Category Archives: Food and Drink

Easy on the Mayo, Please


Easy on the Mayo, Please

A local newspaperman’s passion for pimento cheese.


July 12, 2012

Among other things, Bob Carlton has written about film, nightlife, and food in his 32 years at the Birmingham News. In recent years, he decided to take a stab at being a food entrepreneur by launching his own brand—Bob’s Soon-To-Be-Famous Pimento Cheese.

Carlton began making pimento cheese in the late ’90s. “I would make it for people to give at Christmas or take to parties or for football tailgates or whatever. Everybody told me they loved it,” he says. At the pleading of a co-worker, Carlton decided to go legit.

(click for larger version)

“So, I started selling it, emailing folks when I was making it. From that I went to the Pepper Place Farmers’ Market in June of 2011 for the first time. I just don’t have the time or the money to get it started in grocery stores. That’s the beauty of Pepper Place; you can have an idea, and with a little bit of money, you can at least try it out. If it works, it works. I’m not making any money, but at least I’m having fun—well, kinda having fun. If I figured it out, when it’s all said and done, I’m probably making about five dollars an hour.”

Pimento cheese, of course, is as southern as grits and catfish. The cheese spread has been introduced to generations of kids who either love it or loathe it. Carlton admits he was not always a huge fan of pimento cheese but recalls the first time it made a lasting impression. The Linden, Alabama, native was visiting his uncle in Montgomery as a teen: “I remember Uncle Charles grating cheese and getting a jar of mayonnaise and a little jar of pimentos and tossing and making pimento cheese. I don’t even know if I ate it. I just remember seeing him making it. And it just kinda struck me that you didn’t have to go to the grocery store to buy it; you could actually make it at home. It stuck with me; it didn’t inspire me at the time but somehow years later it did.” Carlton says that his recipe has evolved over time. It features, among other ingredients, a little mayonnaise and four cheeses: sharp white cheddar, Monterey Jack, hoop cheese, and mild cheddar.”

Being stingy with mayonnaise occasionally elicits scoldings from customers. “Sometimes I get fussed at because there’s not enough mayo and it’ll be too crumbly; I’ve had a couple people say, ‘Well, you know, I couldn’t even spread it, it was falling apart.’ But so many people have commented, ‘I don’t even like pimento cheese but I like yours.’ And I think that’s the reason, because most people have this idea that pimento cheese is this real ‘mayonnaisey-type, girlie-type’ thing.”


Bob Carlton and his daughter, Laura Catherine, at the Pepper Place Farmers’ Market. (click for larger version)


Valerie Boyd, the News employee who urged Carlton to market his product, agrees. “It’s different because it’s got that spice to it, that kick to it. It’s not your typical creamy, ‘mayonnaisey’ pimento cheese,” says Boyd, who formerly owned Homegrown Special Foods in Homewood, worked at Tria Market, and currently is employed at Sysco. To say that she loves Carlton’s pimento cheese is an understatement.

“I was working at the Birmingham News at the time. Bob was the food editor then. He told me one day that he made pimento cheese, tomato pies, and strawberry pies, and all this kind of stuff,” she says enthusiastically. “I tasted his pimento cheese and oh my God! I fell in love with it. I told him, ‘This is pimento crack!’ So I took some upstairs to the advertising department. Everybody tasted it and was going nuts. Everybody was in line placing orders. One of the graphic artists [at the newspaper] became addicted to it, too, and he actually created a logo that read ‘Pimento Crack’. But then we realized we really couldn’t do that.” She says that several employees became “followers” of Carlton’s tasty dish and all hounded him to start selling.

Boyd’s preference is eating Bob’s Soon-To-Be-Famous on scrambled eggs, while the creator himself especially loves it on hamburgers. Carlton doesn’t add the pimento cheese until the burger is almost cooked. “I don’t like it real gooey and melty; I still want to have the texture. Maybe add a couple of strips of bacon,” he explains. On a recent Saturday morning at his Pepper Place booth, he shared a delicious sandwich that his pal (and Black & White staffer) Warren Caldwell dreamed up while watching football. It’s been dubbed the Southern Belly Sammich and consists of Bob’s pimento cheese, bacon, Wickles Pickles (an Alabama-made spicy-sweet pickle), slaw, mayo, and white bread. It’s pretty darn good, too. The name is inspired by the John T. Edge book Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South.

After a successful demonstration at last year’s Southern Women’s Show, Carlton has been invited back for the October 2012 event. “I left some things out so they couldn’t copy the exact recipe. Maybe I left the cayenne pepper out. Or maybe the Worcestershire sauce,” he confesses. The main labor is chopping and grating, with “tossing it all together” being the fun part. “That’s when you know you’ve almost got it finished,” he says.

Carlton has been selling his pimento cheese at the Pepper Place Farmers’ Market on alternating Saturday mornings. He often sells out, so arrive early. Local chef Franklin Biggs, one of the founders of the Pepper Place market, says that when Carlton is not there, people look for him. Biggs often hears, “Oh darn. No pimento cheese this Saturday!” Bob Carlton will be at the Pepper Place on July 14 and 28. For more information, visit &

The Professional Scoop on Poop

The Professional Scoop on Poop

It’s a dirty job, but . . .

