Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes

While in Birmingham, we visited the Irondale Cafe, sometimes know as the Whistle Stop Cafe, of Fried Green Tomatoes fame. It was only a few miles from our hotel, and a very familiar area to Josh, who happens to go by there almost daily on a train. It is outside of the city in a small town setting. Situated close to the tracks, like in the movie, it does not boast any ties to the book or film on the exterior of the building. The sign in one of the windows says "Fried Green Tomatoes", but that is really only stating their most popular food item. We parked behind the restaurant and took some photos by a train mural on the side of the building. Across the street is an old fashioned viewing platform where people can watch the trains change tracks or pass by on their way in or out of town. Inside the building an old fashioned cafeteria line waited for us. While standing in the modest line, I was able to view the "wall of fame" where famous people had autographed photos to display. After grabbing a tray, I noticed that the drinks were in the old fashioned small coca cola bottles (which I loved as a child) and were sitting in a bed of crushed ice. The menu featured Southern favorites like fried chicken, rice, mac and cheese, black eyed peas and of course fried green tomatoes. After selecting our food, we were shown to a table (round, checkered cloths) and were offered assistance with anything. I really felt like I was living a piece of history in that cafe. The only true mention of the Fannie Flagg book or movie was a movie poster, which was framed and hung across from the food line. It was obvious to see that the locals enjoyed this place, and did not come for the tourist appeal. I am sure there were several tourist there, but judging from some overheard conversations, there were lots of locals too. I guess good food is just plain good food. The meal was excellent, and the tomatoes were wonderful (This was my first experience with tomatoes fried, so I didn't have anything to compare them to, but there were great). I think I could have sat there all day and just soaked in the atmosphere. It was our last meal in Birmingham, so we couldn't stay long. Maddison and Mason are too young to appreciate the history, but they enjoyed the food and seemed to know it was a little different from most places they have eaten before.
After the meal, we crossed the street to watch a train or two go by. There was a photographer taking professional pictures of the train, but also a woman on her lunch break who came to enjoy some nice weather on the platform. It made me have fond memories of standing on a platform and watching trains as a little girl. I have always loved trains, and they continue to be a part of my life. My father, grandfather, many in laws, and now my son works for the Railroad. It was such an enjoyable experience!
After returning home, I rented the Fried Green Tomatoes movie and got to again relive the experience. Josh says that parts of the book and movie were based on real events (close by a young man was killed on the tracks). It was a favorite book and movie, and now has become a favorite memory. I would recommend this spot to anyone who has enjoyed the story, or who has a passion for trains. It is NOT touristy. I didn't see any back scratchers or postcards for sale (I wasn't exactly looking). The magic depended on your imagination and memory. It was just a little piece of Birmingham that we got to bring home with us that I will never forget!

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