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Feb 6, 2009 08:07 AM

Bham "Holes" of Note

What are your favorite Birmingham-area "hole in the wall" dining establishments?

I'm talking grocery store deli counters, unique/tasty bar food, gas station hot lines? Unhealthy, fattening, fried stuff. That's what I'm talking about.

I'm curious and want to know Birmingham-area 'hounds.

I'll start:
Calera/Montevallo Exit 228 - I-65 - headed

The Texaco Gas Station at this exit has a hot line that I stumbled upon earlier this year during a random mid-morning stop there. The lady that cooks the food has been doing it for years - I believe her family owns the gas station . On that particular day, I sampled some of the crunchiest, golden brown, lightly breaded okra and catfish that I have ever had the pleasure of eating. I will be back.

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  1. Seafood and Chicken Box fried chicken in Center Point. The chicken is cooked to order, is served piping hot and is well-seasoned.

    14 Replies
    1. re: pinotboy

      Pinotboy's comments about The Seafood Chicken Box have to be the most understated I've ever heard about this Crispy Fried Jewel. In fact, I'm shocked this is the only mention of the place on Chowhound. They serve, arguably the best Fried Chicken in the South. From the fried chicken and shrimp (WHAT IS THAT SEASONING?) to the cole slaw and cocktail sauce (made with hot sauce as a base, instead of ketchup), everything served is very unique and prepared with consideration and care. Be warned though, this is heavy-duty eating. You WILL need a nap. The Seafood Chicken Box is a MUST. Take it away, Southern Living:

      1. re: SkunkApe

        We recently tried The Seafood Chicken Box. The chicken was indeed very good, though a bit saltier than I like. The shrimp (sorry y'all) was overcooked, rubbery, nasty. I have sadly come to expect this in Birmingham. I haven't had decent fried (I know, I know) seafood (except for catfish) in Birmingham to date (we've lived here since 2000). Our history includes 10 years in New England, and 10 years in Charleston, SC, though, so maybe we're being a little too picky. Finally, the place was a bit of a mess the night we were there. They were unexpectedly busy, I think, and were doing stuff like bussing tables by sweeping table scraps onto the floor....a little gaggy.

        1. re: curej

          I think some of the best fried shrimp I have had here are the salt and pepper shrimp from Red Pearl - excellent, very light coating with scallions sprinkled on after frying (I don't recall ginger). Very deft frying leaving the shrimp moist and not overcooked in the slightest. Then again, I've only had them once so maybe I got lucky.

          Does Fish Market do a decent job frying?

          1. re: Dax

            Decent? No.

            Great? Yes.

            It took a few years of steady eating at Fish Market[Alabama Sea Food] before I finally tried a fried item there and was blown away. The fried catfish is on par with Tophat in Garden City[been there?] which is not a small statement.

            I'll be in your fair city soon and am planning on hitting Family Reunion Cafe[which is criminally underserved on this here board] as well as Green Acres Cafe[original location on 29th ave North...not related to the like-named pretenders elsewhere].

            Birmingham is one of the great southern soulfood cities.I read the South board regularly and am consistently disappointed in the lack of coverage of B'ham's strong suit.

            I know Pearson ave is a mite rough and tumble but I'd love to hear what y'all think about the soulfood kingpin of the west end.

            Also,is Marsh Bake shop still up and running?

            Is Charlies on Arkadelphia still the best meat and three?

            A recent visit to Smokehouse on Finley damn near broke my heart. What happened to the icon?

            1. re: scrumptiouschef

              With the aid of GPS I was able to find Family Reunion Cafe for lunch today. Unfortunately, they were closed at 11:30 and a guy across the street working at the car detail place yelled at me "they're closed" as I stared at the padlocked front door. I asked "permanently" and he replied yes. Too bad.

              1. re: Dax

                Hate to hear that this rugged economy brought down the soul food heavyweight of B'hams West End.

                Was the "nightlife"painting still on the front of the restaurant?

                Where in the world are the Bham hounds getting their big plates of oxtails,collards and yams?Not to mention deep fried porkchops,blackeye peas and cornbread?

