12 months ago

Chef John Hall has big plans in Birmingham

John Hall could cook anywhere in the world. He’s talented enough. He’s driven enough. But seven years ago, he chose to come home to Birmingham and reclaim this food city as his own.

Like many chefs in Birmingham, Hall did a stint with Frank Stitt. His formal training included culinary school at the Johnson & Wales University Charleston, South Carolina, campus and an apprenticeship that he arranged at Luxembourg’s Lea Linster. Then Hall moved to New York for a spot on the line at Gramercy Tavern. From there, he went to Thomas Keller’s Per Se, and then worked for two years as sous-chef at Momofuku Ssäm Bar.

Hall is now the chef and co-owner of Post Office Pies in Avondale along with Mike Wilson (Saw’s Soul Kitchen) and good friend Brandon Cain (Roots & Revelry). Named for a 1950s post office location, Post Office Pies isn’t a typical pizza joint. 

As expected from a chef with Hall’s pedigree, the food here – even the humblest of pies – is extraordinary. Pizzas are made with dough that has been fermented for 12 hours before it’s topped with choices that include homemade pork sausage, Nueske’s bacon, Molinari & Sons pepperoni or roasted chicken thighs, perfectly stringy aged house-made mozzarella, pomodoro sauce, roasted garlic spread or fresh basil.

Then it is put into wood-fired brick ovens and served on butcher paper in family style. Interestingly, locally sourced salads (the seasonal Brussels sprouts salad is a crowd favorite) are served on pizza pans.

The friendliness of the staff at Post Office Pies speaks to what Hall took away from his time in New York with Danny Meyer, who is known the world over for his gracious service. The noted restaurateur’s Union Square Hospitality Group includes Gramercy Tavern.

While working in New York, Hall felt called to entrepreneurship. He started baking pizzas from midnight to 4 a.m. in his Brooklyn apartment and delivering them on bicycle. He hasn’t lost that longing for his own place. He’s planning one now, and he has some definite ideas.

“I want it to be a small space. I want to make sure that I’m behind the stove every night, at least for the first few years.”

It will be contemporary American that draws on Southern influences as well as the fine-dining experience at Gramercy Tavern, which remains one of Hall’s favorite restaurants.

“The style and the type of food that (executive chef) Mike Anthony cooks and that he taught us is very close to me,” he said. “It’s how I like to cook. I would like to do a tasting menu, maybe like a five-course, prix fixe tasting menu offered nightly by reservation.”

Being behind his own stove – “being the chef cooking your meal” – means a lot to Hall.

“You look at any restaurant these days, not only here in Birmingham but in New York, LA, anywhere … in this day and age where chefs are rock stars … it’s great, it’s cool for our industry, but also I feel it’s become a bit of a distraction,” he said.

“It creates a sort of egotistical mentality. I feel the passion is taken away a bit. … People are more concerned about the clicks on Instagram and the Twitters and how many people are following me … and that is not about the food. It’s not about the labor of love,” he said.

Hall is adamant about not being someone else’s tenant.

“I understand who I am. I understand my value. I understand my worth. Throughout going to college and the places I worked … my experience, my resume, speaks for itself. And I’m not going to go into a place to … make a financial benefit for someone else,” he said.

“There’s that social and economic disparity between African-Americans and other ethnicities here in Birmingham. It’s a huge disparity still.

“I’m going to go somewhere and I’m going to own the building and I’m going to own the concept. I’m going to … change the trajectory of a neighborhood that needs economic influence. … That’s the bigger story. That’s the bigger picture,” Hall said. “And, to be quite honest, if I can’t do that, the restaurant’s not going to happen.”

Hall is well aware of the part Post Office Pies played in revitalizing Avondale, changing the landscape of that neighborhood, and he wants to continue to make that kind of impact in Birmingham.

“It goes beyond food. Food is just my avenue. It’s what I do.” The key, he said, is to use that as a way to change viewpoints and change Birmingham and how people view African-Americans. “We’re not just barbecue or fried chicken. I can cook with the best in the country. Period. So I’m going to use … what I’ve learned to make change here.”

