It’s Complicated – 100 Dishes To Eat In Alabama Before You Di
Alabama Shrimp And Clams at Ovenbird in Birmingham is the #95th dish on my quest to eat all 100 Dishes To Eat In Alabama Before You Die. #6 if I am counting down to zero.
I began this blog by first writing about the “100 Dish Shrimp and Clams.”
However, I soon realized that in describing the food without first introducing the place and the chef was doing an injustice in not inspiring you to desire a visit to this mighty fine experience. It’s complicated.
In my humble Meg opinion, Chef Chris Hastings is a pretty cool dude, his restaurant just as cool. He along with his wife Idie, are the owners of the highly successful restaurant, The Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham. He has won numerous awards and accolades. Including two nominations for a James Beard Award in the category of Best Chef in the South. In 2012, he did indeed win this award. Not only has he been featured in many news articles nationwide, he has appeared on The Food Network’s Iron Chef television show. And for you fans of this show, yes, he beat out Bobbie Flay with his secret ingredient, sausage.
The description of the restaurant from the Ovenbird websites sums up why I want to first describe the Chef and the place.
“OvenBird is Chris and Idie Hastings live fire, casual restaurant. Our menu focuses on the amazing seasonal southern ingredients we know and love in a small plate format that takes inspiration from the live fire traditions of Spain, Portugal, Uruguay, Argentina and of course the American South.”
“We are located in the Pepper Place neighborhood, specifically in the Garden of Charlie and Cindy Thigpen’s Garden Gallery. The garden is a very unique and beautiful outdoor dining environment that will change seasonally and support both our kitchen and craft cocktail program.” 
Relaxed and inviting outdoor rooms that will transport you outside of the city and into a touch of classy-casual and calm surroundings.
Which brings me to the setting and the neighbors who also happen to be one of my favorite garden shops. Love Thigpen’s Garden Gallery.
I love anyone who has a trough for sale. Love this place! Even my friend who does not like outdoor work and gardens enjoyed our visit to the shop and walking through the courtyard.
is from The Oceans + Estuaries menu.
Alabama Shrimp And Clams
Fideos, Aioli, Chorizo, Sofrito – $13
- Fideos a Spanish pasta made into short, thin noodles. Often toasted before cooking, it is said that they are great with bold dishes.*to note, the photo shows the pasta quite well.
- Aioli a sauce that seems to be on every menu these days, is actually not a new fad. It is an ancient Mediterranean sauce made with olive oil and garlic and after these two ingredients, the many recipes may vary. Usually egg yolks, lemon juice, and salt. It is made fresh and does keep in the refrigerator.
- Chorizo folks, we have a Spanish thing goin on. Chorizo is a spicy pork sausage from Spain or Mexico that often has a natural intestinal casing. The sausage is different from various regional areas so a chef may use authentic sausage for regional dishes.
- Sofrito- a sauce that is often used as a base for dishes in Spain, Latin America, Portugal etc…Made with green peppers, tomatoes, saffron and thyme and cooked slowly, makes for what I call a complicated like flavor. You know, when you get a mouthful of something that you say yum and can’t quite put your finger on the ingredient.
How did it taste? As good as it looks and as fancy as it sounds. Believe it or not, you too can make this dish. Of course, you may need to replicate the wood fired oven to “understand the rhythm of the fire'” to get this dish exactly right. DO check out the link in MEGatips of Chef Chris Hastings making this dish. He makes it look so easy.
MEGastars 5 ***** Alabama Food with Alabama Pride and creativity. Outstanding.
Duck Confit Empanada
Date, Olive, Potato, Cilantro Crème Fraiche $10
- Duck Confit – There are articles written on just this subject. So, in a nutshell this is an old preservation method that was used to cook and keep the duck in its own fat bath. The meat is injected with flavor, moisture, and tenderness beyond your wildest culinary dreams. It keeps in the refrigerator for months.
- Empanada A Spanish food that many liken to a turnover. I’m from Northern Wisconsin and my Grandmother from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan so I liken it to a Pasty. It is dough folded over a stuffing and then baked. YUM!
- Crème Fraiche Kind of like sour cream but with a higher fat content and a creamy consistency. In this instance, it also had cilantro in the crème.
