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Art of Alabama Food opens in Atlanta

Following its debut in New York City and stops in New Orleans and Nashville, The Art of Alabama Food continues the tour with a stop in Atlanta.

The Art of Alabama Food: Gallery Tour
May 26 – June 1: Lenox Square Mall; Atlanta

The Alabama Tourism Department sponsors The Art of Alabama Food, which is inspired by the “100 Dishes To Eat in Alabama Before You Die” brochure.

Thirty-six images selected from the Alabama Tourism Department’s brochure “100 Dishes To Eat in Alabama Before You Die” will entice guests and inform them about some of Alabama’s best local restaurants. Guests will also be invited to download the free mobile app in order to browse the complete list of 100 Dishes. The mobile app takes consumers on a culinary road trip through the state and features Alabama’s most memorable and iconic dishes, restaurants and overall food experiences.

“With a large pool of culinary talent and innovative restaurants, it’s an exciting time for Alabama food,” says Alabama Tourism Department director Lee Sentell. “We want to share a taste of that with our neighbors in the South and invite them to take a road trip to Alabama where they can experience our unique food culture for themselves.”

The gallery features images from photographer Becky Luigart-Stayner. For more information on The Art of Alabama Food, go to: www.visitartofalabamafood.com or follow the hashtag #AlabamaFood on social media.

Hey, Y’all! Welcome Center surprises travelers with celebration

Luc Melendez smiled as he pulled into the Houston Welcome Center on Highway 231 on Friday morning.

“I said, ‘There’s a guy in a duck suit! What the heck is going on?’” said Melendez, who had stopped at the rest stop while traveling from Fort Walton Beach, Fla., to Atlanta with his mother, aunt and their dogs, Libby and Torii.

Melendez and his family had stumbled on the welcome center’s annual event to celebrate National Tourism Week. Travelers were greeted with popcorn, cookies and candy, as well as beauty queens in sequined gowns and a giant yellow duck mascot sporting a Water World logo.

Many also heard a hearty, “Hey, Y’all! Welcome to Dothan! Y’all doin’ OK today?” from greeters.

Deborah Tillis, the welcome center’s manager, said the event increases awareness of the economic, social and cultural impact of tourism. More than 100 restaurants, hotels and attractions in the region were part of the event by donating pamphlets and treats, or setting up booths, Tillis said.

If it sounds like a big deal, it is.

According to the Alabama Tourism Department’s preliminary estimates, more than 24 million people visited the state last year, with travelers spending about $11 billion. Travelers were responsible for more than 163,000 jobs in the state in 2013.

“I can tell you that between the eight welcome centers, we see from eight to 10 million people a year,” she said. “It would cause (Alabama residents) to pay an extra $400 a year in additional taxes, if they did not stay and spend money in our state.”

Roberta Burnhart, who lives in Panama City Beach and owns a home in Georgia, said she always stopped at the Houston Welcome Center on her trips back-and-forth.

But she’d never seen it like this.

“I was just excited to see it,” she said, smiling.

Sandy Stacy and Johnnye McEver agreed. The longtime friends often travel between Panama City Beach and their homes in a town just north of Atlanta.

“It’s a very pleasant surprise,” Stacy said. “It gives you a flavor of the culture of the state and the friendliness of the South.”

To read the article online, go to: http://www.dothaneagle.com/news/article_8eecb2ce-d7c8-11e3-ae5c-0017a43b2370.html

5 Free Things: Fresh vibe bringing life to Birmingham

Alabama’s largest city is making a comeback after decades of dormancy, and there’s plenty of free stuff for visitors to see and do in the new Birmingham. Re-energized by a wave of fresh development and the emergence of a true downtown vibe, the city once called the “Pittsburgh of the South” for its steel industry is now varied enough for a family trip or a weekend getaway for couple. Interested in history or the arts? How about a tour of a worldwide broadcasting operation? Birmingham has that and more.

