Risotto with Spring Peas and Morel Mushrooms: Recipe #16
Plus my favorite places to eat in Birmingham, Alabama
Spring is here.
Or, maybe more accurately, spring is some places. Not quite here in Minnesota, but in the south, flowers are blooming, allergies are raging. Scroll down for one of my favorite ways to celebrate the change of seasons in the kitchen: Risotto with Spring Peas and Morel Mushrooms.
One of my favorite spring destinations has to be Birmingham, Alabama.
It’s one of the hottest and tastiest small food cities in the country and makes for a fun food vacation. Over a long weekend, you really get a sense of what a place is about. I love The BHAM!
Here are the best places to eat in Birmingham, Alabama.
This isn’t news to anyone: Miss Myra’s is lauded by every magazine, website, travel guide. And it is that good. The smoked chicken in Alabama white sauce is spectacular, the ribs are outta’ sight and the banana pudding is without peer.
These fried green tomatoes inspired the story of the Whistle Stop Cafe. Delicious.
A Birmingham institution. Since opening in 1938, it’s been the go-to spot for locals seeking a heaping helping of old-fashioned southern cooking.
The “Special” is a griddled dog in a steamed bun dressed with mustard, sauerkraut, onions, house-made spicy beef and a separate special sauce.
Pardis and Chef Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar and Grill became a hit in the mid-1980s, showcasing southern cuisine influenced by the world’s most storied cooking traditions— like French and Italian. Even though that sounds serious, the food is truly unfussy and has become even more grounded in a sense of place. I see it today as one of the best restaurants in America and very much southern in every way. They are temporarily closed, but I had to include this place. Too good to not mention. As are their other restaurants: Cafe Fon Fon, Botegga, and Bottega Cafe.
Set against the backdrop of an old Dr. Pepper factory and the historic Sloss Furnaces, the Market at Pepper Place is the spot to spend a Saturday morning. Go for the freshest produce and a variety of food vendors and amazing makers/crafters of all types, every Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine.
They do great lunch and dinner, but if you’re looking for the best brunch in town, head to the Essential. This downtown spot offers indoor and patio seating along the cobblestone street on historic Morris Avenue. Check out the pastrami breakfast sandwich, or mushroom madame.
This small batch, seasonally driven pâtisserie hosts Saturday pop-ups from 9a-12p on the sidewalk outside the Essential, its sister restaurant.
Nestled in the shadow of a nearby cast iron pipe factory and catering to its workers, no place speaks to Birmingham’s roots quite like Eagle’s. It’s a no-frills, long-standing meat-and-three. Think mains like pork chops, pork necks, turkey wings, spaghetti and meatballs, and beef tips and rice served with hearty sides like mac and cheese, collard greens and butter beans.
Housed in the former Automatic Sprinkler Corporation manufacturing facility, Automatic opened in 2019. Expect lots of seafood dishes primarily sourced from the Gulf of Mexico, oysters from waters along the Southern and Eastern coastlines. Try the fried Florida rock shrimp with ponzu mayo, grilled red snapper and key lime pie.
Locals love ZaZa’s Roman-style pizza, the rectangular-shaped pizza sold by the slice (though you can also get a whole pie). They do anything— from staples like pepperoni to the divisive, like the Spicy Swineapple, made with bacon, ham, Calabrian chilies, pineapple, charred onion, tomato and chili oil. They also offer daily pasta specials, soup, salads and sandwiches. Good brunch, too.
OvenBird (and Hot & Hot Fish Club)
When it comes to culinary influence in Birmingham, few people have done as much as Chris and Idie Hastings. Their restaurant, Hot & Hot, opened in 1995 and is still very much a ‘must’ for a meal. In 2015, they opened OvenBird, where all the cooking happens over live fire. Order the grilled whole fish with lemon and chimichurri. It’s delicious.
I love food with a story, and Blue Pacific has a fantastic one. In 2015, Sam Aroonsakulwongse started making Thai food out of a Hoover Mart. Yes, a gas station. Once word spread about his incredible Thai food, the line went out the door. Today, it’s no longer a gas station but a restaurant (though the original Hoover Mart sign remains). Go for chicken wings, curries, and pad Thai— I know pad Thai seems really ubiquitous, but this one is a gem.
Enjoy dinner-and-a-show, Birmingham style. Saw’s Juke Joint is the third incarnation of Mike Wilson’s 2009 original restaurant. With regular live music and an unpretentious ‘upscale dive’ vibe, it hearkens back to barbecue’s more raucous, crowd-pleasing roots. Go for the perfectly smoky, low & slow barbecue (pulled pork and ribs, arguably the best in town), and stay for the live music.
I love an izakaya, and this is a really good one. Tako (aka octopus) hushpuppies, pan-seared soy butter scallops, shoyu ramen — just go.
Can’t make it to Birmingham this spring? Bring the spring vibes to your kitchen with this seasonal recipe.
Risotto with Spring Peas and Morel Mushrooms
This beautiful fresh pea risotto with morels is the perfect way to celebrate the season.