How did it taste? Ok, anytime you say the words potato, olives, and dates in a sentence, I lose my mind. So, yep, I loved it! MEGastars 4.5 ****.5*
Even though I was starting to get full, I could not pass up that nagging feeling that I would regret leaving Ovenbird without something from the Shared Snacks area of the menu, the
Anchovy, Curtido, Romesco $5
- Anchovy a small saltwater fish that also has many health benefits.
- Curtido this is a Central American coleslaw like dish. Made with cabbage, onions, carrots, seasonings such as oregano, and sometimes lime juice. It is also called a relish.
- Romesco is a sauce with origins in Northern Spain. Made of nuts, red peppers, tomatoes. However, there are many variations of this sauce.
How did I like them? 5 MEGastars ***** Never had these numbers in my life. Loved them!
My friend ordered a cocktail from the Ovenbird originals. As an afterthought, this cocktail was as complex as the food and deserves a mention.
London Dry Gin + Cocchi American + Grapefruit +Agavero + Absinth Rinse $10
- Cocchi Americano a wine based appertif , infused with brandy, bark, and citrus agents. It adds a sweetness and bitterness that hails from Italy. Yeesh, complicated but I get the reason why this would be in a cocktail.
- Agavero Agavero is made from a blend of 100% blue agave, añejo, and reposado tequilas. It is then blended by hand, with the essence of Damiana flower to make it uber smooth.
- Absinthe Rinse – Absinthe is swished around in the glass and discarded.
I did have a taste of my friends drink and Yum! MEGastars 5 *****
Visiting Ovenbird was another fantastic Alabama stop that I likely will never forget. This experience has once again enlightened my culinary world. My brain literally grew tired as I wrote and thought about the complicated food that I was so very fortunate to taste at Ovenbird. I truly appreciate my Ovenbird visit and it will remain in the top of my Alabama and all-time National/World restaurant experiences. The Birmingham Alabama food scene is outstanding!
- The Ovenbird is a great pre-visit to your experience. You will find everything that you need to know before your visit. and  Ovenbird Birmingham, AL
- Chef Chris Hastings preparing this fantastic dish on YouTube Chef Chris Hastings preparing Sofrito
- DO bring some friends for sharing the small plates. The menu is outstanding!
- Be curious about the big and foreign words on your menu. I think, it has helped me learn about the importance of geographical and regional foods. Plus, my horizon has been expanded into the art of the plate.
- Birmingham Alabama is a great place to visit and has some serious good eats with award winning Chef’s.
- Do pop in to visit Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery! Charlie Thigpen Birmingham AL website
This MEGabites and MEGastars description is found at the bottom of each post. If you are new to my 100 Dishes in Alabama escapade, this may be helpful information.
ABOUT: *100 Dishes To Eat In Alabama Before You Die,” is a compilation of food to chow down on “Bama style.” Thanks to Tourism Alabama, www.alabama.travel my Alabama bucket list just became a little easier. I am going to have some food fun while making my way like Ms. Pacman, in yet another state that I call home. From the little old diner to the white cloth setting, this journey is an opportunity for me to explore my new state and experience pride in food from restaurateurs who are dedicated to local food, with some Alabama style. From the local BBQ smoker to James Beard recipients, you too will take a culinary trip across scenic and historical Alabama. From this list, I select stops based upon convenience of location and they are in no particular order (but I already have a few favorites.) Perhaps when I finish this list, I will rank my favorite dishes. You too may pick up the brochure at Alabama Tourism stops or download the alphabetical brochure that begins in Abbeville and ends in York.
I use a 5 MEGastar system. For the most part, I am traveling a distance to try these dishes and these places get one shot at how I view the food and experience. I will not be taking an average of three visit experiences and I factor this in when I give my star rating. That said, I’m very easy to please, I can overlook quite a bit and have worked in the food service industry. I am not a paid food critic, just Meg, a curious traveler, with an interest in trying different foods and sharing my two cents on the experience. I try to follow my own star system so that I may be fair to the wonderful dishes on this list.
- *meh food. Just wasn’t good. Maybe the food came from a can? or, the place was not one that I would want to send someone to show pride in Alabama. This has happened to me a few times and is a difficult write.
- ** passable – the food was “ok” but the place was not “ok” or vice versa.
- *** good but not outstanding or unique.
- **** Very tasty dish AND meets one of the definitions set forth by Alabama Foods/Tourism, of local food and/or truly highlights Alabama Pride.
- ***** I actually died, went to heaven and came back when I ate the dish. And/Or, something is very unique, something you cannot get anywhere else.