Birmingham’s Irondale Cafe is the Real Whistle Stop
In it’s beginnings the Irondale was just a hotdog stand opened by its original owner Emmett Montgomery. Montgomery soon turned things over to Maggie Prentice who added burgers and barbecue. In 1932 ownership moved into the fateful hands of Miss Bess Fortenberry who changed the name to the one it now carries. After World War II Miss Bess enlisted the help of Sue Lovelace and a talented cook named Lizzie Cunningham to help her transform the Irondale into the American icon that it is today.
Do to failing health Miss Bess sold the cafe to Billy McMichael in 1973. In 1979, McMichael relocated the cafe to it’s current location which allowed him to transform it from a mostly take-out shack to a full blown diner with seating for 100. Other expansions soon followed and were most likely predicated on the success of Flagg’s book and subsequent movie.
Today the Irondale Cafe has a sign that reads, “The Original Whistle Stop.” Born in an era where every restaurant served only local, seasonal foods the cafe is now a front runner in a movement that has been their business model for over 80 years. In fact, the regular “meat & 3″ menu is teeming with local foods like fried Alabama chicken livers every day of the week except Friday when they are replaced with fried Alabama catfish. Other staples include country fried steak and meatloaf.
For sides there are plenty of those Southern vegetable recipes that made them famous like steamed cabbage, fried okra, sweet potato souffle, field peas, turnip greens and of course fried green tomatoes. There is also a specials board with over half a dozen seasonal items that changes as the weather does. Recent features included big butter beans, grilled beef liver & onions and blackberry cobbler.
The Irondale Cafe is a testament to what a restaurant should be and today so few are. So if you are heading to the Birmingham area make sure you venture east of the city to experience life in the Roaring 20’s. The cafe is located at 1906 1st Avenue North in Irondale, AL and you can call in your order at (205) 956-5258. MAP