Little Italy, Big Yum

Joe's Italian
Joe's Italian, Alabaster, Alabama
When people think of Alabama, they think of barbecue, grits, okra, and maybe even collard greens.  None of which I would touch with a ten-foot pole.  Most people, when they travel through this state wouldn’t think they’d find this little gem of a restaurant, family owned, and operated, very Italian restaurant.  Authentic Italian.  Yes…here in Alabaster, Alabama.

I came to know about Joe’s Italian thanks to a good friend of mine who suggested it when I was home for the holidays one year.  He and his family went there for dinner with friends as they were passing through and they fell in love with the food.  I know why.  Family recipes, family operated, family oriented, good, old-fashioned authentic Italian food.  This isn’t Olive Garden or those chain Italian places.  No…this is the real deal.  This is the food that Giuseppe and Elvira Bertolone (Joe & Mamma) served when they opened up their first restaurant in California.  It’s a family tradition…and so is their food.

The menu is authentic Italian.  Pastas of every walk and flavor, paninis, soups, sandwiches, and yes…pizza!  And because it’s Italian, plenty of options for a vegetarian.  Always a plus!

Mamma's Cannoli
Mamma's Cannoli at Joe's Italian, Alabaster, Alabama

Every other time I visited, I have gotten the eggplant parmesan.  But I went for something different this time.  The Spaghetti Aglio, Olio and Peperonicino (which I ordered with mushrooms and broccoli) sounded like spicy Italian goodness.  I opted for the salad, rather than the soup, but my roommate ordered their tomato basil soup with her Tortellini al Pomodoro and I sampled it…delicious!  Their salad, crisp and fresh!

Portions are big so come with a big, hearty Italian appetite.  Savor the flavors, the atmosphere, the way the staff really wants to get to know you.  And when you fill up on their delicious food, find a little more room for one of Mamma’s famous desserts.  Keeping with tradition, we tried the cannoli…and it was different.  Not as good as the one I had back home, but it was good.  The prize however came on Mamma’s Sampler, a plate full of pieces of her homemade cakes.  The Strawberry Cake is her most famous and the most popular for a reason.  It was the most amazing cake I have ever had, and since I’m not big on cakes, that’s saying something.  I even had a second sampling of that one.

Mamma's Cake Sampler
Mamma's Cake Sampler at Joe's Italian, Alabaster, Alabama

Come hungry, leave full.  That’s a good Italian motto.  Even better…it’s a good Italian restaurant run by good people who really want to give you a good time and serve you a little bit of their history through their delicious food.

It doesn’t get any better than that.  And I’ll be hard-pressed to find a better Italian restaurant anywhere where the food and desserts can leave you as full and satisfied as the story and the people who operate, run, and serve you there.

A little bite of Italy with big taste in an unexpected location – Alabaster, Alabama.  It’s worth the trip.

Spaghetti Aglio, Olio and Peperonicino
Spaghetti Aglio, Olio and Peperonicino (with mushrooms & broccoli) at Joe's Italian, Alabaster, Alabama


Donut Joe's
Donut Joe's, Pelham, Alabama

In a world full of Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme’s…it’s a donut eat doughnut world out there.  Everyone having their own claim to fame.  Everyone having their own gimmick.

So, what makes Donut Joe’s, located in Pelham, Alabama, so special?  I knew it had to be something when moments after pulling into the lot, it was filled and people were already streaming in.  It’s a crazy, fast-paced, donut world inside and you gotta be quick to get in on the sugary treats that await.

The best way to sample anything at Donut Joe’s is to make your own dozen.  It’s simple.  You just look through there selection and choose what looks good, sounds good, or just looks interesting.  I even treated myself to an entire order of their yeast donut holes.  Yes…an entire serving.  They melted the instant they hit my tongue.  That’s some good donuts!  My roommate tried one of their cinnamon twists, which I took a sample from and, hit-the-mark delicious.

I’m not the biggest donut eater.  While I love them, they tend to be overly sweet.  While these donuts, yes, do come frosted, glazed, and packed with sugar…they really are good.  In fact, on top of my order of a dozen donut holes, I also found one of the most delicious donuts I have ever had the chance to eat.  The blueberry donut – which was like eating a blueberry muffin…but taken to the next delicious level.  I wish we had more of them waiting downstairs with what remained of the leftovers.

If you are needing a delicious breakfast treat, and just happen to be passing through the Birmingham, Alabama area, take the time to sing by Donut Joe’s.  Treat yourself.  Indulge a little.  You only live once…might as well enjoy every cream-filled, glazed, frosted, cakey, delicious bite.

If you’re going for donuts…do it right.  Eat at Joe’s.  You won’t be disappointed.  Just on a bit of a sugar rush.  But every bite is worth it.  Every sugary bite.

A dozen donuts of yum
Donut Joe's dozen donuts

Sweet Home Alabama

The Depot
The Depot, Helena, Alabama

Nothing says “home” like a trip to The Depot, a little diner in between two railroad tracks in Helena, Alabama.  When I go home to visit my family, this is the place to eat.  The locals swear by it.  And there is a reason people come back over and over again.  Good, old-fashioned diner food in a really cool setting.

Bo Bice and my sister at The Depot
Bo Bice and my sister at The Depot, Helena, Alabama

Is The Depot a vegetarian-friendly place to eat?  No.  I’m pretty certain the grilled cheese is grilled on the same grill as the meat.  But…I’m a big fan of the BLT, no bacon, extra tomato, with the tater tots on the side.  Good, old-fashioned, Southern comfort diner food.  And my roommate, well, she goes there for the onion rings…hand battered, hot, big, and sweet.  They are fabulous.  The best around.  Their food is what you would expect of a “greasy spoon” kind of diner, but it’s what I love.  It’s the food I only wish small places where I lived served.

The atmosphere only lends to the food experience.   The people who work there get to know you…especially if you go there often.  They know your order before you place it.  For example, my brother-in-law LOVES the buffalo chicken tender meal.  It’s spicy.  It makes him cry, but he loves it.  And they know he wants it with extra ranch…because he also uses the dressing for his fries.  This is what I’m talking about.  Small town, big love, awesome food.

So…while very little on the menu could be served to me, a vegetarian…there is always something that can be made and just the onion rings or tater tots alone would be enough of a reason to stop in.  Oh yeah…home town restaurants outside of Birmingham, Alabama.  Good food, good service, good people…and most of all…more good times.

When I come in town…this is always my first stop and it always will be.  Vegetarian friendly or not…it’s my go-to hometown, favorite place to go when I’m with the family.  It’s like being at home…eating awesome comfort food…with good conversation over hot, hot onion rings and tater tots…and a sandwich of choice.

If you find yourself traveling through Birmingham…head to Helena, Alabama…go to The Depot…and taste the reason so many people continue to make this one of their traditions.

Including me.