Birmingham, also known as “Magic City,” is certainly casting a spell on Alabama’s local and visiting foodies who are on the lookout for a great meal.
Just last year, Zagat took notice of Birmingham’s impressive portfolio of culinary options, including everything from barbecue to fine dining, and ranked it the “No. 1 Next Hot Food City.”
From an exciting lineup of award-winning restaurants and one of the country’s top farmers markets to year-round food festivals and entertaining cooking demonstrations, Birmingham dishes up tasty experiences for groups that would like to spice up a meal function.
“Birmingham is known for its historical attributes, rich culture and so much more,” says chef Clayton Sherrod, owner of Chef Clayton’s Food Systems. “But the one thing that ties Birmingham together is its love of producing, preparing and eating good food.”
One way to showcase the city’s love of food is via a cooking demonstration with Sherrod, who is especially animated in front of a group.
“Cooking demonstrations are my favorite because it gives me an opportunity to educate,” he says. “I am a lover of food and a lover of people. So when you put the two together, you get my passion, my heart on a plate.”
Sherrod accommodates groups of all sizes and focuses on Southern cuisine.
“I do an in-depth explanation of the ingredients, how to season and cook each ingredient, preparation, compatible sauces and wines that complement the dish, how to plate, and of course the finale, the tasting,” he says.
After the tasting at the end of each demonstration, participants are given the recipe, as well as cookbooks and other gifts to take home.
Groups convening in Birmingham during the spring and summer seasons enjoy touring the popular Market at Pepper Place, open every Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon.
According to Dilcy Windham Hilley, vice president of marketing and communications for the Greater Birmingham CVB, groups will find dozens of vendors at the market selling everything from food and drink to arts and crafts.
“It’s a massive spread of local fruits and vegetables, along with homemade jam, jellies, cakes, pies and more,” she says. “They also have cooking demonstrations and live music. It’s the place to be in Birmingham on Saturday mornings.”
Satellite, a futuristic, space-themed coffee shop/bar, is located in Birmingham’s bustling Avondale neighborhood.
Locals recommend stopping by even if coffee doesn’t tempt the palate, as it’s worth the visit just to see the fun decor, including “space” heaters on the patio.
“Satellite has been from its onset a creative hub for the community to generate ideas together and also for people to simply interact,” says M. Carl Ratliff, general manager for Saturn, Satellite’s adjoining music venue. “Saturn is immaculately designed for almost any type of event and has beautiful acoustics and state-of-the-art sound and lighting.”
Ratliff adds Saturn holds 500 people for standing events and 225 for seated affairs, and Satellite is the first location in Alabama to feature Portland, Ore.-based Stumptown Coffee, a purveyor that’s on the forefront of direct trade coffee.
“One of our signature drinks is coffee soda,” he adds, citing espresso, vanilla syrup and soda water as its ingredients. “We also carry amazing old-fashioned-style doughnuts from a local company called We Have Doughnuts.”
At night, Satellite turns into a full-service bar featuring a diverse menu of craft cocktails as well as Alabama-based craft beers on tap.
There’s no better way to sample dishes from the many tempting menus found at Birmingham’s restaurants than by arranging a dine-around for the group.
Dine-arounds are especially popular when large groups want to break into smaller pairings, according to the Greater Birmingham CVB’s Hilley.
“The city is filled with chef-owned restaurants,” she adds, citing several that the CVB recommends “for memorable meals.”
Among them are Cafe Dupont, El Barrio Restaurante Y Bar, Saw’s Soul Kitchen, Post Office Pies and Galley & Garden.
If the group is more comfortable settling in at one restaurant vs. traveling to several, any of those eateries mentioned above are wonderful dining out options.
As is the case with Bottega Restaurant, where the caring staff pays attention to every aspect of a group’s meal function, and the dining areas are group-friendly.
“The space, in all its history and character, is built to accommodate groups while maintaining a sense of privacy without closed doors,” says the restaurant’s general manager, Marc Tillis. “Guests feel like they are a part of a party while having an intimate, personalized experience.”
The menu here features Italian and Mediterranean cuisine that Tillis says is “meant for entertaining,” including hand-rolled pasta, veal involtini and porcini risotto.
“We can provide passed hors d’oeuvre service, open bar and select wines,” he says, adding the back alcove is great for groups that would like a secluded space, and the mezzanine, a semi-private dining space lofted above the main dining room, can accommodate groups of 20 to 40 people.
Birmingham is also home to dozens of food-related festivals throughout the year that may coincide with meetings in the city.
“Due to the rich ethnic background of Birmingham as it developed into a boomtown in the early 1900s, right at the height of immigration from Europe and the Middle East, there are a number of food festivals throughout the year that visiting groups can experience to take advantage of all of the great food here,” says Paul P. Bolus, chairman for the Lebanese Food and Cultural Festival.
Like many of the festivals, admission is free for the Lebanese Food and Cultural Festival, but attendees should have some money on hand if they would like to get a bite. Tabouleh, grape leaves, meat pies and desserts like baklava with pistachios are among the items available.
“We also have dancing demonstrations during the day and at night you can join in the dancing outside under our tent,” Bolus says, adding group seating either inside or outside can be accommodated.
Among the various other festivals that may intrigue visiting groups are Feast of Saint Mark Italian Festival, BBQ & Blues Festival, St. George Middle Eastern Food Festival, Greek Food Festival and many more.