                I know there's a lot of bleedover between the Greek run meat and 3's and soul food proper but to me the difference is as distinct as redfish vs whiting and I need to know.

                Always thought Fish Markets fried catfish was carefully rendered.Has a downhill slide taken place in their new location?

                RIP Family Reunion Cafe.I'd love to know where their cook landed.

                1. re: Dax

                  Found a few more places to add to your Bham soul food list.I know the Bham hounds love Seafood and Chicken Box but what do y'all think of the following?

                  mckinley's BBQ and Soul Foood
                  1903 Avenue O
                  Birmingham, AL 35218
                  (205) 785-4101

                  Wings & Waffles
                  1806 Avenue V
                  Birmingham, AL 35218
                  (205) 787-4527

                  Q & S Soul Food Restaurant
                  215 41st St S
                  Birmingham, AL 35222
                  (205) 591-1409

                  Reno's Chicken & Burgers
                  541 Graymont Ave W
                  Birmingham, AL 35204
                  (205) 328-6221

                  Dawsons Burgers Wings and Fries
                  1617 4th Ave N
                  Birmingham, AL 35203
                  (205) 324-3342

                  Hooks Fish and Chicken
                  1064 Forestdale Blvd
                  Birmingham, AL 35214
                  (205) 796-0954

                  Sharks Fish & Chicken
                  7700 1st Ave N
                  Birmingham, AL 35206
                  (205) 836-9999

                  Seafood & Chicken Box
                  1617B Center Point Pkwy
                  Birmingham, AL 35215
                  (205) 853-7414

                  Down Home BBQ and Fine Foods
                  1116 Lomb Ave SW
                  Birmingham, AL 35211
                  (205) 781-4100

                  Ensley Seafood
                  3100 Ensley 5 Points W Ave
                  Birmingham, AL 35208
                  (205) 780-8070

                  1. re: scrumptiouschef

                    Aside from the Box, I have never even heard of those places. Mmm wings and waffles ...

              2. re: Dax

                Obviously, these answers are subjective, but I find the fried food at the Fish Market largely horrible (downtown location). My wife agrees. The shrimp, scallops, and oysters are ALWAYS overcooked and rubbery, never succulent. The breading is very heavy and spongy, never delicate/crisp and consistently overpowers the flavor or the underlying morsel with the taste of old stale cooking oil. On the other hand, I've had better luck with fried fish (specifically grouper), and have enjoyed good broiled or grilled fish there, as well. The raw oysters there have been good, possibly scoring the highest of the things I've eaten there. Cajun steamer is also "0 for 3" in my experience, consistently overcooking their oysters. I recently was in Charleston, SC and cried over my oysters there (in an inexpensive joint called Gilligan's)....they were so good, large and succulent, lightly battered, cooked just right so they burst in your mouth...ahhhhh. I realize that depending on the oyster season/selection "results will vary". Smaller oysters are more likely to wind up overcooked....

                The best fried oysters I've had in the Birmingham area were at Crazy Cajun down 280, and up in Jasper at Black Rock Bistro while up there on a lake weekend.

                1. re: curej

                  curej- We have a lot in common. I too lived in a costal area prior to moving here and find the fried shrimp in Bham to be overall terrible! Sorry scrumptiouschef, but I have to dissagree with you assessment of the Fish Market as well. The fact that they butterfly and the overbread and then overcook their shrimp is unexcusable IMO. (athough their pasta and grilled selections are pretty good)

                  I have had really good shrimp at City Hall Diner in Vestavia! Lightly breaded, good size, cooked properly. (On an off topic note regarding the breakfast thread I think they have good breakfast but only passable coffee) But none of this has anyting to do with Holes of note :-)

                  Dax - Sorry to hear that the Family Reunion Cafe closed down! I never got a chance to try it as well.

          2. re: pinotboy

            Just got back from SCB. I ordered a half chicken, which comes with salad or slaw, FF or baked potato, and hush puppies. The sweet tea is very strong and comes with big hunks of lemon. The chicken was piping hot with a deep golden, thin but very crispy crust. The crust is sprinkled with glittering, cylindrical salt (or MSG?) crystals and lightly seasoned with spices. The meat is hot and juicy with lots of flavor. I wonder if they brine the chicken overnight. It was some of the best fried chicken I've ever had. I'd planned on going to the gym, but I think I nap is in order. SkunkApe did warn us.

