The phrase “soul food” can apply to so many authentic Alabama dishes, but what they all share are rich flavors that inspire comforting memories, celebrate family traditions and honor the lasting impact of African-American culture. When you hit the roads crisscrossing Alabama, you’ll find an array of eateries as diverse as the state’s landscape. Alabamians know good food, and throughout the state folks are dishing up local foods in the soul food tradition.
Dot’s Soulfood Diner located in Hillsboro has been a fixture in the northeastern Alabama community for more than a decade. Owner Dorothy “Dot” Williams was inspired by a love of cooking and the desire to own her own business. Known for her faith, cooking skills and a commitment to serve the best, Dot creates satisfying meals that keep customers coming back. When asked to name the most popular item on the menu, son Doug Williams says, “All of it,” though he gives a special nod to their fried chicken and banana pudding.
Birmingham’s Green Acres Café opened more than 50 years ago. The family-owned café now includes several locations, though the original site in the historic Fourth Avenue Business District is still a local hot spot. The café has earned a national reputation for chicken wings and fried green tomatoes. Their wings are crisp and meaty – not the skimpy bone with sliver of meat you’ll find in some places. Primarily carry-out, the menu includes breakfast, lunch and dinner choices, served with charm and a smile. Owner Greg Gratton enjoys serving good food and hopes to continue for years to come.
Niki’s West in Birmingham is one of the city’s most popular “meat-and-three” spots. The restaurant opened in 1957 and is run by Pete and Teddy Hontzas, sons of the original owner. Table service is available, but it is the cafeteria line that comes to mind when folks mention Niki’s West. The menu offers plenty of options and includes traditional soul food choices of greens, okra, black-eyed peas, baby lima beans and more. If you can’t find a vegetable you want at Niki’s, then you don’t like vegetables.
The Brown Bag is tucked away in Northport, located near Tuscaloosa between highways 69 and 43. You may carry out or dine in. Tables are topped with complimentary boiled peanuts and the “brown bag” napkin holders – just in case you’re overwhelmed by the aromas and can’t remember where you are. The food and the service are well worth the visit. The menu includes chicken and dumplings, fried catfish and whiting, and barbecue. The cornmeal-coated U.S. farm-raised catfish filets are perfectly crisp and steaming hot when forked open. Sides include butter beans, baked beans, fried okra, greens and coleslaw. Owned by the Brown family, the restaurant has served home cooking to locals and football fans since the late 1990s.
Mary’s Southern Cooking in Mobile is dishing up home cooking with plenty of traditional soul food specialties on the menu. Smothered turkey necks arrive well-seasoned in richly flavored gravy that comes from cooking low and slow. Open seven days a week, the restaurant rotates main dishes, but fried chicken is available every day. Other items include smothered pork chops, red beans with smoked sausage, barbecued ribs, chitterlings (chitlins), pigs’ feet and oxtails. Field peas, candied yams, lima beans and collards are a few of the sides available to round out your meat-and-three. Address: 3011 Springhill Ave., Mobile. Phone: 251-476-2232.
This list is simply an appetizing sample of the state’s many eateries serving good food made with care, love of place, and the desire to please. For more soul food destinations, check out our list of featured restaurants.
Charla L. Draper, is a marketing communications professional and former food editor for Southern Living magazine. She writes about food on her blog, Chow-Chow & Soulâ„¢.
The views expressed here are those of the author.