Hall grew up cooking alongside his mother and grandmother. He said they taught him, at an early age, to love food and to appreciate the fun of it, the personal relationship with the food. “Seeing things through,” he said. “I feel like that’s what I took from them. From the shopping to the cooking to the cleaning.  Seeing things through to fruition. That’s one of the huge benefits I got from my mom and my grandparents through cooking.”

Hall is quick to honor the people who have come before him and the contributions they have made, the impact they have had on not just Southern food but also on American food. That an African-American doing fine dining is a rarity is something that frustrates him. The fact that he’s an African-American restaurant owner shouldn’t come as a surprise either, he said.

“I really want to do my part to change that perception because of the contributions … that we’ve made. You look at Dol (Dolester Miles) who won the James Beard Award this year for best pastry chef. She’s been with Frank for how many years? How many people did not know who she was until last year? It’s insane. It’s sad. You know, she’s been there since day one, but how many people knew who she was until she won the James Beard Award?”

It’s not just individuals who should be celebrated, he said. It’s much bigger than that.

He points out that slow-cooked foods like ox tails, short ribs, pork cheeks and collards weren’t on many menus 10 years ago, and now you’ll easily find recipes for them in Food & Wine and Bon Appetit. These foods have been part of the African-American culinary experience for hundreds of years. Learning to cook these inexpensive foods, these less-desirable ingredients, was simply a fact of life for generations of African-Americans.

Now, these dishes are “front-page news and people are not getting the acknowledgement and (credit) that these food items are mainstream now,” Hall said. “That’s frustrating. I want to help change that as well.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 hour ago

Montgomery launches ‘Feed the Meter for the Homeless’ project

Under the leadership of Mayor Steven L. Reed, new specialized parking meters were installed last week in downtown Montgomery to provide a quick, convenient way to support locals affected by homelessness.

Reed announced the meters were on the way during a recent city council meeting. Called the “Feed the Meter for the Homeless” project, the City’s new initiative is made possible through a partnership with the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless (MACH).

The special parking meters are green and offer residents a way to donate directly to support MACH and central Alabama agencies working with those experiencing homelessness in Alabama’s capital city. Donations will be accepted in the forms of coins or cash at each specialized meter and by card through the ParkMobile app (zone 36999) or online payment.

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“The Feed the Meter for the Homeless initiative connects compassion with convenience by allowing Montgomery residents and visitors to support our neighbors affected by homelessness and its devastating ramifications,” Reed said in a statement. “Each donation is a hand-up to help those in need and an investment in building a better future for Montgomery and the River Region.”

For more information on Feed the Meter for the Homeless MGM, please click here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Cathy Randall now serving on board of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham

Dr. Cathy J. Randall, chairman of the board of Pettus Randall Holdings, LLC, is now serving as a board member for The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham.

The Women’s Fund made the announcement in a recent release, detailing that Randall term’s officially began on January 1. A Birmingham native and Tuscaloosa resident, she is a longtime, prominent civic and corporate leader, as well as the legendary former director of the University Honors Programs at the University of Alabama.

Tracey Morant Adams, board chair for The Women’s Fund, said in a statement, “The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham strives to elevate and amplify women’s voices, and we are incredibly fortunate to welcome Dr. Randall to our board as she is a well-established voice in the state.”

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“Cathy’s passion for community service and her experience in building a better Alabama will be a tremendous asset for the organization,” Adams added.

Randall’s service to the state includes being immediate past chairman of the Alabama Academy of Honor and former president of the boards of directors of the American Village, the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and the David Mathews Center of Civic Life, as well as former director of Alabama Girls State.

Additionally, she currently serves on the board of Alabama Power Company and is a former board member of Mercedes Benz USI. Randall was the co-chair of Governor Kay Ivey’s inaugural committee and was named as a Woman of Impact by Yellowhammer Multimedia in 2018.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Sessions responds to ‘desperate and afraid’ Byrne and Tuberville — ‘Sad to see them both descend to such a sleazy low point’

With Alabama’s U.S. Senate Republican primary headed into the home stretch, the field’s three front-runners are beginning to mix it up among one another.

The first significant shot came from U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), who on Saturday went up on air with an ad attacking both his leading opponents: former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville has thrown a few barbs as well while on the stump, including one at Sessions that accused him of having “turned on” President Donald Trump.

