A December 2001 trip
to Birmingham by oflara
Quote: This is the ongoing saga of my explorations in the deep south while struggling to save enough money to get back to Cali.
Pelham, AL: Oak Mountain State Park. For /person and .50/highlighted topo you can hike the various trails through this well maintained park.
Hoover, AL: The Boulderfields. Rock climbers and boulderers alike will delight in this cluster of boulders in between housing developments just past the Galleria Mall off Rt. 31. A road is being built right by it, perfect for easier access for all us regulars.
Helena, AL: Driving down 261 South from Rt. 31 I discovered this gem of an 1877 Historic Old Town.
Montevallo, AL: The University of Montevallo is right down Rt. 119, south of B'ham. This old and beautiful treelined campus has one of the oldest buildings in the state and is home to the official geographical center of Alabama. They even have a plaque!
And there is tons of shopping...malls everywhere for every style and budget.
Public transportation? In central Alabama? Never. Make sure you have a car, because everything is spread out here. I have heard if you fly in to B'ham you have to take a taxi into town because the bus route does not extend that far. There is an AMTRAK station in town and I believe Grayhound visits here too. For the urban sprawl towns you need to drive yourself.
The food is great, if you like meat. I recommend the Fried Green Tomato appetizer and the grilled chicken. They do their pork pulled, not chopped, and most of their meat is hickory smoked. I tried their chicken and the hickory was present but not overpowering. And my mother says their baked beans are better than - are you sitting down? - Boston's. Well, perhaps it is worth a try.
As I said before, vegetarians need not apply. However, they do have a decent small beer selection and Woodbridge wines, from cab sauvs to chards. Hey, it's a good place to relax at a good price, BBQ sandwich: under $3.00, and there is even a sign on I 65. Of course, they do take-out.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 18, 2001
Tin Roof BBQ
4524 Southlake Pkwy
Birmingham, Alabama 35244
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 14, 2002
Ali Baba Persian Restaurant
110 Centre At 35244 35244
The restaurant is not all Thai in fact. It has a comparable sushi menu and the specials (average price $12.95) are eclectic. The appetizers ($3 - $6) include satay, spicy basil leaves and other tasty polynesian bites. There Spcy Shrimp Coconut Soup is highly recomded. The main menu is full of your standard stir fry and Pad dishes with choices of tofu, chicken, beef or pork ($7.75) and shrimp ($10). There is an entire curry section, which I tried once and thought it could use a little more spice.
The portions are big so expect to take away your leftovers. And if you are smart, set your sights on the desert case in the back of the restaurant near the kitchen. We tasted the Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake topped with whip cream and chocolate chips (with a to go box on the side) and the Bread Pudding, which was also tasty and covered in a light caramel sauce. Deserts run from $2.50 for homemade ice cream to $7.00 for a desert bar assortment. Delicious!!!!
There is a full bar complete with the tasty Japanese Sapporo beer and warm Saki. And to this restaurant's credit, it is the first place I have eaten that has not asked if I want "Sweet or Unsweet" Tea to start off with. It kept true to its asian flavor when I asked for a hot tea during desert and was given a small pot of green tea, freshly made.
Check their hours of dining for they open for lunch, then close for a siesta of sorts. And be prepared for a line. There were people waiting before the doors opened at 5:30 and the joint was jumping not an hour later. Surin West is normally a 3-4 star place with a comfortable relaxed atmosphere. I'm going again next week!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 10, 2002
1918 11th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
Jazz Brunch Review:
What can I say? The place is surrounded by art. You walk up the stairs with jazz wafting into your ears and a glance out of your peripherals give you a glimpse of the sculpture garden. So the actual cafe's decor is forgivable, perhaps purposefully minimal as to not outclass the artwork.
Jazz Brunch is exactly that. A jazz quartet accompanies in the back sans vocals in order to encourage conversation. Reservations are key, however, get there early for you still have to wait for an available table. Once you are seated the waiter offers the list of complimentary drinks, including the classic mimosa (champagne and orange juice), and water is on the house. The brunch is catered by Kathy G. and is really quite surprising. There was the basic American breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage links, home fried potatoes. Then add to that the continental with croissants and fruit. Then come more eclectic additives like blintzes and smoked salmon. Salads were abundant, both garden and Caesar. The lunch portion of the brunch was strictly southern: fried chicken, gravy, grits, mashed potatoes. For the faint of heart, my suggestion: stick with the breaky.