April 30, 2009

Four years ago, Stanley Shafferman told his wife that he was going to start a new business called Poop Be Gone that would offer the removal of pet excrement from lawns and other areas. “I refer to myself as an ‘entremanure’ instead of an entrepreneur,” he says with a laugh. Shafferman, who opened Cosmo’s Pizza in Five Points South in 1986 and later worked at O.T.’s Grill in the Lakeview district, admits that he grew weary of the food business. “I had been in the restaurant industry for 20 to 25 years, and I was getting very tired of employees and bad work ethics,” he says. “And I was looking for something to do that did not require employees.”

Shafferman began submitting résumés as he contemplated what to do with his life. His wife, Peggy, a nurse at UAB, is active in the dog show world. (The couple raises a breed known as Havanese, which is Cuba’s only native breed.) “One afternoon I was reading one of the dog show magazines and I got to the classifieds,” he recalls. “I saw under ‘business opportunities’ two companies selling franchises for removing pet waste. I didn’t buy a franchise, but I immediately went to my computer and typed ‘pooper scoopers’ and found companies across the country.” After speaking with a few professional dog waste removers, he decided to go into business for himself. There is a national organization called aPAWS (Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists), which he soon joined.

Shafferman advertises the service with magnetic signs attached to his truck, fliers in vets’ offices, and word of mouth. Poop Be Gone has weekly, twice weekly, and twice monthly customers. Shafferman’s tools include a long-handled dust pan, a 13-gallon garbage bag, and a shrub rake that he uses to pop the poop into the dustpan. The bag is attached to the pan, then removed and tied shut once its been filled after a yard is finished. “My hands are not touching the poop,” he notes. (Shafferman disinfects his tools and shoes between yards to avoid spreading any germs from home to home.)

As for vicious dogs in yards, Shafferman has his own approach to winning over any snarling beasts he encounters. “One yard had a small mixed-breed dog and an American bulldog. The small dog liked me—I always carry treats in my pocket—and he took the treat. The bulldog did not like me. He was not interested in treats,” he recalls. Shafferman swears that all he had to do was begin singing and the bulldog immediately retreated to the other side of the yard.

Shafferman readily admits that he often talks to dogs to soothe any canine animosity. “I tell all new clients, if you hear me talking to your dogs, do not pay attention because a lot of the times it’s just gibberish,” he says. “It’s just the sound of my voice that calms the dogs down. They don’t really know what you’re saying anyway. I talk to dogs all day long.”

Where does all the recovered poop end up after it has been bagged up and loaded onto Shafferman’s truck? “When I first started, it ended up in my trash can at home. I soon outgrew that and I now have a dumpster,” he says, although he will not reveal its location. “The poop all finally winds up at the landfill next to the dirty diapers.” &

Poop Be Gone can be reached at or 968-0980. Prices range from $14.50 to $23 per cleaning, depending on the frequency. One-time yard cleanings cost $30.

The Night Owl

The Night Owl

For 14 years, the gregarious owner of Marty’s bar has welcomed the late-night crowd.


Marty Eagle: “We have one rule in this place—and it’s enforced—and that’s ‘Be nice or be gone.’” (Photograph by Mark Gooch.) (click for larger version)


June 26, 2008

Tucked away on a seldom-traveled street near Five Points South, a neighborhood bar and grill named Marty’s has been a late-night destination for 14 years. Aside from Lou’s Pub in Lakeview, few Birmingham bars have such a well-known public face, and none have owner Marty Eagle’s knack for making newcomers instantly feel like regulars. Eagle rarely forgets a face and will usually offer a handshake and warm grin each time you stop by.

Eagle’s friendly, upbeat attitude comes across in the DVD presentation available for purchase through the bar’s web site that provides a step-by-step guide to prospering in the nightclub business. In the introduction, Eagle climbs out of his sports car, unlocks the bar’s front door, looks into the camera, and says, “Hi. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you how to find happiness.”

Eagle is equally forthcoming in person. Rather than guard the lessons learned from his 20 years in the bar business, he has chosen the role of nightclub ambassador. “For me, being in the after-hours business, the more people that are [working in bars and restaurants], the better my business is, because bar and restaurant employees get off work late. That’s the niche I went after—all the bar people and musicians and the late-shift workers from UAB. Two or three in the morning is when their happy hour starts. Those people are not coming in all stupid and drunk. They’re coming from their jobs to have their happy hour drinks.”

The aforementioned DVD offers tips for bookkeeping, choosing music (both recorded and live), hiring top-notch bartenders, avoiding lease problems, and dealing with drunks. “Yeah, that’s the biggest thing you’ve got,” Eagle laments. “You’ve got people drinking, and some people don’t drink well. You’ve got to try to manage them. When you come in here, you have a good time. But if somebody is interfering with the rest of the people having a good time, they’ll be asked to leave. My place is so small, when somebody acts up or acts out, you can feel it all over the room. We have one rule in this place—and it’s enforced—and that’s ‘Be nice or be gone.’ It’s real simple. Has no color, no gender, no nothing.”

