Food for Thought: Changing the World
Food for Thought: Changing the World In partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Office of Community, Neighborhood, and Government Relations, the Frist Center for
Clocking in at just less than three hours, the drive to Birmingham from Nashville feels like a breeze—especially when you can knock off work a few hours early to beat rush-hour traffic out of Williamson County. Make plans to arrive before dinnertime, and then spend your weekend traipsing around the walkable streets, getting to know its history, as well as the sights, sounds, and flavors of a city that’s constantly reimagining itself.
Get settled in to one of the plush rooms inside the Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook, where the Autograph Collection property designs each light-filled guest room using inspiration from the natural beauty of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which sits right across the street. Leaf and water plant motifs make for a serene stay—but plan to rest later, and kick off your visit with a stroll through the gardens and greenhouses.
It’s time for dinner at OvenBird, a tapas-style restaurant from chef Chris Hastings that’s centered on an aromatic wood-fired oven. Grab a seat at the bar and gaze on as chefs pull out sizzling hot skillets of fideos (thin noodles), topped with roasted prawns and mussels, as well as headily scented bread and marrow bones, dripping with beef butter.
Scope out Birmingham’s hottest new ’hood, Avondale, where music venues and restaurants are bringing life back to the once dodgy, industrial neighborhood. Avondale Brewing, housed in a historic warehouse, features a colorful taproom and a range of creative brews, like the Mr. Todd’s Double IPA. Afterward, stop in to Parkside, a fun and funky neighborhood bar with a patio and gazebos out back, or see who’s playing at Saturn, another revitalized space that now welcomes artists, like Hurray, for the Riff Raff play under its orange and blue lights.
Start with a stop into Feast and Forest where there are ham-and-cheese croissants, well-made cappuccinos, and Americana tunes flowing through the speakers. From there, you’re fortified for a walk through the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an essential stop and powerful reminder of our not-so-distant past. The Institute is undergoing a restoration in time for its 25th anniversary this year but is still open for daily, self-guided tours.
El Barrio offers up a solid example of the city’s changing culinary landscape, with its multi-regional Mexican menu—and the freshly made ceviches is just right for sharing at lunch. Don’t miss their daily margarita selection or the Gulf shrimp quesadilla.
Head back to the hotel, where you’ll want to book an afternoon Bohemian Wine Blending & Tasting class, inside the hotel’s dedicated wine-blending classroom. The hands-on experience walks you through the major varietals that make up a Bordeaux blend, which you then blend together yourself, creating a custom-labeled bottle of wine to take home. Rather put your culinary schools to work? The Habitat Cooking School offers hands-on classes, too. Afterward, wander over to Habitat Feed & Social, the hotel’s restaurant, where a rooftop patio is heated by fire pits, and the oversized, Alice in Wonderland-like chairs make a cozy place to enjoy one of the bar’s signature cocktails, like the Bulleit Rye-based Rye Side Up.
A trip to Birmingham is not complete without a stop at one of Frank Stitt’s fantastic dining rooms. Make a night of it with a first stop at Chez Fonfon for the steak tartare or a taste of three cheeses, before settling in next door for a proper meal at Highlands Bar and Grill. From ethereal crab beignets and Gulf oysters done three different ways, to speckled trout and baked grits with a white wine-butter sauce, it’s a meal that radiates Stitt’s pleasure of presenting a French-inspired take on Southern cuisine.
Perhaps there’s time for a quick visit to the Poseidon Spa? Set near the entrance of the hotel, it’s a convenient luxury to indulge in a Privai Balancing facial—and will set you into a relaxed mood before you make the drive back home.