            1. re: bryantuga

              Dude, I think I saw you there. Were you the guys with the Duke shirt and iPhone? My wife and I were there between 1:45 and 2:30ish. Wife got the dark meat plate — legs and thighs, I got the child's breast plate. I don't know what "child" could finish it....

              We couldn't figure out what the cylindrical "spice" was. She thought it tasted like garlic salt. Fries were 5/10, slaw 9/10 and "sweet style," hushpuppies were solid 7.5/10. Chicken was fantastic if not a bit over salty. Can't wait to go back and try the crab cakes, fried oysters and fried shrimp.

              1. re: SkippyLeBeef

                I was at The Box last night. I had the fried shrimp with french fries. They use the same seasoning on the shrimp as on the chicken.

                My friend had the chicken breast dinner, and since she could not come close to finishing it, I ate one of the breasts. Pure artery-clogging goodness!

                1. re: SkippyLeBeef

                  Yep - that was us! (I was NOT the one in the Duke shirt, just to set the record straight).

            2. There's a hole in the wall bar in Trussville, called Velmas. It serves the juiciest and one of the tastiest, hand-formed hamburger in town. The place has almost no atmosphere. There's maybe 10 tables in the entire place with a tiny stage that hold ancient karaoke equipment. You better get in and out before the drinkers get there, cause they get rowdy!!

              1. One of the best "Holes" in B'ham would have to be Sam's Super Samwiches in Homewood. This used to be a Sneaky Pete's and was converted by Pete's brother Sam into a sandwich shop. Old school, shotgun diner with a galley kitchen and standing room only. It serves home-style breakfast "samwiches" (fried bologna. check.) and a fantastic burger with a special sauce (think a lighter "gravy" similar to Milo's). A Super Cheese burger, Pepsi, and a bag of Sweet Heat will set you back $5. Grab extra napkins.

                T-Bone's Steaks in Centerpoint. A Good Philly cheesesteak is hard to find in Birmingham. This place isn't a well-kept secret and is deserving of the hype. There used to be one on Highland Ave. but the realtor ran them out so they could put a Subway there. The Centerpoint location is a little hard to find (behind the Exotic Wings, in a strip mall). Get The Original with Peppers. These guys are REAL Sandwich Artists.

                The Garage Bar in Birmingham's Southside serves up a MEAN sandwich. I don't know the guy's name that makes them, but he is very selective about the ingredients and careful with his execution. The Rueben is excellent.

                14 Replies
                1. re: SkunkApe

                  Went with a buddy to T Bones for the first time yesterday. Damn that man chops his Philly cheese steak meat to a pulp but I would have to say it is the best Philly I have had in Bham. Fries were frozen, noting special but had a nice spice. The man does keep his ketchup squirt bottles refrigerated. +10 points for that. Likewise his hot sauce.

                  Taking my wife to the Seafood and Chicken Box Saturday....

                  1. re: SkippyLeBeef

                    Does Seafood and Chicken Box have a special prix fixe menu for Valentine's Day?

                    1. re: Big Daddy

                      I rather doubt that The Box is acquainted with the term "prix fixe." :)

                      1. re: pinotboy

                        I heard from a co-worker that the Chicken Box is moving from Centerpoint to Trussville.....

                        1. re: SkippyLeBeef

                          It's supposed to move into the Kmart shopping center sometime in March. I can't wait to try this place.

                          1. re: sheilal

                            SWEET! Trussville instead of CP! I will have some of that delicious chicken with that secret seasoning..."maybe it's a spice...maybe its an herb...maybe both :-)"...since it will now be closer...CP can be a bit of a haul.

                            The only time I tried to get to CP for food was to the Cedar Post to try one of those famous biscuts, but they were on vacation!!! What a waste of a 20 min drive!!

                            BTW- that quote pf the brothers from the article really cracked me up.

