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Posts Tagged ‘Birmingham’

As a friend of mine would say, Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale is real spicy-like. It’ll also produce a flaming hot soda burp. I mean, probably. Because I wouldn’t really know.

I have a not-very-secret obsession with ginger.  Ginger ale. Ginger beer. Ginger-based cocktails. Ginger cookies. Candied ginger (I like the uncrystallized version from Trader Joe’s because I can eat it at my desk without dropping sugar everywhere).

I like spicy things. I like sweet things. All of my favorite ginger concoctions satisfy both of those likes.

The addition of Earth Fare to Huntsville’s shopping choices made it pretty easy to fill my ginger beer craving. A four-pack of Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew seemed to be the spiciest ginger soda I was going to find around here, and I thought it was the perfect brand for the occasional ginger-based cocktail.

I was wrong, however. It seems I didn’t need to look to all the way to a California company to satisfy this fix. Some of the hottest, spiciest ginger ale I can get my hands on is bottled a mere 100 miles away in Birmingham, Alabama.

Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale – Southern Spice is honestly one of the zestiest blends I’ve ever tasted, challenging the array of international ginger ales that decimate the taste buds of mere mortals at the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta. (If you ever go there, you should totally mix the spiciest ginger ale you can find with ALL the other soda flavors, no matter how many funny looks you get from your date.)

I discovered this peppery ambrosia at the I Dream of Weenie hot dog van in Nashville, which is another post for another day, I promise.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale at my neighborhood Publix, meaning beverages are about to get a lot spicier at Chez Haggerty. Maybe a couple of pimento cheese hot dogs (totally a thing at I Dream of Weenie) are in order, too.

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I spent last week in Biloxi with my mom and had every intention of blogging about my adventures. I quickly figured out that I’d rather be having said adventures than blogging about them, however, thus the weeklong absence of posts.

Let’s start with the journey. Having discovered the amazing lunches at Birmingham’s Culinard Cafe a few months ago, I decided that I simply had to start my journey early enough to make it there to test-drive the breakfast menu.

The breakfast menu is significantly smaller than the lunch menu, but it still lists enough items to make anybody happy. It boasts three breakfast sandwiches on ciabatta bread, all featuring scrambled eggs: hot ham and Swiss cheese; bacon and cheddar cheese; and Southwestern chorizo, sautéed onions and peppers and jalapeno cheese. All are priced between $3.35 and $3.65.

My instinct pointed me toward the spicy chorizo sausage, but I’m still getting to know chorizo, so I chose the hot ham and cheese sandwich instead. I also ordered a small serving of loaded grits ($2.10).

My meal arrived with a surprise hashbrown pattie (a surprise only because I hadn’t really been paying attention to the menu details).

Just like the irresistible flat-iron steak sandwich that the husband and I have split a couple of times at the Culinard Cafe, the ham, egg and cheese sandwich was big enough for two people. Alas, I was by myself, but I did my best.

The bread, as usual, was spot on: thick and sturdy enough to safely encase the slippery ingredients, but thin and soft enough to bite through without too much effort. The eggs were cooked to perfection and then wrapped around the ham and gooey cheese.

The grits? Oh, the grits.

Loaded grits usually arrive with grease pooled on top, a consequence of adding more cheese and butter than necessary in an attempt, I presume, to fully “Southernize” the dish.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There were no greasy pools in these loaded grits. They weren’t laden with butter or unmelted cheese. The grits were light (not so light that I thought they were baked with eggs in a casserole, however), and filled with small pieces of bacon — real bacon, not fake bacon bits.

The grits alone made the early departure worthwhile. I didn’t even have to stop for lunch (I actually tried to find lunch, but you know that span of I-65 between Montgomery and Mobile? That happened.)

If I have to plan a trip through Birmingham, I’m totally planning it on a weekday during this restaurant’s business hours.

 

 

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After enjoying the flat-iron steak sandwich at the Culinard Cafe in Birmingham two times within two weeks, I knew I had to start experimenting. The combination of creamy goat cheese and whole-grain mustard was simply magical, so I decided to start with condiments.

The first sandwich I had to work with this week involved ham, however, and I couldn’t envision goat cheese complementing ham all that well (I may be wrong about that). But thanks to a trip to Trader Joe’s in Atlanta on Tuesday, I had a fresh jar of whole-grain mustard ready to go. (I don’t know what other people do on vacation, but we go to grocery stores.)

