The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 week ago

How ‘white sauce’ became Alabama’s signature barbecue sauce

(Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que/Facebook)

Big Bob Gibson created a distinct style of barbecue in 1925 when he started combining mayonnaise and vinegar as a sauce for chickens that he pit-cooked whole at his restaurant in Decatur.

To this day, the pit crew at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que dunks cooked chickens into a vat of white sauce before portioning them and serving them with more white sauce.

The whys behind white sauce are shrouded in mystery. Many folks believe Gibson figured out that the fat in the mayonnaise would keep the birds’ white meat from drying out after smoking for three hours over hickory.


Four generations of the Gibson family have built the reputation of their restaurant’s legendary Alabama white sauce, which became widely available after they started bottling and selling it retail in the mid-1990s.

White sauce distinguishes north Alabama ‘cue in the same way that thin tomato-vinegar sauces do in the eastern Carolinas, mustard-based sauces in parts of South Carolina, and the thick and spicy sauces of Kansas City.

Rich and tangy with sweet heat, Big Bob Gibson’s white sauce accents the smokiness of its barbecued chicken. Some customers even like it on the pork.

Chicken with white sauce also is a signature dish at Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q in Birmingham’s Cahaba Heights community. Covering the chickens with metal lids while cooking on the pit provides an extra measure of smoke.

Founders Myra Grissom Harper and her husband Clark lived in Hartselle—about 12 miles down U.S. 31 from Decatur—before they moved to suburban Birmingham and opened their barbecue restaurant in 1984.

It’s become sort of a thing these days for smoked-meat restaurants throughout Alabama to include a white sauce in their liquid lineup. You’ll find it at the various locations of Full MoonMoe’s, and Jim ’N Nick’s statewide; Saw’s and Martin’s in greater Birmingham, and dozens of other local Alabama barbecue joints.

Rodney Scott’s take on white sauce, which he calls White Rod, is served as a wing dip at his whole-hog barbecue restaurant near the Avondale neighborhood in Birmingham.

White sauce is one of the simplest to make since there’s no prep or cooking involved. Miss Myra’s version has four ingredients: mayonnaise, white vinegar, salt and enough pepper to give it some bite.

Big Bob Gibson’s recipe adds apple juice as a sweetener, lemon juice, prepared horseradish, and cayenne pepper to the mix. The result is creamy and tangy, with a slight kick.

The original version from 1925 is included in “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book,” written by Chris Lilly, who is married to the founder’s great-granddaughter, Amy, and has played an instrumental role in expanding the family business.

Slather on some white sauce the next time you grill chicken, and capture that taste of north Alabama.

Try these recipes:

Chris Lilly’s recipe for Big Bob Gibson’s white sauce

2 cups mayonnaise

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1/2 cup apple juice

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix ingredients, and use to dunk the chicken after cooking. Serve more as a sauce.


Miss Myra’s White Sauce

Myra and Clark Harper’s daughter, Rennae Wheat, shared the recipe with in 2008. This will feed a crowd, or scale it down.

2 quarts heavy-duty mayonnaise
1 quart white vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons pepper

Slowly pour vinegar into mayonnaise, using a whisk to work out all lumps. While whisking in vinegar, also mix in salt and pepper. Once lumps are gone, place mixture in refrigerator. Allow sauce to thicken before serving.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

1 month ago

How Back Forty Beer Company helped to launch Alabama’s brewery scene

(Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham/Facebook)

About 13 years ago, making beer in Alabama was just a dream for people like Jason Wilson, whose Back Forty Beer Company would go on to help lay the foundation for today’s thriving craft-beer scene.

“I called the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) board and said I’d like to fill out an application for a manufacturing brewery in Alabama,” Wilson recalls. “They said, ‘Son, we’ve not given one of those out since Prohibition.’ I said the application should be short then. They said, ‘If you’re willing to try, I’m willing to send it to you.’”

Both as a fledgling beer baron and during his time as president of the Alabama Brewers’ Guild, Wilson helped push for state laws that allowed stronger beers, brewery taprooms, big bottles including growlers, and on-premise sales—all essential to the industry’s growth.


Getting started wasn’t easy for the Gadsden native. While raising capital to equip his Gadsden brewery, he had to use a Mississippi brewery to make his premiere beer, Truck Stop Honey Ale.