Local musician Bob Barker, who has performed at Marty’s often over the years, has always been impressed with Eagle’s finesse in handling difficult customers, which are surprisingly few for an all-night bar. “As soon as somebody’s enjoyment is being hindered by somebody else’s over-enjoyment, Marty takes care of it,” Barker explains. “And if he wasn’t able to do it every time, you’d end up with a problem bar.”

Operating at odd hours sometimes invites the extraordinary. “Being open late at night, you don’t know who’s coming to the door,” Eagle admits. “I had a go-go dancer come in and get up on a table, and she looked like she was pretty lit up—but she wasn’t rude. I was trying to figure out how to get her down without any problem. And I just walked up there and I held out my hand and she put her hand in mind and I helped her down and I said, ‘It’s okay now, you’re off work.’”

• • •
Born in Pennsylvania, Eagle spent his adolescence in Brooklyn. Even then, he found nightspots irresistible. “In New York, you only had to be 18 to get into a bar to drink. So, of course, I was sneaking in at 16,” he says. “I just always liked bars.” He learned to bartend at a club located on the Maxwell Air Force Base while serving in the Air Force in Montgomery. “That’s how I got to Alabama. I was in the Air Force and I worked on airborne electronics,” he explains. “But I didn’t want to do that forever, I didn’t want to crawl around a plane. When I got out, I went to this vocational school in Montgomery and got a job there as a computer programmer. I got hired by a company that was a subsidiary of IBM. Then I went to Dallas and I was a contract programmer; I would fly out of Dallas in all directions to wherever the job was.”

He got his first Birmingham bartending job in the early 1970s. “The first guy I worked for here was Ace Kabase. You know where Charlemagne Records is? That used to be a bar called the Trail’s End. There was a one-way mirror at the top of the long, steep stairwell to the second floor. If somebody bounced off the walls too many times walking up, we didn’t let them in.”

Eagle’s first venture as a business owner was Leo’s, a combination cafeteria, hot dog stand, and lounge in the Bank For Savings building downtown (not to be confused with the Leo’s later located near Fourth Avenue and 18th Street South). “I lost my ass there. Different things happened that I never recovered from,” he recalls. “It took me about a year to catch on to the various ways I was being stolen from. So, it was kind of my college education. I got back into computers to make a little more money and then I opened the Eagle’s Nest in 1980 [at the site currently occupied by The Derby bar on Sixth Avenue South near Avondale]. The Eagle’s Nest was an early-hour joint. Around midnight during the week, we’d close and go to somebody else’s joint. I leased the space from a guy in the vending machine business who owned a bunch of little bars like that, all run by different operators. After about five years I was doing well enough that he walked in and wanted to double my lease. And I said, ‘Well, screw you, man.’ I should have planned it a little different, but I was a little hotheaded and I just dumped it, and it took me a while to get back into the business on my own.” After nine years, some of which were spent bartending at the legendary Norm’s on Green Springs Highway, Eagle opened Marty’s in 1994.

• • •
On a tiny corner stage, Marty’s offers live music, of all stripes, seven nights a week. Compared to many other bar owners, Eagle takes an unusually strong interest in the bands he books, often auditioning them first at another club or even at a band’s practice space. He pursues his interest in music outside of the club as well. When not overseeing the day-to-day workings of Marty’s, Eagle takes a train to New Orleans and makes the rounds of the city’s landmark jazz clubs such as Snug Harbor. His love of jazz led him to provide a Sunday night residency for the late pianist and fellow nightclub owner Jerry Grundhoefer. “I had Grundy in here on Sundays after Grundy’s went out of business. He ran the jazz night, and nobody else could hold it together like he could. Somebody had to be the disciplinarian. And none of the others wanted to discipline any of the other people. But Jerry wanted a good show, and he did it right.”

When asked about his favorite bands, Eagle laughs and replies, “What I really like is whatever’s coming up here this weekend. I try to get in good shows. I like a variety of music. If I was on the coast and my customers were changing all the time, I could get by with one really good band for a season. Whereas, here I have a lot of regulars, so I’ve got to keep it fresh for them.” He added that an after-hours cover charge on weekends has an added benefit: “That $5 is a good way of weeding out [drunk] jerks late at night.”

Customers winding down after a night of drinking can order from Marty’s grill, which serves hamburgers, patty melts, and corned beef sandwiches from 11 p.m. until dawn. “I’m mainly in the bar business,” Eagle says. “You’ve got to have food to help people get sober, or if they get hungry, to keep them from leaving your place and going to another place just for a bite to eat. Because once they’re gone, they may never come back.”

• • •
Diners at one of the handful of white-tablecloth restaurants on Southside may have noticed a solitary, black-clad diner at the bar with his head buried in a book—that’s Eagle starting his workday. “I like to read a lot, and books are only alive when they are being read. Most books are just gathering dust,” he explains. Marty’s maintains a free lending library that consists of several shelves of paperbacks. “People tend to bring me a box of books from time to time. The library has been self-sustaining for 10 years now. People will notice that the library is low, and someone will drop a box of books outside.”

“This is not a big place. My friends probably say I micromanage it or something,” Eagle says with a laugh. “But I enjoy it. It’s hard to explain. Just like you might enjoy loading up the golf clubs and going to the golf course. I get pleasure from it as well as it being work at times. There’s ugly moments, rolling in the street with idiots that you have to throw out or something like that.”

