By Donna Cornelius
I have a food-themed bucket list. I dream the impossible dreams, like eating at the Fat Duck in the U.K. and meeting hunky Australian chef Curtis Stone. I’m not sure when I’ll next be able to pop over to England, and I doubt Curtis’ busy schedule gives him much time to sit and chat with random food writers.
But I’ve managed to fulfill one of the items on my list: going to a pop-up.
Pop-up restaurants or dinners are increasingly popular ways for chefs to showcase their food and for diners to venture into uncharted dining territory. Some events really take guests off the beaten path; a New York pop-up presented dishes made from food scraps.
Southern Graze, organized by Birmingham chefs Angela Schmidt and Maureen Holt, doesn’t go that far off the trail (thank goodness). The series of dinners is billed as “a new perspective on old traditions.” If the first Southern Graze event is any indication, that’s a smart plan.
The dinner was Aug. 27 at Full Circle, a new event space in Forest Park.
Schmidt, who owns Chef U, a private chef company specializing in dinner parties, said she and Holt, chef and co-owner of Birmingham’s Little Savannah restaurant, wanted to “work together and create something.”
For Southern Graze’s opening night, Schmidt and Holt brought on board chefs Becky Satterfield of Satterfield’s Restaurant and Kay Reed of Iz Catering.
Most chefs will be women, but men won’t be automatically excluded, Schmidt said.
Southern Graze will use sommeliers and stylists and plans to promote local food folks. Chutney for the Aug. 27 dinner came from Rebecca Williamson of Holmsted Fines. Deborah Stone’s Stone Hollow Farmstead produced the goat cheese. Alabama forager Chris Bennett foraged up some shiso leaves. The plant grows wild in Alabama and is in the mint family.
Diner Haden Brown of Homewood said she learned about Southern Graze through a friend’s Facebook post.
“It’s the first pop-up I’ve been to, although I’ve heard about them for years,” Brown said. “There’s such a range of people here – professors, doctors, teachers. It’s really a fun, relaxed crowd.”
Lorrin Etka-Shepherd came with her daughter, Maddie Shepherd, a junior at Barnard College in New York.
“I love to come to these pop-up dinners,” said Lorrin, who said her family recently moved to Avondale after raising their children in Vestavia Hills. “I like seeing the creative inspiration behind the food and getting to anticipate what the menu will be like.”
Pop-ups are fun for the chefs as well as for the guests, Schmidt said.
“You get to do something different,” she said. “And it was fun to get a bunch of women together to cook.”
If you want to be notified about future Southern Graze dinners, send an email to email@example.com or follow them on Facebook or on Instagram @southerngraze. Venues will vary, from event spaces to private homes to “wild cards” – unexpected places, Schmidt said.
Foodie Fun: Find out What Was on the Menu at the First Southern Graze Event
I awoke the day of the Southern Graze pop-up in a state of anticipation. Nothing gets me up in the morning like the prospect of having exciting food that night.
When I and other guests arrived at the posh Full Circle event space, we were directed to the bar, where Kay Reed had concocted a Shoo-fly cocktail with gin, ginger liqueur and chard-grapefruit tonic. Since I (a) live in Tuscaloosa and had to drive home after the event and (b) was working and thus needed to keep my wits about me, I had just a sample of the lively, summery drink served in glass jars with red striped straws. Then I wished for more.
One circulating server offered Reed’s trays of mini tomato pies with goat cheese, Boursin and locally grown tomatoes in a classic tart crust. Another of the apps was smoked duck, pimiento cheese, strawberry jam and micro-greens on jalapeno cornbread. I wanted to chase down a server, snatch a tray and eat its contents all by myself in a corner but thought that might be frowned upon.
Once we were seated at long communal tables, the first of three dishes from Schmidt and Holt appeared. Birmingham Crumpets – the best I can do is to describe them as griddle cakes’ glamorous cousins – were tastily teamed with locally made Stone Hollow Farmstead chevre and Holmsted Fines’ green tomato chutney with chorizo maple syrup.
Holt said she gave the next dish, simply listed on the menu as “Potpie,” an Asian twist. Underneath the puff pastry was red miso veloute, gochujang, wood ear mushrooms, edamame and shiso leaves. The potpie was served piping hot. One diner, who shall remain nameless, almost scorched her tongue in her impatience to dig into the dish.
Next up was shrimp and grits. This version had Gulf shrimp served on Anson Mills yellow hominy with slab bacon, pearl onions and harissa yogurt sauce. Diner Haden Brown said it was her favorite dish of the night.
“I like the earthiness of the hominy,” she said.
I could have happily left the table at that point. But I’m glad I didn’t. Satterfield produced a Peach Frangipane Tartlet: Grand Marnier and vanilla-infused Chilton County peaches, pate sucree and hand-crafted vanilla ice cream.
“Growing up, I really enjoyed peaches and cream – and they’re better with alcohol,” a smiling Satterfield told diners during the meal.
We even got prizes to take home: Satterfield’s lavender tea cakes. I say “take home.” My cookie didn’t make it to the Mercedes exit.
There were other takeaways, too. I loved meeting and talking with the chefs, making new friends among my fellow diners and trying foods that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to sample.
And my tongue has healed up very nicely, thank you.