The New Orleans liver crash


Our time in Tampa whizzed by too quickly. The sun graces us with heat and a squinting smile every day and we returned the favor with exposed limbs and excessive lounging at the pool. I had not a single remarkable meal in that fair city, but left with sweaty memories of an evening spent spiraling down the rabbit-hole that is Ybor City.


Ybor is the old Cuban part of town, if you’re unfamiliar, take a stroll. It’s charming, filled with shops, and a bit touristy. On a day-trip to find a woven straw hat (success!) a castmate and I noted all the clubs lined up along the strip. We vowed to come back after a show, we needed to dance.

Our adventure began at a cat-themed, thumping, industrial club, whose clientele were mostly under 21 and dressed like tramps. We wore wrist bands demarcating our age, flashing them like neon scars to scare off the jittery youth.

We left that silly club within the hour and fled a few blocks north to a partially hidden stone building called Castle. What awaited us within we could never have guessed. Larry and I approached the door, paid our paltry $5 entrance fee (NYC, take heed), then ascended paisley patterned stairs surrounded by chess-board wall paper. When we crested the staircase, we stood at the mouth of a glowing dance floor, lit partially by three overhead screens looping a sepia-toned silent horror film.


The dance floor was filled with grown-up versions of high school archetypes: The greasy haired boys in wide-legged jeans, the pale girls in corsetry, costumes and makeup; alter-egos flaring. Castle is a goth-club, and if you ever pass through Tampa you’d be a fool to skip it. The night was as baffling as it was exhilarating, the DJ spinning Korn, John Maus, Depeche Mode and The Cure.

Tampa, thank you for the dance.




New Orleans, you’re a wicked mistress.

I was nervous about my week in New Orleans. Before I arrived I had amassed a list of restaurant suggestions so lengthy I’d need a month to accomplish such eating. Nevermind, I set my eyes on the map and planned out my 7-day descent into gluttony. Upon landing I was immediately whisked away from my hotel by my dear friend Caroline to a standby in the French Quarter, Felix’s, where I ate 6 raw oysters and a bowl of gumbo. To be honest, the platter of chipped ice presented half a dozen bloated, utterly flavorless oysters and the gumbo was so aggressively salted it could only have been served to a tourist, but it was an authentic New Orleans experience and needed to be checked off the list.

Caroline was determined to give me an insider’s look at New Orleans so she drove me to a club, Mimi’s in the Marigny, which has a bouncing second floor on Monday and Wednesday nights. We ascended stairs to the sounds of classic French guitar jazz, muted nylon strings, an upright bass, a singer in a tight pencil skirt at a microphone tuned through ancient equipment to send sound waves from another generation over the dance floor. Caroline is an excellent swing dancer and she pulled me into the most charming world I’ve visited in ages. Everyone was bouncing, many of the couples were moving with such carefree precision it was impossible to look away. Caroline insisted that we dance together, and, while swing is not my forte, we had a wonderful time.

The next few days found me repeatedly at Lüke’s happy hour (50-cent oysters), a fine bistro in John Besh’s empire. To accompany my oysters, one night I ordered a braised pork shank with choucroute and another night hoarded a jar of rabbit and chicken liver pate to myself while the table watched in awe of my spoon-filled obsession. All of Besh’s places have fantastic mid-afternoon specials, hit the bar between 3-6 if you can.

 I ate pork cheeks and wood fired oysters at Cochon (determined to ingest the delicate sea creature in every form possible) and had my most memorable meals at Maurepas. Maurepas prides itself on locally sourced everything and it shows. My first night there I dipped my toe in the ocean of their delights, some roasted beets, bubbling brussels, an arugula salad with chicken skin and grilled flounder. On my second trip I took three compatriots, less for their company than their stomachs. With extra bodies in tow, I could feel no shame in ordering nearly the entire menu for sampling. 

We began with their cocktails, concoctions so foreign I had to survey their anatomy twice. Rye, caraway, lime and house-made bitters in one. Cachaca, Arrak, curry and lime in another. We sipped and passed, too eager to try each flavor to care about cooties. With the support of the table we ordered the beets, a roasted carrot salad, braised collards, grilled broccoli, and grits whose texture approached the mouthfeel of a marshmallow. We were stunned. 

