chicken wings

Saturdays in the South: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

First published in Current Magazine in 2007.

The history of college football would be decidedly different had there never been a land grant college erected in the tiny Alabama hamlet of Tuscaloosa way back in 1831. Few programs in the entire country can boast a history as rich as that of the University of Alabama. From Don Hutson to Bart Starr to Kenny Stabler the list of men who earned their stripes at the Capstone reads like a roll call of football’s superstars. And none stands taller than Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, regarded by many as the greatest football coach of all time.

Bryant’s formidable shadow still falls across the campus located an hour southwest of Birmingham. The stadium bares his name as does the street where the stadium resides, a museum, and the athletic department’s academic center. Some 25 years after his passing, Bryant’s iconic hound’s-tooth hat remains a perpetual image of Crimson Tide football.

The real irony of all of this tradition is that campus festivities are actually quite new to Tuscaloosa. For nearly a century Alabama played most of their games, especially the important ones, at Legion Field in Birmingham. But, as we will soon see not all of the game day merriment is recent.

Like a beacon calling the Crimson Nation to its safety, Denny Chimes stands watch over the campus. From the families playing games on the Quad to the cry of “Fumble!” whenever a dish crashes to the floor at Pepito’s (on the Strip) to the solemn Plaza of Champions, Tuscaloosa is a world class destination for any serious tailgater. The likenesses of Wade Wallace, Frank Thomas, and Gene Stallings join Bryant’s as a reminder of what once was. An empty space clearly intended for a future statue is the promise of what is to come.

From all four corners of the state, Tide fans set out with drinks, snacks, and CD’s of historic games to lay siege on this small town on the Black Warrior River. For most a visit to the Bryant Museum is part of the ritual. Some spy the sidewalks for the handprints of their favorite player. And for others a visit to Butler Field to watch the Million Dollar Band rehears is a must. Coach Bryant was a regular at The Waysider (Greensboro Ave.) and it is a popular breakfast spot with old favorites like steak and eggs or country ham and red-eye gravy.

Strategically located in the literal and metaphorical center of campus is the imposing edifice of Bryant-Denny Stadium which looms over the entire scene like a sentinel. One of the largest and most impressive looking stadiums in the country, Bryant-Denny is like Mecca to many Crimson faithful, 92,138 of them each week.

There is some trepidation over the pre-game ceremony this year as new coach Nick Saben has announced that much of the traditional pageantry, most of which had been centered around recordings of Coach Bryant, will be toned down. Some believe that it is a chance for the Alabama fan base to move forward, but most view it as an assault on their tradition. Surely the administration will strike a fair balance which will appease everyone.

After the game it is time to celebrate another Bama victory. Thousands head back to their RV’s while many others flood the Strip – a segment of University Blvd. near the stadium that is saturated with bars, clubs, and bistros. The Strip has no shortage of places to enjoy a post game celebratory libation like Rama Jama’s and Legacy. Gallette’s is home to the prettiest girls in town and the official Tuscaloosa game day cocktail, the Yellowhamer. But if you are bar hopping you would be remiss without going to The Houndstooth.

There seems to be some debate as to what is the best restaurant in Tuscaloosa with two contenders standing above the rest. Kozy’s (3510 Loop Road) has continental cuisine like Duck al ’Orange, Stuffed Lamb Chops, and Grilled Summer Lobster all prepared under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Steve Brenner. Evangeline’s (1653 McFarland Blvd. N) offers coastal cuisine and seasonal dishes using only the freshest ingredients. Both placed either first or second in almost every category in’s reader’s poll so it stands to reason you will enjoy yourself whichever you chose.

For those looking for the best burger in town walk over to Mug Shots (Greensboro Avenue). For barbecue fans there is legendary Dreamland (15th Avenue E) and Bottomfeeder’s (5th Street) which has both ribs and chicken plus great fried catfish. For many tailgaters Sunday brunch is a big part of the weekend and Cafe Venice provides T-town’s best. The menu features specialties like red pepper soup, spaghetti with feta cheese topping, and a brunch standard, waffles. A gentle string ensemble soothes those dealing with a hangover.

Barbecue and fried catfish not withstanding, the most prevalent victual on game days are wings. Many specialize like EJ’s Wings & Things (4th St.), Zaxby’s (Courtney Dr.), Wing Zone (McFarland Blvd. E), Wingfinger’s (University Blvd.) Buffalo Phil’s (On Campus in Mary Burke Hall) and Wing’s Sports Grill (Harper Lee Dr.) owned by former Tide All-American Bob Baumhower. Even Bottomfeeder’s gets into the act with smoked wings.

If football is the South’s chief spiritual experience then Alabama is its holy land. As Clay Travis of CBS Sportsline once said, “. . . people in the state of Alabama are college football fans, period. They care about their own teams, but they also know a ton about your team. Probably more than you do.”

Grilled Wings with Alabama White BBQ Sauce
Recipe Type: Appetiser
Author: Stuart Reb Donald
Prep time: 8 hours
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 9 hours
Serves: 3-4

  • 2 dozen chicken wings
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  1. For the sauce, mix ingredients together and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before using.
  2. Season wings with salt and pepper.
  3. On a gas or charcoal grill, cook wings until done (an internal temperature of 160°).
  4. Brush sauce lightly over chicken the last few minutes of cooking and/or use as a dipping sauce.

