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Exploring a Cultural Café
By 10:15 a.m. on Monday, I had learned a few things. That morning my father and I walked into the Mediterranean restaurant only a few minutes after its 10 a.m. opening. We were the only customers; the only employee we saw stood behind a glass counter, his hands a flurry of action — shaping scoops of a green mash into fritters about the size and shape of meatballs. I watched him work for a few minutes before I realized I was seeing the restaurant’s namesake fare.
Before my first visit to the Falafel Café, on 19th Street South in Downtown Birmingham, I had no idea what a falafel was; I assumed it was some kind of French pastry. That tells you how much I know about international cuisine. I later found out that falafel is actually a deep-fried ball of mashed chickpeas— similar in texture to a hushpuppy. Chickpeas are also found in hummus, however the ground chickpeas in falafel are green because they are picked from the vine early. The falafel comes out tasting earthy, fresh and savory with a crisp layer on the outside.
My father and I introduced ourselves, and the man identified himself as Moses Hassan, the owner of the Falafel Café: a small restaurant with that serves delicious Mediterranean food. The menu was loaded with different types of meats, dips, sides— and of course, falafel. We watched him expertly strip the chicken and lamb meat away from a broiler and arrange it on our plates. Every menu item was looking incredibly fresh and colorfully laid out behind the glass in front of us. The first item we had to choose served as a base for the meat; it was the option of rice with lentils or rice without lentils. I chose lentils because I did not even know what lentils were, and they looked delicious (plus one of my favorite songs is called “Lentil” by Sia). As Moses loaded our plates, I asked if I could interview him briefly. Moses was hesitant, but he complied. I made it clear that I was not there to necessarily critique the food— just to give the story behind the food and the restaurant. I asked him about the history of the restaurant and he said, “I was running the same exact restaurant in Bethlehem before I moved to America.” He brought the authenticity of his Mediterranean food all the way to Birmingham. Lucky us! The restaurant quickly became a dining hotspot for workers at the nearby hospital and students at the local university. He’s been in Birmingham for 20 years and loves owning a restaurant where he can serve quality food.
“What is the hardest part about owning a restaurant?” I asked.
Moses said, “Finding good help! It’s hard to hire people and keep them here.”
All this was said before a young employee entered the restaurant to help Moses. However, it looked like Moses was handling the job with such expertise that he did not need a second pair of hands behind the counter. The rainbow of toppings behind the counter left us no choice but to inquire into the details of each. The options included chopped salad, Jerusalem salad, red cabbage salad, sumac onions, tahini sauce, garlic sauce, shatta and pickles. Each of the salad sides were similar but varied in spiciness. I requested the most popular topping, and Moses graced my plate with the red cabbage salad. We also could not pass up a plate of falafel and authentic hummus with pita bread. When my father and I received our plates, we marveled at how colorful it looked and how fresh it smelled. We had so many different foods in front of us; it was hard to know where to start. Since the restaurant is called the Falafel Café, we insisted on beginning with our first ever taste of golden brown Mediterranean hushpuppies. Our plate of falafel was served with a delicious dipping sauce called tahini which the owner described as sesame seed paste. The outside of the falafel was perfectly crisp, and inside of the falafel was the ground and seasoned green chickpeas. The dipping sauce was cool and complemented the warm falafel perfectly. Both the chicken and lamb meat were presented beautifully on the rice and lentils; the meat was perfectly cooked. Our plate of pita bread was decidedly the sweetest tasting pita bread we have ever tasted. The bread came with hummus that was decadently placed on the plate and decorated with paprika and a garnish.
Moses continually checked to see if we were enjoying the food, and, of course, we were. There is so much culture around us eating to be consumed and appreciated— who knew this tiny foreign restaurant could cater so well to our cravings?
And Other Stories From the Bush Hills Neighborhood Meeting
The city of Birmingham is organized into 99 different neighborhoods governed by their own neighborhood associations, and these organizations hold monthly meetings to discuss community business. Birmingham-Southern resides in the Bush Hills neighborhood, but besides tutoring at Bush Hills Academy and completing a few service projects, do we know anything about our neighbors? This month’s Bush Hills Neighborhood Meeting was held on Tuesday, October 25th, so I went to try and get to know our community beyond the gate a little bit better.
I walked into a room across from the gym at Bush Hills Academy and signed in with my name, my phone number, and BSC’s address. A lady at the front table stopped me before I could find my way to one of the dozens of bright red chairs set up in neat rows for the meeting.
“Have you ever had a mammogram?” I answered no by shaking my head. She explained that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and handed me an armful of flyers and pamphlets detailing the importance of screenings and early detection. I thanked her and turned to continue my search of the perfect chair to participate from and observe the meeting. As I was looking, a woman half my height wearing an orange dress approached me and introduced herself as Walladean Streeter, President of the Bush Hills neighborhood committee.