Civil Rights District: Visitors interested in civil rights history can pay tribute to the era on a pilgrimage to sites where headlines were made. Walk along streets where police and firefighters used dogs and fire hoses to rout demonstrators seeking equality for blacks in 1963. Stand at the spot where a Ku Klux Klan bomb went off that same year, killing four black girls inside 16th Street Baptist Church. Across from the church, sit in Kelly Ingram Park, where statues depict compelling scenes from the city’s civil rights struggles.

Birmingham Museum of Art: Billing itself as one the nation’s best regional museums, the Birmingham Museum of Art houses more than 25,000 drawings, paintings, prints, sculptures and decorative pieces from all over the world. Its painting collection includes Albert Bierstadt’s “Looking Down Yosemite Valley,” selected by The National Endowment for the Humanities as one of 40 American masterpieces.

Railroad Park: Once a trash-strewn empty lot beside train tracks, Railroad Park opened in 2010 and quickly
became a favorite gathering spot. With features including ponds, a wetlands area, a walking track and a natural amphitheater, the 19-acre park is a perfect spot to spend a few hours watching people or reading a book.

Eternal Word Television Network: Located minutes from downtown in tree-covered Irondale, Eternal Word Television Network offers weekday tours of what it calls the world’s largest religious media operation. Founded by an enterprising nun, the operation is geared toward Catholics, but anyone can see the studios and control rooms that are used to beam shows to more than 150 million TV households worldwide. The opulent Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Monastery is located on 400 acres about a one-hour drive away.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens: With 67 acres of land and more than two dozen unique gardens, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is one of the most-visited free attractions in Alabama. There are roses for flower fans, a Japanese garden for Asian enthusiasts and a vegetable garden lush enough to make any home gardener green with envy.

To read this article online, go to: http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/life/2014/05/03/free-things-fresh-vibe-bringing-life-birmingham/8651075/

New York Times article features Old Cahawba prison

For more than the obvious reasons, Civil War soldiers in both armies despised military prisons. Not only were the inmates held against their will, but the hunger, filth, vermin, rampant disease, overcrowding, brutal treatment and soul-crushing ennui made prison camps slaughterhouses of slow death. Andersonville, the infamous Georgia prison, was the ultimate abattoir; during the summer of 1864 nearly one in three Union inmates died. In other Confederate prisons, the average mortality rate was 15.5 percent; in Union prisons, 12 percent.

There was one remarkable exception: the virtually unknown Cahaba Federal Prison, 15 miles southwest of Selma, Ala. At Cahaba, the mortality rate was just 3 percent, a lower death rate than that among American prisoners in German stalags during World War II. According to federal figures, only 147 of the 5,000 prisoners interned at Cahaba died there.

What made Cahaba unique among Civil War prisons? Simple humanity. The prison commandant, Col. Henry A. M. Henderson of Kentucky, understood Northerners. He had graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and the Cincinnati Law School. Shortly after graduation and finding his true calling in the church, Henderson became a Methodist minister. When he assumed command of Cahaba in July 1863, a month after it opened, he pledged to run the prison with as much compassion as discipline and good order permitted.

Those who fell ill were well cared for at the prison hospital, located in a rambling, two-story hotel called Bell Tavern that the Confederacy had commandeered to serve both the guards and the prisoners. Whitfield treated Northerners and Southerners with equal consideration. Men died in the Bell Tavern hospital, but not for want of care.

Neither did they die for want of effort by Henderson, who in the autumn of 1864 found himself commandant of the most overcrowded of all Civil War prisons. That summer the Union’s commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant, halted prisoner-of-war exchanges. As a result, Cahaba’s population surged to 2,151 in October, a number 600 percent above the prison’s capacity (Andersonville ran 330 percent above capacity at its peak). Each man had only 7.5 square feet to call his own; those at Andersonville had 35 square feet of space, albeit squalid, per man.

