We’re Exploring: Birmingham, AL

Just after the new year we traveled out to Birmingham, Alabama for the BBVA Compass Bowl featuring SMU vs. Pittsburgh to see our friend Coach June Jones defeat the Panthers in a 28-6 victory.  Though warnings of rain filled the forecast prior to the big game, the day was stunningly beautiful, with a subtle chill in the air and sunshine beaming, lucky for a January day.

We flew into Birmingham the morning of the game on a plane filled with dozens of other game goers enjoying Bloody Mary’s and excited about the 3rd bowl appearance for the team in the past 3 years.  We arrived just in time to visit the Mustang Club tent for a Bud Light and a little camaraderie, then it was into Legion Field, the circa 1920’s stadium named for the American Legion.

A powerful first quarter set the stage for an impressive win over the Big East team.

After enjoying the game from the sidelines we were ready for a night of celebrating, Pittsburgh style….it was however, also a weekend of Wild Card NFL games, and we wanted to watch New Orleans.  We had heard the Five Points South district was the place to play in Birmingham, and after running into some SMU alums in the lobby of our hotel we took their restaurant suggestion and headed to Highlands in Five Points South.  Just saying “please take us to five points” to our cab driver made me feel like I was in The Gangs of New York, but in reality the area is a hip restaurant and bar filled square of five major streets coming together.

Highlands is buzzing with locals and visitors sipping Champagne and Burgundy, and slurping oysters from all over the country in this French inspired bistro.  We grab a few seats at the bar, just in view of the tiny TV, allowing us to see a score every now and then, and still enjoy the beauty and elegance of this cozy, chic bistro opened by James Beard award winning chef Frank Stitt in 1982 known for adding French flair to southern food.

After Champagne and martini’s we order a bottle of Chateau Haut-Segottes Saint-Emillion Bordeaux with a colossal shrimp cocktail for me and pate for Gary, followed by a wild greens salad and mushroom risotto.  Simple, elegant and clean with rich, unprocessed flavors.  And the wine, and earthy, leathery, cherry filled red that came at the recommendation from our excellent bartender who aptly noted this is one of the best wines for the price on their list, and we have to concur.  After dinner we both indulged in an after dinner drink, Sambuca with a French Press coffee for Gary; Green tea with Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur for me…..green tea with ginger liqueur may be the best flavor combo in the world…..

We were flying back mid-day on Sunday but wanted to see a little bit more of Birmingham so we went back to the five points area and walked a bit.  You never know what you will see….outside of one of the shops a man was holding a mammoth size hawk he had caught the day before and, from what I could tell, was likely to become the new mascot for his near by tattoo parlor.

We ducked into a spot called MetroPrime for a bite of lunch.  We opted for lunch in a glass with their MetroMary Bloody Mary complete with fresh horseradish, house-made Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay seasoning on the rim and another one of those colossal shrimps as a garnish.  Delicious (and filling.)

Then off to the airport for an upgraded flight home and very happy memories of a great bowl win and a gracious Southern city.  A perfect way to start 2012!