When asked if he’s content running Marty’s for the foreseeable future, he replies, “As long as it plays out all right, I’m good with it. You know, somebody might walk in one day and just have to have it. And I might let ‘em, then take a break and go open another bar.” &

Marty’s (; 939-0045), at 1813 10th Court South, is open 365 days a year from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Where the Beers Are

Where the Beers Are

Anyone interested in exploring the world of microbrewed and “gourmet” beer can find a staggering variety of interesting beers in the Birmingham area.

May 31, 2007
For those seeking beer to go, Vulcan Beverage on University Boulevard has the largest selection in Alabama, with approximately 250 bottled beers available. “We’re the largest seller of Samuel Smith beer in the state,” brags Vulcan owner Mark Green. There are 12 different Samuel Smith beers in stock, as well as 10 flavors of Samuel Adams. Other favorites include Hobgoblin (a dark English ale), Abita Strawberry Ale (made with Louisiana strawberries), Xingu (Brazilian black beer), and Redbridge (made from sorghum, and gluten free).Overton & Vine in Mountain Brook is a popular beer oasis with personality to spare. Atmosphere is provided by Waylon Jennings or The Grateful Dead on the radio; framed, autographed portraits of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jerry Garcia on the walls; and loquacious owner Smitty Smith behind the counter. (Smitty’s not shy about sharing his feelings on a variety of topics; ask him how he feels about the governor.) Stella Artois is the store’s best-selling import. The top-selling microbrew is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Other popular brews include Rodenbach (Belgium), Red Tail (California), Sweetwater (Atlanta), Flying Dog (Denver), Tiger Beer (Singapore), and Terrapin (Athens, Georgia).

Single beer purchases are available at both Vulcan Beverage and Overton & Vine, as well as the opportunity for customers to create their own six-packs, a boon for anyone reluctant to try a six-pack of an expensive import.

An impressive gourmet beer selection is also on the shelf at the Piggly Wiggly supermarkets in Crestline, Homewood, and Liberty Park; Tria Market in Homewood’s Soho Square (singles available); Whole Foods at the intersection of Highway 280 and Rocky Ridge Road; and the Western supermarkets on Rocky Ridge Road and in Mountain Brook.

• • •
If you prefer to drink in a bar or restaurant, there are three On Tap Sports Cafes in the area (Lakeview, Inverness, and Hoover) that feature 25 different brands of draft on tap. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Newcastle are among top sellers. Cafe Ciao in English Village offers 11 eclectic beers on tap, which is fairly impressive for a small café.

But The J. Clyde restaurant on Cobb Lane is turning beer aficionados on their heads, so to speak, offering more than 150 different brands on tap or in bottles. If you come specifically to sample the beer, ask the hostess to pair you with one of the servers who is a beer aficionado (unfortunately, not all fit this bill).

“Far and away the best restaurant bar in Birmingham for these beers,” says Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops, about J. Clyde. Kline is irate that so few white tablecloth restaurants in the area serve fine beers. “Those places give beer no respect,” Kline says. “They think almost exclusively in terms of wine. Beer is an afterthought. A few of them offer a Newcastle or a Guinness. I’ve yet to see any of those places carry more than seven or eight beers. It’s pathetic. . . . Here they are, a high-end restaurant carrying high-end wine, and yet they’re carrying the McDonald’s of beer. Beer does pair really well with food, and they don’t understand that.” —Ed Reynolds

The following are some of the retail and bar establishments that offer quality selections of gourmet and microbrewed beer in the greater Birmingham area.

Retail: Vulcan Beverage (Southside): 328-6275,; Overton & Vine (Mountain Brook): 967-1409; Diplomat Deli (Vestavia): 979-1515; Tria Market (Homewood): 776-8923,; Whole Foods (Mountain Brook): 912-8400,

Restaurant: The J. Clyde (Southside): 939-1312,; The Barking Kudu (Lakeview): 328-1748,; Cafe Ciao (English Village): 871-2423; On Tap Sports Café:, Hoover: 988-5558, Inverness: 437-1999, Lakeview: 320-1225.

Got a Light? . . .

Got a Light? . . .

An increasing number of local bars, restaurants, and venues are prohibiting smoking where it once was allowed.

November 16, 2006

As of August 1, 2006, all bars and restaurants that allow smoking in Jefferson County are required to post a decal at all main entrances. The sticker is a consumer warning that declares “toxic or poisonous items” are present. This past summer the Jefferson County Health Department announced that “failure by the management to post the consumer warning at all times will result in a one point deduction [on the health inspection report].” In addition, any restaurant, lounge, or convenience store that allows smoking, regardless of whether the decal is present, automatically has four points deducted from its health rating score.According to Wayne Studyvin, director of environmental health services for the Jefferson County Health Department, what prompted the local bureaucratic cracking of the whip on secondhand smoke was U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona’s June 2006 conclusion that secondhand smoke is a proven health hazard to which there is no risk-free level of exposure.