If you are brave enough to venture up a second time, be sure to check out the deserts. Chocolate cake rich enough to kill you, apple and pecan pies and, my personal favorite, turtle cheesecake. Stick a fork in me, I'm done.
If you get there at the right time, your table might still have a cloth on it and perhaps your waitstaff will clear your first serving plates. And, if you are especially lucky you will be able to watch with rapt attention the highly trained swing dancers that take the stage on a whim. Enchanting.
So, for $16.95 ($5.95 for kids 6-12) you get a scrumptuous buffet, glass of champagne or mimosa, all the tap water you can guzzle and a friendly traditional jazz show with perhaps a dancer or two. And, have I mentioned that it is in one of the Southeast's best museums? Thought so.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 3, 2002
Birmingham Art Museum 2000 8th Ave North
Birmingham, Alabama 35203
Upon first look the college cafeteria style decorating leaves much to be desired. The place is as ugly on the inside as it is on the outside. The bar is useless since the church across the street made sure the zoning laws for this spot did not allow alcohol. There were TVs in every corner, which I find odd but must be local practice. When we entered the hostess sat us. I noticed that most who entered just grabbed menus and wandered past the hostess, seating themselves. I wondered if that was standard practice.
The menu is plain old BBQ: chopped or sliced pork or chicken sandwiches and plates with various sides like fries, slaw, okra and beans. No appetizers. The food comes out fast though our server was slow and did not come back to check on us after she dropped off the check with the food. For two people (2 sandwiches @ 2.80, 2 sodas @ 1.20 and 2 side salads @ 2.95) we were out of there for under $15 which was the only good thing about the joint. Oh, and I'm told their pies are homemade.
My advice: if you chose to eat here, get it take away. The place is not appealing to eat at. Might as well eat the food in the comfort of your own home. Better service there too :).
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on December 27, 2001
North Star BBQ
Feb. 10, 2002 through April 14, 2002 - European Masters, Six Centuries of Paintings from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia. 87 works of art including Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Pissarro, Picasso, Manet, Monet and Van Dyck. Tickets on sale now and at the door. Box Office: 205/328-7628 or www.ticketmaster.com
The museum is three floors. The first the entry hall and auditorium, then above it, two floors of spacious rooms, a heavy leaning towards Oriental art, American landscapes and Wedgwood pottery. The first floor hallway walls are lined with Flemish masters and the rooms are filled with turn of the century furniture. My favorite bits were the impressionism (Monet, Pissarro, Cassatt), futurism/cubism (Severini, Picasso) and contemporary (Warhol, local AL artists) sections. In the back they desplay some beautiful American landscapes and American artists, including a Georgia O'Keefe mingled amongst the unknowns. The is also the back entrance to the sculpture garden.
On the second floor you will find Native American and African art ranging from weavings to carvings (which by the way were stunning). Also along these halls is the large Wedgewood collection.
The staff is helpful and friendly and, do not fret, they will not let you escape the building without a validated parking ticket.
Check them out on the web at www.artsbma.org
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 18, 2001
Birmingham Museum of Art
2000 8th Avenue North
Birmingham, Alabama 35203
Some of the slabs are obviously well traversed, the tell tale chalk marking holds used in past problems. Not only are chalk markings present, but the unfortunate tags of the local drunken spray painter. The climbers are making a conscious effort to clean the place up.
The boulder problems range from stupidly simple to extremely difficult. All in all it is a great place to hone your skills on the rock. For route info, check out the Southeast climbing bible, The 'Dixie Cragger.'
I have found that there is almost always someone there either top roping or doing a bit of bouldering, perhaps even walking their dog. I often go alone. Maybe I'll see you there!
It is $2/person to get in and about 2 miles from the entrance you can buy a highlighted topo from the visitor center for $.50! It gives all trail info and parking areas. There is even a .3 mile nature trail, perfect for family outings. All in all it is a well maintained state park. Go Alabama.
News: On January 5, 2002, the Sierra Club is hosting a day hike there. Meet at the North Trailhead, 7 miles from the park enterance. BYO H2O and lunch. Cheers.
Oak Mountain State Park
Birmingham, Alabama 35124
For those in need, the Institute is fully handicap accesible and the volunteers inside are knowledgable, helpful and friendly.
The permanent exhibition begins in a short 10 minute film about the history of blacks in Birmingham, from the industrial revolution and the staggering facts that most hard labor workers were black and barely paid. The film takes the viewer through to the 1950s, where the screen lifts so you can enter the exhibit.
