Thursday, December 1, 2022

Owen & Engine

 -Grubbing in Chicago  
British Pub Food in Logan Square

December is here and 2023 is near. It will mark the 16th year of this blogs existence (hint). That’s a ton of Chicago restaurants covered. There’s places I really like but only get to visit every so often and that’s because I always have to think about which spot I’m going to write about next, which means I’m always trying new places so I can have new content to share. That said I only go to spots I actually want to try so it’s not like I’m visiting places against my will or bc I have to. I’m visiting them to see what’s up and sharing it with you so you can know too. But today's post will focus on a place I thought I wrote about years ago but I guess not bc I went searching for an old Owen & Engine post but could not find one. But I ate here recently as part of a project with the city’s tourism board. That project focuses on Logan Square which is where I live and also where Owen & Engine resides. 

Locals Favorite in Logan Square 

I’m guessing most regular readers know about the elevated British pub food to be found here but if not let me give you a quick rundown. It opened in 2010 and is ran by chef and restaurateur Bo Fowler who also owned Fat Willy’s which was pretty much next door to Owen & Engine at the corner of Western and Schubert. There was an extended period of time where they closed and weren’t sure if they would reopen. When they did reopen it was with a new business plan that kept the well being of everyone in mind. This includes the now commonly implemented tip being included in your bill. They’re also closed a couple days a week to allow everyone to reset. Now let’s get to the food. You can expect many of the British pub classics. If you like thick and juicy pub style burgers then this is your spot. Many call it the best in town. It’s very good but for me it’s the type of burger I enjoy once in a while as opposed to regularly. Bonus points for the excellent fresh cut fries that come with it. 

Pub Burger at Owen & Engine 

Owner / Chef  Bo Fowler is an excellent cook that likes to take advantage of the seasons and what comes with them. This is evident in a seasonal vegetable korma that’s made in layers instead of throwing it all together. Korma is a type of South Asian curry made with meat or vegetables braised with yogurt (dahi), stock, and spices producing a thick sauce or gravy. It’s a popular dish in British pubs which will often serve up British - Indian fare. Chef Fowler’s Korma came rec’d on social media by local food writer Michael Nagrant who knows what's up. So I decided to try it on his rec and a good one it was. One of my favorite dishes of the year (vegetarian or otherwise) and further proof that when it comes to cooking with vegtables, South Asian dishes are the gold standard.  

Vegetable Korma at Owen & Engine 

The fish n chips were the first thing I tried at Owen & Engine way back when they first opened more than a decade ago. Although I don’t eat fish and chips that often it’s one of my favorite dishes when done properly (hand beaded etc). One of my oldest memories of food and travel takes me back to a family trip we took to Ireland with my moms side back in 1996. I was already a big fan of fried seafood coming from Chicago where there was lots of fried shrimp shacks and stuff. But eating fish and chips right by the ocean in Galway is something I’m always reminded of whenever I get fish and chips. I doubt anything ever surpasses that but this is where I go if I'm looking to re-live that meal.

Fish and Chips 

Owen & Engine 
2700 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 235-2930

Monday, November 28, 2022

All Too Well

 -Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

While the pandemic brought us a bunch of restaurant closures there were still spots opening up shop in the middle of it all. One place that comes to mind is Evette’s in Lincoln Park, where Lebanese and Mexican flavors meet. It's a project from a restaurant vet with a Lebanese heritage. They opened on Armitage and have been going pretty strong ever since. So when the storefront next door to Evette’s became available, the owner decided to double down after being offered the space at a discounted price by his landlord. The newly leased building didn’t have a kitchen so they got creative and built it out to where it could share a kitchen with Evette’s and with that All Too Well was born. 

Newly Opened in Lincoln Park 

All Too Well doubles as a deli and a small market and it’s Lebanese inspired just like it's sister restaurant, Evette’s. Doing sandwiches was the right business move as it allows them to use the kitchen at Evette’s. The menu consists of more than ten sandwiches as well as a couple bowls for the gluten free crowd. What I really like about this place is these aren’t just any old sandwiches. You’re not going to find a turkey club or an Italian sub here. Instead you might be inclined to try something like the “I make you Lamb” sandwich which is a pressed sandwich using shredded lamb as it’s base with feta, chimichurri, mayo, pepperjack, pineapple and fried onion on a soft and sturdy ciabatta. I think it’s safe to say this is the only place where you’ll find such a sandwich. Another unique offering I’ve tried is the “Bombay Chulet” which mixes turkey with prosciutto topped with an aioli, spicy fig jam, chili crunch, Monterey Jack, arugula and fried onion. Also on a pressed ciabatta. Then they make an interesting take on Italian beef made with a kefta crumble and sumac laced giardiniera. Great spot.