Because smoking rules and regulations differ from municipality to municipality, the county health department determined that a rule was needed to bring municipalities and unincorporated areas of the county into some uniform compliance. “To make it a level playing field, they would have to have that [consumer warning] sticker on their door,” explains Virginia Bozeman, tobacco prevention coordinator for Jefferson County. “We have a lot of unincorporated areas, so they have to operate under the county. So they would more or less have an advantage over those establishments that do operate under a government [with a smoking ordinance]. We have to do something that would make those unincorporated areas accountable for allowing smoking.”

Wes Humphryes, manager of Billy’s in English Village (which allows smoking after 4 p.m.), was not aware of the county’s sticker requirement. (One county health employee told me that all smoking establishments had been stickered as far as he was aware, and another said that some businesses may not have been stickered yet.) “Really?” Humphryes responded when told that four points would be deducted from Billy’s health rating for allowing smoking. Humphryes said that when four in the afternoon arrives, “we do more drinks than food, so it’s just more of a bar. [Smoking] hasn’t hurt our business.”

In addition to the Jefferson County ordinance, some businesses operate under stricter rules. In the spring of 2005, the Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance that made smoking indoors against the law everywhere but in bars (which the city defines as any establishment whose primary revenue comes from selling alcohol). T.C. Cannon, a former mayoral candidate and longtime owner of the TC bar in Lakeview, was outspoken against the ban at the time. “It will open a big can of worms,” said Cannon. “To restrict this to Birmingham is definitely a grave injustice to the business owners in this city.”

Eighteen months later, Cannon has not changed his mind. “Those four [deducted] points are pretty brutal in this business . . . But I am licensed and pay taxes and fees as a restaurant even though I don’t serve food, except packaged goods. And any infringement or any further controls over the hospitality industry—any restaurants or bars [is not good].” Cannon said doing business in Jefferson County is very difficult, especially “with City Hall, which I have always found to be anti-business.”

Jackson’s Bar and Bistro is a new restaurant in Homewood that has chosen to go non-smoking despite the fact that Homewood doesn’t require it to be smoke-free. Owner Tom Sheffer also owns restaurants in Nashville that allow smoking, but he says he prefers non-smoking. “We decided from the get-go we were going to be non-smoking in Birmingham . . . It’s the trend.” Regarding Jefferson County’s rule that forces bars and restaurants to post stickers warning of the dangers of secondhand smoke, Sheffer said that the decals are something he does not want posted in his business. Jackson’s does allow smoking on the patio. “My choice was based on coming into a city that is going non-smoking already,” says Sheffer. “To me, that is a pretty strong statement, if an area wants to go non-smoking. I’ll be honest, I do think it hurts late-night bar business a little to not have smoking . . . But we’re still getting a good bar business. People are willing to hop outside and smoke a cigarette and hop back in.”

Antonio Minnifield of Lakeview’s Amani Raha Martini Bar has lived in California and New York, where indoor smoking has been banned for several years. Minnifield said that he wanted to ban smoking from the time he opened his business, regardless of the city’s no smoking ordinance. Secondhand smoke can make a pristine martini bar filthy. “It’ll turn a white couch black,” said Minnifield. “California and New York have smoking bans, so I just wanted no smoking in here as well.” Minnifield added that he didn’t think Amani would be affected at all. “If New York and California can [ban smoking], then anybody can.”

Other restaurants that cater to a late-night clientele have also gone smoke-free. Belinda Hyatt, office manager of Southside’s Rojo, said that her customers prefer non-smoking by a slim margin. The change has not affected business. “We get a lot of smokers, it’s pretty much down the middle. The smokers will go to an establishment if it’s smoke-friendly or not.” Rojo does allow smoking on its patio, as do many non-smoking businesses.

Merrilee Challiss, co-owner of the Bottletree Café, a new restaurant and live music venue in Avondale, never gave their smoking policy a second thought. “For me it was very simple,” she says, “I told my partners when we started that it was a non-negotiable issue. The response from our customers has been very favorable. Plus, smoking customers can still use our patio.” Challiss points out that the biggest fans of the no-smoking rule have been the touring bands, often relieved not to be playing in another smoky bar.

The Comedy Club in Hoover had allowed smoking until this past August, when the health department stipulated the warning stickers and the automatic deduction of points on the health rating. Owner Bruce Ayers decided to prohibit smoking. “Well, the health department deal certainly had an effect . . . It played a factor to me because I think that rating is very important. And I think people look at that. If you have a 90 and all of a sudden it’s an 86, I think that’s a big difference.” Ayers added that complaints about smoking also played a role. “We were getting so many complaints from [non-smoking] customers. Eventually everybody is going to be non-smoking . . . I just wanted to be proactive. I just think it’s going to help our business.” When asked why the Comedy Club did not ban smoking sooner, Ayers explained, “It used to be that when we first opened, it was all smoking. Then we had a very small non-smoking section. And then, over the years, it went to where we were pretty much 80 percent non-smoking, and the smoking seats weren’t filling up. So it made business sense to me that the non-smoking thing seemed like the right thing to do. And I still think it is . . . It’s tough for smokers, I know it is. But I think this is the wave of the future . . . They’re doing it in New York, they’re doing it in California. Smoking is killing people. It’s almost like a no-brainer.”