As our entrees arrived we were delighted to find the bar makes their own ginger beer. A round was ordered for the table and as the sparkling glasses arrived our eyebrows lifted in mutual astonishment. A sip took me straight to the root, to the rhizome, of the drink. It tasted of such fresh ginger we could not stop our eyes from widening with every drink.  

When we had finished the meal I looked around the table to find a sea of clean plates. The white square dish that once held our beets was smeared in their blood and flecked with the bright green oil of a fresh parsley dressing. It was, perhaps, the prettiest massacre I’ve ever seen.

My heartfelt thanks go to the staff of Maurepas who treated us like family every time we walked in the door. Should you find yourself in New Orleans, make a point of eating there (at least once). My wallet is significantly thinned after this week of gluttony, but my tastebuds will repay the debt threefold for what I’ve tasted in New Orleans. Next up: two weeks in Ft. Lauderdale on the beach, a perfectly cucumbersome way to detox.

I’ll let A.J. Liebling finish this post for me, his sentiments ring true decades later:

“If the first requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite, the second is to put in your apprenticeship as a feeder when you have enough money to pay the check but not enough to produce indifference of the total.”


Too true.


The Atlanta-Baltimore Wormhole

The day I’ve dreaded since the beginning of this tour has finally arrived: I forgot my home address. I was filling out some paperwork for the show and when it came time to write down my zip code I looked in every dark corner of my mind only to find cobwebs and cakecrumbs. This life on the road has finally caught up with me and left me neatly unhinged from reality. I had to google my apartment to figure out the final bit of my address, in time I suppose I might forget all of it at once!

From injurious Wilmington we took flight to Atlanta, looking forward to warm(er) weather and a new theatre. We played the Fox and stayed directly across the street at the charming Georgian Terrace. When we checked into our rooms we were all blissed to find full kitchens (with dishwashers natch) and, tucked behind accordion doors in the bathroom, our own washer and dryer! My excitement at these luxuries paints me as a true homebody, and though we were destined to leave Atlanta at week’s end, I intended to make every use of those machines.

I’m beginning to find routine in my travels, the first task that needs attention upon landing is grocery shopping. In Atlanta we walked to the local Publix and fetched goods for the week. With a full stove and oven at my disposal I aimed for the moon and bought chicken thighs, oxtail, black beans, red wine, herbs, broccoli (to be roasted), collards (to be braised), and eggs for my breakfasts. Back at the hotel I strapped my apron to my waist (yes, I am traveling with my favorite apron) and simmered the chicken thighs in garlic, onions, black beans and chili paste. A home-cooked meal was precisely what my lagging spirit needed, I invited a castmate over for dinner and we refueled.

The Fox theatre in Atlanta is gorgeous, the lobby and house are dressed in a North African theme, tents and geometric patterns, hanging lanterns and a domed ceiling painted deep blue with twinkling stars puncturing its breadth over the audience. The house seats nearly 5,000 and we had hearty crowds each night. Unfortunately, as in Wilmington, we had no backstage space and had to run down a flight of stairs to cross underneath the stage, only to climb another flight on the other side to re-emerge on stage right. It was our most challenging space yet, I was running laps, shedding costumes as quickly as possible, and still barely making it onstage for some scenes. I was not sad to bid adieu to the Fox.

From Atlanta we flew Northeast to Baltimore and were warned upon landing, “Please do not walk to or from the theatre alone.” Baltimore has gained certain cultural cache since The Wire was on the air, and indeed, parts of the city resemble that show too closely. We played the Hippodrome in Baltimore, and were once again granted the luxury of backstage space! After two weeks of insanity underneath the stage, we breathed into the show and felt relaxed and comfortable in our performances again.

Lessons from the road thus far:
Chicken Marsala exists only in hotel restaurants. It has been forgotten, by and large, in modern cuisine, but rest assured, it is being prepared with an indelicate hand across the country in generic dining rooms on the ground floor of nearly every hotel. Do not order it. Simply marvel at its farmed life in captivity. It has absolutely died out in the wild, good luck spotting it on any menu in a large metropolitan city, but these hotel dining rooms act as zoos for forgotten foods. They’re raising old dishes in captivity, awaiting the day when they’re strong enough to be re-introduced into the wild, back to the public. Don’t hold your breath.