The Bombay Chulet at All Too Well 

All Too Well 
352 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60614 
(773) 799-8478

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Roadfood in Biloxi

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring Mississippi's Gulf Coast 

We did a daytrip to Biloxi on the drive back to Chicago last year, which we did through Alabama, as you can see HERE. It’s an hour west of Mobile so we headed out early one morning with plans to indulge in some local eats while catching a Biloxi Shuckers minor league baseball game. Biloxi we once the “seafood capital of the world” and it’s still a big business there but the casinos have taken over as the areas biggest draw, both from an local employers standpoint and also from a visitors angle. Most people visiting are there for some gambling. But not us. We were there to eat (crawfish) as its location along the Gulf of Mexico just 1.5 hours from New Orleans means you’ll find plenty of local options. Local as in lots of seafood mixed with plenty of influence from it’s Gulf coast location. 

Sights from Biloxi 

Le Bakery 

Our first stop up was a Vietnamese bakery known for excellent pastries and a top notch Bahn Mi. The story of Le Bakery is one that begins in Vietnam during U.S occupation. Le Nguyen, the owners mother, was twenty-seven in 1975, when the American forces finally pulled out of Vietnam. She was given passage on a military boat to Philippines, where the US had a naval base. Eventually she landed in San Diego, where her daughter Sue was born. After settling in Southern California and re-marrying they opened a restaurant before taking a trip to Mississippi one summer. They fell in love with both the climate (which was similar to Vietnam) and also the local Vietnamese community who was thriving in the local shrimping industry. They decided to stay in Biloxi and open up a small shop where they sold baked goods to the local Vietnamese community. It wasn’t until after Hurricane Katrina hit (their building was spared) that they converted their small bakery into a full fledged one that also had a cafe. It’s a no frills spot where locals will line up upon opening. They come for fresh baked treats, both savory and sweet, with options like Cajun meat pies sitting alongside the most amazing praline and pecan rolls. Extra crisp baguettes are baked fresh every morning and are the anchor for awesome Vietnamese po boy sandwiches which is what they call Bahn Mi's down here. 

Breakfast at Le Bakery 

Taranto's Crawfish

Seeing as how it was crawfish season this next stop was a must for us. Taranto’s is the name that will most always come up when discussion of Biloxi’s best crawfish boils is had. It’s also oozing with an old Gulf coast atmosphere and some friendly Southern hospitality. Locally caught and boiled Royal Red shrimps were as good if not better than the Crawfish which really hit the spot after not having any for a couple years due to the pandemic and what not. The gumbo was tasty too. But the surprise star of the show was the waitress recommended shrimp and crawfish bisque. Very cool spot. 

Lunch at Taranto's

Doris' Hot Tamales

The last time I was in Mississippi before this was more than a decade ago when we took an epic roadtrip through the Delta. We ate tons of Delta style tamales on that trip and they’ve been one of my favorite regional foods ever since then, I’m always on the prowl for them when in an area they might be found. While just about anywhere in the state is fair game for them the majority of spots are found in the Delta. But there’s at least one spot to be found in Biloxi and it’s reminiscent of the tamale stands that we visited on that 2012 roadtrip to New Orleans. Doris’ Hot Tamales was celebrating their 45th year in business when we visited last April. Its namesake was such a beloved local figure that the city named November 2nd “Doris’ Hot Tamales Day”. She’s since passed away but her daughter and grandkids were very happy to hear we were visiting from Chicago as they were headed that way for a family trip later that summer (I gave them some good pizza recs). I think I got a half dozen hot tamales to start and then ended up with six more after putting down the first six. I’ve never had a bad hot tamale down here and Doris’ was no exception. Click the link to my report from the Delta circa 2012 if you want to learn more about this fantastic regional snack with African-American roots. 

Hot Tamales at Doris' Hot Tamales 

Yul's Place 

After walking along the water and grabbing a couple drinks at a waterfront bar we made our way to the second crawfish boil of the day (get ‘em while you can). Yul’s Place was just my type of spot with its isolated island location reached by bridge and away from the casinos and such. Yul’s Place is a popular stop with locals for booze and boils and a good time to go with it. We sat out on the second level deck overlooking the coast. The crawfish served here were much more aggressively spiced than the previous stop so I preferred them but would be happy with either, especially here in Chicago. 

Crawfish at Yul's Place 

Quave Brothers Po' Boys

With its Gulf Coast location just a short ride from New Orleans, po boys are popular too in the Biloxi area. There’s a handful of spots that specialize in them but we only had the stomache space for one. I ended up picking Quave Brothers off of pictures and reviews. It’s tough to pick which style of po boy I prefer, beef or seafood. I guess a fried shrimp more times than not but I also like a roast beef po boy now and then and so I was told they make a great one here. So after going back and forth we decided to try the roast beef with debris. Though some spots will serve it sliced it’s much better when in debris form which was the case with this place. Po Boy spots in Biloxi will press the sandwiches which is interesting. Not quite up to NOLA standards but better than most of them from outside of there. 

