After being very warmly welcomed to Birmingham, The Dinner Table of The South, a good night’s rest was in order. I slept soundly at the renowned Tutwiler Hotel and then glanced at the day’s itinerary. First stop, Demetri’s BBQ. For breakfast!?!?!? Yes, for breakfast.
Our server Shannon seated us promptly in a bright room off the main dining room and made certain we were comfortable and well taken care of. Not long afterward owner Sam Nakos came in and began sharing the history of Demetris with us. He took the time to point out historical photos on the walls, and menus from the 60s. His pride was evident in carrying on his dad’s legacy and Greek heritage.
Food began arriving and every bite was delicious. Sam and Shannon made sure we got to taste everything on the menu. Demetris doesn’t simply serve biscuits, they serve LOVE biscuits. These flaky morsels come plain, or with BBQ pork, three different types of chicken, and a few other ways. Sam prepared a heavenly Greek omelette for us. I felt a bond with him instantly. Before we left, I accompanied him to his office, and he sent me home with some of his excellent sauces and seasonings. If you like it hot, which I do, I highly recommend his “Meltdown” hot sauce.
We made a quick stop at Homewood Antiques & Marketplace, 10,000 square feet of shopping paradise. Chris Collins opened this eclectic place nearly a decade ago, and it would be easy to spend hours there. From furniture to jewelry, to art, and antiques, from old to new, every piece is a treasure.
One of the highlights of my visit was a stop at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Spread over 69 acres, it’s open 365 days a year and admission is free. We spent about an hour there, but we easily could have stayed there an entire day. The reflecting pond with water lilies, every species of plant you can imagine, greenhouses, and much more await you. I highly recommend you take a guided tour.
This was an activity-packed day and we were just getting warmed up! It was lunchtime and we stopped at Johnny’s Restaurant. Just take a look at all of the James Beard awards they have garnered. Johnny’s features Southern comfort food, but there’s nothing simple about it. Chef/owner Tim Hontzas sat with us as we inhaled his delicious food. Have you heard of Greek and Three? You’ll discover it at Johnny’s. Check out their 15-hour pot roast, Greek roast chicken, and delectable sides like parmesan grit cake, and turnip greens. Everywhere you turn you’ll see signs that point to Tim’s allegiance to true Southern cuisine.
On the way to Demetri’s earlier, our hosts pointed out Red Mountain, home to the renowned Vulcan statue in the distance. The 56-foot tall statue towers over Birmingham and is indeed impressive. Forged from local iron ore and designed by famed Italian sculptor Giussepe Moretti in 1903, Vulcan has kept a watchful eye over the city since the 1930s. Smaller replicas are scattered throughout Birmingham, whimsically painted by local artists. The Vulcan Museum offers visitors a rich history of not only the statue but the city itself. Seeing Vulcan close up and personal is a sight to behold.
It’s impossible to overlook Birmingham’s role in the Civil Rights movement. I’ll admit I was utterly ignorant until I visited. We spent a few hours with Barry McNealy from Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute. I sat in horror as he described how corrupt politicians and the Ku Klux Klan yielded their might and fought hard to keep Birmingham segregated. Firehoses that would rip the bark off of trees were trained on protestors. Martin Luther King Jr. was a frequent visitor. I told you last time about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 that claimed the lives of four young girls. The city for a time was known as Bombingham because at least 55 bombings occurred between 1949 and 1965. One neighborhood had been hit so hard it was called Dynamite Hill.
I learned very quickly that Birmingham is a food lover’s mecca. The number of extraordinary restaurants is mind-blowing! This evening we went to Satterfield’s. I sensed instantly that this was on another level. When I saw Steak Tartare on the menu, I knew I was in the right place. Shortly after we arrived, Becky Satterfield came in and joined us at our table. It was as if she was joining a group of old friends. She pointed out family pictures that adorned the walls, and her passion for food was evident. She introduced us to GM Leah and Chef Chris, a husband and wife team who have worked together since 2001. There was no way Becky was going to let us leave early, so she kept ordering plates of sublime food for us. Becky is a fabulous storyteller, and she shared her love of Mexico with us. She has a Mexican restaurant named El Zun-Zun, Spanish for hummingbird. She insisted we share every dessert on the menu, and each was delectable. When the beignets made from croissant dough served with apples and ice cream came out she said “Y’all have to take one bite.” I know I’ll return to Satterfield’s, and to Birmingham.