I could be smarter. I’m reminded of this all the time. Historical facts are often the catalyst of this realization, and it was no different in Montgomery, Alabama. What’s even better is that I’m not even smart enough to be ashamed of my ignorance because at the moment I was told that Montgomery was the first capital of the Confederacy, I replied, “Huh. I always thought Atlanta was the capital.”
I was only there for a couple of days, but I have to say, the most impressive and unexpected thing about Montgomery is its graceful way of embodying such contrary distinctions. It’s the capital of the Old South. It’s the home of the only church ever pastored by Martin Luther King, Jr. and arguably the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s fitting that these things go together, of course, but it’s still … you know … it’s an uncomfortable fit. But everyone I met in Montgomery exhibited an earnest sense of pride in the total Montgomery story. Of course, I didn’t meet the governor, but let’s just all agree right now that it’s unfair to judge an entire group of people by the comments of their elected leaders. For heaven’s sake.
History aside, Montgomery also has some prodigious eating opportunities. I expected this, but I expected these opportunities to be of the meat-and-three variety. Grandmother cooking. Biscuits. But Montgomery has more than Southern secrets up its sleeve. My marvelous hosts took me to dinner at SaZa in the newly enlivened downtown district and to The Chop House Vintage Year in nearby historic Old Cloverdale.
The truth is, I’m rarely excited by Italian food. There’s just so much average, boring, forgettable Italian food out there. But SaZa is none of that. Their Web site doesn’t give any sort of hint of just how good the food really is. It gives the impression of a pretty basic pizza joint. But truly, there is some amazing Italian food hiding in this pizza place. And not really hiding, because the place was packed. On a Tuesday. So that’s that.
The Chophouse Vintage Year is a New American kind of steakhouse. I say New American because my veal chop came with a pollen fennel rub. That’s not something you’re going to be eating at Peter Luger. At first I was suspicious. Unless it’s braised with a gallon with wine, I rarely like fennel, and pollen … well there are just no good connotations there. But I was wrong. Very, very wrong. See, I could be smarter. I’m working on it. Here’s what a smarter person (Peggy Knickerbocker, Saveur Magazine) had to say about fennel pollen: “If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it.” At least I made up for my fennel prejudice by being adventurous. I want credit for this.
So, when you go to Montgomery, and I know you will because I’m telling you to, go eat at these places. Let me know what you think. Also, if it’s baseball season, catch a Montgomery Biscuits game at Riverwalk Stadium. If there was ever a baseball team I’m going to cheer for, it’s one named the Biscuits. I can always get behind biscuits. Sadly, baseball is still in hibernation, but I did get a tour of the beautiful stadium, and I heard all about the biscuits they serve at the games. And let’s face it, that’s all I needed to hear.
Before heading out of town, I ran off all this food (or, um, maybe some of it) at one of Montgomery’s loveliest spots, which you might never find unless someone leads you there, as they did me. It’s Blount Cultural Park, English countryside themed and home to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (a theater, not an event) and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. I leave you with some shots …