Roast Beef Po Boy at Quave Brothers Po Boy 

Parrain's Jambalaya Kitchen 

Parrain’s Jambalaya Kitchen was by the baseball stadium so we made plans to eat there before walking over to MGM Park for a Biloxi Shuckers baseball game. Parrains is a Cajun owned spot that gets lots of love for their jambalaya plus all the other Cajun dishes like boudin balls and gumbo. We shared a plate of classic chicken and sausage jambalaya and each got a cup of gumbo. Good stuff. 

Dinner at Perrain's Jambalaya Kitchen 

The Project Lounge 

They did not have the char grilled oysters (discontinued) we thought they would at the baseball game so we ended up at this local bar for a burger afterward. The Project Lounge is a dive type spot that's not too rugged if that makes sense. The crowd was young and looking for a good time thus there were no bad vibes detected. Some say this is the place go for Biloxi's best burger (steak sandwiches are also popular). We split a cheeseburger which was of the thicker variety and cooked up right there behind the bar. Pretty standard stuff as far as ingredients and cooking of it goes, fresh beef, cheap bun cooked on a hot grill, but the burger itself was definitely not standard. It was f'ing awesome. 

Cheeseburger at The Project Lounge 

See ya next time @chibbqking 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Nine Bar

 -Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

Chinatown has always been one of my favorite neighborhoods in Chicago. This is going all the way back to when we would make visits with my grandparents. My grandpa was an Italian - American who loved Chinese food and it’s likely that those childhood visits were what propelled my love for both the food and the neighborhood. It’s always been such an interesting place, mysterious in some ways and inviting in others. It’s the only Chinatown in North America that’s still growing with a Chinese population and businesses to go with it. There’s always new spots opening up shop but these days it seems like all of the openings are corporate in some sort of way and they’re usually doing one of a few things - bubble tea, hot pot, or some sort of fried food like chicken or corn dogs. The recently opened Nine Bar, the neighborhoods first cocktail bar, looks to be an exception to this trend.

Newly Opened in Chinatown 

Nine Bar seems to be one of the few local neighborhood openings of late. It’s ran the family behind Moon Palace which has been a neighborhood fixture for over five decades. I didn’t realize it until I walked in but Moon Palace’s dining room has been replaced by the bar, you can still order food from what’s now called Moon Palace Express which is a pickup booth in the front room which you enter before going into the bar. The bar itself has nice lighting that isn’t too dark or too bright with a colorful backdrop and Asian inspired cocktails plus foreign and local beers and bar food too. I don’t get out for cocktails as much as I used to but the two I had from here were both really good. The first was a very well mixed Mai Tai, a fav of mine. I followed that up with a drink called ‘Paradise Lost’ that mixes clarified, novo fogo prata, rhine hall mango, ube extract, pineapple, thai coconut milk. Fantastic.

Mai Tai at Nine Bar

If you’re looking for some snacks to go with your drinks they got you covered on that. We visited at a time when the General Jones' Wings were on special (available Wed + Thurs until 8pm). Wok-fried wings are tossed in Moon Palace's general tso's sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. I don’t eat wings as much I used to but I feel like these are an instant contender for the city's best batch of non-Buffalo style wings. Flawlessly fried and tossed in a very tasty sauce that perfectly coats the wings.

General Jones' Wings at Nine Bar

We also crushed an order of Mapo Hot Fries which are waffle fries topped with saucy chili pork, togarashi, spicy mayo, pickled peppers, and scallions. An awesome bar snack that I could eat all to myself but if I had one critique it would be they weren’t quite as covered in toppings as I would’ve liked.

Mapo Hot Fries

There’s a handful of vegan options including some delicious dumplings with tofu, veggies, glass noodles, chili oil, black vinegar, scallions. These had great texture and the taste didn’t skip a beat without meat. When the couple behind Nine Bar started to develop their ideas for it, it was with a bar they visited in Vancouver's Chinatown in mind. I think I know exactly which spot they visited and I too wondered why Chicago’s Chinatown didn’t have spots like it or the famous Li Po Cocktail Lounge in San Francisco’s Chinatown when I was there. Happy to report that we now have one in Nine Bar. 

Dumplings at Nine Bar 

Nine Bar
216 W Cermak Rd
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 225-4081

Monday, November 14, 2022

Restaurant Ecuador

-Grubbing in Chicago
Ecuadorian Eats in Logan Square

Chicago has been home to a nice sized Ecuadorian community going back to the mid 60’s when the first wave of immigrants started arriving from Ecuador. Thirty years later the city saw another big wave which turned Chicago into one of the country’s largest hubs for Ecuadorian food and culture. These days Chicago is home to more than 20,000 people of Ecuadorian descent. The first wave found themselves in areas like Logan Square where the city’s oldest Ecuadorian restaurant still resides. 

