Roadtrip


Ava Maria Grotto - Cullman, AL

Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, AL - stop here before you eat your way through Birmingham

If anyone had asked me ten years ago where I would go to celebrate my one year wedding anniversary, I can assure you I would never had said Birmingham, AL. Granted 10 years ago I probably didn’t think I’d end up married to a southerner and living in Nashville, TN, so there’s that too. When you grow up in the north, whatever you hear about Alabama is never very good. Alabama is images of grainy news reels of church bombings and Bull Connor. But C had visited Birmingham a year ago to watch a friend in a cooking contest, and came home raving about a different city. He waxed poetic about the Civil Rights Institute and the 5 Points neighborhood, and most of all he came home talking up the food. And after a year of raving about the city he wore me down and we set of for a long weekend in Birmingham to celebrate one year of marriage.

While this post will be mainly about the food, I will say that Alabama has several non-gastronomic sites that should not be missed. If you enjoy folk art, the intricately-designed miniature sculptures at the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, AL is a sight to behold. The Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham is one of the more powerful museums I’ve ever attended – and if the museum is offering walking tours of the adjacent Kelly Ingram Park and the surrounding neighborhood – take it. The walking tour follows the steps of the Civil Rights movement in the city and offers no sugar coating of the events that happened there. Also, the Birmingham Art Museum is a good municipal art museum that had several engaging exhibits.

But If I’m honest, one of the main reasons C was able to convince me to make this trip was Frank Stitt. Arguably one of the most famous chefs in the south, Mr. Stitt has several restaurants in Birmingham. We had Saturday night reservations at the Highlands Bar and Grill – the restaurant that focuses on combing fresh, local southern cuisine with classical techniques. We had heard amazing things and Highlands truly lived up to the hype. The fried oysters were succulent, the fish tender and flaky and the beef rich and flavorful. C had fried squash blossoms filled with goat cheese that he hasn’t stopped talking about since – it has lead to his current fruitless quest for fresh squash blossoms – all so I can try to recreate the dish at home. We also ate another amazing meal at the Hot and Hot Fish Club – we basically returned home stuffed and happy (see the pictures above, which are plates we ate at both restaurants).

Given that the traditional first anniversary gift is supposed to be paper, C had surreptitiously bought me a copy of Mr. Stitt’s cookbook Southern Table which he presented to me back in Nashville. Given how much C had loved Mr. Stitt’s food this may seem a bit self serving, but I must say we both enjoy the dishes from it. The recipes themselves are not hard – they just demand good fresh ingredients. And when I saw fresh Red Snapper at the grocery store I knew that I needed to try a en Papillote recipe from the cookbook. The recipe actually calls for Pompano – but Mr. Stitt identifies Red Snapper as a fine substitute. By cooking the fish with aromatics in parchment, the fish gets steamed perfectly and it saves me (or C) from having to clean up fishy-smelling pans. The fish tasted delicate and delicious and was the perfect reminder of our wonderful weekend away.

Red Snapper en Papilote

Red Snapper en Papillote

Pompano (or Red Snapper) en Papillote

Taken from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table

Ingredients:

5 T. butter – plus more butter for the parchment at room temperature

2 Spring onion or 1 large sweet onion, finally sliced

Fresh ground white pepper

8 thin lemon slices

2 shallots, thinly sliced

Kosher salt

1/4 cup chopped chives and parsley, and chevil, basil or dill

4 6 ounce pompano fillets (Red Snapper and Flounder are also acceptable)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees

Melt 1 T. of butter in a saute pan over medium heat and add the onion and pepper and saute until softened. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Cut four 16 by 20 inch sheets of parchment. Rub a bit of butter on each parchment where the fish will lie and place 2 slices of lemon on each one. Top will sliced shallot and sauteed onion. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of the herbs then top with the fish. Seaon each fillet with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the remaining herbs over the fish. Dot each fillet with 1 T. of butter. Fold up the parchment packet so that the edged are sealed.

Place packages on a baking sheet on the top shelf of the oven for 10 minutes. Transfer to serving plates and open the packages with a knife or scissors. Inhale and enjoy.

Saturday morning, H, our friends Bentina, and I ventured off to one of our favorite restaurants, Hominy Grill. There are times when all I think about is a hot plate of shrimp and grits, and the shrimp and grits from hominy grill are about as close to perfection as you can get. The flavors are simple, Shrimp, Bacon, Green Onions, Mushrooms, Cheese Grits, and a spritz of lemon. Nothing is over sauced or too buttery. Just perfect comforting food…mmmmm!

Of course, a meal at Hominy Grill is not complete without some fried green tomatoes. Now, if you are not a shrimp and grits fanatic like me, the Fried Green Tomato BLT is my second favorite thing on the menu. I think fried green tomatoes are the greatest southern food discovery I ever made. I really love them, not just a lustful love, but more of a long lost soul mate love.

If you are in Charleston, stop by Hominy Grill for an amazing brunch destined to get your day started off right. Love on the food and let it make you whole.

I spent part of one very hot and humid summer living and interning in Charleston, SC. It was the first time I had ever been to a coastal southern city, but the minute I arrived I knew that this place was what I had always imagined a southern city to be. I grew up in California, but watched hours and hours of Gone with the Wind, so the beach and Spanish Moss (along with hoops skirts and parasols) always figured prominently in my mind.

That summer in Charleston, I fell in love with the city. Even now when I talk about Charleston, I feel a little like Carrie Bradshaw and the SATC episode “I Heart NY.” It is hot and feisty, but when one is left to wander downtown to a great restaurant, head off to the beach right after work, or pop into a boutique to drool over a fabulous outfit, it is hard not to be enchanted. (Unlike Carrie, money did not magically appear in my wallet to afford a pair of fabulous shoes…but if it had, I would have been well prepared to use it.)