“They agreed to let me come down on weekends, as long as I was out by Sunday,” says the gregarious Wilson, who stepped down from daily operations in 2019, becoming chairman of Back Forty’s board and self-styled chief storyteller.

Back Forty, which sold its first beer in January 2009, opened its Gadsden brewery three years later and steadily built a seven-state distribution footprint. In 2018, a satellite brewery, taproom, restaurant, and outdoor beer garden opened in Birmingham under a licensing agreement with Doug Brown.

The Birmingham facility, near historic Sloss Furnaces, opened an expansion early this year that increases brewing capacity, adds a canning line, and provides a venue for rehearsal dinners and corporate events.

It also includes a zone for customers to enjoy special ales that are stored for months in casks, where they take on flavors from the wood. “We’re calling it the Back Forty Barrel Room,” Brown says. “We’re lining the walls with barrels aging beers.”

Brown plans other Back Forty outposts, starting with a Huntsville location that he hopes to have open in a couple of years.

The Gadsden and Birmingham breweries operate independently. Each produces the core lineup that includes Naked Pig Ale and Freckle Belly IPA. They also each produce their own seasonal and specialty beers—traditional and modern styles, and whacky-yet-it-works concepts like Peanut Butter Porter, a strong dark ale made with peanuts and peanut butter essence.

Russ Bodner, the executive chef in Birmingham, is standardizing company-wide the ingredients, recipes, and methods for making his kitchen’s popular pub food, like the Back Forty Burger and Korean Grilled Chicken Sandwich.

“When we open other locations, we’ll mirror everything—the beer menu, kitchen menu, and even the music that we play,” Brown says. “Each location will have some uniqueness but we want a common experience.”

A fifth-generation Alabamian, Wilson says he’s proud of the role breweries like his have played in fabricating Alabama’s nationally recognized food and beverage scene.

He’s seen more than four dozen Alabama breweries open since he filed that ABC application. He’s collaborated with some of the state’s best chefs, including for a dinner at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City.

“We’ve been part of an awesome culinary revolution,” he says.

Back Forty’s Flagship beers

Cart Barn Light (ABV: 4½ percent)

Pawpaw’s Peach Wheat Ale (ABV: 4½ percent)

Truckstop Honey Brown Ale (ABV: 6 percent)

Naked Pig Pale Ale (ABV: 6 percent)

Rollin in the Haze hazy IPA (ABV: 6 percent)

Bama Mosa Brut (ABV: 7 percent)

Freckle Belly IPA (ABV: 7½ percent)

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

2 months ago

Where to celebrate Chinese New Year in Alabama

(Tuscaloosa Mr.Chen's/Facebook)

For Chinese New Year, which is February 12, families gather from near and far to sweep out the old and ring in the new. The date is set by a lunar calendar, with each year represented by an animal. Today starts the Year of the Ox.

In Chinese culture, the new-year celebration continues for more than two weeks, ending with the Lantern Festival on the first full moon of the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar. It’s like Thanksgiving and Mardi Gras rolled into one.

Like family reunions worldwide, food plays a central role at Chinese New Year. Certain dishes symbolize luck and portend prosperity, especially when served on New Year’s Day itself (think of it as the Chinese equivalent of the Southern new-year ritual of serving black-eyed peas, greens, and ham).

Many of these symbolic foods are familiar here in Alabama.

What to eat on Chinese New Year:


Spring rolls, which are said to resemble gold bars, signify prosperity for the coming year. Their thin wrappings are made without egg (egg rolls were created in the United States), making the fried snacks crisp and golden. They are filled with seasoned meat, vegetables, or a combination.

Dumplings also are believed to foreshadow wealth in the coming year because they look like old-fashioned Chinese silver and gold ingots. The more you eat, the more money you’ll supposedly make. Served boiled, steamed, or pan-fried, they should have plenty of pleats along the seam where the filling is sealed inside — flat tops signal poverty, according to Similar to the plastic baby in a Mardi Gras King Cake, sometimes a coin is added to one of the dumplings, bringing good luck to the person who gets it.

Noodles are a symbol of longevity, and the tradition at the new year is to serve extra-long strands to slurp without cutting them.