Locals Favorite in Logan Square

Restaurant Ecuador has been serving a taste of home to Chicago area Ecuadorians since 1984. Whenever I visit an Ecuadorian spot such as this I have to get an empanada to start. Specifically an Empanada de viento (fried cheese). These are a very traditional variety that can be enjoyed as an appetizer or a dessert. I prefer the former bc you can use one of the best condiments in town for dipping. An Ecuadorian meal served up in a restaurant will almost always include a bowl of aji sauce to be used as a condiment. Aji refers to both a species of chili known as Capsicum Baccatum that’s native to South America and it’s also a word used to mean chili pepper. The aji sauce in Ecuadorian restaurants will most always be a homemade variety so the recipes can very in both ingredients and heat. Restaurant Ecuador makes a medium hot version loaded with shallots, onion and garlic among other stuff. It’s terrific on everything they serve but especially the empanadas. If you prefer your empanadas to lean sweet you can ask for them served with a dusting of powdered sugar on top. It’s a win - win situation whichever way you choose to enjoy them. 

Empanada de Viento 

The Llapingachos is a great way to get familiar with Ecuadorian cuisine which is a merger of Spanish, Andean, and Amazonian cuisines. Llapingachos is a traditional dish of creole origin. It consists of fried mashed potato patties surrounding a cheese center that are topped with fried eggs plus peanut sauce. It’s typically served with some sort of protein and then a tomato and lettuce salad on the side. Here it comes served with a slice of steak plus a cup of white rice. If I’m being honest the beef isn’t needed as it’s a tougher cut that just gets in the way of the potato pancakes which are crisp on the outside, soft in the middle, and greatly enhanced with a creamy peanut sauce that’s poured over the top. The eggs give this dish a bit of a breakfast vibe making it a popular dish at all hours of the day.  

Llapingachos at Restaurant Ecuador 

If you visit during peak dining hours and take a look around each table you’ll notice they all have big bowls of soup on them. Ecuadorian cuisine produces some amazing soups that can vary by geographic location. If you’re near the coasts then seafood is extremely popular as are meat soups up in the Highlands. Restaurant Ecuador makes a handful of options and the Caldo de Bola is one that I recently enjoyed. It’s described as a vegetable soup but it’s got lots of protein in the form of two types of tender beef including a big bone on chunk as well as a plantain stuffed with ground beef plus chunks of potato, carrots and onion. The broth is clearly homemade as it’s got a deep beefy flavor that the canned stuff can't match. With the winter weather rolling into Chicago you’ll want to have this spot bookmarked for the upcoming soup season as they make some of the best bowls in town. 

Caldo de Bola at Restaurant Ecuador 

Restaurant Ecuador
2923 W Diversey Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 342-7870

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Kim's Uncle Pizza

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)  
Tavern Style Pizza in Westmont

Is this the best Fall weather we’ve ever had in Chicago? It sure feels that way. I cant remember a better one anyway. It’s been just about perfect. A couple weekends back I jumped in the car, put the windows down and took the ride out west to Westmont to check out this new pizza spot everybody’s been raving about. Kim’s Uncle Pizza comes from the team at Pizza, Fried Chicken and Ice Cream which is out of Bridgeport and has a connection to Maria’s Packaged Goods. A lady named Kim that’s friends with the lady that runs Maria’s used to run a pizza place in Westmont called Uncle Pete’s. She’s since retired but the team behind PFCIC has taken over the space and renamed it Uncle Kim’s.

Newly Opened in Westmont 

Actually it's name is Kim's Uncle Pizza but Uncle Kim's is what I have cemented into my skull. The business came with a once locally made Faulds Pizza Oven which was the pizza oven of choice for local pizzerias back in the 50’s and onward. They’re no longer made today but many are still in use at spots like Pat’s Pizza in Lincoln Park and Lino’s Pizza in Rockford. Uncle Kim’s does mostly carryout but they do have two booths inside and a picnic table outside. The menu is simple with just one size for pizzas and a few sandwiches to go with it. Drinks and t-shirts round it out (no cash). I got my classic sausage pizza which is what I judge all others by and this one is indeed as delicious and desirable as they said it was going to be. All aspects of it were above average with the sturdiness of the squares being the most impressive thing about it, aside from the taste which is all that matters. 

Sausage Pizza at Kim's Uncle Pizza

Money Shot 

Booty Shot 

Kim's Uncle Pizza
207 N Cass Ave
Westmont, IL 60559
(630) 963-1900

Monday, November 7, 2022

Kunafa Nabulsia

-Grubbing in Chicago
Moroccan Sandwiches in Irving Park 

Every time it feels like I might be out of Chicago restaurants to check out I'll dig deep to find one. In the case of Kunafa Nabulsia I was reminded I wanted to try it by looking at my hit list, a note in my iPhone of places around Chicagoland that I have my eye on. Kunafa Nabulsia opened up at some point over the last couple of years but I had lost track of it in my list. Well I recently needed a place to eat and this was one of the closest spots with it’s location being on Pulaski just off of Elston. 

