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Birmingham & Montgomery Good Eats - help!

I'm a San Francisco hound going through Alabama on a road trip, the primary purpose of the trip is to eat good food, particularly regional food. I've never been to Alabama before, so any opinions good or bad about the places below or other not to be missed spots would be helpful.

- Dreamland & Waysider for BBQ in Tuscaloosa

- Bob Sykes BBQ

- Hot & Hot or Highland's in Birmingham? I can do one high end dinner and need to
choose between them, or find some good less expensive options.

- Martin's for fried chicken in Montgomery

- Chuck's BBQ in Opelika

Let me know if you have any favorites along the route. Thanks in advance!

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  1. If you've never been there, go to Highlands for your high-end meal. The restaurant was just named a semifinalist for James Beard Award for best restaurant. It sdeserves every accolade.
    Hot and Hot's Chris Hastings also is a Beard semifinalist for best chef in the South, so you can't go wrong with that place, either.
    An addition worth considering: Bright Star Restaurant in Bessemer, which just got an American Classics Beard award. Try the snapper throats.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Big Daddy

      For fine dining, Frank Stitt's Highlands is fantastic and Bottega is great but I actually prefer his Chez FonFon. They are each completely different experiences. If you put yourself in any of his restaurants, you'll be happy you did. http://methoo.com

    2. I definitely second Highlands over Hot & Hot, but an even better Frank Stitt restaurant is Bottega, just down the street from both places. There's a white-tablecloth side and a cheaper cafe side--both are excellent.

      If you want good Southern food in Birmingham, go to Niki's downtown or Niki's West out on Finley Ave. Cafeteria-line meat-and-three. Make sure you get the banana pudding.

      4 Replies
      1. re: scoobyhed

        I would skip either Niki's. They're ok but nothing special. If you have toget banana pudding somewhere, get it at Dreamland. Although if you actually do Tuscaloosa, I hear Archibald's is better than Dreamland. I think Dreamland is somewhat of an institution, but they cook their ribs over an open fire; they are not offset smoked.

        1. re: Dax

          I also would recommend Niki's West (by Finley, *not* the one downtown) for a fine, cafeteria-style meat & 3 at lunch. Think of a vegetable and they've got it.

          For fine dining, Frank Stitt's Highlands is fantastic and Bottega is great but I actually prefer his Chez FonFon. They are each completely different experiences. If you put yourself in any of his restaurants, you'll be happy you did.

          In Tuscaloosa, you have it right with Dreamland and Waysider (for breakfast) but also consider Archibald's in Northport for their ribs.

          Martin's has some fine fried chicken in Montgomery.

          1. re: deepfriedkudzu

            Archibald's and Woodrow's ribs may be good but their service is really unbelievably horrible. I'm talking about the sit down restaurant in Northport. Been there twice, disliked it twice.

            1. re: deepfriedkudzu

              I like Niki's I order the Greek chicken served with a lemony broth -- I always as for extra. The vegetables are the stars. I suggest taking a peek at the offerings before getting in line. The line moves fast, so there's little time for dallying. You may find yourself at the cash register with no food or with enough to feed a small family.

              Ditto on the Dreamland banana pudding, and I'm not a huge nanner puddin' fan. Avoid the macaroni and cheese. I think it comes ready-made in a bag. Blech.

        2. Thanks for your responses. I appreciate the community support! I'm adding your suggestions, updated below for future reference. As I can only eat so much, hints on your favorite dishes are much appreciated.

          Waysider - breakfast

          Dreamland - ribs, banana pudding

          Archibald's - ribs

          The Bright Star - snapper throats

          Bob Syke's - ribs, lemon pie, bbq pork

          Highland's - baked grits

          Martin's - fried chicken

          Chuck's BBQ - pork sandwich

          Anyone thoughts on these from another list?

          Peach Park, Clanton - peach pie
          Downtowner, Selma - cobbler
          Amsterdam Cafe, Auburn - crab cake sandwich

          4 Replies
          1. re: wanderlust21

            If you get to Highland's on a Thursday, you must get the crab cake with beurre blanc. Absolutely fabulous!!!

            1. re: wanderlust21

              Are the fried green tomatoes at the Irondale Cafe (whistlestop cafe from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes) any good? Perhaps add that to your list? Irondale is right outside of Birmingham.