We live in a wormhole, touring for 6 months. Every week starts over again, we perform the same show, with the same costumes, with the same people, but in front of a different audience, in a different city, and sleep in a different hotel. Every Publix has the exact same layout. Walk into one in Atlanta to find the bakery on your left, and you’ll find the same bakery on your left in Tampa. It makes one feel insignificant, that we’re traveling outside the confines of the universe and for the next 6 months we’ll leave neither fingerprint or foot trail. For all intents and purposes, we do not exist, we are operating outside the laws of reality.

I’m happy to be a traveling artist, this life is connected in some grand way to the vagabond theatre troupes of earlier centuries. We move from city to city, telling our story, awaiting applause, ending the night at a bar or tavern or pub, reveling in each other’s boisterous company. Locals are excited to meet us, hotels are thrilled with our conspicuous consumption, we are happy to be employed as professional story tellers. This week we settle into the sunny coast of Tampa, FL and then onto New Orleans. The cycle starts again tonight, cheers to my 7-day life.

From the road,


What a feelin’

Like most actors, I make a habit of attending open calls. It’s dreadfully unpleasant, but in truth, these packed rooms full of insanity are our version of a batting cage. Rarely does anyone book a job from a cattle call, but to skip them is a mistake. I always like to say that my job is auditioning, booking a show is the bonus. Open calls are the best place to sharpen your skills, they also (coincidentally) can make you lose your mind.

Imagine: a room full of actors, some in the union, some not, waiting for hours to sing a 45-second blip. The women, more often than not, carry with them enough gear to take a small vacation. As you look around the room you’ll see oversized Poppins bags, rolling luggage, backpacks and other purses. These are the suitcases of dreams. Inside? Heels, flats, tap shoes, jazz shoes, dresses, skirts, tops, makeup for a circus and enough curling irons to twist the world once over.

Is the equipment necessary? Do they ever unpack those dreams? Are the cases left packed, waiting patiently by their front doors for the next (inevitable) open call?

I’ll never know, it’s much easier being a boy.

In September I zipped by the Flashdance open call, my agent hadn’t been able to secure me an appointment (that’s the other kind of audition, a much more pleasant experience). I assumed the room would be filled to the brim with women in legwarmers and men in, well, men wear the same thing to every audition. So I expected women in legwarmers and men in jeans and a button down shirt.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the room nearly empty (though I also had a moment of panic that I was in the wrong place). I put my name on the list and was seen not ten minutes later. I joked with the casting director that she had a slow day ahead of her, then sang my requisite 45 seconds, smiled and left. As with most open calls, I assumed the show was already cast (this is too often the unfortunate truth) and went on my merry way.

The next day my agent called with an appointment. The casting director at the open call had indeed spotted me during batting practice and wanted to see me hit in a real game. Over the next 2 months I auditioned a number of times for the creative team, reading for a number of different characters and singing whatever pop ballad they threw my way.

I waited impatiently after the last audition, nagging my agents for information (they with none returned). Weeks later my agent called to tell me they had made an offer, but that she thought it was unwise to accept. Excuse me? Turn down work? Paying theatre work? Yes. The offer was to be an offstage swing (that’s why they had me read so many parts) and she wanted me to be onstage every night. She told the casting office as much and they said they were hoping to find an understudy position for me, but wanted to run the swing position my way first.

(Sidenote: Understudies are generally in the show every night, they are in the ensemble and cover another track. They’re bumped up if someone is sick. Swings are off-stage every night. They aren’t in the ensemble and they are the first to go in if someone is sick or injured. My agent didn’t want me to be a swing, she correctly predicted that I’d go insane traveling with a show, not performing and waiting for someone to get hurt.)

Again, weeks passed as I chipped away at my fingernails and called my agents all-too-frequently. I wanted to know what was happening with this potential offer, I have no patience. I went into panic mode, assuming that rejecitng the first offer was a terrible idea and I had made a rather large mistake. I emailed my agents to tell them I felt as much, they said to hang on.

