Road Trip Guide - Page 46 - 5 must sees in Birmingham

Road Trip Guide
- Page 46
5 must sees in Birmingham
Discover the quintessential U.S. South

By Kerri Westenberg
Minneapolis Star Tribune

I am wandering inside the Pizitz Food Hall, past grand pillars, under a soaring ceiling, trying to decide what to have for lunch. In the center of the sleek space, a colorful tower of bottles rises behind a marble bar, where at midday, small groups of people are enjoying cocktails. I settle on Nepalese dumplings, which have won out over Israeli falafel, Ethiopian injera, Vietnamese banh mi and something a tad more traditional around here: Southern biscuits.

This dining experience — a collection of globally inspired food vendors in a repurposed 1923 department store — is not what I expected to find in downtown Birmingham, Ala.

I lived in this Southern city more than a decade ago and back then, about the only dumplings in town were bready and came atop chicken stew. They certainly were not the ginger- and veggie-filled steamed pockets that I had for lunch. Downtown was sleepy and the food scene leaned toward barbecue and meat-and-threes, cafeterias where patrons decide which trio of sides they’d like with their protein.

Birmingham—part Southern charm, part chilling past — strikes me as the perfect city for exploring the quintessential American South. Atlanta? Too sprawling. New Orleans reflects its own unique history. In Memphis, music dominates. But Birmingham strikes just the right notes, and it’s evolving in surprising ways.

The city of 217,000 is compact and easy to navigate. The vibrant food and cultural scenes reflect its standing as Alabama’s largest city. In the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the landscape is hilly, splashed with the kinds of flowering trees and bushes that epitomize the South.

Most significantly, the city played a pivotal, and tragic, role in raising the country’s consciousness of the struggle for equality. This is a city where visitors can steep themselves in that gritty history.

On the main airport access road, a historical marker stands beside a chain-link fence. Gravestones dot the ground behind it, some majestic with winged angels rising into the sky, some simple stone blocks sinking into the ground. “This cemetery is the final resting place of three of the four young girls killed in the September 15, 1963, church bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church,” it begins, and then names the three, who were in the church basement for Sunday school: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson (Denise McNair was the fourth victim, buried elsewhere). Planes overhead cast shadows as I read.

Back in the car, a piece of Minnesota propelled my drive into town. Prince’s “Controversy” blared from the radio: “I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules.”

Here are five must-sees for your own visit to the city, Prince soundtrack optional.

1. Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
Everyone’s first stop should be the Birmingham Civil Rights District, which