Irondale Cafe – The Original Whistlestop Cafe

Hidden away in a quiet corner of metropolitan Birmingham, lies the quaintly historic railroad community of Irondale, Alabama. So what you may ask is significant about this little whistle-stop community? Why the amazing Irondale Cafe of course.

Opened in 1928 as a hotdog stand, Bess Fortenberry purchased the “Stand” in 1932 and renamed it the “Irondale Cafe”, the rest has been literary and culinary history.

A number of years back my wife and I took a road trip that among other places winded us through the back-roads and blue-highways of Alabama. Never a touted or revered tourist destination, Alabama never the less offers road-tripping tourists a surprising amount of sightseeing, twisty driving roads and ample southern hospitality at every stop and turn. Having enjoyed our time traversing the state from the gulf-coast north we decided to stay overnight in Birmingham before heading on to Atlanta and while exploring Alabama’s greatest city discovered a little restaurant that would become someplace we would later go out of our way to visit again and again; the famous Irondale Cafe.

A bit hard to find your first or second time out, the Irondale Cafe is quietly tucked away in quaintly historic Irondale, AL adjacent to the railroad tracks and just a stone’s throw from the little town’s vintage downtown community. It’s certainly nothing fancy, particularly from the outside looking in but it is nostalgic, tidy and inviting. Busy at all hours of operation there is plenty of parking nearby and the community makes it very clear that they are happy to have you there enjoying their little restaurant that served as the inspiration for “Fried Green Tomatoes.” Once you step foot inside the old-school double doors you’re presented with sights and smells of southern comfort food all around. The dining room shows it’s age but gracefully, an equivocal experience to eating at your grandparents house growing up. A small and more casual dining area immediately surrounds the cafeteria style kitchen and prep areas, this dining area is used exclusively in the off hours when the adjacent dining rooms are closed. During the busy hours a hallway leads away from the cafeteria area and down into a cavernous grand dining room that beguiles the mind as to just how this seemingly tiny restaurant is in fact so massive. This dining room here is by far more formal, a warmly-dim ambiance overwhelms, a truly upscale vintage experience that harkens back to more formal time in America’s early to mid twentieth century. A fascinating sensory experience, the sights, smells and textures here offer a unique insight into the south of another time.

The service here is excellent; attentive without being overpowering. This place is old-school all around and while the food is served or perhaps more appropriately picked cafeteria style, the girls running the dining rooms see to your drinks, refills and anything you may need while enjoying your meal. This is also the sort of place where you will never be rushed, eating in the south was a social experience and here it still is. Your table is yours for as long as you want it and at no point will anyone here ever make you feel anything less than welcome  or at home.

The food…yes the food is amazing. Simple, tasty, well seasoned and served in heaping portions just as Southern comfort food was intended to be. In constant rotation we’ve not tried anything off the menu that was not excellent. There is always a wide choice of vegetables that range from down-south favorites such as collard and turnip greens, to field peas, pole beans, sweet baby carrots and farm fresh buttered corn on the cob. Starches vary but nearly always include home-made macaroni and cheese, hand-mashed potatoes,  sweet corn bread, made from scratch butter-milk  biscuits and low-country rice or jambalaya. Meats like everything else rotate but most often include excellent and freshly fried chicken, hand carved roast beef, fish-fry, pork chops, country ham and sausages. Rounding things out there is also a wide variety of classic southern deserts to choose from which often include red-velvet cake, chocolate cake, peach cobbler, apple pie and an array of assorted pastries and ice-creams.  All things considered it’s excellence on a plate; quintessential southern delicacies served hot, fresh and in ample quantity.


Irondale Cafe – The Original Whistlestop Cafe

1906 1st Avenue North  
Irondale, AL 35210
(205) 956-5258
Mon-Sun: 11am-2:30pm

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