Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Birmingham 2012

Each fall for the past 7 years, a few close friends and I have traveled to a random city for 3 or 4 days to do nothing but golf, eat, and drink. What started as a one-off weekend of golf just to catch up with some buddies I hadn’t seen in a while has turned into an annual ritual for us that is always a highlight of my year.  Fredericksburg VA, Hilton Head SC, Tampa FL, Birmingham AL (3 times), Omaha NE - different locations, but the trips have all been the same - 6am wake-up calls, golf until we run out of daylight, early dinner and drinks, and usually asleep long before 11pm.  Of course, there’s always low stakes gambling, drinking, and plenty of heckling on the course.  Some years we’ve mixed in fancy steakhouses, some years we’ve blundered into local restaurants of suspect quality (Mexican-Irish fusion anyone?) with painful results.  

For the most part, the focus has been golf and catching up on each others’ lives.  The last few years, however, we’ve also started to focus on the food.  Food focus for a group of thirty-something golfers is not complicated. We eat meat. It doesn’t have to be gourmet, but it has to be right for the trip - tasty, nothing too stuffy, and heavy with the drink pours. Last year, we were in Tampa, so of course we went to the legendary Bern’s Steakhouse, and found the experience to be everything it is purported to be. In years past, we’ve also genuinely enjoyed Outback Steakhouse.  Before all you food nerds click away in horror, just know that the Birmingham Outback is a different animal that the typical TGI McFunsters - first, it’s somehow about $5 cheaper per steak than its Baltimore counterpart. Second, a medium rare is actually cooked medium rare. Third, the Blooming Onion is awesome and everything that is right with #fatfluential America. If you still need convincing, go to a foodier blog- you’re not going to get me trashing a place just because it’s a chain.  I can appreciate when something is exactly what it’s supposed to be.  

Anywho, this year, Jon, Brian, Dominic and I went to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Birmingham, Alabama for the 3rd time in 5 years.  117 holes of golf in 4 days (18 thursday, 36 friday, 45 saturday, 18 sunday).  We have a special affection for Birmingham- it’s inexpensive, the golf is terrific, and we love the food.

Dreamland has been our BBQ joint of choice for our last few visits to Birmingham.  Right off the campus of UAB (and just 1 exit down the interstate from our hotel), it is what I want from a BBQ joint- casual, no fuss, and delicious.  White bread and their signature BBQ sauce is brought to the table with your drinks.  We shared the following- sausage, chicken, ribs, pulled pork, collards, mac and cheese, coleslaw, banana pudding.  We washed it all down with a tasty local brew, Good People IPA.  To me, the best items at Dreamland are the sausage and banana pudding.  Not that the other items are bad- they certainly beat almost everything I can get in Baltimore- but their sausage is juicy, well textured, and a perfect blend of smoke and spice.  And, the banana pudding is terrific.  In fact, they believe in it so much, it’s their only dessert.  

In years past, we were perfectly satisfied with Dreamland and Super Outback.  Birmingham rookie Dominic, however, wasn’t about to let us do the same thing for a third time, so this year, we added Saw’s BBQ into the rotation.  I cannot be happier with that decision.  We got sausage, pulled pork, coleslaw (vinegar based, unlike Dreamland’s mayo base), mac and cheese, and of course, banana pudding.  Saw’s easily has some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever had.  Dreamland’s sausage and banana pudding are superior, but honestly, a BBQ place is all about the pork (with all due respect to Texas BBQ).  Smoky, juicy, perfectly spiced.  Insanely good.  Saw’s will definitely be a part of the rotation going forward.

It’s been 2 weeks since all the golf and BBQ in Birmingham, and I’m still smiling thinking about how much fun we had. I know lots of people have a similar annual trip with friends.  I see a few of the guys on this trip but once a year- on this trip- and yet, we pick up as if nothing has changed.  If you’re a runner, maybe it’s a particular destination race you do every year.  If you’re a poker player, maybe it’s an annual trip to Vegas.  Whatever it is, it’s a highlight of your year- the same group friends making the same dumb jokes every year, doing the same nonsense you did the year before.  

Readers, I ask you this- what annual rituals do you have with your friends and what makes it so special?

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