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Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa launches “Summer at the Castle”

Summer fun isn’t just for kids anymore. Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa is offering “Summer at the Castle,” a summer full of activities for families and couples staying at the resort. Ross Bridge guests will enjoy Highland games for children, “A Taste of Scotland” cocktail tastings for adults and dive-in movies for everyone all at no additional price.

“Renaissance Ross Bridge has been an international golf and luxury destination since opening in 2005,” said Rick Smith, general manager of Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa. “With Summer at the Castle, we are embracing our Scottish heritage and offering a variety of fun activities for families and couples in the region. Ross Bridge has become known for our nightly bagpiper and this summer it will become known for so much more. The program started over Memorial Day weekend and was a great success,” said Smith.

While the activities will change each week some favorites that will be featured all season during Summer at the Castle are; Highland Games on the Grassy Knoll each day, High Iced Tea – Afternoon Tea with a Southern Twist, Dive-in Movies at the indoor pool, Create Your Own Spa Blends, Follow the Bagpiper – Follow the piper around the resort grounds, Cupcakes with the Pastry Chef – Enjoy a sweet treat, Marshmallow Roasting at the Terrace, Cooking Classes and Tastings, Acoustics by the Pool on Saturday afternoons, Night putting on the Green, and Bike rides to the original Ross Bridge.

Summer at the Castle offers great family and adult sun with a Scottish accent.

For more information visit Renaissance Ross Bridge on Facebook, click on or call 205.916.7677.

McWane Science Center to participate in Blue Star Museums program

McWane Science Center recently announced its participation in Blue Star Museums, a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission to the nation’s active duty military personnel including National Guard and Reserve and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2014. Leadership support has been provided by MetLife Foundation through Blue Star Families. The program provides families an opportunity to enjoy the nation’s cultural heritage and learn more about their new communities after a military move. The complete list of participating museums is available at

“Blue Star Museums has grown into a nationally recognized program that service members and their families look forward to each year,” said Blue Star Families Chief Executive Officer Kathy Roth?Douquet. “It helps bring our local military and civilian communities together, and offers families fun and enriching activities in their home towns. We are thrilled with the continued growth of the program and the unparalleled opportunities it offers.”

“McWane Science Center is happy to be a part of this program for another year. The opportunity to welcome our military and their families is one we as an organization feel is important and we look forward to it, “said Amy Templeton, President and CEO of McWane Science Center.

To find participating museums and plan your trip, visit:

Chef Hastings opening new restaurant: Food & Wine has already noticed

Birmingham chef Chris Hastings hasn’t even started building his new restaurant, but it’s already made Food & Wine magazine’s list of 8 Amazing New Grill Restaurants in America.

The list appears in the June issue of the magazine, which is on newsstands now.

Hastings, who co-owns Hot and Hot Fish Club with his wife, Idie, told that they are in the early stages of building a casual, rustic, 60-seat restaurant that will adjoin Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery at Pepper Place.

The restaurant, which will feature a wood-fired oven, will be called Ovenbird, named after the national bird of Argentina and Uruguay.

The menu will reflect Hastings’ farm-to-table philosophy, incorporating local and seasonal Southern ingredients with the flame-grilled cooking styles of South America, Hastings said.

Hastings said Food & Wine contacted him about his new restaurant several months ago, and at the time, he thought it would be open this summer. Now, though, it looks more like November, he said.

He is still awaiting a building permit, and once that is approved, the restaurant should open in another 16 to 18 weeks, he said.

“Ovenbird is a reality,” Hastings said. “It is not an ‘if’ question. It is a ‘when’ question.”

The menu will feature small-plate meals that will encourage diners to pick and choose from a number of selections, he said.

“It will be a place to go for a quick bite to eat and a glass of wine — no reservations,” he said. “It’s going to be very unique, certainly for Birmingham.”

The restaurant will be nestled in the gardens and bordered by the wrought-iron fence outside Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery.

To see the complete Food & Wine list of 8 Amazing New Grill Restaurants, go here.

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: 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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

‘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:

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