Vestavia has outlawed smoking everywhere but bars. However, the recently closed Moonlight Music Cafe, a live music venue that catered to fans of acoustic music, was non-smoking from its inception several years ago. “That was a choice of my own,” said Keith Harrelson, owner of the bar. “We had a good crowd of people who chose not to smoke. Most bars and nightclubs attract people who do.”

T.C. Cannon admits that non-smokers and “secondhand smoke freaks” often complain about the smoke in his bar. He says that those who don’t like his smoking policy can go elsewhere. “The businessperson, particularly the independent, should be able to determine what type of business that he runs. And to try to legislate everything that is detrimental to our health—we’ll just legislate ourselves to death. And that’s a hell of a way to go, I guess.” Regarding secondhand smoke, T.C. added, “You want empirical data? I spent 45 years working at the old Upside Down Plaza and TC. I was raised in the back of a beer joint as a kid. If secondhand smoke were a problem, I’d have been dead a long time ago.” &

Dog Day Afternoons

Dog Day Afternoons

A crowd gathers for the opening day at one of the first Dairy Queens. This year, DQ celebrates 62 years of Dilly Bars and dip cones.

Every time the mercury hovered near the 100-degree mark on the thermometer outside the kitchen window, a three-block trek to Dairy Queen to relieve the relentless heat was our summer ritual. Life in Selma was pretty uneventful, so the Dairy Queen was our Taj Mahal — an oasis that added a flurry of exhilaration to pointless afternoons. Times were different then, and during the 1960s, there weren’t too many black folks venturing into white territory for an ice cream cone. The serving window marked “Colored Only” was consequently rarely occupied, which only fueled my impatience as an eight-year-old waiting in line with a dozen other white people.

Dairy Queen ice cream was more fun to eat than “store-bought” because it was much softer; no bending of stainless steel spoons (or breaking your mom’s antique silver) while attempting to scoop from a carton, or crumbling a cone while trying to load it with supermarket ice cream. DQ vanilla or chocolate dispensed into a cone or Dixie Cup and crowned with a trademark curly-cue (often resembling a pig’s tail) made long walks on hot days worthwhile. Even more amazing than the soft texture was the hard shell created when the cone was dipped into chocolate. (This treat was eventually put on a stick and called a Dilly Bar.) The menu at the Dairy Queen was too good to be true: hot fudge sundaes, peanut butter parfaits, banana splits, foot-long hot dogs laden with an avalanche of onions and kraut, and a strange, brain-freezing drink called a slush.

In 1940, J.F. “Grandpa” McCullough introduced soft serve ice milk in his fast-food restaurant in Joliet, Illinois, a dairy joint that he guaranteed would be the “queen of the dairy business.” When the United States entered World War II, there were 10 Dairy Queens in the country. By war’s end there were 100, which grew to 2,600 a decade later. Today, there are 5,900 restaurants worldwide.

Everybody in Selma, including our dog Timothy, swore by Dairy Queen ice cream. It was common for Timothy to climb the backyard’s four-foot chain link fence during summer’s hottest days and disappear for the afternoon, though we usually knew where to find him: three blocks away, lounging around the cement tables outside the Dairy Queen, watching people eat ice cream with the hope that someone would buy him a cone. Sometimes they did, and Timothy didn’t even care if it came from the counter marked “Colored Only.”

Tired No More

Tired No More

By Ed Reynolds

The mystery of Ira “Tex” Ellison’s disappearance months ago was resolved recently when his green 1985 Fleetwood Cadillac was discovered at the bottom of the Coosa River near Pell City. Relatives speculated that the 72-year-old Ellison, a diabetic, became disoriented and accidently drove into the river. Birmingham barbecue aficionados knew Ellison as the Tired Texan, the late-night barbecue king who maintained unorthodox hours, his barbecue stand sometimes open only three days a week, from noon to the wee hours of the morning. His first location, a tiny concrete structure at 8th Avenue North and 15th Street, was a smokey pit of intoxicating aromas and a late-night oasis for the uninhibited. Leaning into a small window illuminated by a single bulb, a diverse clientele of doctors, lawyers, bartenders, prostitutes, and drunks congregated to order barbecue. Picnic tables across the grassy parking lot were the only seats available. There patrons gnawed on ribs until sunrise. Slices of white bread often functioned as napkins, when not used as edible sponges for sopping up barbecue sauce.

Ellison began selling barbecue with his wife Madeline in the late 1950s as a Marine stationed in Beaufort, South Carolina. The couple opened the Tired Texan Country Club at the military base, building the structure with the help of Marine privates under Tex’s command. Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier and jazz legend Lionel Hampton were pals who sometime stopped in for a drink. Ellison had joined the Navy at age 16 in 1945, but switched branches three years later when the Marines offered to send him to electronics school. By 1956, Tex had been assigned to El Toro, California, where he was the Marine Corps’ first black air traffic radar technician. Ellison also maintained a profitable television repair business. “I always had other things going on the side,” laughed Tex during a recent interview. “I had a TV repair service and barbecue place while I was in the Marines.”


