By Donna Cornelius
Journal features writer
An event that’s become a favorite for Birmingham area food lovers has juiced up its menu.
The Birmingham Originals’ Breakin’ Bread 2014, The Local Flavor Festival annually tempts taste buds by offering signature dishes from some of Birmingham’s most creative restaurants.
The 11th annual festival is set for Oct. 5 from 1-5 p.m. at Birmingham’s Railroad Park.
Last year, the event was one of the top 10 attractions in the Alabama Tourism Department’s Year of Alabama food campaign.
But organizers of the 2014 festival are hoping to make the event even more appetizing by cooking up some fresh features.
New this year are an Alabama beer garden featuring local breweries, a farmers market with produce to purchase and a chefs’ competition.
Based on Food Network’s “Iron Chef” show—with a bit of “Chopped” thrown in—the contest will pit four Birmingham Originals chefs against each other as they cook on the spot with surprise ingredients. A panel of judges will taste the dishes and choose a winner.
The festival helps the Birmingham Originals, a group of local, independently owned and operated restaurants, showcase the food and drinks offered by its members. But the event also raises money for good causes, said Jerry Hartley, the organization’s president.
“This year, we’re supporting Camp Smile-A-Mile and Make-A-Wish Alabama,” Hartley said. “Over 10 years, we’ve given $85,000 to charity.”
Those who attend Breakin’ Bread can try food samples from more than 40 Birmingham independently-owned restaurants and take part in wine and craft beer tastings.
“You can try food you may not have had before without having to buy a $20 plate,” Hartley said.
Festival-goers look for favorite dishes, such as gumbo from the Bright Star in Bessemer, and for unexpected concoctions, he said.
“You might see things like pork belly over gouda grits,” Hartley said. “Last year, Ocean had a line of about 50 people for its scallops. (Chef) George Reis always puts on a show.”
Hartley’s restaurant, The J. Clyde on Cobb Lane on Birmingham’s Southside, will serve one of its staple sweet treats.
“We bring our Fatso Pudding,” he said. “People like it, so we can’t not do it. It’s a banana pudding recipe with chocolate.”
The Breakin’ Bread festival started out at Pepper Place in Birmingham but is now held at Railroad Park.
“We have the festival on Sunday because most businesses are closed then and we can devote all our resources to the event,” Hartley said. “On Saturdays, people are going to football games or watching them at home. Also, Sunday is a nice day for people to get together with families and friends.”
Breakin’ Bread is kid-friendly as well as foodie-friendly. A children’s area will include encounters with animals from the Birmingham Zoo, pumpkin carving, face painting and clowns from Children’s of Alabama. Kids—and maybe their parents, too—can operate remote-controlled boats on the park’s lake.
General admission tickets include food and drink samples, wine seminars by Scott Jones of Jones Is Thirsty, the Alabama Brewers Guild beer garden and the Urban Food Project’s farmers market.
General admission tickets for ages 21 and older are $50. Young adult tickets for ages 12-20 are $20. Children under 12 get in free.
There’s also a VIP area, which will feature the “Iron Chef”-style competition sponsored by the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. VIP ticket holders will get to sample the contestants’ dishes.
VIP tickets also include access to the general admission area, parking passes and transportation to and from Railroad Park, covered seating, servers, specialty cocktails from Cathead Vodka, a Jones Is Thirsty wine seminar and more.
VIP tickets are $100 and usually sell out quickly, Hartley said.
For ticket information, visit www.birminghamoriginals.org. With every ticket purchased in advance on the website, guests will receive a Birmingham Originals gift card valid at select restaurants. Buyers get a $10 gift card with general admission tickets and a $20 gift card with VIP tickets.
Breakin’ Bread is a natural fit for food-happy Birmingham, Hartley said.
“The festival showcases what Birmingham is all about,” he said. “I just came back from Portland, Maine, which is supposed to have more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States. But I’d put Birmingham up against it any day.”