Locals Favorite in Irving Park 

If you’re familiar with the dish the restaurant is named after you would assume this is a Palestinian or Lebanese or other Middle Eastern type of spot and it is in some ways including all of the pastries they serve but the food leans Moroccan and Algerian. I’m a little more familiar with the former than I am the latter but I would imagine their cuisines are pretty similar since they come from the same region (North Africa). I really liked the Mhajeb which is an Algerian flatbread made with semolina flour and a spicy tomato sauce with onions. It reminded me of Trinidadian Roti in that the ingredients are all pressed together. I read that this accompanies a meal in the same way as bread would. But it’s a large portion that can easily be lunch for one, and a cheap one at that ($3.50). 

Mhajeb at Kunafa Nabulsia 

There’s no reviews of this spot on yelp but there are a few on Google. The majority of them mention the sandwiches which were what interested me about Kunafa Nabulsia in the first place. They have a merguez option which was intriguing but I gravitated towards the kofta bc it was a bit more interesting. They take a beef kofta kebab and chop it up with a bunch of grilled onions, mushrooms, and sliced jalapeño which all gets sautéed on a hot flattop in the same way a cheese steak or chopped cheese sandwich is made. They bake their own bread and it’s soft but sturdy enough to hold the mixture of meat and veggies. I highly recommend getting it with mayo which melts when applied to a hot steaming sandwich such as this, turning it into the consistency of cheese which I thought it might be before double checking the menu to see the sandwiches do not come with cheese. You get the option of fries or soup and the veggie soup is the way to go over some standard frozen fries, but they do season them up nicely. This was one of the best sandwiches I’ve had all year and I say that bc I’m already thinking about heading back for another sometime soon. Plus they do a daily special and on Friday’s it's couscous, which a few of the online reviews rave about. Check them out!

Beef Kofta Sandwich  

Kunafa Nabulsia
4304 N Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60641 
(773) 628-7704

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Eating BIG in Alabama

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Roadfood in Sweet Home Alabama 

I spent a large chunk of last winter down in South Florida (report coming soon). I not only drove down at the start of the winter but I drove back when spring was near. On the way down I stopped in Chattanooga and then St. Augustine before arriving in South Florida. But on the way back I had plans to explore Alabama which is a place I was pretty much unfamiliar with save for a trip to space camp as a kid. All I knew for sure about Alabama was there was lots of Roadfood to be consumed. I wasn't sure what to expect from one of the country's most southern states but I knew it would be interesting and it was. We made stops in Mobile, Montgomery, and Birmingham so if there was one word I could use to describe Alabama it would be historic. There's lots of history here and it's not all jolly like some U.S politicians want our students to be taught and believed. But we cannot erase our history because those that do not learn from it are doomed to repeat it. The Alabama Historical Commission's historical marker program does a really good job teaching about the historical buildings, sites, structures, objects, cemeteries, and districts in the state. Places like the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery which played a major role in the civil rights movement and American history and Rickwood Field in Birmingham which is America's oldest ballpark. The history here runs deep. 

Historic Mobile (Mardi Gras Park)

Historic Montgomery (Dexter Avenue Baptist Church)

Historic Birmingham (Rickwood Field)

Some quick notes on the three spots we stayed. Since we were driving from South Florida our first stop was Mobile. I switched our itinerary around last minute with plans to stay here for two nights instead of Montgomery and we were happy with the decision. It was cool getting to do the Gulf Coast experience. I'm a fan of both the culture and the food. I didn't know that Mobile is where Mardi Gras style parades were first practiced circa the mid 1800's. They have a big city park with a bunch of statues celebrating the city's history with a celebration typically associated with New Orleans. We stopped in Montgomery for about half of a day and hit up some very historic spots including the site where Rosa Parks was arrested. It's also the state capital so we saw that and visited a couple of the city's historic restaurants too. Cute town. Birmingham was my favorite of the three places we visited. It reminded me of other Southern cities like Nashville and Asheville and even a little bit of Atlanta. A visit to the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark was really cool. It operated as a pig iron-producing blast furnace from 1882 to 1971. After closing, it became one of the first industrial sites (and the only blast furnace) in the U.S. to be preserved and restored for public use. You can spend a couple hours roaming around the site. We also hit up America's oldest baseball park, nope it's not Wrigley Field but rather Rickwood Field which was built in 1910. The state of Alabama has produced some of the games best players over the years including Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Frank Thomas among many others. We also took in a game at the Birmingham Barons new stadium which overlooks downtown and it was a beautiful night to do so. All in all it was an awesome trip through the state. 