Ira “Tex” Ellison, 1928-2001

Ellison left the military in 1967, eventually moving to Birmingham to start the Tired Texan and T&T Records, where he and his wife recorded Church of God in Christ services to sell as 8-track tapes. Although he relocated his restaurant between Legion Field and BirminghamSouthern College in the 1990s, the menu remained the same: sliced pork, hot franks, pig ears, ribs, sweet potato pie, pineapple-banana cake, and the legendary Dammit to Hell Sandwich. The Dammit to Hell was a red hot, sloppy Joe-style creation made from sliced pork scraps, bits of hot franks, and chicken necks, hearts, livers, and gizzards that Tex bragged would “dissolve in your mouth.” Oddly, the sandwich didn’t start selling until Tex raised the price. “They think you’re using scraps, and that’s what you’re using. That’s what you have to be able to do, be able to deviate. If they won’t buy it under one name, dammit, give it another name and raise the price. Make ‘em want it.” The secret to the Dammit to Hell’s fire came from the original Mancha’s Mexican restaurant on Birmingham’s Southside. Owner Carl Mancha traded his atomic Agent Orange sauce for Ellison’s pig ear delicacies. Tex poured Agent Orange into his own sauce without restraint, adding ground cayenne peppers (including the seeds!), which were grown in his backyard. Tears flowed as customers drained endless styrofoam cups of sweet iced tea (blended with coffee) to extinguish the inferno. Tex finally had to give up tasting the blistering sauce at age 60 due to stomach problems. “The sauce started biting back,” he laughed as he demonstrated his mastery of sniffing to determine the correct amount of pepper spice to add. Dining on ribs and sweet potato pie one evening at his west Birmingham home, Ellison explained the appeal of his barbecued pig ears. “I had a special pig ear, what you call a sandwich ear — a little ol’ pig about seven months old with no hair. You cut the fat off and cook that sucker till he falls apart on you.”



Tex finally closed the Legion Field Tired Texan in 1996, just after the Mexican Olympic soccer team lost. “As long as Mexico won, we stayed open, ’cause the Mexicans were the only ones spending money,” the shrewd restaurateur laughed. Once Mexico lost, he shut the doors for good, citing “too many headaches” and the beauty shop next door. “Some of those ladies needed to spend 50 bucks to get that ugliness out!” Tex howled as he recalled his constant battle with the shop over parking space. The VFW Post 668 lodge was the final stop on Ellison’s 30-year odyssey of barbecue joints, an appropriate final bow for an ex-Marine who introduced Alabama to sweet barbecue sauce [his grandfather's 1899 recipe] and the incendiary trademark Sandwich.

Ira Ellison was a paradox. Tex might begin a sentence with a string of obscenities and end it quoting scripture. He often bagged his sandwiches in Krystal Hamburger sacks, and he carried a gun. “I’ve always got my .38 with me. Even in church. And everyone knows I’m kinda crazy from my Marine days — crazy enough to use it.” His wife Madeline says that in the past year he had talked of having a mobile barbecue stand near the recently opened Honda plant in Lincoln. Above all, his work ethic was relentless, and a grill was his constant companion. “I barbecued everywhere I damn went,” Tex claimed. “Even now, if it’s 3:00 in the morning and I can’t sleep, I’ll go out in the backyard and fire the grill up. Cook some hot dogs or something. Relaxes me.” &

City Hall — May 24, 2001

City Hall

May 24, 2001
May 8, 2001


“Let’s talk about George McMillan,” suggests smiling Councilor Jimmy Blake as McMillan walks down the aisle of the council chambers, replying, “Let’s don’t.” The City Stages president briefly plugs his looming City Stages 2001 event, touting this year’s talent as the best ever. It’s the lone highlight of a morning abbreviated by Council President William Bell so that councilors can join a motorcade protesting a lawsuit by businesses along Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard, formerly known as 21st Street. The businesses have filed a lawsuit recently over address-change expenses and other inconveniences, including disruption of some mail service.

Bell announces that the meeting will resume at 1:30 p.m, though it never does. The vanishing Council meeting is the latest questionable action by Bell regarding Council meeting procedures. Two weeks ago Councilor Blake said that Council Administrator Jarvis Patton told him that Bell ordered Patton to shut off Blake’s microphone for a good two minutes while Blake was debating Bell on an issue.

In other city business, an irate citizen being levied a fee for the removal of suspected weeds on his property claims that the city mowed down his kiwi crop. The Council also approves UAB’s request for the removal of 15th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues South so that the street can become campus property.

May 15, 2001

Slashbuster added to city’s flood-fighting roster

Street and Sanitation Department head Stephen Fancher addresses Councilor Sandra Little’s queries about the newest trouble-shooter residing at City Hall, the much ballyhooed “slashbuster,” a phenomenal 21st Century machine that purportedly clears creeks of “debris and clothing and things,” according to Little. Fancher confirms the machine’s incredible powers, including a “25 to 30-foot” range of motion. “It can crunch up a tree or limbs or any kind of vegetative growth on the creek,” explains Fancher as he obligingly details the slashbuster’s current itinerary: It has been in operation for two weeks on Shades Creek. Next stop is Five Mile Creek, then Village Creek, and on to Valley Creek. Councilor Little snickers when told that Shades Creek, the first stop, is in Councilor Johnson’s area. “I don’t know why you didn’t start out in District Seven [Little's district], because we have quite a bit of flooding,” says a miffed Councilor Little. “Is there a reason why we started in that area? Did you study what you were doing?” Mayor Kincaid quickly answers, “Yes, ma’am. It [creek water] flows east to west. So we started on the eastern side of town.” Little admits to suspicions that Kincaid was “biased” towards Johnson’s district because of Johnson’s support of the Mayor’s policies. She alludes to possibilities of a class action lawsuit from residents in her area affected by flooding. She asks when the slashbuster will be in her district. Fancher responds that it all depends on how long it takes to clear Five Mile Creek, pointing out that foreseeable problems include exit from the creek each time the machine encounters a bridge. The slashbuster then must find another suitable point for re-entry into the water.