Henderson died in Cincinnati in 1912. Obituaries incorrectly said he had been a Confederate general, omitting any reference to his duty at Cahaba. Not that it mattered. After the 1865 flood the county seat moved from Cahaba to Selma, and by the turn of the century Cahaba was a ghost town; the warehouse prison demolished for the bricks. The horrors of Andersonville and notoriety of its commandant Henry Wirz would forever remain etched in American memory; memories of Col. Henry A. M. Henderson’s humanity were buried with the good reverend.

To read the entire article, go to: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/humanity-and-hope-in-a-southern-prison/?_php=true&_type=blogs&ref=opinion&_r=0

Barber Motorsports Park has world’s largest motorcycle museum

It’s official: Birmingham is home to the world’s largest motorcycle museum.

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum now holds that title, according to Guinness World Records.
Officials made the announcement Friday at Barber Motorsports Park, where the museum is located, amid the opening activities for this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, an event that is in its fifth year at the 830-acre racing venue.

Birmingham businessman and longtime motorcycle collector George Barber, who built the park and museum, said he and his team had always believed the museum was the world’s largest.

But they wanted something to back up that claim, so they sought Guinness certification.

While the museum’s new title means a lot to Barber and the people who helped him build it, he hopes it means the most to Birmingham.

“It’s got to bring some positive vibes to the city,” said the former dairy magnate and real estate developer. “I want to use it as a tool to help bring more people to Birmingham.”

The Barber museum and park already are doing their part in that area. Last year alone, they drew 270,000 visitors, including more than 3,000 museum visitors who hailed from other countries.

According to the official Guinness record, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of vintage and contemporary motorcycles, with 1,398 unique exhibits.

The five-story glass, steel and concrete structure features eye-catching displays of motorcycle towers and machines suspended from walls. The whole place has a cosmopolitan feel, as there are exhibits from more than 100 countries.

The museum also has a collection of around 60 Lotus race cars.

Barber said he never imagined the venue would grow to what it is today.

The museum has been working on the Guinness certification for about six months and followed an extensive process that required photos and documentation of each exhibit, said Don Erwin, vice president of corporate development for Barber Companies.

“Once we dug into this, we found out it was serious business,” he said.

This is a new record category, according to Sara Wilcox, a spokeswoman for Guinness World Records North America Inc.

“Guinness World Records is always open to new record categories and we are happy to approve this achievement,” she said.

Barber says he doesn’t play favorites when it comes to his motorcycles: “You know you do not have a favorite child.”

But highlights of the collection include those driven by motorcycle and auto racing world champion John Surtees, as well as billionaire investor Jim Rogers, who was raised in Demopolis and made his own mark in the Guinness World Record books for transcontinental motorcycle travel.

“Most are connected to personalities,” Barber said of the motorcycles. “And they have their own personalities and a story to tell.”

He said he enjoys walking through the museum when it’s full of visitors, and he gets to meet people from far-flung places. But he also likes the quiet times there.

“If you come early in the morning or late in the evening, these machines will talk to you; they’ll tell you a little about themselves,” Barber said. “Particularly the world champion bikes … you’ll walk by and feel the vibe and the energy of where they’ve been.”

To read the entire article, go to: http://www.al.com/business/index.ssf/2014/04/guinness_makes_it_official_bir.html#incart_river_default

Jim ‘N Nick’s #1 and Moe’s #9 on list of best BBQ chains

Barbecue is one of those foods that’s fiercely regional: beef in Texas, sweet sauce in Kansas City, and so on. But thankfully, there are plenty of chains out there that bring amazing barbecue all across the country, and we’ve rounded up 10 of them.

Chains tend to get bad raps in general, largely because they rely on production lines and cost-cutting measures to deliver food that’s as inexpensive and quickly-made as possible (think pizza chains versus actual pizza). But when it comes to barbecue, there’s really no corner-cutting. Because if you cut corners with barbecue — using low-grade meat, for example, or not smoking it for long enough — people will know. And, not only will they know, they’ll get angry. Because you can screw around with burgers or pizza, but you can’t screw around with barbecue.