Sights from Mobile 

Sights from Montgomery 

Sights from Birmingham 

The Bright Star (Bessemer)

We had a Friday Fish Fry for the ages at the 115 year old Bright Star in Bessemer located just outside of Birmingham. Alabama’s oldest restaurant (est. 1907) is a James Beard American Classic award winner and one of the souths best dining experiences. The menu offers a steady flow of old school classics with an emphasis on seafood and steak with both Greek and Southern influences. 

a peek inside

The sheer size of the space is eye opening with room after room offering a slightly different setting. It’s one of those spots that you can easily see and feel the history throughout. While there were a handful of items that sounded good it was the snapper throats that I couldn’t pass up. These are a local delicacy that comes from the meat located under the head around the neck. It’s consumed in spots where snapper is caught and or served. Back in the 1930’s they were used for staff meal at The Bright Star as snapper was on the menu back then and eventually snapper throats were too. These were pristinely fried with a crisp and well seasoned batter. We tried another signature dish in the Greek Snapper which is a fresh sautéed filet sitting in a puddle of butter, garlic, Greek seasoning and olive oil. Each entree comes with your choice of side and the seafood gumbo is a good way to go. This one had a deep roux and was arguably the best of the trip. Also included is your choice of salad, Greek being the way to go. An excellent dinner in all aspects. The type of spot you should seek out if you’re anywhere near Birmingham. A very historic dining destination in a very historic state.

Dinner at The Bright Star Restaurant 

Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q (Bessemer)

Here's the first of a couple legendary bbq joints I got to visit in the area. Bob Sykes is a third generation owned smoke shack serving pit to plate specialties like the Big Bob which is the larger version of their bbq sandwich made with chopped pork. The pitmasters at Bob Sykes smoke pork shoulders over hickory wood. The namesake learned his craft growing up in Western Tennessee. I learned Alabama takes onion rings very seriously on this trip and those served at Bob Sykes were the best of the bunch. The meat was good and so was the sauce but the onion rings stole the show. 

BBQ Sandwich and Onion Rings at Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q

Alabama Peanut Co. (Birmingham)

I wasn't expecting my favorite stop in Birmingham to be a peanut company but it just might've been the most memorable. Part of that was due to the fact I had never been to a spot like this before. The other reason would be because these were quite possibly the best thing I ate in the state and that is in no way a shot at all the other food. Both the boiled peanuts and the fresh roasted were outstanding but it's the latter that really knocked my socks off. They came served warm and were by the far the best peanuts I've ever had to the point where the store-bought bagged stuff doesn't cut it anymore. 

Peanuts from Alabama Peanut Co. 

Ted's Restaurant (Birmingham)

Pictured below is a ‘Greek & Three’ which is a play on words of the Southern specialty the Meat and Three. Greeks have a rich history in Birmingham that goes back to the early 1900’s. At first they took up jobs in the steel yards then eventually started to open their own businesses many of which were restaurants. Ted’s has served the Magic City since 1973 offering up the southern loved meat & three with a bit of a Greek twist. I got souvlaki with Greek potatoes, broccoli rice casserole, mac + cheese.

Meat and Three at Ted's Restaurant 

Irondale Cafe (Irondale)

Here's another Meat and Three but without the meat (a veggie plate). That’s bc we ordered double of the fried green tomatoes that this place is famous for. Irondale Cafe is the inspiration for the Whistle Stop Cafe in Fannie Flagg’s novel “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" which is what inspired the film ‘Fried Green Tomatoes.’ Her aunt used to own the place but that’s about as far as my knowledge on the subject goes. I was here for the food, the fried green tomatoes. It’s rare that a spot like this can live up to the hype that previous visitors have created but I will say the fried green tomatoes are incredibly good. My whole plate was perfect but those tomatoes are epic. Best I’ve had by far. Not that I’ve had a ton but these are the ones all others will be judged by. So fucking good.

Fried Green Tomatoes at Irondale Cafe 

Sammy's Sandwich Shop (Birmingham)

Here's a spot I found through some online digging (nothing stays hidden from me). Sammy's Sandwich Shop (est. 1962) is a real locals type of place, an all in the family spot that the whole neighborhood knows about but few do beyond there. Those that frequent Sammy's will tell you it's the top burger in town and I'm always down to try what the locals deem to be the best. But sometimes you need to call an audible. That's what happened when we walked in around opening and saw the old man pre-cooking a bunch of burgers. I didn't want to risk it so I decided we would try their Beef Rider sandwich which is an interesting menu item in these parts. Beef Rider is what they call a Camel Rider sandwich made with beef instead of the traditional cold cuts. WTF?!?! Haha. I'll let my guy John Edge describe this hyper regional specialty out of Jacksonville that somehow made it's way to Sammy's Sandwich Shop in Birmingham. The gist of it is a sub sandwich with pita used as the bread. Sammy's offers one with chopped ground beef mixed with peppers and onion and topped with a special sauce similar to Russian dressing. It was awesome. But I have none other to compare this one too. I asked the son how this sandwich landed on their menu and got a surly response about it having always been on the menu. 