              1. re: Dax

                The fried green tomatoes are Irondale Cafe are done in a batter....very greasy, and not at all inspiring. I wouldn't recommend them.

                1. re: curej

                  I agree on the greasiness of the fried green tomatoes. Cornmeal breaded green tomatoes fare a bit better, but I'm thinking that the best ones are those prepared by your grandma in fresh, hot oil and carefully drained.

            2. In Tuscaloosa, Archibald's is indeed better than Dreamland, but they do not have beer or banana pudding, so... Do not eat at any Dreamland other than the original on Jug Factory Road. Also in Tuscaloosa, Maggie's has much better food than the Waysider. I would alos swing by Bill's in Northport and get some cornbread. You also shoud go to the art museum in Tuscaloosa -- up a the north river club. It is a real gem.

              In Birmingham, Highlands is great. Bottega is great. Hot and Hot is great. They are all like great restaurants in San Francisco, adn on that same level. I would eat locally, adn that means meat and 3 places or barbecue. It also will be easy on the wallet. Nikki's for the former. and for my money, the original Golden Rule in Irondale is the place to go, but others sear by the original Fulll Moon and many others. ..There are two keys for baribcue in Alabama: always eat only at the original of any chain, and if there is no picture of Bear Bryant on the wall, turn around and leave. For a bereak, you might try Nabeel's in the Homewood section of Birmingham, whcih always has a great fish sandwich
              you also will find great seafood in Alabama -- better, I dare say, than San Francisco. (You dont believe me) I would eat at Jubilee Seafood in Montgomery, with breakfast or lunch at the Farmer's Maket. Do not go to Selma. It will break your heart..
              Go to Mobile for the seafood. Wonderrful oysters, so cheap they're almost free

              .

              14 Replies
              1. re: dcbbq

                re Archibald's BBQ
                @dcbbq I appreciate the advice about going to the original location of any of the bbq chains. The Southern Foodways Alliance has Archibald's BBQ at 1211 MLK Blvd in Northport, but Google Maps shows two other locations of "Archibald's & Woodrow's" in Northport? Which one is the original?

                re Pie and Cobbler
                Any suggestions for places with pie or cobbler worth stopping for?

                Thanks for your responses. Here's my updated list: http://bit.ly/bLQ8zR There is so much to eat between New Orleans and Atlanta! I will have many difficult decisions to make on what to fit into a few days (and one stomach). I could not convince my friends to eat their way through MS and AL with me. They are gonna be sorry they missed it!

                1. re: wanderlust21

                  DCBBQ is right about going to the original location of barbecue restaurants for the 'real' flavor. Archibald's is on MLK. It's a tiny little building, and it's *really* not set up for you to eat inside. Get yourself a Grape Nehi out of the cooler and eat on one of the picnic tables outside, feed the stray cats some extra white bread.

                  Dreamland used to pride itself on only serving ribs and bread, but it's not like that any more (even at the original in T'loosa).

                  The best pie in Alabama may well be at the Twix N Tween (297 Walnut St) in Centreville. The most unusually-shaped meringue - super tall. Delish.

                  DCBBQ is also right about Selma being a disappointment. If you're there at suppertime, I think the best you can do is get a prime rib at Tally Ho, which is fine, but it's not something you're going to remember by the time you get back home.

                  Now if you are in Tuscaloosa at suppertime, by all means go to Nick's in the Sticks. You'll need to GPS it because their sign blew down after a hurricane years ago and they've never fixed it. So literally it's a restaurant that just everyone knows and it's so great that they just don't need it.

                  BTW, I looked at your list and as a person who has traveled to Louisiana extensively for the last several years, you have chosen wisely. I have to mention in particular that you will crave the charbroiled oysters at Drago's for the rest of your life (go to the original one in Metairie, not the one in the CBD).

                  In Mississippi, you have it right with the Old Country Store in Lorman. The Big Apple Inn is famous for their pig ear sandwiches (which I've had; unusual texture). The Delta has the best tamales, and I really recommend Hick's in Clarksdale. Cock of the Walk in Natchez has some 'tourist' vibe. They flip the cornbread in the skillet for you, which if you're bringing kids might be fun, but otherwise, you may want to consider dining at one of the stately B&Bs there, which really can be a quite nice experience. At lunch, Mammy's Cupboard is okay but the thing to *really* have there (and you can walk in just for this) is their desserts. Hummingbird, red velvet, carrot, oh yes. Natchez also has a crazy-good doughnut shop right on the highway whose name escapes me at the moment but it's in a light blue building right on a curve/corner. Get an elephant ear and thank me later.

