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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Niki's West and the Birmingham Zoo

A few weeks ago, one of my daughters, Kathryn, "decided" that we were all going to head down to Birmingham for a day trip. With some snacks and drinks packed, iPods and books at the ready, and a fiance and friend-boy along for the ride, seven of us piled into the van and headed south to "The Magic City".

There were a few reasons that Kathryn wanted to make this little trip. One was probably just to get away for a day. That's always a good reason, right? Two, Scott had never been Dreamland, a BBQ place that the family loves to visit. We have been several times and love to eat there. This one is near the UAB campus. Of course, the original Dreamland in Tuscaloosa is where you gotta go, but we just did not have that much time. That will be another trip. All that is served in the Tuscalooa store is ribs, white bread, sauce, banana pudding and drinks. Man, my mouth is watering even as I write this.

The third reason was to visit the Birmingham Zoo. We had never been there and had not been to a zoo in a while, so it sounded a good option. Fourth, shopping. Yes, I have two teenage daughters and a wife. What more can I say? At least I had some male moral support on this trip.

Well, I had a surprise of my own up my sleeve. A few years ago, after a University of Alabama A-Day football game, I had visited Niki's West, a meat-and-three not too far off Exit 262/Finley Blvd., with my son, father, aunt and uncle. Even though on this trip we were going to arrive at Niki's at lunch time, I knew the meal would be worth the potential long wait.

The line was pretty long - probably 50 or so folks when we got there - but moved amazingly fast. We waited "maybe" ten minutes before picking up our trays and silverware. The men and women who worked the steam table didn't hold anything back and were courteously adept at pushing people through in a friendly, fun way.

With a boatload of meat and veggie choices, it wasn't hard for each of us to find something that we liked. And, liked we did. All seven of us chose a different meat and a lot of different vegetables. The cornbread and rolls, and the sweet tea - well, this native Birmingham guy was feeling right at home.

One tip: if you have a party of 7 or more, make sure you heed the sign and let a hostess know about your party. That way, they can go ahead and reserve a table for you as you are going through the line. Otherwise, your wait for a table could be a bit longer.

If you are headed to Birmingham, you should give this place some thought. I know there are quite a few meat and three restaurants there, but this one is not likely to disappoint and would be a great introduction to meat and threes, if this is your first time.

The rest of the day was just about perfect, except for being quite warm and muggy. The zoo featured some entertaining animals, although there were a few of the exhibits that were closed.
If you are interested, I took quite a few photos and have posted a number of them on one of my Flickr Photo Sets. This guy to the left, though, was one of my favorites - he was quite a character.

Yes, we did spend some time at the mall, although not as much time as I would have thought. And, yes, this meat-and-three guy did take the group over to the Birmingham version of Dreamland for the evening meal. I am a big ribs fan and have come to love Dreamland's version, and I was not alone.

We were all very well satisfied, which made the drive home kind of lonely for me. They were all snoozing their well-fed little selves while I was left alone in my thoughts. That can be a pretty dangerous thing sometimes, just ask my family. But, that night's version was pretty good: pondering the blessings of a fun day with family and friends, and thinking about where we ought to go on our next little jaunt.

Can anyone say, "ROAD TRIP!"