Meetings happen every day. Some meetings are inspiring. Some not. (No, I’m not talking about YOUR meeting.) Sometimes the less useful ones are redeemed by the snacks or meals that are provided. And every once in a while, all the elements line up just right – like the perfect storm, but in the positive. For me, that means going to a food meeting. Because I don’t just like writing about food, I also enjoy listening to others discuss food, reading what others write about food, and even hearing what others say about writing about food. It’s my thing. The bonus that comes to those of us who flock to food meetings is that there is a pretty high standard expected by the attendees. In short, we eat well.
Such was the case at FoodBlogSouth 2014, not long ago in Birmingham. The crowd was a mix of writers, photographers, and everything in between. Some blog as a hobby and some have turned it into a career. And from what I could tell, everybody was hungry.
Like any good food meeting, there was a pre-party. Ours was hosted by John’s City Diner in downtown Birmingham. I walked in to see a few familiar faces, but was quickly distracted by a table stacked with some of the South’s classic dishes. Chicken and waffles – this was my first time to actually have this, and it will be a tough standard to beat. Shrimp and grits – served in a little cast iron skillet, these grits had kernels of roasted corn mixed in, an idea I totally intend to steal. Grilled onion dip – imagine the best onion dip you’ve ever had, then amp it up with chunks of charred onion – perhaps my favorite of the night. Pimento cheese on little squares of toast – can’t beat that. Homemade potato chips sprinkled with melted blue cheese and Alfredo. Barbecue pork sliders. And there was more, but I’m afraid if I keep going you’ll be on your way to Birmingham before you finish reading. (Finish reading – then go.)
The next morning the conference began with breakfast. Urban Standard teased us with what appeared to be chocolate cake donuts topped with chocolate frosting, another donut with dark little bits of something-or-other, maple-pecan scones, and blueberry scones. The chocolate was actually chocolate spice (not a bad combination) – my tongue easily discerned that. The other donut was a post-taste mystery. Not the little bits of berry I had assumed. I recognized the flavor but had to get help from my neighbor to identify it as Earl Grey Tea. Wow. Down the table a bit The Fresh Market had some of the thickest, creamiest yogurt I have enjoyed lately, with fresh fruit and granola. Then I listened to a couple of great speakers, learned how to take better pictures of food, and it was time to eat again.
Lunch featured Alabama Gulf Seafood. I happily waited a long time in line for this – nobody was skipping this meal, catered by the Dixie Fish Company (again, from Birmingham). The first dish was for the veggie lovers in the group – stuffed Portobello mushrooms with eggplant over red rice. Next was triggerfish and crabmeat in butter sauce over Hoppin’ John (rice and black-eyed peas) and greens. I’m pretty sure this was my first go-round with triggerfish, and certainly the first time I’d had grilled fish with Hoppin’ John and greens. I hope it is not my last. On down the table was the second shrimp and grits interpretation of the weekend – this time with a red theme: Royal Red shrimp, trinity (bell pepper, onion and celery, I assume), tomatoes and garlic over McEwen and Sons stone-ground grits. Very different than what I’d had the night before, but I was on a roll. And there were oysters. Thankfully they were fried, covered in a hot sauce, honey and butter mix, and sprinkled with blue cheese – they called them the Orange + Blue. It’s no secret I’m not an oyster guy, but with these I might be on the path to conversion.
So by this time I’m full, again, and need a nap. But that’s not happening. So I nibbled my way through the afternoon on Grey Ghost Bakery cookies – my second time to enjoy these, but my first time to try the cinnamon pecan and chocolate espresso flavors. Big T crab and shrimp dips also helped keep me going. Roland foods had puff pastry Twists and fruit Tartlettes. Southern Living made biscuits. And that was just some of what was available for nibbling. Between sponsor samples and the “swag bag” we took home, I’m pretty sure I got my registration fee back in groceries.
When the day was done Fresh Market came back with a snack (meat and cheese tray and sushi) to hold us over until dinner at the after-party. I had a Fresh Market once. I miss it.
Thankfully I had about an hour or so between the snack and dinner, plenty of time to get hungry enough to eat again. Good People Brewing Company hosted us, and Sunday Gravy NYC did the feeding. The main dish was also called Sunday Gravy – tender chuck steak, pork shoulder, meatballs and sweet sausage in a red sauce over pasta. Undoubtedly the meatiest pasta sauce on the planet. Dessert was courtesy of High Road Craft Ice Cream – you know I had to stay around Birmingham for that. They called it an ice cream sandwich, but it was unlike any other ice cream sandwich I’ve ever loved. The “bread” was a little sugar bun – imagine a big donut hole, sliced and slightly heated on a flattop grill. A scoop of Pistachio Honey Ricotta gelato in between, and a quick roll in praline pecans. The ice cream sandwich bar has just been raised.
It is good to eat at a food meeting with other food people (who tend to be very nice people, I might add.) It is very, very good.