Posts Tagged With: Birmingham

Breaking Breakfast Barriers at the SFA (2016)

[This is Part the Second of my throwback series, reminiscing about last year’s Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium as I prepare for the 2017 iteration.]

The Wife and I just returned from this year’s Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium.  I have decided that this once-a-year weekend full of food tasting, food knowledge, and a touch of food frivolity is akin to college football season: when it’s over, we just kinda’ live for the next one to start.  This year’s theme was “Corn as Symbol, Sustenance, and Syrupy Problem.”  I had no idea how much there was to know about corn.  This new hat I’m wearing – Corn Expert (check out my authority here) – is liable to keep me pretty busy.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, so let’s start there.  Our first morning began with Royal Cup Coffee out of Birmingham.  The Wife likes to get the fancy stuff, like lattes and cappuccinos.  I’m not averse to waiting for pour-overs when I have the time, but my favorite beverage from the Royal Cup truck is the nitrogen-infused cold brew.  I’ve lauded this coffee a number of times before – it’s cold (but not iced) and it’s strong (but not bitter).  And somehow, miraculously, it needs no cream or sugar.  But wait – there’s more!
This time I learned a little more about how it’s made.  With Royal Cup’s “tap” the coffee is infused with the nitrogen as it is dispensed, which helps keep the nitrogen from over-interacting with the coffee in the tank.  And instead of carrying around giant nitrogen tanks, they have a machine that generates the nitrogen from the ambient air.  It’s true that I mostly care about how great the coffee is, but my inner nerd did find that fascinating.  Now, on to the eats.
Breakfast number one was performed (because it’s art, people) by Chef Edouardo Jordan of Salare restaurant in Seattle, Washington.  Yes, we know that is not in the South, but this gathering draws folks from all over.  He’s actually from Florida (which by some accounts is not in the South, either, but I’ll leave that for a later debate), and the menu at Salare lists the American South as one of the influences.  Case in point: one of the first things you’ll see on the menu is Pork Trotters served with Collard Greens.  Chef Jordan was also listed as one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2016.  So his Washington license plates didn’t really cause a stir, and no one asked him to produce a birth certificate.
There were no pig’s feet to be seen in our breakfast, but it was nevertheless unique: Okra Stew with Whole Duck Confit, Berbere, Egg and Cornbread.  One of the hallmarks of the SFA is to break down barriers, so that we can understand each other more fully, more fairly.  Other folks do that, too – we just do it over amazing meals.  This one helped break down the barrier of what someone “should” have for breakfast.  “Egg” was the only thing I recognized from previous morning meals – never had okra, duck, or cornbread that early.  Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend, and I’ve been to Ethiopia several times, which – oddly enough – probably means that it’s the only other component of this dish I may have eaten for the morning repast.  Barrier broken: okra stew for breakfast is a winner.

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These are a few of my favorite things…

At a corn conference, how do you top the idea of serving cornbread for the first meal of the day?  How about corn granola and a corn pot pie?  That’s not exactly what Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois of Blue Smoke restaurant in NYC called them, though.  The Roster of Eats and Drinks for Day Two listed them as Andouille Breakfast Pot Pie and Corn Granola Custard Parfait.  The pie did have an egg hidden amongst the corn and sausage, tucked under a beautiful crust, therefore: breakfast.  The custard had a bottom layer of fruit and was topped with the corn granola – imagine your favorite crunchy, nutty granola, then add crunchy kernels of corn.  Who would have thought the words “corn” and “parfait” would go together?  Or “egg” and “pot pie”?  And for breakfast to boot?  Not me, for sure.  But I won’t forget them, and would order them at any opportunity.

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Breakfast on Day Three is always tough.  It’s the next-to-last meal of the weekend.  Mere hours from its consumption and we’ll be counting the days till next fall.  It would be sadder if the food wasn’t so wonderful.  Chef Jeremiah Bacon from The Macintosh in Charleston, South Carolina, keenly kept to the theme of “You’re giving us WHAT for breakfast?” with his Tabasco Clam Quiche.  My primary experience with clams is of the fried variety, so I truly did not know what to expect.  Tabasco I can deal with – I don’t always put hot sauce on my eggs, but it’s a familiar concept.  And if you Google “breakfast quiche” the hits are legion.  Clams, though.  Clams not crisped with fried batter, or stewed in chowder.  Again, however, my trepidation was for naught.  Chef Bacon did us right and brought a little Charleston sunshine to our last day in Oxford.

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One might say, who would want (fill-in-the-blank with okra, duck, corn or clams) for breakfast?  Once upon a time I may have leaned in that direction.  But somebody had to be the first to eat shrimp and grits in the morning, be it a citizen of South Carolina’s low country, or of Mozambique (the true origin of that dish, per culinary historian and symposium speaker Michael Twitty.)  As a matter of fact, somebody had to be the first to eat a fried egg in the morning or decide that milk on corn flakes was a good idea.
So let’s raise a glass of nitrogen-infused cold-brewed Aztec organic coffee to the chefs who broke down those barriers and broadened our breakfast horizons.  Cheers.

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Food Blog South 2014

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.

By the end of the day, we were all gorgeous.

By the end of the day, we were all gorgeous.

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.)

Classics from John's City Diner

Classics from John’s City Diner

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.

Earl Grey showed up in a different outfit this day

Earl Grey showed up in a different outfit this day

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.

Well worth the wait

Well worth the wait

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.

Grey Ghost Goodness

Grey Ghost Goodness

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.

What the world needs now is a Fresh Market in my neighborhood!

What the world needs now is a Fresh Market in my neighborhood!

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.

I'll have an order of Sunday Gravy and seven ice cream sandwiches, please...

I’ll have an order of Sunday Gravy and seven ice cream sandwiches, please…

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.

 

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