And not 24 hours later they forwarded an email to me from the casting office requesting my presence at one more audition. The creative team was still trying to find a place for me in the show and wanted to remind themselves of my voice and reading. I went back in, and the following week I had another offer.

The news: I’m playing Andy, a featured steelworker (and a number of other colorful background characters) in the first national tour of Flashdance the Musical. Yes, this is the stage version of the movie that brought you Maniac, Manhunt, Flashdance, Gloria and I Love Rock ‘n Roll. We’re touring America for 6 months and if I’m coming to a city near you, I’d love to have you in the audience. The tour schedule is below, find me on the road!

We’re tumbling.

Here’s the official site.



Jan 1 – 6, 2013

Pittsburgh, PA

Heinz Hall

Jan 8 – 13, 2013

St. Louis, MO

Peabody Opera House

Jan 15 – 20, 2013

Louisville, KY

Kentucky Center

Jan 22 – 27, 2013

Grand Rapids, MI

DeVos Performance Hall

Jan 29 – Feb 3, 2013

Wilmington, DE

DuPont Theatre

Feb 5 – 10, 2013

Atlanta, GA

Fox Theatre

Feb 12 – 17, 2013

Baltimore, MD

Hippodrome Theatre

Feb 19 – 24, 2013

Tampa, FL

Straz Center for the Performing Arts

Feb 26 – Mar 3, 2013

New Orleans, LA

Mahalia Jackson Theater

Mar 5 – 17, 2013

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Broward Center

Mar 19 – 24, 2013

Nashville, TN

Tennessee Performing Arts Center

Apr 2 – 7, 2013

Minneapolis, MN


Apr 11 – 14, 2013

Spokane, WA

INB Performing Arts Center

Apr 16 – 21, 2013

Seattle, WA

The Paramount Theatre

Apr 23 – 28, 2013

Portland, OR

Keller Auditorium

Apr 30 – May 5, 2013

Tempe, AZ

ASU Gammage

May 7 – 19, 2013

Costa Mesa, CA

Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Jun 4 – 15, 2013

Houston, TX

Hobby Center

Jun 18 – 23, 2013

San Antonio, TX

The Majestic Theatre

Jun 25 – Jul 7, 2013

Dallas, TX

Music Hall


More thoughts on chicken…

Y’all this is part two of an ongoing discussion. For part one, click here.

I posted this originally in the comment section of my first post, but as you can see, it’s far too long to be a comment. It’s in response to Jamie McGonnigal’s comment.


Hi Jamie-

Thanks for responding, it’s great to keep the dialogue open. 

I hear you and respect the frustration and fear you feel when someone in your community does something to tell you “there’s something wrong with you.” I said this in my last post and I’ll say it again, I don’t think Bailey posted that photo to intentionally support an anti-equality platform. She is unworldly and frequently doesn’t know what’s happening around her on a large scale. Again: Ignorance is never an excuse, but it is frequently an explanation. Because I have the privilege of knowing Bailey on a personal level (a privilege that many of her digital detractors do not hold), I’m happy to give her the benefit of the doubt and progress on a platform of education. If I didn’t know Bailey as a friend would I act in the same way? I don’t know. Vitriol never seems to solve problems for me (even more so online) and I imagine that if her photo upset me I would have written a post not dissimilar to yours.

I hold divisively strong opinions on food. I am judgmental and frequently condescending in my ideals. These attitudes inform my friendships, often cutting off a relationship before it has a chance to blossom. I recognize my behavior and understand the consequences on a social level. But when I enter the workplace, these personal attitudes don’t come to the surface. They may ruin a friendship, but I’ll never hold them over a colleague during rehearsal or performance. Now, I know that likening food politics to gay rights can seem like a comparison between a hamster and a horse, but my point is this: Bailey may or may not hold beliefs that are offensive to both you and me, but when it comes to the work, she never once treated me any differently than another cast member. Though I believe Bailey doesn’t think any less of me because of my orientation, if she does, that’s her prerogative. She showed up to work every day and did her job without her personal beliefs in the way.