It’s like I’ve been making sandwiches wrong for YEARS. The whole-grain mustard simply transformed the ham and provolone cheese; lightly toasted on the Foreman Grill, the sandwich was melty, spicy perfection.

Never doubt the power of new and exciting condiments.

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The husband and I stumbled on a culinary treasure in Birmingham last week, a restaurant that made the trip to drop off his mother at the Amtrak station more than worthwhile.

I spotted the Culinard Cafe between the interstate and the station and looked up the menu on the iPhone. It was a nice distraction as I hunkered down to wait for the 12:05 to arrive while trying to avoid the headache-inducing flicker of the overhead light. The restaurant is associated with the Culinary Institute of Virginia College in Birmingham and provides a working and learning environment for students.

The husband’s only concern was whether the menu held a ham sandwich. It did.

The lunch menu boasted a wide variety of sandwiches and salads, including some pretty fancy combinations (salmon & brie salad, anyone?).

My first choice was the Southwestern chicken wrap (it had me at “chili spiked mayonnaise”), but when I turned the menu over I spotted the flat-iron steak sandwich. Its menu description was pure culinary seduction: “Sweet chili roasted flat iron steak with grilled onions, Alabama Belle Chevre Goat Cheese, lettuce, tomato, and whole grain mustard and spicy aioli on Ciabatta.”

Goat cheese, whole grain mustard AND spicy aioli? You have GOT to be kidding me.

I chose the black bean salad for my side so I could compare it to my recipe. (Their version was more complicated, but I like mine better.)

The sandwich was simply divine. I actually put it down after the first bite and said, “I need to contemplate this sandwich for a minute.” The steak was cooked to tender perfection, and the goat cheese and whole-grain mustard added an unexpectedly creamy and tangy element (admittedly, the aioli seems to have gotten lost among the rest of the flavors).

Walkout price for this thing of delicious beauty? $7.95 before tax.

Oh, and the husband enjoyed his ham & Swiss sandwich with fries.

We are SO going back to this restaurant for lunch if we find ourselves in Birmingham on a weekday. You should, too.

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Let’s face it: Thanksgiving is entirely too close to Christmas. It amazes me that people put so much effort into Thanksgiving, flying across the country or driving across the state, only to do it again four weeks later.

Having moved a good eight hours away from my mom and the in-laws, I’ve discovered that I just can’t do it anymore. There will be visits, but they will not necessarily occur on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day — I’ve moved past obsessing over dates. I’ll be just as thankful to have dinner with my family on any random day as I would on the official holidays. Happier, really, seeing as how I will likely have skipped the pre-holiday epic traffic jam that is Birmingham, Alabama.

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I still remember the moment I discovered that salad could mean something more than iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, croutons and dressing. I was at a fancy mountainside restaurant in Birmingham, Ala., with my future husband, probably around 1995, when the waiter brought out our small starter salads. They were filled with … leaves. And no hint of the crunchy, flavorless iceberg lettuce my fiance and I had both grown up thinking was the foundation of salad.

I learned that the leaves were baby arugula greens, and suddenly a new culinary world opened for me: Salad was no longer that bland bit of crunch existing only to carry dressing or serve as a low-calorie, tasteless diet option, but a real opportunity for nutritious, delicious creativity in the kitchen. Non-iceberg greens could be sweet or bitter and carry their own weight in a salad without relying on the dressing to make up for lack of flavor.

How did America get so obsessed with iceberg lettuce? Probably the same reason that grocery-store tomatoes and apples taste like mushy cardboard: According to Practically Edible, iceberg lettuce is easy to grow, easy to ship and lasts a long time in the fridge compared to other greens.

Through the early ’90s, it was nearly impossible to find any other kinds of greens in your average suburban grocery store, at least in Mississippi. I only had to remember one lettuce code during my entire six-month stint as a Jitney Jungle cashier in 1990.

I’m working my way through a big batch of Sylvetta Italian arugula mixed with other fresh greens this week, thanks to a winter CSA split with MrsDragon over at Mrs Dragon’s Den.  I even had to wash the dirt and a couple of tiny worms off, since my greens had just been plucked from the ground only two days earlier. Best salad ever.

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