Birmingham, let us know and we’ll be happy to give you our recommendations for how to get the most out of it.