                            1. re: birminghamvisitor

                              Maybe I'm incorrect, but the seasoning crystals on the fried chicken skin look and taste suspiciously like Accent to me. The chicken dinner while delicious (and did I mention salty) is enough to feed a small army. The crinkle-cut fries, hushpuppies and slaw seem to be straight from Sysco which I guess is fine because the chicken is the show piece.

                              I used to cook chicken breasts in the deep fryer some at my parents old meat and three and recall the chicken taking a while, but not 20 minutes. By the time the bird arrived, I was so hungry that I thought I could eat a whole turkey, but I only succeeded in getting down 1/4 of the chicken. This is at least partly because I burned the roof of my mouth about 5 times while trying to eat the bird was too quickly as soon as it arrived at the table. I'll definitely return.

                            2. re: sheilal

                              As of 4/25/09 they were still in Center Point. Of course they may be running two shops...I don't know.

                              1. re: curej

                                They haven't opened in Trussville yet. It may be a while. When I went by a couple of weeks ago, I didn't see any renovations going on in the proposed new location.

                      2. re: SkippyLeBeef

                        Skippy,Why does refrigerating ketchup add points to T-Bones score? Are the subtle nuances of ketchup enhanced by refrigeration?

                        1. re: scrumptiouschef

                          I'm with Skippy. I like my ketchup cold (along with all my condiments). There's something about dipping piping hot french fries/onion rings/tater tots into cold ketchup that has a good "mouth-feel" to it.

                          1. re: sheilal

                            Yup. Cold ketchup+hot o-ring or fry = Mouthgasm.

                            1. re: SkippyLeBeef

                              I too love the cold wife on the other hand does not. We are a house divided :-)...but since I am the cook of the family it is cold at our house. :-)

                              1. re: birminghamvisitor

                                Wow! Thanks guys for all the great recommendations you have added to my inaugural Chowhound thread.

                                I have eaten at many of these "holes" but not all - I will certainly be visiting the establishments that I have neglected.

                                Let me add another to our "holes" list (T-Bone's reminded me of this one):

                                Salem's Diner in Homewood (Next door to O'Carrs)

                                Salem's has one of the best Philly Cheesesteaks in town - it is not a traditional Philly "chez-whiz" cheesesteak, but the meat, provolone cheese, peppers, & onions meld together like a true American classic. The bread is soft and pliable and fresh, not hard & crispy like I've had at other places before. There chili is good too.

                    2. Green Acres for chicken wings, Eagle's Restaurant in ACIPCO, Leonard's on 6th Ave So

                      1. After my failed attempt to eat at Family Reunion, I hopped on 65 to Greensprings intent on heading down to Valley Ave to finally try that taco truck. As I got off on Greensprings at the intersection with Greesprings (odd), I was about to Pass Kabob and Curry (220-A Green Springs Ave) when recalled that I had stopped in before but not eaten there. The menu and sign proclaim "Fine INdian and Nepali Cuisine." The buffet was actually really good and some of the dishes and chutneys had some decent heat. I forget all that was there, but I tried the chana masala, some type of Daal, tandoori chicken that was actually moist and tasty, not dried out like usual, a lamb curry, some veggie biryani, and plenty of naan. I would never have noticed this place had I not recalled stopping in before (I think the "excotic wings" place next door originally caught my eye). Has anyone been here (or to exotic wings)?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Dax

                          Finally got to the taco truck on Vally Ave yesterday in the rain. When asked if I wanted them "all the way" (I think?) and replying yes, the guy griddled the (larger) corn tortillas with a little bit of cheese (queso fresco I think), which was a nice touch. Maybe I shouldn't have ordered 3 tacos (two carnitas and one al pastor) before lunch at Red Pearl - I think that might have been a bit much. Very good tacos and the salsa verde (which I asked for, he only included the red sauce) had a nice kick to it.

                          1. re: Dax

                            Just tried the buffet at this place yesterday. A shockingly pleasant surprise, given that most of their sign consists of the pepsi logo. They had many of the items you mentioned, plus some others: a nice saag panner, a curry with mushrooms, and at least one other. Everything I tried was delicious. It is far and away better than Taj--both in quantity (of different dishes on the buffet) and quality. Great find!