On some personal business in Birmingham, Al. we were interested in something local and legendary for lunch. We polled the fine folks about where they'd take a visitor and one name really stood out. Green Acres Cafe (downtown). Charles Gratton founded Green Acres at the corner of 6th and 16th but later relocated to it's current home on 4th. Specializing in soul food, it's a shining example of how to turn oft neglected ingredients into something special. The family business has been around since the 1950's and is now run by Charles son, Greg. In 1994 at the urging of Greg they opened their first franchise. A second came in 1996 and they now boast 9 locations in the Greater Birmingham area.
The store downtown operates as their headquarters and is considered the best of the bunch. The old brick building is a perfect setting for some serious, real deal, soul food. They do a bustling business at lunch and can often have lineups outside the door and down the street. It's a bit Soup Nazi-ish too. Large crowds mean the line needs to move. Humming and hawing over the menu at the counter will get you scolded I'm told. A terrific lady helped us with our ordering and kept things moving.
There's no seating so your best bet is to take a short walk to near by Kelly Ingram park. The park is now dedicated to civil rights but in an era that seems so recent yet long past it was often center stage for civil rights activists. Martin Luther King himself organized rallies on behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Across the park sits the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church. Site of the 1963 bombing and murder of 4 young black girls. It can be seen in the background between the trees of this picture. You can also visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute across the street.
It was an interesting perspective to be the only whites in the whole place. We received a good a range of looks extending from an occasional sideways glance to a dumbfounded “what the hell are they doing in here” stare. I suppose for some it would've been unnerving but I was way to excited about my pending lunch to worry about such silliness. I always just figure people are nice so I really didn't think I had anything to worry about anyway.
So how was lunch you ask?? I will state up front that basically everything comes breaded (flour/cornmeal) and deep fried or so it seems. Most of what we had was anyway. The simple breading tastes fine on it’s own but where the sauce covered it, it was fabulous. That applies to all the items we ate.
Also, we ordered everything “All the way” which means salt and pepper, hot sauce and, yes, ketchup. Odd as it seems it was a great combination. I should’ve ordered extra sauce since they don’t put a lot on and I love it. Everything the red goodness touched was just that much better.
Mrs. Sippi’s gizzards were, well, gizzards. I’m not a fan (I don’t hate them) but she had delirium tremors in anticipation. They didn’t disappoint. Crunchy with a terrific chicken taste. They had the typical texture you’d associate with gizzards which I find off putting. It’s tough because while I can’t get by that texture, they are one of the tastier parts of the bird.
The catfish sandwich was pretty interesting. A whole splayed (head off) fish served on white bread. I wasn’t sure how to attack since the bones were still in. I kinda nibbled around but then remembered how you take the bones out of a poached fish. Grab the spine and lift away from the flesh. It came right out. No skeletal remains. The meat was nice and sweet with the breading adding some nice crunch. I really liked it.
The fried green tomatoes were really good (S & P) only on these. They need to be extricated from the bag immediately and kept from steaming. Where they stayed crisp they were very good. Nice and crunch with a green tomato taste that was stronger than the thin slice would suggest. Not the best I’ve had but tasty none the less.
Perhaps as much as anything the chicken wings are their claim to fame. Regularly nominated for a Steve Harvey "Hoodie" award they took top honours in 2007. They only serve wings but still call it fried chicken. The crispy batter seals in the juices and where the appendages were covered with sauce they were some of the best wings I’ve ever had. I could handle them hotter but the heat level was more than enough to liven things up. I probably wouldn’t kick the heat up but leave well enough alone. Just make sure I ordered extra sauce. Delicious.
I’ve always wondered what crunchy vinegar tasted like and now I know. Mrs. Sippi’s pickled pigs foot was in her mind, okay. She thought it was a little small and a bit too fatty. I just really didn’t like it. Surely there must be something better to do with these things. As I said, it tasted like vinegar and had a certain crunchiness to it. Yuck. Never hurts to try something new though, right??
Well there you have it folks. Some serious soul food from a legendary establishment.
You can find Green Acres Cafe's downtown location at 1705 4th Avenue, N. in Birmingham, Al.
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You can also find them on the web.