Remember when the only news about Birmingham was bad?
We've weathered internationally seen images of fire hoses and police dogs, scenes of urban decay and the world watching Jefferson County suffer through one of the biggest municipal bankruptcies in history.
It's certainly been difficult for us to get across the message that it really is "nice to have you in Birmingham."
It's been my contention that if you've never been here you either have a negative impression of Birmingham or no impression at all. That was especially true of non-Southerners. (Sadly, it can even be true of some people who actually live here.)
But that's beginning to change.
Rather than building an image only on iron and steel or the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, our civic identity is increasingly being built on food.
And that is good.
It's almost becoming routine when local media outlets say nice things about the Birmingham food scene or when they sing the praises of our award-winning chefs or talk up the latest hot new eatery in Lakeview or Avondale.
But when the big boys in New York, Washington and San Francisco take notice and start talking about us, that's completely different. Especially when it means they have something nice to say about The Magic City.
Just this year, The New York Times listed us as one of its "52 Places to Go in 2017." The Washington Post sang our praises with "Alabama's largest city boldly returns to the stage and sings to a bigger audience." The San Francisco Chronicle gave us kudos in "One Day, One Place: Tasty bite of Deep South in Birmingham." And no less of an authority than the renowned restaurant guide Zagat lists us as one of America's "Hottest Food Cities."
Our vibrant food scene is rolling out the welcome mat to people across the nation--and even from other countries. It's not only getting outsiders to throw a little positive attention our way, but it's fueling renewed energy in neighborhoods and areas like the 2nd Avenue Loft District downtown, the entertainment district Uptown, 5 Points South and the aforementioned Avondale and Lakeview.
But there's more to be done. While downtown, the eastern part of town and some of our suburban communities are reaping the benefits of an invigorated dining scene, not everyone is. Aside from The Bright Star in Bessemer, there aren't may recognized dining spots on the western side of town. That doesn't mean there's not good food that way. It means it just hasn't been discovered by the masses yet.
There are signs of hope. Developers are working to attract more dining options to the area around Birmingham CrossPlex and 5 Points West. And development in the Ensley area holds the potential of adding new eating options to those taking root there now.
As "man shall not live by bread alone," Birmingham cannot expect to reach greatness as a city on its food alone. But it's a good--and often very tasty--start.
So, eat up, Birmingham. It's making you look good.