“BBB” about summed up Birmingham’s love of eating out when I was growing up during the 40’s and 50’s. Eating out was a the popular entertainment for families without much competition of places.
Sunday after church was the favorite family time because dads were home from work and could go. Saturday was for getting chores done. Britling’s and Joy Young’s were the main choices, not only for Sunday lunch, but other days as well. Britling’s was a cafeteria with several downtown locations. You get in line as you entered the restaurant, walked around in a closed off space that directed you to the location to pick up a tray.
The line could be quite long and out the front door. “BBB” was the theme, ‘beating the Baptists to Britling’s’. Britling’s was probably the favorite place to go but the line, as stated, could get very long very quickly especially on Sunday. So “BBB” was an accurate saying after being repeated in good humor as Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic and Baptists alike lined up at one of the downtown locations for a delicious meal.
In the restaurant there was a long bar area where the food selections were displayed. They looked beautiful and you wanted to take one of everything. First were salads on beds of crumbled ice decorated with lettuce parsley and each one on a salad plate ready to pick up. An employee of Britling’s stood behind the display read to replace each salad from a big refrigerator behind them as the salads were selected. Next were the meats with someone behind them also ready to help you with your selection. The broiled trout in full or half pieces covered with paprika was my favorite. It looked so pretty and appetizing each on a plate ready to select and put on your tray.
A couple in line were urging you forward so you needed to choose quickly. I already knew. It was always the trout.
The vegetables were in small bowls, a serving each. You picked it up and put it on your tray. The delicious desserts were next also ready to pick up available one serving on a saucer.
Ready to pick up, easy to select was the method that moved the line forward quickly. Today, helpers usually serve you one at a time or you serve yourself in cafeterias. My mother never wanted me to select a dessert, especially if I had a salad because she knew I could not eat both. “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach” she would usually say, and she was right. Everything looked so good but half a trout filled me up and I always had to have that. Everyone was given a ticket for the cost of their selections and you paid as you left. Tucker ate fried chicken and mashed potatoes only.
Another downtown restaurant that was a favorite in Birmingham was Joy Young’s, a Chinese place. I remember eating there often but not on Sundays. Of course back then lots of places weren’t even open on Sundays as it was against the law. There were no hamburger or short order places like we have now. Britling’s did such a landslide business I can’t believe they aren’t open today.
Back then we didn’t have “doggie bags.”
It would’ve been considered very rude to take food out with you. Such rudeness was unheard of. You ate it or you left it on your plate.
The tea room on the balcony at Loveman’s was a popular place for ladies to meet for lunch, many had on hats and wore their gloves. We dressed up to go downtown back then as it was special and expected. I believe Joy Young’s was the most popular and favorite place for most ladies even though we met under the clock at Loveman’s? None of these wonderful places are open today. Joy Young’s was great fun as they had an upstairs private dining place, that could be curtained off in smaller sections. You felt special to dine in your own space. The food was wonderful and all the employees Chinese, all bowing their heads at you. You were never rushed and thanked graciously with many bows of the head.
The Huddle House was among the first short order places to eat along with Ed Salem’s BBQ. Now there are many places of different descriptions. It can be hard to decide where to eat, more so than what to eat as it used to be at Britling’s. I like seeing my food in advance. Even though we still have many cafeteria’s, none can compare with the spread at Britling’s where you wanted one of everything. To me, eating out in Birmingham has changed more than most other things because the entire experience is very different. In the past, it was a time to dress up for a special occasion. A leisure experience to savor and enjoy with family and friends. Not a hurry up to grab a quick bite or to avoid having to cook as people do so often today.
The only quick places to get food I remember were the tamale wagons that were pushed up and down the street, mainly downtown. The tamales were wrapped in corn husks, hot and to be eaten at once, delicious! Gradually, there were hot dog stands but drive-thru pickup was still a long way off. Precooked food for dinner was unheard of until the 50’s or 60’s. Now, 2012, you wouldn’t have to cook at all to eat delicious, balanced meals even from the grocery store. My grandmother would be shocked. To pick up an entire Thanksgiving meal already cooked would be disgraceful to an entire generation.
But it is the way of today’s world. No Joy Young’s or Britling’s for relaxed dining out. Most places now are hurry up, others are waiting. I miss the old ways but then now I am old too. And guess what? I can eat almost anything I want and never have to cook.
Special Thanks to Dave Thomas and Colonel Sander’s