I can’t and don’t expect everyone I work with professionally to hold the same values and opinions as me. In this instance, I met Bailey and had the pleasure of working with her before I saw the picture. My relationship with Bailey informed my reaction to her Facebook post. The opposite holds true for most people condemning her: They saw Bailey’s Facebook post, and their reaction to that post informed their relationship (digitally and/or professionally) with her. 

Here’s the catch: I have the privilege of knowing her. If I witnessed the photo post before I started rehearsal with her would I walk in with assumptions about her character? Yep, I’m not above that. But would I let my assumptions get in the way of my work? Would I treat her with less respect than my other cast mates because of something I saw her post online? That would be unprofessional. It doesn’t seem fair to judge a colleague on his or her outside-of-the-workplace beliefs. On the other hand, if I saw that picture first and assumed Bailey to be rampantly homophobic would I let it get in the way of a potential friendship? Probably, and that would be my myopic loss in this case.

You claim the privilege of not having control over how your post is interpreted and multiplied online, a privilege and responsibility we all have to own in the digital age. And it’s a privilege I give to Bailey as well. I believe she really didn’t think that picture was anything other than a shot of her soon-to-be-consumed meal. In light of current events, her picture was multiplied and interpreted quite easily as a homophobic attack. Is it her privilege to post her meal online and leave it open to interpretation? Yep, just like your post and my post. Is it also her responsibility to acknowledge the picture and its negative interpretations. Absolutely. 

And she did respond. When contacted, Bailey said “I’m a proud Christian.” And again, this was taken to mean astoundingly different things by many opposing parties. You said her use of those words exacerbated the problem. I will say this: our personal interpretations of her use of those words exacerbated the problem. When religion and politics meet we have to acknowledge not only the words being used, but our own unique ways of hearing those words. God, Christian, Gay, Rights, Proud- these are all charged words. They have stark meanings to both speakers and listeners. I believe what Bailey meant and what was heard are incompatible. 

I appreciate that you expressed your disappointment in Bailey via twitter after seeing her post. And she actually said more than simply “I’m a proud Christian.” She wrote: “on my behalf being a Christian doesn’t mean I hate gays! That’s crazy I love them and ask anyone I’ve worked w. I understand…). But by the time you got to your second question via twitter and your original post (“Do u know Chickfila gives millions to anti-gay groups who fight to have gays put to death? Doesn’t sound Christian to me”), she was already buried under negative (and violent and nasty) comments on every wing of her digital persona. I understand why she locked her twitter account.

I would like Bailey and many of my coworkers to be better informed of the world’s issues. But they aren’t. And, egotistically, I would like to believe that the issues that matter most to me are of equal importance to the rest of the country. But they aren’t. If Bailey were more eloquent she might have used different words to defend her actions, she might have been effusive in her response. But Bailey isn’t a scholar, and it’s unfair of me to expect her to write or speak in that manner. She, and many people who hold disparate opinions from me, effectively speak another language. I don’t expect her to speak mine, though with the privilege of education, I think I can understand hers.

When I talk to Bailey in her language, a language rife with references to God and Religion, I don’t hear hate. I hear a practiced vocabulary, words that have been taught to her by people who may have used them for hate in the past, but words that are meant genuinely and honestly as an expression of Bailey’s love and apology. We all speak as we were educated, be that by our parents, our schools or our religions, and we all use our learned vocabularies to express our innermost thoughts. Though you use the same phrases as your parents, you surely mean them in your own way. For Bailey, though she chooses words that my queer community is poised to interpret as slanderous and inflammatory, she speaks as she can, with the education she has, and uses those words to convey her support and levy her defense. 

Everything I’ve written comes down to one thing: I know Bailey personally and many people commenting on her actions do not. Would I behave differently if I didn’t know her? Possibly. But after working with Bailey I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and help her self-educate because I believe her to be a good person. I understand the online reaction, and I’m happy that we’re all discussing the issues. Life in the digital is exponentially emotional, we lose control of our words the instant we hit publish or send.







