The Best of What’s Around- Graze Birmingham

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So last weekend was cool. Really cool. Like amazing actually. I’ve been eyeing this farm-to-table event for about a month now, predominantly trying to convince my friends to go with me, or I was going to go myself. I live about an hour away from Birmingham, not too bad, but it’s a bit of a commitment on a Sunday afternoon. Thankfully my friend Caroline wanted to come with, and she drives to Birmingham three times a week for a fellowship at Children’s Hospital! It did kind of help the case that I won two free tickets from an Instagram contest hosted by Whole Foods Birmingham. I’ve never won anything in my life (I realize everyone says this but it’s true) and when I got that tiny iPhone notification saying I won tickets, I just about screamed- I did scream actually.

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Thanks again, Whole Foods. You the real MVP. While I was there, Caroline and I each picked up a bag of Sambazon acai packs to make acai bowls later in the week! I’ve only made one so far, and it didn’t really go as planned. Will update on this situation later.

Back to the event, so Graze Birmingham was put on by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, and was an event that “showcased the people who plant, nurture, harvest, chop, peel, ferment, fire-roast, stew, and serve the absolute best of Central Alabama’s eats!” I did not know much about the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN) before this picnic, but from what I have gathered thus far they are an awesome organization aiming to “build a food system where more Alabamians enjoy food that is raised responsibly by a growing pool of well-supported, diverse, homegrown Alabama farmers” via their website. This is crazy important. If the fantastic trends of “farm to table” and “eat local” continue to grow, (and I hope and pray that they do!) we must create a food system where we fully support the local farmers, both ethically and financially, as well as the organizations and establishments that do the same.

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This “farm-to-fork picnic” was hosted by Avondale Brewery. This was especially exciting for me, because as an avid local brew lover in the state of Alabama, the Avondale Spring Street Saison is probably my favorite beverage. They actually were serving a seasonal Farmhouse IPA- which I have NEVER had before. Farmhouse ales and saisons are inspired by the same fruity belgian ale, but don’t always have the hops that an IPA does. This farmhouse IPA was amazing. I hope they start to produce it commercially as well. (If you live in Alabama, check them out!) Pictured below is their classic Saison, along with “Hot Chicks” with Peri Peri and southern slaw from Marble Creek Farmstead + Little Savannah.

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Avondale Brewery made the perfect place for this event. I hate to admit that this is the first Birmingham brewery that I have actually visited (there’s about 4 in Tuscaloosa), but I was SO impressed. On a beautiful September Sunday afternoon (it was a perfect 70 degrees) the back seating/drinking/picnicking area was filled with such an interesting mix. Whether you were a farmer, trendy hipster, young family, or twenty-something couple with a dog, you fit in here. Everyone was so incredibly friendly, and the late afternoon sunset was the perfect complement.

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… and the FOOD! How have I not already mentioned the food?! All of the tapas-style dishes were well executed, but my favorites had to be- in no particular order:

  • Linguine with shiitake and goat cheese
  • Old-fashioned Southern squash casserole
  • Asian-pear bread pudding
  • “Summer daze” cornbread (with layers of zucchini, eggplant, squash, and mushrooms) + “The Hendrix” (vegan spiced poached pear chocolate cake)
  • Field peas, marinated greens salad, + sundried tomato cornbread muffins
  • Snow’s Bend Fresh herb field green salad + juice shooter
  • “Hot chicks” Peri Peri with slaw

BUT. My absolute favorite had to go to Heron Hollow Farm + Organic Harvest Market, Cafe & Nutrition Center Farmers cheese Caprese + vegan champagne raspberry cake

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Both of the dishes. I actually went back for seconds. This dish embodied EXACTLY what I expected from this farm to table event. The chef serving the dish was extremely passionate about the dish and willing to answer my questions about what the heck is in a vegan cheesecake?! He was the first person we spoke to, and probably one of my favorite interchanges of the night. The farmer was there as well, sitting back in his overalls, but came over to speak with me about how he got that farmer’s cheese to be so tasty! I do love traditional caprese with mozzarella, but the creamy and almost umami-ness of the cheese straight from his own dairy cows elevated the dish to another level. But my favorite aspect was how well it complemented the tomato. I felt this dish, or “shooter” as they called it, made these delicious heirloom tomatoes the star, while still complementing it in a complex way- an addition of fresh radish slivers adds a necessary crunch and the tiniest drizzle of balsamic enhances without overpowering.

So. Good. However, I did not have a single thing I didn’t enjoy. The night as a whole was amazing. Perfect weather, awesome venue, happy people, and delicious food.

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I will be on the lookout for more events like this, and will definitely be following the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN.) I encourage you to do the same!

-Pam

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