When I moved to Alabama, I was unsure of what kind of food I’d be consuming. I am not a big fan of barbecue and I was raised in a VERY Northern home. The whole “Southern comfort” food thing was not something I was interested in. Somehow, I married a man with Southern ties and found myself a family that never missed an opportunity to flip through the latest issue of Southern Living.
My first night in Birmingham, we were staying at a hotel on 280. For our first night in our new city, we wanted something “Southern.” Luckily, there was a seemingly traditional Southern restaurant nearby our temporary home. Not long after deciding what to eat, we found ourselves at Lloyd’s. Lloyd’s was like nothing I had ever experienced in my life. The cups were giant and the portions were even larger. It was my first run-in with macaroni and cheese as a vegetable and to-go cups (to-go cups are the most amazing cultural difference ever.) As I’ve told people about this experience since moving here in 2013, they say, “Oh yeah, that’s typical comfort food.” Well, my comfort and your comfort are very different. I learned that pimento cheese comes in sandwich form and that chicken salad recipes vary as much as pizza does in my world. While delicious, this food didn’t bring me comfort, as I felt the pain of being homesick for sweet home Chicago.
As we moved around Birmingham over the next few years, we started to notice a change. There were more restaurants opening around town and each new restaurant was unique. It was as these new dining options became available that I found my true Southern comfort food that reminded me of the diverse foodie culture of Chicago.
The Awards Go To . . .
Penne All’Arrabbiata from Trattoria Centrale
When I moved to Alabama, I was one month out from finishing studying abroad in Rome, Italy. I spent every day eating pasta and gelato while walking the streets of Rome. When I moved to Birmingham, I searched frantically for anything close to my favorite Italian dish. I found that in a lovely plate of pasta at Trattoria Centrale. Due to limited parking in the area, I don’t typically dine in. I use the Waitr app and have this pasta delivered on days when I’m at work and need that extra kick. The perfect balance of sweet tomato and spicy chili flakes gives me the little fire I need to feel passionate in my work while humbled in the #struggle.
Beef Pho from Saigon Noodle House
Ditch the chicken noodle soup you know and get yourself to one of Saigon Noodle House’s Birmingham locations. We discovered this fresh and snuggly dish while living on 280. We went to the location near Target on 280 per a recommendation from a friend. One slurp into our P2. Beef pho, and we were hooked. When my husband or I feel a cold coming on, we must have this soup. The added fresh vegetables and a dash of hoisin sauce or two is all you need to feel warm and cozy.
Chocolate Doughnut from Hero Doughnuts
When I introduced myself to my fellow Birmingham Moms Blog contributors in February of 2017, I included the following line, “the verdict is still out on my favorite donut and I’ve given up on hotdogs . . .” While that is still true for hotdogs, it is not for doughnuts. Hero Doughnuts has welcomed me with open arms and brioche style dough. I get you might be doing the paleo thing or the keto thing; keep on keeping on, Sister. But . . . if you have a cheat meal, spend it with my pals at Hero Doughnuts. It is a solid tie for me between the chocolate doughnut and boston crème doughnut. My only complaint was a lack of cake doughnuts and, coincidentally, they started making those last month. I am officially head-over-heels in love and working extra hard on my crunches to make up for my unwavering love of Hero Doughnuts.
Breakfast Burrito from Homewood Gourmet
While this heavenly little burrito is not served in the Homewood Gourmet store in SoHo, it is served each Saturday at The Market at Pepper Place. When our family arrives each Saturday, we head straight for the Homewood Gourmet stand to get our burritos and Icebox iced coffee. The breakfast burrito has the perfect ratio of eggs, cheese, peppers, and potatoes. HG serves these up with a side of pico de gallo and an adobo sauce that will change your life. Top all this off with Icebox coffee while sitting and listening to local musicians. There truly is no better way to start your Saturday.
A Few Honorable Mentions
Chili from Diplomat Deli — My dad’s chili will always be #1 in my heart, but chili with a side of trivia and a Bell’s beer comes in a close second.
Hummus from Zoe’s — I love hummus. When I was pregnant, all I wanted was hummus. I rearranged some lyrics from Rihanna’s “. . . better have my money,” to “. . . better have my hummus.” The hummus love was real and I have no shame.
Steamed dumplings from Red Pearl — I crave these dumplings like my life depends on it. I will, however, settle for Trader Joe’s frozen shrimp dumplings.
Margherita pizza from Pizzeria GM — As previously mentioned, I studied abroad in Italy. So far, the Pizzeria GM style of pizza and flavor are the closest thing to my pizza journey in Italy. I owe this team a big “thank you” for bringing my taste bud memories back to eating pizza in mountainside cities in the middle of grape and olive vines. #swoon #westhomewoodpride
And while I will never like okra or greens . . . my Southern friends, you totally won me over with beef tips and rice. Specifically, the beef tips and rice from Sol’s Sandwich Shop and Deli served on Wednesdays during lunch. There are no words to describe this heavenly meal or my favorite native Southern lunch bunch group that introduced me to this gem.