Beef Rider at Sammy's Sandwich Shop

Lloyd's Restaurant (Birmingham)

An article from circa 2012 has this to say about the Birmingham institution that is Lloyd's -"Now in its 75th year, Lloyd's dates back to 1937, making it, along with Bessemer's 105-year-old Bright Star, one of the oldest continuing full-service restaurants in the Birmingham area. Lloyd Chesser opened the original restaurant in Chelsea on the old U.S. 280 highway, better known as the Florida Short Route. Current owner Eli Stevens, who sold bread and buns to Chesser, bought Lloyd's when Chesser retired in 1971. After the first phase of the new U.S. 280 corridor was completed, Stevens moved the restaurant to its current location 10 miles from downtown Birmingham in 1978. So in three-quarters of a century, Lloyd's has had only two owners. "Me and Mr. Chesser," Stevens says. "I've been here longer than him now. I tell you what, time flies." Lloyd's is known for their hamburger steak, a one pound patty of seared ground beef with brown gravy and onions served with your choice of sides. I'm going to want this badly on the first real day of winter in Chicago. I should also make note of their fantastic banana pudding which Alabama seems to do so much better than everywhere else. 

Hamburger Steak Plate at Lloyd's Restaurant 

Gilchrist (Birmingham)

I found this throwback drugstore / soda fountain while browsing a list of Birmingham's oldest restaurants (est. 1928). It's the type of spot I'll typically stop in at since soda fountains like these are rare these days, and only getting rarer with time. They make classic soda fountain style sandwiches like a BLT with pimento cheese which was really good. But the main reason I stopped in was for a cherry limeade which is mixed to order and so much better than Sonic. Notice the real lime mixed in. 

Cherry Limeade at Gilchrist 

Gus's Hot Dogs (Birmingham)

Downtown Birmingham's last surviving hot dog stand is one of the smallest I’ve visited which in part makes it one of the coolest. The "special" includes mustard, onion, sauerkraut, ground beef, sauce. These are best washed down with a bottle of locally made grape soda called Grapico. Since 1947.

Hot Dog and Grapico at Gus's Hot Dogs 

Miss Myra's Pit Bar-B-Q (Birmingham)

I’ll admit I wasn’t as excited about trying Northern Alabama’s fabled white barbecue sauce as I was with some of it's other regional offerings. That said I was still looking forward to trying it I just wasn’t sure if I’d like it. But I left Miss Myra’s pretty damn impressed. The history of this sauce is said to start up north in Decatur some 100+ years ago. It’s made with mayo and other secret stuff and is said to work best with smoked chicken and I can see why. To me it was almost tzatziki like which may also explain why it’s so popular in these parts which is home to many with a Greek ancestry. Miss Myra’s dates back to 1984. It’s one of a few spots commonly mentioned when white sauce is discussed. But that’s not all they do. I tried some hearty Brunswick stew and a super satisfying barbecue pork sandwich too. Plus some kick ass banana pudding which everyone seems to make well down here. 

Lunch at Miss Myra's Pit Bar-B-Q

Martin's Restaurant (Montgomery)

On our pit stop in Montgomery I was able to check a legendary meat & three spot off the Roadfood bucketlist. Martin’s has been serving up plates of fried chicken since the 1930’s. While do they do have other items on offer it’s the fried chicken that draws them in. I chose the mashed potatoes, mac & cheese plus string beans as my sides and added a slice of their famed coconut pie to go with it. Martin's is commonly mentioned when the best fried chicken in the south (which would also be the world) is discussed but if I'm being honest it wasn't as good as some other spots. That's not to say it isn't delicious but it was the sides and the sky high slice of pie that really stood out. 

Lunch at Martin's Restaurant 

Chris' Hot Dogs (Montgomery)

Here's another historic spot in Montgomery. The states oldest hot dog stand dates back to 1915 and still sits in it's original location just a few blocks from the State Capital. It's a long and narrow space manned by a third (maybe fourth) generation owner who is quite the character. The hot dogs are smaller than most and come slathered in a dark orange sauce that I thought works better on the burger than it did the hot dogs. The buns on the dogs were a bit thick and maybe a tad too fancy. The sauce is interesting in that it's way more smoother than most. If there's meat in there it's not much. 

Hot Dog and Cheeseburger at Chris' Hot Dogs 

Lickin Good Donuts (Mobile)

There's lots of connections between New Orleans and Mobile including Mardi Gras. Both cities are a part of the Gulf Coast in their respective states. While searching through spots in Mobile I noticed that boudin kolache was a popular breakfast snack around town. We stopped into this local franchise for a few before hitting the road north but this report is going south. You can get pretty good donuts too. 

Boudin Kolache at Lickin Good Donuts

Roshell's Cafe & Diner (Mobile)

This spot popped up when searching for the best po boys in Mobile. It's a pretty typical old school diner in that it's slightly worn down and host to a gang of regulars. Fried seafood and burgers are also popular but we were there before the bread was delivered for the day. So no sandwiches. Instead I got an order of fried shrimp and grits which very much hit the spot. The shrimps were breaded and fried to order and they came out perfect. I forget the price but it wasn't much. Well worth the stop. 

