The Foodies, part 2

There’s no doubt Birmingham is a food town, from fine dining at places such as Highland’s Bar & Grill and Hot and Hot Fish Club to dive discoveries like Shindigs Food Truck and Saw’s Barbecue. While award-winning chefs Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings may have put the Magic City on the culinary map, a thriving community of local “foodies” ensures it remains a dynamic gastronomic environment. Here, a few of our favorites share their stories, go-to meals, and favorite spots around town.

The Locavores

Sam Brasseale & Jen Barnett

Everyone has heard about the benefits of eating locally: reducing environmental footprints, supporting the local economy, adopting a more seasonal (and therefore varied) diet, etc. But increased awareness about why it’s good for us has not necessarily coincided with increased awareness of who’s selling these items and where they can be purchased. That is until Jen Barnett and Sam Brasseale launched Freshfully, an online—and now retail—marketplace for Alabama-made, Alabama-grown, and Alabama-raised foods. Although they do sell the goods, Jen and Sam’s primary goal is educating consumers on how and where to buy locally, offering an outlet for farmers, and ensuring the producers stay in business. As part of that effort, their web site offers local guides to vendors and products, articles, and recipes.

Q. Why buy local?
Jen: If you’ve been buying at a regular grocery store, you probably don’t even remember how fresh local food tastes. The tomatoes are sharp and acidic, the berries are sweet, and the corn is juicy and tender. Most food Americans eat travels 1, 500 miles before it reaches our plates. Tomatoes from Owl’s Hollow or strawberries from Jerry Marsh only travel about 45 miles to reach our store. That makes an immediate impact on the environment, plus, it just tastes better.

Q. Freshfully’s local go-to source for:
Seafood: The Fish Market; Gulf shrimp: Swimming Last Night. Produce: Stone Oak Farm, Moore Farms, Owl’s Hollow Farm, Averiett Branch Farm, Marsh Farm, and more. Cheese: Wright’s Dairy, Belle Chevre, and Bulger Creek. Meat: grass-fed local meat from Dennis Farm, Averiett Branch Farm, and McEwen & Sons.

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Q. What’s your favorite place to go for a casual meal?
Jen & Sam: Saw’s Soul Kitchen for either pork or blackened fish over cheese grits with collards and onion rings, or that amazing Saw’s burger. Where else can you get a burger with lady peas on the side?

Q. What’s the most underrated dish in Birmingham?
Jen: The garlic spiced bacon meat at Mr. Chen’s in Hoover. Sam: Tacos from the truck on West Valley.

Q. What is your must-have kitchen tool?
Jen: A Kitchen-Aid mixer, for fresh butter.

Q. What’s your favorite local brew?
Sam: Avondale Brewing Co’s Vanillaphant Porter.

Q. What’s your favorite new twist on a classic southern dish?
Sam: Chorizo meatloaf from El Barrio. Jen: Beet and mushroom vegan meatballs from the Shindigs food truck.


All local farmers and vendors mentioned can be found on THE FISH MARKET or 205.322.3330 SAW'S SOUL KITCHEN or 205.591.1409 MR. CHEN'S or 205.824.8283 WEST VALLEY TACO TRUCKTAQUERIA GUZMAN 215 West Valley Avenue, Birmingham, AL 35209 LITTLE DONKEY or 205.703.7000 AVONDALE BREWING COMPANY EL BARRIO or 205.868.3737 SHINDIGS FOOD TRUCK or 205.807.0299

The Blogger

Ashley Brouwer

Just by reading through her blog, FoodSwoon, it’s hard to tell Ashley Brouwer is not a professional chef. No, this amateur and self-taught recipe developer, cook, and food photographer is a writer by trade (which you can tell from the blog) and is currently working from home as a freelance grant writer for local non-profits. Given that she has a full-time job and is a mom to two children, it’s hard to imagine where she finds time to experiment in her kitchen, then blog about it her discoveries. Luckily, she juggles well and has created one of the most popular food blogs in town. What makes it such a hit—international-inspired recipes made from fresh local ingredients—is exactly what we all love so much about the food in our fair city. Up next for Ashley: harvesting fresh veggies from her garden for seasonal recipes to share on her blog.

