This year for Birmingham Restaurant Week, I'm honored to be blogging about just a few of the many restaurants around town using produce and ingredients from local farmers through the Urban Food Project. If you don't already know about the UFP (or haven't seen their awesome "Eat the Ham" t-shirts), they're a part of REV Birmingham that's working to provide access to healthy food in undeserved areas as well as helping connect local farmers to those stores to sell their produce and area restaurants who proudly include the ingredients on their menus.
For my first meal of #BRW2017 I stopped in at the fabulous Pizitz Food Hall for a visit to it's newest tenant in the Reveal Kitchen space, Bitty's Living Kitchen. One of REV's CO-Starters graduates, Chef Kim Brock was born to cook. I had a chance to chat with her during a relative downtime during the wild time that is Restaurant Week and her opening weekend, but she seems to be handling the chaos with grace ... especially considering the hugely favorable response she's already getting for her fresh, healthy salads, soups, juices, and snacks. The name Bitty comes from her father, who consoled her older sister when Kim came home from the hospital that she was still his chick, just not his "little bitty chick." The nickname stuck, though Kim admits her father is really the only person who still really uses it. Kim's sister is also semi-responsible for her passionate relationship with cooking. One Saturday morning she tried to cook Kim eggs, but they were so terrible that Kim, at 4, taught herself how to cook them. She's been searching out the best flavors and recipes since then.
After training at a culinary school in Colorado, Kim returned to Alabama to help take care of her family, but she couldn't shake her love of cooking. She spent some time in kitchens around town, like at The Club, but it was her introduction to a nutrition for health program that helped her find her niche. Kim is a certified nutrition counselor, so her food is vibrant, healthy, and flavorful. She believes more in using local ingredients, like through the UFP, than just strictly organic, which can come from anywhere. Her love of interesting flavors keeps her searching for the next seasonal ingredient to make her own. She even stocks seasonal fruit -- like Witt Farms cucumbers and peaches -- for grab-and-go snacks.
For her BRW menu, you get your choice of 1 of 3 Bliss Bowls, a "Summer" with greens, chicken, fruit, and nuts; a "Johnny Roquette" with greens, local bacon from Fudge Family Farms and tomatoes, corn, and avocado; or a "Grecian" (which I had) with local romaine from Gratitude Farms, Hamm Farm Grape Tomatoes, chicken, olives, and a white balsamic vinaigrette. Plus, you get your choice of a Mushroom "Teff" -- a delicious ancient grain bread topped with parmesan, herbs, and sauteed mushrooms or "Chicken and Veg Soup for the Soul. My Grecian Salad bowl was perfectly satisfying, a wonderful mix of crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, salty olives, tender chicken, and more. But the Mushroom Teff probably stole my heart. The ancient grain bread had a nutty sweetness and hearty texture that blended perfectly with the soft, savory mushrooms and cheese and herbs. There's no such thing as carb counting with this bread.
I'm glad Bitty's Living Kitchen is going to stick around for a while at this space in the food hall, because there's plenty to try, plenty of choices to feel good about, and lots of local goodness to soak up.
About the Farmer
Father Kent McCaffrey from Gratitude Farms in Hanceville, AL, started his farm as a way to return to a simpler, agrarian lifestyle while spending time with his family. The Russian Orthodox Priest grows five types of hydroponic lettuce with his children, year-round, in a hand-build greenhouse. The McCaffrey's take care in the growing, handling, and packing of these artisnal lettuces -- known for their sweet and floral taste. Because the lettuces are picked with the root intact, they keep longer in cold storage, reduce waste, and preserve a fresher flavor and texture than traditional lettuces. A love of the earth and family are what keeps this operation motivated, and though the current operation is already quite large, continuing to grow the business through the children -- who share Father Kent's passion -- will mean we can hope for continued and expanded access to this quality produce for years to come.
As far as the farmer component goes,
A proud Birmingham, Alabama native, Emily Brown has long been in on the secret that Birmingham is an incredible food town. When she’s not writing about food, restaurants, and purveyors for Birmingham Restaurant Week, she’s out enjoying new culinary adventures, whether in one of the city’s restaurants or from her own kitchen. Raised equally on a diet of storytelling and great, Southern food, Emily is also the author of Birmingham Food: A Magic City Menu, a book about the history of food and restaurants in Birmingham from The History Press.