People immediately flipped out as Hontzas began mining the farm to table movement to good effect-establishing relationships with area meat and vegetable men-and hawking their goods on his old timey hot plates.
Tim Hontzas first notable cooking job was at John Currence’s City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi.
That was a quarter century ago. Since then he’s worked all over the United States before finally settling down in Central Alabama and opening Johnny’s in 2012.
Birmingham’s meat and three scene has always been underrated when compared to its southern peers. Social Grill, Kent’s Magic City Diner, The Smokehouse, Jelly’s, Fife’s, Brochette’s Que and Bayou…the roll call of old-guard and new wave blue plate specialists in town has long been filled with heavy hitters.Now Johnny’s can be added to that august hall.
Walking into the crowded restaurant at noon last week felt like a homecoming. The air was thick with oregano as RL Burnside played on the hi fi. A smart crowd of society ladies were on queue while the standard Duck Head set was already at table and wolfing down big plates of meatloaf and chicken pot pie.
There is no Greek food in New Orleans so I immediately vectored in on a chicken plate that held promise of plenty lemons, garlic and oregano. Fried green tomatoes and shoe peg corn rounded out the platter.
Tim Hontzas’ joint is good but is not without flaws. Community ice tea is not now nor ever will be as good as Red Diamond. That’s a simple fact. A gallon of ice tea is required lunchtime drinking during Birmingham’s brutal summer heat and that gallon needs to be of the highest possible quality. Community does not cut it.
The white meat chicken quarter is perfectly prepared with plenty juices flowing from the fork-tender flesh, but it is homely with barely a touch of brown or crispy skin to be found. I’d love to see a cook with a Searzall blowtorch take a crack at the hide of that bird.The shoe peg corn’s plumb tuckered. It tastes old and has clearly seen better days. The flower of youth is crucial to good corn service and this starch is doa.
Fried green tomatoes are nigh on to perfect. Perhaps just a touch of salt could have been employed but the crunch is in place and they are served piping hot.
Oddly the best food on the plate is a luxuriously wet cornbread that tastes like the whole of an Alabama summer wedged into a muffin tin. It’s among the best I’ve ever sampled. Unfortunately a side of brown gravy has a chemical afterburn that tastes like the drive from Lake Charles to Beaumont. This ends up being the worst bite of the meal.
Way back when, Threadgill’s out in Austin had a “9 Vegetable Orgy” on their menu and they meant just that. They crowded nine veggies onto a plate and cleared the way for vegetarians to get filled up for cheap. You could definitely do that at Johnny’s as the menu board reads like a farmer’s wife’s fever dream with all the squash casserole, field peas with snaps, turnip greens and spinach you could dream of or want.
If you like your food served from the back of the stove Johnny’s will be a dream come true. Long simmered dishes have been a forte of Birmingham cooks for forever and Hontzas’ work is some of the best in town. I’m looking forward to eating at this man’s table again before the end of the year.
2902 18th St S
Homewood, AL 35209
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