In a statement given to Yellowhammer News, Sessions condemned the tone of both Byrne and Tuberville, noting their positions in recent polling and describing their tacks as “sleazy.”

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“It is unfortunate that both Tommy Tuberville and Bradley Byrne have abandoned any pretense of running a positive campaign. But it is not surprising: both candidates are trailing in the polls, and when politicians like Tuberville and Byrne are losing, they become desperate and afraid,” Sessions stated. “Both Tuberville and Byrne have quit on themselves and their campaigns. Neither can connect with voters on the merits of their ideas. It is sad to see them both descend to such a sleazy low point.”

Sessions warned there would be a response if this activity persisted.

“If their baseless, desperate attacks continue, they will be forcefully answered,” he continued.

The former U.S. Senator maintained that Alabamians in this primary will be focused on substantive issues.

“The key issue for Alabamians is who will most effectively and forcefully fight for their conservative values and interests, such as ending illegal immigration, protecting our jobs from unfair foreign competition, defending religious freedom, and further advancing our strong Trump economy.”

Alabama Republican voters on March 3 will cast a ballot for their preference to represent them on the general election ballot in November.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.

16 hours ago

Leaders, educators and students gather for Alabama’s 2nd Annual HBCU Summit

Alabama’s 2nd Annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Summit celebrated the state’s 14 HBCUs and the value they bring to higher education across our state and country. Saturday’s event, moderated by Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, was held at Miles College in Fairfield.

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The event kicked off with a panel discussion titled “Women in the Lead: How Six Alabama HBCU Presidents Are Raising the Bar.” The session included comments from:

“Extraordinary panel of women in leadership positions,” Jones said afterwards. “I think they provide unique insights to this. Just an amazing group of women that come from varied backgrounds — they came from academics, but also from business, so it’s a unique perspective that is what is going on with HBCUs but also with higher education in general.”

The panelists touched on a number of topics, including ways to help more high school students and nontraditional students get enrolled, making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) simpler to fill out, partnering with businesses to offer degrees and curriculum the businesses need and working together to elevate the communities they serve.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on is that the benefit of being an HBCU is that … you may not have these large classrooms like you have (elsewhere), but you have teachers that know your name, teachers that care,” Archie said. “We’re going to give you that pep talk when you need that pep talk and we’re going to help you achieve.”

It is that level of concern for students that stood out to Jones.

“These female leaders are so dynamic and so passionate about what they do,” Jones said. “They care so much about their students and their communities. They really represent the best of all HBCUs. HBCUs are the fabric of the communities and I think you saw that reflected here today.”

The summit also featured a career fair and an afternoon panel discussion titled “Student Voices: How Alabama HBCU Student-Leaders Are Lifting Up Their Campuses.” The panel, moderated by Jones, featured students from Miles College, Alabama A&M University, Shelton State Community College, Talladega College and Trenholm State Community College.

“Trying to educate and train the workforce of the 21st century is going to be a challenge,” Jones said. “We’re changing technologically, we’re changing demographically, we’re online — everything is moving in a different direction. Education has got to keep up with that, but also so do businesses. They’ve also got to start reaching out and develop those partnerships to not only train, but to mentor. I think you heard that today.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

VIDEO: Trust in government was lost long ago, Jeff Sessions leads GOP field while Jones trails all, Birmingham’s battle over monuments and more on Alabama Politics This Week

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Is President Donald Trump causing mistrust in government or is he exploiting that lack of trust?

— With new polls out, does Jeff Sessions have the GOP race locked up and does Doug Jones even have a chance?

— Is Birmingham’s mayor boosting his profile while continuing the fight over a Confederate monument?

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Jackson and Handback are joined by Secretary of State John Merrill to discuss the latest report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that claims Alabama is suppressing voters and Merrill’s willingness to take on more responsibility at the Secretary of State’s office.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at the waste of millions of dollars Alabama municipalities spend on “public notices” because of a series of outdated laws requiring publication of voter rolls and public notices in local newspapers.

Alabama Politics This Week – 2/16/20

VIDEO: Trust in government was lost long ago, Jeff Sessions leads GOP fields while Jones trails all, Birmingham's battle over monuments has no real purpose and more on Alabama Politics This Week

Posted by Yellowhammer News on Friday, February 14, 2020

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.