                  1. re: wanderlust21

                    Go to MLK. Note that you probably will have to eat in the car or at a picnic table, since they only have 5 stools inside. (Actually they have a 6th hidden for emergencies) The barbecue at Archibald and Woodrow's is no good at all. the best thing they have there is the fried catfish snack, whcih is pretty good if you eat it right away (but nowhere as god as Catfish Delight). they have a full bar and karaoke at night, both of which I view as bad signs
                    I would skip the fried green tomatoes on Irondale unless you really liked the book

                    I looked at the rest of your trip. Can I go on your next trip?

                    A couple of suggestions. In New Orleans, I would go to Crabby Jacks..for a po boy -- bigger and better than Domilisi's, and they also have a duck po boy. And I always get a muffuleta at Central Grocery when I go there.
                    In Mississippi, Stubb's in Yazoo City has wonderful pie, and is a good meat and three. There's also a good tamale place there onthe south side of 49w, on the west side of town.
                    In Georgia, you can get a good met and three in most towns by heading to the courthouse square.

                    1. re: wanderlust21

                      That was a great trip Wanderlust. I hope you have been on a diet since. How did you like City Grocery.

                      -----
                      City Grocery
                      152 Courthouse Sq, Oxford, MS 38655

                    2. re: dcbbq

                      Jubilee is the most overpriced and overrated place for what you get in town- especially now that the prices have gone up. I don't understand why I always see recommendations for this place- maybe they are ordering something I am not. The crab claws and fish are always so over cooked and shriveled up in my experience- the sides are over simplified to dirty rice and a roll- I don't know- just seems so lackluster. I'd rather go to aw shucks in wetumpka or capitol oyster- at least you pay for what you get there- Jubilee gets the fish right from Destin Connection Seafood Market. Go there instead and get a fish sandwich at lunch. But please, don't give the Jubilee people your money.

                      1. re: araess

                        If you really do want to try a good oyster bar in town, check out Young Barn Oyster Bar.
                        http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid...

                        Their happy hour can't be beat. 1 dollar high gravity beers, great bloody marys, 6 dollars a dozen raw oysters, the crab claws are the plumpest, best quality in town- 8 dollar all you can eat fried grouper fingers.. If you expect a fish burrito when you order a fish taco, I would recommend that as well- also made with grouper. Probably the best in town for this sort of food, atmosphere and food like you would expect down on the gulf in little shacks. I like it.

                        1. re: araess

                          Tried young barn again last night- gotta say I was disappointed. I don't know if a different chef was working or what- but all of the good things I described above were bad this time- crab claws especially. Heavily margarined bread with fennel seeds all over it on the blackened shrimp po-boy. Guess I spoke too soon on this place.

                          1. re: araess

                            Thanks for the update! I was thinking about this place the other day after reading you mentioned it, I guess i'll skip and head to Capital Oyster insteadl. PBR+cold oysters=perfect for me .

                        2. re: araess

                          Completely agreed. I don't see what the big deal is about this place, and it's about triple the price of what it should be.

                        3. re: dcbbq

                          Gonna stick my nose in here, too. Saw's BBQ ranks very high (if not highest IMHO) for local BBQ, especially for their pulled pork. I will confess that their success may be hurting them...the quality has not been as good the last two times we went, and it's difficult to get a seat at lunch and suppertime on weekends. I am also surprised that Jim 'N' Nicks doesn't get mentioned more. They are my favorite "chain" BBQ joint in the area. I really like their ribs better than Dreamland. Big Daddy's in Warrior does great ribs, too, but it kind of depends on when you go. If you show up late in the evening, you get the straggler rib ends that are chewy and dried out, not to mention full of cartilage.

                          We ate at Jubilee in Montgomery once. I can't share anyone's enthusiasm for that place....it was really terrible. Alabama seafood better than San Francisco? Cheaper maybe. But better???? C'mon.