Fish represents surplus, and those powers hit a peak when it’s steamed and served whole. Catfish and carp are considered especially auspicious, but any whole fish will fit the bill. When placed on the dinner table, the head of the fish should point toward a guest or an older relative as a sign of respect. The server utters a wish that everyone enjoys a surplus in the coming year. Don’t flip the fish when the top is picked clean; that could bring bad luck.

Other lucky foods to eat for Chinese New Year include savory cakes made from glutinous (sticky) rice, which symbolizes family togetherness, and tangerines or oranges to bring good luck in the coming year.

Where to celebrate Chinese New Year in Alabama:

If you’re going to usher in the Year of the Ox through Chinese food traditions, you’re best off seeking out restaurants that specialize in traditional Chinese food. The pandemic has left many dining rooms shuttered or at partial capacity, but they offer to-go options. Here are some traditional Chinese restaurants around Alabama, and symbolic New Year’s food they serve:

Great Wall (Birmingham): The gold standard in Birmingham, this restaurant serves a large variety of dumplings, spring rolls and creative dishes like spicy Dan Dan Noodles and whole Steamed Fish with ginger and scallions.

Red Pearl (Homewood): At this restaurant attached to an Asian market, find spring rolls; dumplings (fried, steamed, soup buns, shrimp haukay); noodles in entrees and soups; and steamed whole fish in brown sauce. A variety of whole-fish dishes are fried or sauteed as well.

Mr. Chen’s Authentic Chinese Cooking (Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Homewood, Hoover): The multiple locations of this favorite restaurant serve spring rolls; dumplings (steamed, pan-fried, small soup bun); and noodles in entrees and soups.

Mr. Hui’s Peacock Express (Foley): Find spring rolls, dumplings, and noodles in entrees and soups.

Taste of Asia (Opelika): This restaurant’s New Year Dishes include spring rolls (vegetarian or shrimp); dumplings (steamed, fried, or soup bun); pan-fried noodle entrees; and noodle soup.

Ding How II (Huntsville): On the daily menu, you’ll find spring rolls, fried dumplings, noodle soups, and lo mein noodles. A special weekend dim sum menu includes spring rolls, steamed dumplings, fried dumplings, shiu mai dumplings, and dumplings shaped to resemble shark fins.

Eric Velasco is a freelance writer based in Birmingham. He has written for local, regional and national publications for nearly four decades, and was a longtime contributor to Birmingham Magazine. When he’s not cooking, he’s eating.

2 months ago

Celebrate National Pizza Day at the best pizza restaurants in Alabama


Today (February 9) is National Pizza Day. If you plan to celebrate the cheesy and delicious holiday, here’s our list of the best pizza restaurants in Alabama.

Post Office Pies (Birmingham)


Post Office Pies/Facebook

While cooking at top-level restaurants in New York City, chef John Hall also ran a pizza-delivery service from his apartment. Upon returning to his hometown of Birmingham, Hall co-founded Post Office Pies in 2014 with Brandon Cain and the late Mike Wilson. The original is located in — you guessed it — a former post office. A perennial favorite among Magic City pizza fans, POP recently opened a second outpost in Mountain Brook Village. Made with dough that rises for 12 hours, the pies are cooked in wood-fired ovens.
Avondale: 209 41
st St. South; Mountain Brook 270 Rele St. 

Mata’s Greek Pizza and Grinders (Anniston)


Mata and William Rodopoulos ran pizzerias for decades, first in the 1970s near Boston and then in Anniston, Alabama, starting in the 1980s. Mata’s recipes for thick-crust pies have repeatedly earned kudos on lists of the best pizza restaurants in Alabama. Daughter Linda and her husband Rick Burke took over after her parents’ passing. The restaurant makes fresh dough at least a half-dozen times daily. The Extra Special Pizza, a customer favorite, has a little bit of everything — pepperoni, ground beef, sausage, Canadian bacon, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms, all covered in white cheddar.
1708 Quintard Ave., Anniston

Midtown Pizza Kitchen (Montgomery, Prattville)