Councilor Blake, noting that “water is very non-partisan in the way it runs from upstream to downstream,” disagrees with the procedure, explaining that if the downstream is not cleared and rate of flow increases upstream, then downstream will be worse. Fancher explains that the clearing of Shades Creek started downstream, then worked back upstream. The Street and Sanitation Department head also explains that Shades Creek was a good training area for practice with the new clearing contraption.

Gunn urges cosmetology students to open hair “saloons”

Councilor Sandra Little salutes Wenonah High School cosmetology students for their recent second place finish in a state business skills competition. Little promises that she’ll “be coming up there to get a new hair style!” Councilor Loder notes the current increased interest in cosmetology. “Any profession where you can get $30 or $40 just to wash somebody’s hair is a pretty good profession to be in,” notes Loder. “And not only that, they have to be chemists now, and know a lot about math in order to make sure they mix that material [hair dye chemicals, etc.] properly so their folks don’t have to come see me [Loder is an attorney],” he adds, laughing. Councilor Gunn bemoans the fact that “trades have been thrown away.” Gunn urges the students to look at opening their own business. “You can be the owner of your own enterprise, saloon and all!” encourages Gunn. The councilor boasts that he knows how to braid hair.

Budget wars begin

Mayor Kincaid delivers his Fiscal Year 2001 budget and capital improvement address, noting that economic and political circumstances presently at play in the city of Birmingham have created some “unique and formidable challenges for the coming fiscal year.” Kincaid says those challenges, however, will not hamper plans to move the city forward. Kincaid then surprises the audience by announcing that, according to a fax he received 45 minutes before the Council meeting, bond rating agency Fitch IBCA had downgraded the city’s bond rating from AA to AA minus. The New York bond agency’s adjustment of the rating was “triggered by the disclosure of significant political discord over a long period of time, and conflicting legislative and judicial actions concerning ownership of the Water Works,” according to the Mayor. Kincaid also announces a three percent cost of living pay raise and absorption by the city of increased health care premiums for city employees.Battle lines immediately take shape as Councilor Bill Johnson takes issue with the proposed budget for not including a separate pay raise for police and firefighters that had earlier been approved unanimously by the Council. Johnson also suggests that a uniform allowance be given to public safety officers. He notes that the city is understaffed by approximately 100 officers [10 percent of the police force] as he wonders aloud who will staff the proposed $550,000 police precinct Kincaid outlined in his address [the precinct, the city's fifth, will be located in the western area]. Johnson urges the Council to go on record approving significant pay raises for safety personnel, forcing the Jefferson County Personnel Board to explain why they won’t approve the raise. Kincaid explains that the Jefferson County Personnel Board is simply acting in accordance to law. The Mayor also notes that HUD questioned city proposals detailing compensation for police and fire fighters through housing programs.

Councilor Blake urges Kincaid to look at withdrawing from the personnel board if association means further migration of law enforcement officers to higher-paying suburbs. Blake notes that Hoover, which is luring many city police officers, is not part of the county personnel board system. He also points out that the city has twice as many employees as it did 20 years ago, when the population was significantly larger. Back then, pay raises were competitive, says Blake. The councilor suggests a hiring freeze in some city departments so that salaries can be boosted to competitive levels. Kincaid says that the city plans to ask the Jefferson County Personnel Board to closely examine substantial pay raises for safety personnel in line with what surrounding municipalities pay during the comprehensive salary review process that is scheduled for 2002.

They don’t build ‘em like they used to

Mayor Kincaid withdraws a request for $625,000 to be transferred from Boutwell Auditorium cosmetic repairs to Legion Field structural repairs. Director of Engineering, Planning, and Permits Bill Gilchrist explains that further inspection of the structure shows that repair needs are not quite as extensive as once feared. Gilchrist notes, “I’m going to give thanks to God that we had an engineer in the early 1900s that over-engineered that structure [Legion Field].” He adds that many early public works were over-engineered, citing the Brooklyn Bridge as an example, explaining that the bridge is seven times stronger than necessary. “When people were doing these structures early, they had higher levels of caution and safety factors than what we would consider.”

See no evil

Only one week after the oddly suspended Council meeting, Council President William Bell sternly orders camera operators recording the meeting for Tuesday evening’s cable channel 4 broadcast to “leave the cameras off!” during an argument with Councilor Aldrich Gunn. Bell instructs camera operators to resume videotaping when he gives the command, which he does after telling Councilor Gunn to confine his comments to the subject at hand. &