                          1. re: curej

                            Re: the sanfran comment- yeah.. comparing seafood in alabama to seafood in sanfran is apples and oranges- agreed.

                            1. re: curej

                              For BBQ- especially spare ribs, gotta say the lunch special rib sammie at Smokin' S BBQ in wetumpka is amazing- it's cooked long and slow so that there is no give- all of the oil is cooked out of the fat so it just melts. Amazing- really the only bbq place worth going to now that I've seen how good spares can be- and comparatively how poorly they are usually served.

                              1. re: araess

                                Smoking S BBQ has a mobile van in Eclectic on Hwy. 63. Good stuff.

                              2. re: curej

                                Last I checked the gulf coast has a lot of seafood options. I think Birmingham (Ocean, Fish Market, etc) does a damn good overall with seafood considering its locale, but it's hard to compete with the offerings in port towns.

                                I also completely agreed with curej on both bbq places - those are my top two in town, although not as big of a fan of the ribs at Saw's

                            2. I wouldn't suggest martins in Montgomery in case you have lived here your whole life and are sentimental about it. The food is not outstanding. As for food specific to Alabama, you might try Alabama White BBQ sauce. That can be found at one place in Montgomery that I know of, at my favorite late night place called Love Shack on the Atlanta Highway.
                              http://maps.google.com/places/us/al/m...
                              Here they are known as beer joints, and you have to request the white bbq sauce. They take 20 minutes to prepare. The wings themselves are reminiscent of Jamaican jerk, and the sauce is basically horse radish mixed with mayonnaise.

                              As far as local Alabama flavors fused with fine dining, I have to recommend the yellowhammer.
                              http://www.yellowhammerrestaurant.com/
                              Take a look at the menu and see what you think.

                              Montgomery has a large Korean population, and there is one Korean restaurant that I would recommend. It would be Arrirang, where you can bbq on the table, drink copious amounts of soju, and have karaoke on weekends.
                              http://maps.google.com/places/us/al/m...

                              As far as the rest of Montgomery is concerned, there isn't much you would find here that you wouldn't be able to find better in a big city. Most of the hotspots are meat and threes, my favorite being Davis Cafe, as it is less white blue blood and more black working man.
                              http://maps.google.com/places/us/al/m...

                              I have posted about Montgomery before here:
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/655117

                              and have maps with any other type of food in montgomery you might enjoy here:
                              http://maps.google.com/maps/user?uid=...

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: araess

                                Almost forgot about my favorite local restaurant in Montgomery overall, as a local. I've been trying to decide between Michael's Table, Number 16, and a handful of ethnic restaurants in the area including Arirang, Island Delight, India Palace, and East China for the best overall restaurant experience in Montgomery. I've taken into consideration the atmosphere, the waitstaff, and of course food preparation, ingredient quality, dish presentation, and alcohol selection. To weigh all of this out and come up with a real value for each, you must keep in mind that all of the contenders represent different styles of cuisine and price points. Although all of the places mentioned before are great in their own respects, only one can be the overall best. After last night's meal, I can say that Michael's table is the clear winner.
                                The wait staff was happy to see us. I felt like everything we said was listened to, and respond to engaging without being overbearing. Even the cooks behind the counter gave us a nod as we walked in. All of the recommendations by our waiter were spot on. He possessed a complete knowledge of the menu, where the ingredients come from- I was happy to hear they are using local produce from red root farm- what music was playing, and showed his true passion in the way he spoke about the meal. You can see that not only does he enjoy his job and appreciates food in general, he himself is a cultured individual, and respects the owner by recognizing talent and offering his to the restaurant.
                                There isn't anywhere in town where you can enjoy an atmosphere that has this much inherent romance. It reminds me of sitting in a french bistro run by friends and neighbors. The tables are tight but just enough to be cozy- and not so much that you feel as though you are rubbing elbows. The eclectic visual accents representing different cultures that adorn the walls and fixtures reflect the menu perfectly.
                                I saw many different cuisines represented on the menu, Mexican(tamales), Chinese(Mandarin Duck with Bok Choy), German(Wiener Schnitzel), French(coq au vin), Thai(Tom Kai Cod). The appetizer menu would be perfect for exploring tapas style. The items are not strict adherations to the respective dishes, but rather a masterful capturing of their flavor spectrums in such a way that the chef has lovingly made them his own by incorporating them into the overall theme of the restaurant- a celebration of Planet Earth and her flavors.
                                The german pinot noir we ordered was light and went well with the dishes. We ended up ordering the Smörgåsbord to start- smoked salmon/caper berries/whole grain mustard/red onion/sliced boiled egg/wasabi cream. Amazing. The waiter noticed without being asked that between app and main we needed some nibbles. He brought pita with EVO and pesto. The pita was fresh toasted and we ended up ordering more to have with our meal. For mains, Lamb Shank and Tom Kai Cod. In a true nod to the orchestral menu planning of the chef- the flavors were total opposites, but ended up complimenting each other superbly. Everything was there- the simple rustic flavors of regional europe on one dish, and the balanced melody of sour-tang/sweet/savory/spicy/fish/salt/herbal that only southeast asian cuisine can pull off on the other- and as opposites they attracted and made love.
                                For dessert we had shaved limoncello sorbet served with the lightest olive oil cakes, mint, and strawberry. It went perfectly with tawny port- I don't know where else has tawny in town, or limoncello. We learned from our waiter that Michael's specialty is the cheese plate, as he originates from a cheese background, so it was recommended we wait until he was there to try it.
                                Did I mention that this whole experience happened when the owner wasn't even there? Nobody was keeping the staff in line. They are all just that good and do it out of love for the owner and what he has created. This place is a complete package. Finding a restaurant anywhere else in the world of this caliber, pulling off this style, with this atmosphere would be difficult- even in larger metropolitan areas. Here's to you Michael! Stay amazing, please- for Montgomery, and for the love of food.