Midtown Pizza Kitchen/Facebook

Will Meachem opened the Montgomery location in 2011 (one in Prattville followed in 2015). The hearty Five Meat pizza, with pepperoni, pancetta, prosciutto, Italian sausage, and salami is their best-seller. Italian-style pizzas include the spicy Caldo e Piccante and the Genovese (pesto, mozzarella and chicken). Or build your own pie. Plenty of other Italian classics such as pastas, calzones, and Stromboli also are available in a casual, family-friendly setting.
Montgomery: 2940 Zelda Rd.; Prattville: 584 Pinnacle Place

Joe’s Pizza (Woodville)

Joe’s Pizza/Facebook

Open for nearly 20 years in the northeast Alabama town of Woodville, in Jackson County, this tiny family-run restaurant with limited seating does a brisk take-out business. The pizza menu is simple, including cheese, meat-lovers, veggie, and Hawaiian, but the hands-down favorite is the Combination Supreme with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, green olives, black olives, and anchovies. The dough is made from scratch daily.
6582 U.S. 72 E, Woodville

Big Ed’s Pizza (Huntsville)

Big Ed’s Pizza/Facebook

Big Ed’s was founded in 1961, and longtime owner Steve Denton took over two years later. Now his children run this institution, which also has built generations of fans. Big Ed’s moved into its current location in 2019. Tomato sauce and dough (hand-tossed) is made in-house for pies like the Big 8 with pepperoni, ham, sausage, onions, mushrooms, bell pepper, and both black and green olives. The Italian and White pizzas use olive oil for a base.
255 Pratt Ave. NE Huntsville

Mater’s Pizza and Pasta Emporium (Gadsden, Albertville)

Mater’s Pizza/Contributed

Parts of Mater’s menu read like a tomato seed catalog — pizzas include Better Boy, Better Girl, and Burpee. Michele Atkins and Shelby Cochran opened the original in downtown Gadsden in 1978, and the Albertville franchise premiered in 2013. The 16-inch Better Boy (pepperoni, Italian sausage, ground beef, ham, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, olives, and extra cheese) weighs some seven pounds. You’ll seek an autograph after trying the thin-crust Celebrity, made with chicken, spinach, goat cheese, and dried cranberries.
Gadsden: 329 Locust St.; Albertville: 108 E. Main St.

Trattoria Pizza and Italian (Spanish Fort, Foley)

Trattoria Pizza/Contributed

Jill and Greg Peterson both started in the restaurant business at age 14. (Greg also is a news anchor at WPMI NBC15 in Mobile; he has been a newsman for three decades). Their signature pizza, The Trattoria, has pepperoni, bacon, sausage, ham, onion, bell pepper, black olive, mushroom, and feta cheese toppings. For a different approach, try one of the pizzas made with house-made alfredo sauce, Chicken Alfredo, Philly Steak, or Chicken Philly.
Spanish Fort: 11611 U.S. 31; Foley: 100-F South Owa Blvd.

Broadway Pizzeria (Tuscaloosa, Northport)

Broadway Pizzeria/Contributed

Friends and baseball lovers Eric Wyatt and Rob Coons opened their original wood-fired pizza restaurant on Rice Mine Road in 2002. New York is the inspiration (Wyatt and Coons are Yankees fans) for pies like the Bambino, named after baseball icon Babe Ruth, with pepperoni, sausage, ham, beef, bacon, and cheese. Most of the menu is cooked in wood-burning ovens. Gluten-free pizza is available. A second Tuscaloosa store opened in 2016; now a third location is in Northport.
Tuscaloosa: 2880 Rice Mine Rd, 5400 McFarland Blvd.; Northport: 4550 Station Circle

Carpenetti’s (Moody)


Named “Bama’s Best Pizza” this year by the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, fan-favorite Carpenetti’s was lauded by judges for its chewy crust and balance of sauce and cheese. Owner Frank Carpenetti, the grandson of an Italian immigrant, opened the Moody pizzeria in 1997. Check out the Spinach Alfredo stone-baked pizza. Other options include Sicilian deep dish and stuffed pies. Carpenetti’s fresh-made dough also is utilized in calzones and meat-filled rolls.
740 Park Ave. Moody

Eric Velasco is a freelance writer based in Birmingham. He has written for local, regional and national publications for nearly four decades, and was a longtime contributor to Birmingham Magazine. When he’s not cooking, he’s eating.