Super Chefs’ Super Bowl Recipes

Well, it’s almost here.  The most American of holidays – the Super Bowl.  That’s right I said holiday.  It’s a hell of lot more sacred than braving a blizzard to see whether or not some glorified rat saw his shadow plus it is the second most food-centric day of the year behind Thanksgiving Day.  These days the competition isn’t just on the field as friends gather to out do one another with delicious party recipes.  Well, what better way to impress that obnoxious brother-in-law than by strutting in with a few 5 star caliber dishes from this culinary all-star team.

Rick Bayless' Giant Milanesa Torta with crispy chicken tendersRick Bayless’ restraurants Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Frontera Fresco and XOCO have made him one of Chicago’s most respected chefs.  His cooking show Mexico: One Plate at a Time was the 2011 Tasty Award winner for best single subject cooking show.  The winner of the first Top Chef: Masters winner suggests you take that six foot sub concept to another level with his Giant Milanesa Torta with Crispy Chicken Tenders.  A torta is the popular sandwich that dominates the Mexico City street vendor scene.  Click HERE to get the recipe.

Michael Symon's Duck Confit Sliders, Banh-Mi StyleIron Chef Michael Symon is no stranger to competition.  He had to defeat noted chefs like Aarón Sanchez, Chris Cosentino and John Besh to win the first Next Iron Chef contest and has since competed in over 20 ICA battles winning more than 80% of the time, the best of any Iron Chef.  So leave it to Iron Mike to shake things up a bit with this exotic take on the bite-sized burger with his Duck Confit Sliders, Banh-Mi Style.  These tasty little sandwiches provide just enough sweet and an ample dose of heat.  Click HERE to get the recipe.  Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Symon HERE.

Nathan Lyon's Carrot-Sweet Potato Soup with Fresh GingerIt never fails.  Even though it is understood that Super Bowl Sunday is a no-veggie-zone someone always fails to get the memo.  And for some reason they are never satisfied with nibbling the carrot and celery sticks you serve with the hot wings.  Thankfully Chef Nathan Lyon is here to save the day.  Chef Nathan is a champion of the healthy, farm-to-fork movement on his shows  Lyon in the Kitchen and Growing a Greener World.  Take for instance Nathan’s Carrot-Sweet Potato Soup with Fresh Ginger, it’s perfect for intrusive herbivores.  Click HERE to get the recipe.

queso fundido with roasted poblano vinaigrette from Food NetworkEvery Super Bowl party needs some kind of dip and Food Network’s resident Southwestern guru, Bobby Flay comes through with just the ticket.  Flay’s Queso Fundido with Roasted Poblano Vinaigrette takes cheese dip to a whole new plateau.  The Iron Chef even provides some how-to on making your own tortilla chips which is surprisingly easy to do.  Flay has become one of America’s favorite chefs thanks to his plethora of TV appearances and empire of restaurants.  You can always count on his recipes to pack all the punch you need to get your grub on.  Click HERE to get the recipe.  Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Flay HERE.

Stuart Reb Donald's Honey-Chipotle and Bangkok wingsI guess I would be remiss if I didn’t include some sort of hot wing recipe.  I am fond of baking my wings so as to keep them healthy.  Hot wing sauce is the only time you will ever see me use margarine instead of butter and that’s because margarine makes for a smoother sauce.  Butter-based sauces can break when heated so since I am not using real butter I will use one of the heart healthy liquid margarines on the market or even a healthy fat like canola or coconut oil.  That’s what I did with these smokey-sweet Honey-Chipotle wings and these sizzling Bangkok wings.  Click HERE to get the recipe.

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March Madness Means Hot Wings

To me, nothing says March Madness like a sports bar full of fans cheering for their team, swilling pitchers of brew and slamming tons of wings.  Wings are as much a part of basketball as buzzer beating shots.  But as good as the traditional Buffalo style hot wing is there is always room for new interpretations.

I recently came up with two new wing sauce recipes that I think you’ll love for you March Madness wing-ding shindigs.

Honey-Chipotle Sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon Chipotle pepper powder
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a small sauce pan combine honey and coconut oil over low heat.  Once the coconut oil has melted whisk in the remaining ingredients.

Spicy Thai Sauce
1/4 cup Sriracha (Thai hot sauce)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon five spice
1/4 teaspoon ginger
2 tablespoons crushed garlic

Stir together and you are ready to go.

Most hot wings are usually served with a dairy-based dipping sauce, like Bleu cheese dressing.  Capsaicin (the chemical that makes chilies hot) is fat soluble meaning that fats will break it down, meaning that it cools the fire in your mouth.  The same dipping sauce works for both of these recipes.

Cilantro-Lime Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon lime juice

Stir and chill.  Sour cream is better for Latin flavors and yogurt for Asian but either will work for both.

Remember, if the burn of chilies is too much for you, DO NOT drink a soft drink.  Carbonated water binds the Capsaicin to your taste buds making it burn much worse and for a lot longer.  Go for a glass of milk instead.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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