                                1. re: araess

                                  Wanted to add that Michael's table does a great boozy brunch- really the only brunch in town worth going to in my opinion.

                                2. re: araess

                                  Here's a review of a late night diner in the Montgomery- one of two late night dining places worth going to in the area- the other being love shack. There really aren't any diners like this anywhere else in town. I love Kitchen, and Beno (pronounced bean-oh), the nice guy that runs it. Sit at the bar so you can talk to him. They have breakfast cooked right in front of you and offer the standard fare- eggs, bacon, sausage links or patties, cheese grits, toast, omelets.. they have some things on the menu that aren't so typical like salmon croquettes and chicken and waffles. Their chicken and waffles special comes with 3 wings, two waffles, grits and eggs- and is a steal at 7 bucks. Beno says the secret is that they buy everything fresh- and that nothing is frozen but the fries. They do their own spices on the chicken, which I found to be just spicy and salty enough without being overboard. The chicken was the full wing, and was crispy on the outside and juicy in the middle, without being oily at all. They also do burgers- and some special burgers too- like the gump burger which borrows from a philly cheese steak with chopped beef and bell peppers and onions. They have rib plates on the weekends and some other specials running from time to time as well. I haven't tried those things yet but am interested. They are good about custom orders too- for instance I got a salmon croquette omelet which was great. What's the best thing about this place? They are open until 1 am during the week, and 3 am on the weekends. Most people order in and get pickup- so it's a quiet and personal experience to eat here- or has been the three times I've gone. Love shack is about the only other late night place to go around, and although the menu isn't as extensive here, you can still get a late-night meal that isn't in a bar- it's in a real diner like you would expect to find in a city! Most people will remember this location as the old Walt's diner- and then a waffle house I guess before that.. but I like the character now. We sat and had a good breakfast one morning and watched goodfellas on AMC with Beno- it's just that kind of atmosphere. Cheap, quick, and kind.

                                  -----
                                  Kitchen
                                  344 Highway 15 N, Pontotoc, MS 38863

                                  1. re: araess

                                    That link associated with kitchen is obviously not the right one. Here is the correct location: http://maps.google.com/places/us/al/m...

                                  2. re: araess

                                    One other place that is a little drive from montgomery but definitely worth the fine dining experience is http://springhouseatcrossroads.com/
                                    Fresh local ingredients and a great chef. They also do a brunch.

                                    for cheaper options in the same beautiful, lake martin area check out http://www.catherinesatcrossroads.com/
                                    Their brunch is really good- and the market there is the closest thing we have to a whole foods in the area.