Birmingham Cafe Has Hollywood Ties

As anyone who has ever cooked or eaten fried green tomatoes knows, preparing that Southern delicacy is something of an art form.

The good ones are hot and tangy, gilded with a light golden crust. Just like they cook at the Irondale Cafe in Birmingham.

The Irondale Cafe is the real life model for the fictional Whistle Stop Cafe in the hit movie Fried Green Tomatoes.

The movie was drawn from the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, written by Birmingham-born author and actress Fannie Flagg. It is widely rumored that the movie’s most colorful character, Idgie Threadgood, is loosely based on Miss Flagg’s real life great aunt, Bess Fortenberry. Miss Fortenberry owned and ran the Irondale Cafe for half a century. In 1973 she sold the diner to Bill and Mary Jo McMichael.

“I remember every dish Miss Bess served,” Mrs. McMichael says. “She’d have three vegetables, slaw, a meat and cornbread just about every meal.” Though the McMichaels recently retired and sold the cafe, the original menu is still intact but expanded considerably. Good simple home cooking, including perfect fried green tomatoes, makes the cafe a tremendous favorite with the locals. Sunday dinner finds the line out the door and halfway down the sidewalk.

Publicity from the book and movie hasn’t hurt business either. Tourists from all over the world have sought out the restaurant for its Idgie connection. Recently a film crew with the British Broadcasting Corporation used the cafe as a backdrop for the BBC’s enormously popular cooking series with host Ainsley Harriott.

The Irondale Cafe is open for dinner* Sunday through Friday from 10:45 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Private rooms are available and motorcoach tours are welcome. Fried green tomatoes are always on the menu.

(*This designation for the midday meal may be a tad confusing to our friends from the North. What may be lunch to them is properly referred to in the South as dinner. It is traditionally the big meal of the day. The evening meal is called supper. Now you know....)

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