All the owners of the chains on our list keep this fact close to heart, and it comes through in the food they serve. In order to assemble our ranking, we looked at dozens of barbecue restaurants with multiple locations all across the country, and ranked them according to the following criteria: local renown, consistency of the food across all locations, adherence to traditional barbecue techniques like “low and slow” on-premises smoking, atmosphere and, most importantly, if the food tastes good.

Choosing a favorite type of barbecue is a subjective matter, but I think we can all agree on the fact then when done right, there’s nothing on earth that’s more delicious. And while some of these chains might specialize in Texas-style barbecue and others focus on St. Louis, we should be mighty thankful that they’ve decided to expand and grace parts of the country that might otherwise not have access to great barbecue with their presence. So strap in and get ready to learn about the 10 best barbecue chains in America.

1. Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q
If you’re going to open a chain of barbecue restaurants in the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Colorado, you better make sure that your product is on-point. A visit to Jim ‘N Nick’s, which was founded by a father-son duo in 1985 in Birmingham, Ala., and now has 30 locations, will show you that this is the real deal. Perennial exhibitors at best-of-the-best showcases like New York’s Big Apple BBQ Block Party, they’re smoking their own pork (sold pulled or chopped with a vinegary Carolina-style sauce), spare and baby back ribs, house-cured bone-in ham, legendary housemade pork hot links, chicken, turkey breast and beef brisket, and serving it with a big dose of Southern hospitality. They also offer a killer hickory-grilled burger and pimento cheese sandwich, but honestly, you’re going to want to reserve all the room in your stomach for this crazy-good barbecue.

9. Moe’s Original Bar B Que
With more than 30 locations centered in Alabama and Colorado, Moe’s is doing barbecue right. It was founded by three friends from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and since 2001, it has grown from a small slopeside catering operation to a barbecue destination. They still offer catering, but a trip to any of their restaurants is sure to be a good time, and is also a great primer in Alabama-style barbecue. Pork and chicken are the showcased items, topped with the signature Alabama white barbecue sauce, but the Angus beef brisket, hot links, St. Louis spare ribs and fried catfish are also worth saving room for.

To read the article and see the other eight chains listed, go to: http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2014/04/19/best-barbecue-bbq-chain/7879133/

‘I’m grateful to Alabama,’ Octavia Spencer says in Garden & Gun interview

Hollywood is still stuck in the past when it comes to portraying Southerners, Montgomery native and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer says in an interview with Garden & Gun magazine.

“They are still hung up on the South we were before I was born,” Spencer tells Garden & Gun. “But we are more complex than what I often see on television and film. Just because we talk slower, we aren’t stupid. We are the sum of all of the parts.

“The thing about the South is we accept our history,” Spencer goes on to say. “We don’t push it under the rug. There is racism all over the United States. Most Southerners I know, we definitely find ourselves defending our heritage.

“But let me tell you something, whatever you think about the South, if your car breaks down in any Southern city, you’re only going to be sitting on the road five minutes, max. You don’t even have to pop up your hood. When my car broke down in LA, nobody stopped. They just kept whizzing by.”

Asked about thanking her home state in her 2012 Oscar acceptance speech for her role in “The Help,” Spencer, an Auburn University graduate, tells Garden & Gun: “I’m grateful to Alabama.”

Spencer recently reunited with her friend and “The Help” director Tate Taylor in the James Brown biopic “Get On Up,” which stars Chadwick Boseman of “42” as the Godfather of Soul. Spencer plays Brown’s Aunt Honey, who helped raise him after he was abandoned by his mother. “Get On Up” is scheduled for an August release.

To see this article online, go to: http://www.al.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2014/04/im_grateful_to_alabama_montgom.html

‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ other Alabama-set books draw attention and tourists to state

If you’ve ever made the trek to the small Alabama town of Monroeville, chances are it had to do with ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

And the same thing goes for the Irondale Café or the Bayou LaBatre area. It’s likely that your readings of the novels ‘Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café’ or ‘Forest Gump’ inspired your travels.
Popular literature can have a tangible effect on interest in a particular area, and can in turn bring tourism money to a state or region.