  1. TonopahAugust 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm Edit #

    I applaud your dedication to carrying on a dialogue about the situation. It is so easy to point fingers and get all riled up, often the meanings of everyone’s words are lost. The only way we grow as a community is to have conversations, to listen, to actively attempt to understand the other person’s perspective. People don’t hold bigoted beliefs because they are evil, but because they believe they have found what is good and just. (and while I passionately stand for human rights for all people everywhere regardless of sex, sexual orientation, culture, or skin color it doesn’t mean that I have the lock down on the good and just or have never done something which retrospectively has made me feel ashamed). At the heart of all human rights movements is the need for dialogue, it is hard to maintain, and difficult not to become hateful or angry (especially with the ambiguity of the internet) when someone does not see things the way you do. But in the words of Montaigne, “only a fool is certain and immovable” and it is the job of rights advocates everywhere to help them find the space to move.


    • Dan KohlerAugust 14, 2012 at 7:52 pm Edit #

      Tango, you say it so well. It is our responsibility as rights advocates to help people find space to expand their knowledge and see a new perspective. Thanks for your thoughts!


  2. Jamie McGonnigalAugust 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm Edit #

    Wow. That was beautifully put and I agree with everything you’ve stated here.

    You are clearly a bigger person than most if you can so easily dismiss the actions and opinions of others the moment you step in the workplace. Especially in a field where you do well by baring your soul. It’s simply not the same as walking into an office, sitting in your cubicle all day and potentially never even speaking to those you work next to. As you know, working in theatre means you are (sometimes quite literally) exposed and at your most vulnerable in that space. Most I would venture to say, require more than a little professional trust there. So the question I raised in the title of my first piece “What happens when a Broadway star supports Chick-fil-A?,” was intended perhaps for a smaller audience of my theatrical comrades.I think it’s an excellent conversation to be had in this digital age and perhaps that’s where current theatrical professionals can take it.

    I hate that people have been so vile towards her – and mind you, I’ve received more than a few hate messages myself over it. This is not where I had hoped the conversation would go and in many instances – most instances, the dialogue has been constructive. I have also noticed that for some reason – and being a food person, maybe you’ll have an opinion on this – the Chick-fil-A thing has engaged people in a way few topics have in recent memory. I’m not sure if it was just a tipping point or that people actually feel that strongly about chicken sandwiches. Either way, as a new media professional, I find it fascinating.

    Thanks very much for your words and your inside opinion on Bailey. I think you’re probably quite accurate regarding where she is coming from. And I appreciate your desire to want to educate her. I do find at times that it is extraordinarily challenging to change someone’s mind about a thing when they have a lifetime of misinformation (disguised as “loving truth”) drummed into their ears. It can sometimes be a bit like teaching a pig to play harmonica – all it does is waste your time and annoy the pig.

    And thank you for the considerate, intelligent dialogue. It seems to be frustratingly absent from most regarding equality, religion and/or Chick-fil-A.


    • Dan KohlerAugust 14, 2012 at 7:59 pm Edit #

      Thanks Jamie, I appreciate your comments. It’s definitely interesting to see how our posts take on new lives after we hit “send,” isn’t it? I don’t doubt that you’ve received some of the same foul-mouthed commentary that Bailey caught. It always boggles me that in the face of assumed bigotry people respond with egregious hatred. What does that solve? I understand the impetus, specifically being a member of a minority, but we’ve got to step back from our own initial reactions sometimes to see a clearer path forward.

      The Chik-fil-A event rode a massively popular wave on social media, you’re absolutely correct. Though it may be a marker of a tipping point in our collective consciousness, I’m willing to say that it is also an outcome of our need for pop-news. The KONY 2012 piece, the endless political posturing, the Chik-fil-A statement, it seems our interests in advocacy-based news is growing, though our attention span is shortening. I wonder how long any of these issues will capture our brain time in the future.

      Thanks for continuing this dialogue, it’s been eye-opening for me and I respect the honesty with which you write.



Birmingham, you have my heart.

From here on out, let it be known that I travel mostly by taste. My experience of a city relies not on the sights and sounds, but the flavors and scents that waft from food trucks and restaurants. Before I came to Birmingham I fretted over the food. I assumed I’d have access to great BBQ (a myopic, though not unkind, judgement) and knew of a few top-notch restaurants (hello Bottega), but wondered how I would find the local dives, the outlying ethnic spots and seasonal produce.