“Do you live in the area?” President Streeter asked.
“Yes ma’am. I’m a student at Birmingham-Southern College,” I said.
She paused for a moment before shaking my hand.
“Well, we sure are glad you could make it tonight!” She told me to grab a cupcake from the table decorated with red, white, and blue streamers and stars.
The meeting was called to order by President Streeter tapping her gavel on the table at the front of the room. About two-thirds of the chairs were full, and a few more people were trickling in. President Streeter asked Mr. White to begin by leading the group in prayer.
“May we be led to love because that’s what this community needs: more love, more love, more love,” Mr. White prayed. When he finished, a few “amen”s snuck through the otherwise silent room.
After Secretary Myra Tarver reviewed the minutes of the previous meeting, Officer Hamby, a representative from the Birmingham Police Department, reported that robberies were down in October, but, unfortunately, auto theft was up. He reminded residents to lock their cars every time they leave them unattended, even if they are just going into their houses for a second.
President Streeter welcomed Representative Juandalynn Given from the Alabama House of Representatives to speak about the upcoming election.
“Alabama is a red state, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon,” she said. “But we still have a democratic ticket in Jefferson County that we have to push. Local elections determine your quality of life, and you’ve got to go vote.”
The meeting went on to new business, and President Streeter began the discussion with news that the City of Birmingham decided to allocate up to $2,000 for a new computer and printer that the Bush Hills neighborhood could use. She made a motion to allow the money to be used for that purpose; it was seconded and passed.
Mr. Jones, a resident in his sixties or seventies, stood tall and was armed with laminated pictures as he began a spiel about the benches in the neighborhood.
“This is one of the benches across from my house,” he said and brandished a photo he had taken. The entire top half of the picture was obscured by his blurry thumb covering the lens. The bench in question was broken and a plank of wood was sticking out at an odd angle.
“These benches are dangerous,” Mr. Jones continued. “I move that we do some research and ask the city for funds to get metal benches like they have in the parks,” Mr. Jones said, confident that no one would oppose his motion.
Suddenly, hands were raised. President Streeter called on a resident to ask a question. The resident stood and addressed Mr. Jones, letting him know that the city does not charge to fix the wooden benches and that they would have to pay out-of-pocket for the metal benches.
I could tell the discussion was about to get heated, but Ms. Jennings, a resident in the back of the room, stood and addressed President Streeter:
“Madame President, I think we need to be reminded that when we have a question, don’t address the person. Only address the President for any discussion you want to present. If you address the person, it only causes grief.”
The Great Bench Debacle was tabled, an argument for another day.
President Streeter adjourned the meeting with a quick tap of her gavel but not without reminding residents of the patriotic cupcakes waiting on the table beside her.
Feature photo via davecito
A Guide to All Things October in Birmingham
As we reach midterms, take the opportunity to go out and explore Birmingham as a small break from the load of classes and social clubs. Even with the already well-known array of hiking trails, events, and restaurants, this October, our city is offering even more opportunities for residents to get active.
Barktoberfest, an Oktoberfest themed charity event, will take place on the 13th at Cahaba Brewing Company. The beer festival will benefit Hand in Paw, an organization that focuses on animal assisted therapy. From 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm patrons can try a variety beer, eat great food and enjoy the pet costume contest for only $15. In addition to the contest, festival-goers can participate in the beer stein hoist. In this contest, the participant takes a beer stein filled to the brim with water and competes against others to see who can hold it straight out in front of them the longest. The winner gets a special prize in addition to the novelty.
If dogs and beer are not your style, perhaps the haunted houses at Sloss Furnaces and Pelham’s Warehouse 31 are more your speed. Boasting the sights, sounds, and smells of a real horror movie, these two haunted attractions are sure to send you screaming. Sloss Furnaces promises to take you deep into the haunted history of its dangerous work site, while Warehouse 31 provides a pair of 3D glasses to view featured horror movies with themed snacks.
If you like the idea of running, but you do not wish to be scared, check out Sloss Furnaces’ Trick or Trot 5k. The race begins on October 22nd at 8am, and it features a goody bag, shirt, food and a “Bloody Mary bar” for adults. The race also has a costume competition, recognizing the biggest team, most spirited team, most spirited individual, and most spirited kid.
Not wild enough? Try the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, hosted by the Red Mountain Theatre Company on October 23rd. Featuring films about environmental activism, the festival promises to inspire you to go out and make a change in your community with a special series focusing on Alabama and the vast biodiversity of the state.
Finally, Birmingham-Southern will again be hosting the Organ Spooktacular on October 31st at 9pm in Hill Recital Hall. The event, coordinated by Dr. Leon Couch III, features pieces played by BSC students, faculty, and alumni.
These events are sure to surprise and spook all throughout October, so be sure to set aside some time from your busy schedule to enjoy the fun activities that Birmingham has to offer.
Feature photo by Shannon McGee via Flickr.