Q. How do you balance working, blogging, and being a mom?
Every mother I know is trying to find an extra hour in her day. We are all busy. Not watching television provides me the time to tackle extra projects. My musician husband and I spend most of our evenings after the kids are in bed working on side projects such as my blog.

Q. What’s the most underrated dish in Birmingham?
Crestwood Coffee co-owner Danny Winter, a self-taught cook from Louisiana, makes extraordinary soups. His wild mushroom brie soup is a personal favorite. Also, for our family Christmas dinner, it’s tradition to order a turducken with crawfish stuffing from the Cajun Cleaver. It’s out-of-this-world delicious and feeds a crowd.

Q. What’s your favorite local cocktail?
Hot and Hot Fish Club serves an aptly-named drink called the “Donny Draper” made with rye whiskey, sassafras syrup, homemade bitters and, I’m convinced, some 1960s magic. I’m also a fan of Little Savannah’s “Walker Percy, ” a refreshing mix of bourbon, muddled cucumber, honey-violet syrup and soda.

For more Foodies, click here to read the first part of this two-part series.

Q. What single kitchen tool could you not live without?
My KitchenAid stand mixer, gifted to me by my mother-in-law, is indispensable.

Q. What’s your go-to local cookbook?
Frank Stitt’s Southern Table

Q. What’s your no-fail appetizer?
Despite what tasty, inventive appetizers I whip up for parties, guests always flock to the same thing: savory monkey bread with herb butter.

Q. What pantry staples do you keep on hand?
Fruity olive oil is a constant in my pantry; Sriracha hot sauce is always within reach; and I’m rarely without double-strength vanilla extract. I stock a variety of flours: all-purpose as well as bread, chickpea, wheat and almond flours. Does bourbon count as a pantry staple?

Q. Where do you go in Birmingham for dessert when your sweet tooth needs satisfying?
Continental Bakery satisfies my dessert cravings: strawberry macaroons when I want a sweet nibble or a slice of chocolate torte when I’m in the mood for all-out decadence.



The Party Planner

Martie Duncan

Q. What are your secrets for a no-stress party?
Have a plan. Keep the food pretty simple. Get lots of help by enlisting friends and family. Always remember: Have fun at your own party!

Q. What’s your favorite local cocktail?
I like the way they make a classic Pimm’s Cup at Chez Fonfon—it’s garnished with mint and cucumber. It’s my go-to summer cocktail and probably the only place in town I’ve found where they really know how to make it.

Q. What single kitchen tool could you not live without?
I love my immersion blender. I use it for drinks, desserts, and soups—especially my roasted butternut squash soup.

Q. What food trend are you digging most now? What are you over?
Farm to table will always be a favorite, now and always. I’m so over pompous, stuffy restaurants with more ego and attitude than hospitality.

Q. What’s your no-fail appetizer when entertaining?
Gosh! I have a ton of them but you just cannot go wrong with a lovely cheese board. My friends always appreciate trying new cheeses and I love finding them.

Q. Friends are in town for the weekend. Where do you take them for brunch?
We go to Dyron’s Low Country. They have a great Bloody Mary.

Q. What’s the most out-there/adventurous/strangest dish you’ve tried?
I don’t eat strange food. Uck. Anthony Bourdain’s job is safe.

Q. What’s your favorite new twist on a classic southern dish?
I do classic deviled eggs with lots of toppings; a deviled egg bar…

Q. To what restaurant would go for your last meal? What would you order? Why?
Bottega. I love the staff there and the food is always fantastic. I’d let them choose for me and I know I’d love whatever it is. I just had the Chilton County peach appetizer. It was absolutely delicious. I almost go to see the people as much as I’d go for the food. When I was preparing for Food Network Star, Chef Stitt generously allowed me to shadow his staff for a couple of days. I fell in love with the Bottega family.



Produced and written by Steele Marcoux, Photography and styling by Major Adam Colbert

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