That concept—that literature can increase tourism and make an economic impact—drives the SouthEastern Literary Tourism Initiative (SELTI) as it encourages writers to pen fiction focusing on place, and readers to engage in that fiction in an interactive way.

The organization, which was launched in 2009, has published two tourism-themed novels and holds an annual tourism fiction writing contest. It’s working with the Alabama Tourism Department, University of Alabama, University of South Alabama, Jacksonville State University and other agencies to promote tourism fiction.
SELTI founder Patrick Brian Miller said that today’s readers have the opportunity to interact with the stories they’re reading through technology.

“Today’s modern e-readers allow readers to instantly browse tourism websites related to fiction through links embedded into the story, but many writers and publishers have not thought to include that yet,” he said. “Part of our mission is to encourage writers, publishers, tourism attractions and governments to work together for a common goal of promoting tourism.”

He said that Alabama is in the lead in this, with SELTI publishing what ‘USA Today’ recognized as the first tourism novel published with an interactive tourism guide embedded with links.
“The novel ‘Blind Fate’ includes the Rosa Parks Museum, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, along with many other cultural attractions,” he said.

According to Guntersville’s Kathryn Lang, the winner of the first SELTI novel-writing contest, literature has a proven track record as a tool for bringing tourists into an area.

“To Kill a Mockingbird brings in thousands of tourists to Monroeville every year, especially during special spring events,” she said. “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil brought in millions of dollars of tourism revenue to Savannah. Forrest Gump drew tourists to Bayou La Batre.”

Lang said, though, that today’s technology brings added opportunities to combine travel and reading.
“Many who read the novel in school are not even aware of Monroeville’s literary tourism events. What if every student who read the novel on a Kindle or iPad was also able to click on a link that led directly to Monroeville’s courthouse museum? That would be reaching millions of potential tourists over the years instead of thousands,” she said.

To read the entire article online, go to: http://www.al.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2014/04/to_kill_a_mockingbird_other_al.html

Alabama BBQ Bracket 2014: Little roadside joint knocks off the big boys

Smokin’ on the Boulevard, a little roadside barbecue joint in Florence, knocked off the big boys to win the 2014 Alabama BBQ Bracket championship, the Alabama Tourism Department announced this afternoon.
Voters in the statewide Facebook contest selected Smokin’ on the Boulevard’s smoked ribs as the state’s top barbecue dish.

The other Final Four entries were Bessemer’s Bob Sykes BarB-Q, which won for best sauce, and Birmingham-based Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, which won for both best chicken and best pork.
Smokin’ on the Boulevard was voted the overall winner.
Located at 4080 Florence Blvd., Smokin’ on the Boulevard has only been open a couple of years, but has fast made a name for itself with its dry-rubbed meats, which are slow-cooked over hickory coals. The menu features Boston butts, St. Louis-style racks of ribs, whole chickens with white sauce, smoked bologna, stew, smoked cabbage and more.

Smokin’ on the Boulevard is open only three days a week, Thursdays through Saturdays, and the ‘cue often sells out. Especially now.

For a menu, prices, hours and more, go to the Smokin’ on the Boulevard Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SmokinOnTheBoulevard.

About 20,000 votes were cast in the three-week contest, which began with a field of 32 total entries – eight each in the four categories of ribs, chicken, pork and sauce. Voters went to the Alabama Food Facebook page to select their favorites.

To see the page, go to: http://www.al.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2014/04/alabama_barbecue_bracket_2014_5.html

Condé Nast Traveler wants you to vote for the state with the coolest license plate

We know you’ve got a ton of state pride, and we want you to share it! CondeNastTraveler.com is currently running a contest to find out which state has the coolest license plate in the U.S. To celebrate road trip season, we’re asking travel lovers to vote for their favorite state. Help us spread the word—and show your local pride—by sharing the news on your social media networks and to your fellow state fans.

You’ll find the story here: http://www.cntrvlr.com/1jDXhsy

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