As I approached my hotel for the first time I drove down a long lane of uninspired boxaurants. Landry’s, O’Charley’s, IHOP, Chili’s, it was an assault on my admittedly narrow-minded way of eating. Perhaps more frightening was the enthusiasm spouted by my car-mates as we passed each food cemetery. They simply shuddered with delight at the nearby variety. Sweat flushed my face, were these to be my eating companions for the next 7 weeks?

That first night I scoured the interweb for something owned by a family rather than a corporation. With a bit of luck I came across a Vietnamese restaurant not more than 5 miles from our hotel. I called a castmate and told him of my plans, inviting him on an adventure; he gladly jumped in the car.

Upon opening the menu I learned this would be David’s first foray into Vietnamese food, perhaps his first Southeast Asian meal altogether. I attempted a slight explanation of the entrees and he ordered intrepidly. Over dinner we discussed our personal eating habits. I told David I’d be looking for local grub, ethnic or otherwise, during my stay in Birmingham. Might he want to accompany me on my quest?

After nearly two months of eating through Birmingham, David and I have a few favorites. Should you find yourself here for a few days or a few weeks, let me be your escort for a couple of meals. I promise to be gentle.

Many thanks to Jane Lerner for pointing me in the direction of numbers 1 and 2 on this list, without her advance recon I’m not sure I would have ever found these gems. Additional thanks to Erin Street andStephanie Gibson. These two saints found my twitter handle in the program for Legally Blonde and invited David and me out for a drink that led to a most serendipitous friendship.

#1 Saw’s BBQ

Alabama is indeed, ripe with BBQ establishments. There are large chains (Dreamland, Jim ‘n Nick’s), and then there are the local joints (Saw’s and Miss Myra’s). Let me be clear on one thing: you can’t go wrong. All BBQ we ate was delicious. Do we have a preference? Yes. Saw’s is utterly local and uniquely spiced. Their eponymous sauce is bright and peppery, a perfect match to the smoke-charred ribs and the melting pulled pork. Best Q I’ve had? Yep. Get on it.

Ribs+slaw+turnip greens=HEAVEN.

#2 Korean Barbecue Restaurant

Opening the door, we are welcomed with a chime and the eerie theme music from The X-Files. The show continues on in a Korean translation as we wait at the front counter to be seated. No one is in the restaurant, not a diner, not a waiter, perhaps we should leave? No. Next door is the Asian market, owned by the same family, sharing a wall. We leave the restaurant and enter the market, hoping we might see someone there. Strike 2. No one in the market. We wander the aisles for a minute and then see an elderly woman poke her head out of the back kitchen. She darts inside again without a word. We stroll a few more aisles then go back into the restaurant side, assuming this time she’ll be there to greet us. Strike 3. Still no one at the counter. We open and close the door a few times to activate the digital chime in a machine-gun rhythm. Still no host. Should we leave?

No. More credit to David as an intrepid eater, we walk into the restaurant and all the way through the dining section to the back, where a window indicates a kitchen. The old woman pokes her head out again and then sends an even older man to help us. We ask if the place is open, could we eat?

He leads us to a table and gives us two menus. Again, I explain the food to David and we order.

I’ll keep this short: More hijinks ensue, the food arrives, AND I EAT THE BEST BI BIM BOP OF MY LIFE.

You must eat here. It will be the most awkwardly private dining experience of your life, and you will leave with a full belly and a giant smile.

Bangarang Bim Bop

#3 Gordo’s Taqueria

My castmates all proclaim their love of Mexican food, then they eat at Chuy’s and Chili’s and I realize they might not have ever had Mexican food. Proper Mexican food, not Mex-Am food, not watery salsa over grilled chicken breasts, but striking street food. Gordo’s is the real deal. The family owns a whole strip of stores, a panaderia, carniceria, and finally, the tremendous taqueria. The meats change on a daily basis, so ask for the list when you go to order. My suggestions? The chorizo, house made, spicy and deep red. The lamb, pungently gamey, tender and outstanding. The al-pastor, roasted on a spit and sliced to order.

Perfect flavors, tons of salsas to pour on (at your own discretion), and best of all? Tacos are $1.90 each. This is fast food I can get behind.