BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Zagat ranked Birmingham No. 1 on its new list of the nation’s up-and-coming food cities, singling out the city’s tasty mix of high-end and casual dining spots and a growing cocktail culture.
Zagat – a national authority on where to eat, dine and stay for more than three decades — announced its choice in a Youtube video. Birmingham’s closest competition was No. 2 Oakland/Berkely, California, followed by Detroit; Asheville, North Carolina; and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“This Southern contender took the top spot due to a delicious combo of fine dining, barbecue and a fresh batch of more casual restaurants,” the Zagat video says. “The food culture – and the city itself – have changed dramatically in recent years.”
In the video, Zagat focuses on spots such as landmark Birmingham restaurant Hot and Hot Fish Club, headed by chef Chris Hastings, and two newer eateries, the Carrigan’s Public House in downtown Birmingham and Post Office Pies in Avondale. It also highlighted the Swingshift Popup Series, organized by Steva Casey.
John Hall, who joined with partners to open the pizza restaurant Post Office Pies after working as a chef in New York, said Birmingham’s food scene has a way of surprising people.
“A lot of times when people come here from out of town, they feel like, ‘Wow, this is not what I expected. This is not what I had in my mind what Birmingham was going to be.’” Hall said. “I think we’re going a good job of changing that perception of what the old Birmingham used to be, what we are now, and where we are trying to go.”
Added Feizal Valli, general manager and head bartender of The Collins, a downtown bar that is at the center of the city’s cocktail scene: “Birmingham has great food everywhere.”
Other cities on Zagat’s “Next Hot Food City” list are No. 6 Nashville, No. 7 Louisville, No. 8 Durham, No. 9 Phoenix and No. 10 San Antonio.
“This accolade is significant for our community,” said Brian Hilson, president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, the area’s chief economic development group.“One of the most trusted dining guides, known throughout the world, has recognized us again as having an up-and-coming food scene, and rightfully so. There is no question that Birmingham’s culinary reputation is helping fuel the renaissance going on in our city right now.”
Zagat listed Birmingham among its top seven up-and-coming food scenes in 2013. On its web site, Zagat elaborated on the reasons behind the ascent of the city’s culinary culture.
“Birmingham is having a moment thanks to the abundant Southern farmland and high-profile chefs like Frank Stitt (Highlands Bar & Grill), Stephen Fressell (Chef in the Garden pop-up), Chris Hastings (Hot and Hot Fish Club) and Clifton Holt (Little Savannah),” it says. “They’re drawing on regional traditions and knowledge from farther afield, but also embracing local by advocating for their purveyors on menus, at special events and on social media, among other things.”
Zagat also singled out Bottle and Bone at the Uptown entertainment district and the city’s breweries.