For the Birmingham Food Scene 2017 Was a Very Good Year, But What About 2018

Willie Chriesman/Á la Carte Alabama

When it comes to national media attention, Alabama got more than its fair share in 2017. Granted, most of it had to do with politics. But there was a topic where at least one Alabama city had a chance to bask in the warm glow of positive publicity.

For the Birmingham metro area’s booming food scene, 2017 was a very good year. Of course, It isn’t the first time The Magic City has been in the national spotlight. But, as opposed to the times when it made headlines for all the wrong reasons, this year has seen an infusion of good news stories unlike anything in recent memory.

The year began with no less than The New York Times listing Birmingham as one of 52 Places to Go in 2017.  Fueled by the ongoing work of nationally-renowned chefs and restaurants, the opening of the Pizitz Food Hall and the emergence of food enclaves in places like Avondale, Lakeview and Woodlawn, the positive stories continued in national publications like The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle. Even that arbiter of style and fashion Vogue magazine sang the praises of this erstwhile Steel Town.

Eater and OpenTable both listed the Southside’s Highlands Bar and Grill as one of America’s best restaurants and it along with Highlands’ pastry chef Dolester Miles and chef Tim Hontzas of Homewood’s Johnny’s Restaurant were nominated for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award, the Oscars of the food world. (As were Alabama chefs David Bancroft of Acre in Auburn, Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse in Alexander City and Bill Briand of Fisher's Upstairs at Orange Beach Marina in Orange Beach.)

And the year wraps up with the renowned restaurant review site Zagat lauding Birmingham as one of 2017’s 30 Most Exciting Food Cities in America. Proclaiming “all eyes are on The Magic City,” Zagat says, “It's delivering with a wave of globally focused eateries.”

What’s ahead for 2018

With the momentum building for the culinary scene here, there’s little doubt 2018 will bring more attention and more accolades. That’s especially true in thriving areas like downtown, Uptown, Southside and Avondale. But what else can we expect?

Signs point to the excitement surrounding food expanding beyond Birmingham’s city limits. Homewood expects a number of new restaurant offerings to open in the months ahead following a busy 2017. And Mountain Brook has announced it’s launching a Restaurant Trail, similar to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, where diners are encouraged to sample the fare offered by that town’s dozens of eating options.

One thing that could elevate the Birmingham food scene even more is for it to expand to some of the area’s struggling communities, particularly predominantly African-American ones. With the city’s rich African-American traditions in culture and food, these communities are ripe to benefit from this city’s food explosion.

We’re building a whole new identity in Birmingham on food and it’s one that’s putting a good face on us to the world. Now, let’s see if we can spread those benefits all around town.