Fried Shrimp and Grits at Roshell's 

Grand Mariner Marina and Restaurant (Mobile)

We came across a semi hidden restaurant within a marina and the menu looked good and the reviews were mostly positive so dinner plans were made. We wanted some seafood and where better to find some than a restaurant right on the water? The garlic butter crab claws were excellent while the stuffed flounder was also a hit but the best part might've been the sunset overlooking the marina. 

Dinner at The Grand Mariner 

Mo' Bay Beignet Co. (Mobile)

With all the connections between Mobile and New Orleans it was not a surprise to find a beignet shop in downtown Mobile. Mo' Bay Beignet Co. sits on Daufin street which looks like it could've been plucked from New Orleans with it's Creole style architecture of old buildings with big balconies. The beignets came out piping hot and topped with more powder than Charlie Sheen could consume in one sitting. Honestly I don't remember liking the ones at Cafe Du Monde as much as I did these. 

Beignets at Mo Bay Beignet Co.  

Cozy Brown's Kitchen (Mobile)

When John T. Edge instructs you to make a stop for fish n grits you put it near the top of the to-do list. Cozy Browns is a locals spot in Mobile that was buzzing on our Sunday visit. They do all sorts of stuff but it’s the seafood breakfast plates served with eggs and grits that seems to draw the crowds in. This one was a combo with fried flounder and shrimp with scrambled eggs and cheesy grits. Served with your choice of toast or a biscuit. As seen on SEC Network's ‘TrueSouth’ (hosted by John T. Edge).

Fried Fish n' Grits at Cozy Brown's Kitchen 

Dew Drop Inn (Mobile)

Dew Drop Inn is one of those spots they commonly show when there's a sporting event being broadcast from Mobile. So I've always wanted to go to the point where I made sure we left South Florida at an early enough hour that we would arrive here before they closed for the weekend. This is the spot that's credited with introducing Southern Alabama to hot dogs. While they do more than just hot dogs it’s the bright red wieners topped with sauerkraut, pickle, chili sauce, mustard and ketchup that most people are here for. Best served up with a side of extra peppery onion rings. Since 1924.

Hot Dog and Onion Rings at the Dew Drop Inn

Market by the Bay Deli (Daphne)

We drove over to the eastern shoreline of Mobile Bay for some gumbo that some call the best in the area. It was very good but probably not the best batch of the trip. But when you come from the North like I do it's all above average. Some locally caught fresh fried oysters were also pretty on point.  

Lunch at Market Bay Deli 

Bluegill Restaurant (Spanish Fort)

If you drive around the Mobile Bay you'll come across some old school seafood spots like Bluegill Restaurant. It's situated right on the water overlooking the bay with a large outdoor seating area and some absolutely killer "flamin' oysters." Their specialty dish consists of freshly shucked oysters cooked on a sizzling hot grill with lots of butter, some secret spices and cheese. We were so pleased with these we ordered another round before the first was finished. The oysters were so plump and juicy and cooked to absolute perfection. Definitely one of the more memorable bites of the trip. 

Flamin' Oysters at the Bluegill Restaurant 

Bailey's Seafood Restaurant (Theodore)

So I just learned that our final stop may have closed for good this past summer which absolutely sucks. I loved Bayley's so much it was a shoe-in for my 2022 First Team all Roadfood (the five best food stops I made on the year). It might come back and lets hope they do bc it's the type of place that can't be replaced. It is/was located right outside of Mobile where you’ll find handfuls of fishing and shrimping towns such as Bayou La Batre (pronounced Balla Batree) which is mentioned in Forrest Gump. With them comes some good spots for local seafood. One of the best rests in Theodore and it’s the birthplace of West Indies Salad. The origins of which go back to the 1950s at Bayley’s Steak House, a family restaurant on the road to Dauphin Island in south Alabama. It was ran by Bill and Ethel Bayley who came up with a salad that would become a restaurant staple in the area. The recipe has its roots in Bill’s days as a U.S. Merchant Marine according to Bill Bayley Jr., who carries on the family name and business at Bayley’s Seafood where they only serve seafood from the Gulf.

West Indies Salad at Bayley's Restaurant 

We stopped in for a feast that pleased with the best of them. It included whole stuffed flounder (with shrimp and crab), fried crab claws, deeply seafood flavored gumbo, real deal onion rings and double orders of West Indies Salad which is made with blue crab from nearby Heron Bay as well as onion, vinegar, oil and what I’m sure are some other secret ingredients. It’s one of the best things you’ll eat in Mobile County and a dish you’ll only find around here. Regional U.S food at its absolute finest.

Fried Crab Claws, Fried Stuffed Flounder, Onion Rings, Cole Slaw at Bayley's Seafood 

See ya next time @chibbqking 


Related Posts with Thumbnails