The first image set is the segregated water fountains, the "colored" fountain rusting and barely sanitary. The first room is focused on segregation in the 1950s. On the discussion of Brown vs. The Board of Education (1954) it is noted that schools did not become actually segregated until 1964 due to fear and white attacks.
The Institute takes the visitor year by year through the peaceful struggle led by the inspirational Dr. King. The milestones are recognized right away: Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Freedom Riders attacked in Tennessee, the KKK, 800 children arrested and jailed in Birmingham, Lunch Counter Sit-Ins, March at Selma, and of course, the horrid photos of police in Birmingham turning firehoses on peaceful protestors...and the attack dogs.
But the Institute is thorough. It lets you know about the not so publicized incidents like the brutal attack on blacks who dared step foot on an all whites only beach. The Institue also gives you the names of other prominent black leaders and heros you may not recognize.
By the time I got through to the fabulous video presentation of Dr. King's beautiful speech at the March on Washington I was ready for some inspiration. I was struck with the question of WHY? And I was filled with hope when his words rang clear: "Free at last, Free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last."
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
520 16th Street North
Birmingham, Alabama 35203
Alabaster tries to be an interesting place. It's small town Alabama, 25 Miles south of Birmingham on I 65, just on the edge of the urban sprawl and growing (25k residents). Surrounding it are towns of seeming value, Pelham with Oak Mountain State Park, Helena with its quaint "Old Town", Montevallo with its University, Hoover with Riverchase Galleria, well to do areas like Moutain Brook and Indian Springs. Alabaster seems to have nothing of its own except for Shelby County Hospital and a few industrial plants.
I am still exploring it, making my way through its veins, the backroads and side streets. There must be something beneath its lesser blue collar exterior, its "build your own" homes out of "Edward Scissorhands" and its countless thrift stores and railroad crossings. Where is downtown? Is it the strip of empty buildings on Route 31 next to the Police Station and the Frame Shop? Does this little town exist just as a bed for those working elsewhere?
Well, I started in the obvious place: the library. The Albert L. Scott Library on the corner of 9th Street NW and Co Road 95 is fabulous. It's a new building complete with picnic tables out front for a little outdoor reading among the pines. The librarians are extremely helpful, especially if you have a project in mind. Oh, and now that I am a member I can take out and return books at any of the 11 Shelby County branches. Awesome.
Upon asking if they had any reference materials on Alabaster, the librarian handed me a video: "Remembering Alabaster" made in 1999. She hadn't seen it herself and asked me to make a full report upon its return. I took it home and popped it in the VCR, anxious to find something of value in this little town.
Needless to say the camerawork was shoddy and the lighting design worthy of a flourescent light factory and the information slow in the coming. The entire video was a panel discussion held in May of 1999 to celebrate and discuss this little town. The gist:
Alabaster originated in the late 1800s. The Thompson family moved here and bought over 1000 acres to be used as a plantation. On this land they also opened the Buck Creek Textile mill. Meanwhile across town the Kent quarries were being tapped for its stone rich in calcium indiginous to the area: alabaster. They took that stone and produced lime which Birmingham, the thriving city to the north, needed for their production of steel. So workers were bused in to the quarry and its bounty trucked out to Birmingham. Before too long the workers began to settle here. In 1952 it became official.
Before the town became incorporated in 1952 (some argue '53) the mill and the mine switched hands several times and eventually the textile mill closed down. In its place today is its remains, an empty brick building with broken windows alongside a struggling creek. The town's YMCA, a white building in bad need of a makeover, is presently in one of the old washroom/locker rooms of the mill. It is said that Mrs. Thompson, while not knowing much about running the mill after her husband passed away, knew how to take care of her employees.
The video continued on with testimonials from the daughter of the milk plant owner and the son of the now closed department store proprietor. The Walmarts moved in and shut down local businesses. The malls are becoming small towns themselves with their own housing developments. Most of the residents of Alabaster spend their days in Birmingham, probably not appreciating whatever it is Alabaster has to offer.
Now I know the story: Alabaster, AL grew out of industry. Birmingham needed limestone for its steel works and Alabaster had it. The workers were bused in and eventually stayed on to live. The familiar names of streets and buildings echo the names of the past. When the town became incorporated on February 5, 1952, a sign was put up on the main highway which read: Alabaster, pop. 300, We Keep Growing. The sign is gone but the spirit is still here.