The next year when I graduated from college, I knew exactly where I wanted to plant myself. So I packed my boxes into my 15 year old silver Saab named Rosie and moved there permanently. I guess permanently was a bit premature because 12 months later, I packed up my life again and moved to foodie heaven, aka New Orleans.

However, Charleston was the first city I really “ate my way through,” and when I go back it is like I never left. The minute I step off the plane, my stomach growls like I am in my mother’s kitchen. There is nothing quite like knowing exactly what I can get myself into in a weekend.

So this year, H and I got our act together and coordinated a trip to Charleston to visit our very good friends Bentina. (Yes, like the illustrious couples before them -Bennifer, TomKat, and Brangelia- Bentina acquired their name first as a joke, but like the others it stuck.) H and I also timed our trip to include a small sampling from the Spoleto Festival USA, a couple of trips to the beach, and lots of fantastic meals.

Our Saturday was spent preparing for our dinner, full of fresh veggies from the Charleston Farmer’s Market at Marion Square. Bentina shared a fantastic marinade recipe, which they used on some shrimp. Heavy on the garlic, but not overwhelming when it came off the grill. Along with a couple bottles of wine, some grilled veggies, and a cold tomato and cucumber salad, we enjoyed a fabulous feast.

Bentina’s Never Fail Shrimp Marinade
1 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup White Wine
3 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
Zest of 1 Lemon
6 Cloves of Garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons Fresh Oregano
1 Teaspoon Salt

Mix all ingredients together. Will easily marinade 2 pounds of shrimp. Bentina also use this marinade for Chicken and I personally think it would work for lamb as well.

Hot Diggity Dogs Sign

I don’t remember where or how I first heard about Hot Diggity Dog in Nashville, TN, but I’ll never forget the first bite. The snap of the hot dog, the crunch of the coleslaw, and their fries . . . they make the best fries. I was in hot dog heaven.

The place can’t be much bigger than my college dorm room, but where it’s short on space it’s big on personality and flavor. I never went to Hot Diggity Dog when it wasn’t packed with hungry people waiting with mouth watering anticipation for their order number to be called. On pretty days, they have great outdoor seating (just a few picnic tables outside). It’s not just the food I loved, the two ladies in charge remembered me every time I visited. Eating at Hot Diggity Dog was so comforting,like that bar on Cheers where everyone knows your name. My usual was a Texan (their version of a chili dog) and a Nashville (complete with pickle and coleslaw and cucumbers) plus an order of fries (if it was a bad day I splurged on the chili cheese fries, which are sure to cure whatever ails). Sadly, I didn’t discover the Italian Beef Sandwich until my time in Nashville was growing short. I was completely blown away. I liked mine on toasted bread with sweet and hot peppers and completely dipped (i.e. submerged in the beef jus). It was a mess to eat but it was worth every grease stain.

Hot Diggity Dog just might be the thing I miss the most about Nashville (my friends are up there, too). I don’t know when I’ll return to Nashville, but when I do a visit to Hot Diggity Dog will be a must. Until then, I need to find a good hot dog here in Charlotte. So dear readers, if you know of a place, do share. And if ever you find yourself in Nashville swing by HDD and tell them an old friend of theirs sent you.

Hot Diggity Dogs House

Swiss Chard

May evenings are an idyllic time here in Nashville. With the mild weather and the longer days, there are more people on the streets enjoying everything from the outdoor seating to the flowers in bloom to the mere fact that it is not yet blisteringly hot. This past Wednesday, I decided to enjoy a particularly fine May evening by exploring the very first day of the East Nashville Farmers’ Market. And in doing so, we inaugurate the very first Kitchen Confit Roadtrip. Granted this roadtrip was less than 10 minutes from my apartment, but in the future our travels will take us further afield as we explore good food in all its incarnations and locations.

MargotEast EndEast Nashville High School

Located across the Cumberland River from downtown Nashville, East Nashville is one of Music City’s most intriguing neighborhoods. In fact, the East End/Five Points section of East Nashville is our own little version of Berkeley, CA. The neighborhood is home to East Nashville High School – Oprah’s a graduate – and also a number of churches, live music venues, and beautiful homes. The neighborhood has a plethora of starving musicians and activists, but it also has Margot – a southern version of

Musicians

On this first farmers’ market evening, there was a bluegrass band playing, since it likely violates all sorts of statutes to have an event in Nashville without a fiddle. The market was definitely busy and there were plenty of people and young families milling around the 10 or so booths set up. Most of the produce consisted of greens and root vegetables – which is what you’d expect since these are the produce products currently in season locally. There was one booth that was selling organic strawberries, but the line was so long I couldn’t get close enough to see the price, let alone the berries. There were also booths selling local cheeses, other dairy products, and free range meats. Almost all of the producers were happy to talk about their products – detailing the methods they used and underscoring the freshness of their merchandise – I overheard a woman selling milk tell a little boy that the milk had been inside the cow just yesterday!

GreensBeetsBroccoli

All in all, the market shows promise. Once the growing season reaches it’s peak here in Tennessee, I’ll likely be making a weekly trip to stock up on fresh local produce – though by then we’ll be in the sweltering section of summer. On this May evening it was just nice to see people out and about and enjoying the beautiful day.

The East Nashville Farmers’ Market is held every Wednesday from 4 pm to 7 pm. It is located right next to the Turnip Truck on Woodland Street.