Last Friday, we set out for the Gulf Coast with empty stomachs, hoping we would find a blogworthy surprise within an hour south of Birmingham. As relative newcomers to town, we still have to study the map carefully. Our choices were Pelham, home of our favorite El Salvadorian restaurant La Libertad, or Alabaster, a place we had never been. After some intensive Yelping and Urbanspoon-digging, we read about what sounded like the kind of unique dining experience often discussed but rarely attained on a road trip: a place with fried chicken, Mississippi delta tamales, and blues.
Champy’s is located in a juke joint-inspired building. Can’t miss the sign:
On the inside, the place is surprisingly huge, with a bar, booths, and lots of tables. We grabbed ourselves a seat at a booth and were immediately greeted by a very friendly waitress who helped us navigate the menu. Although we forgot to photograph it (sorry), I’ll give you the summary: Fried chicken, po boys, and tamales. And sides. Based on her recommendations, we made our selections.
First, the tamales. A little bit of history is in order. Many years ago, before we moved to Bham, we took a road trip through Mississippi. At that time, we learned that there is a long tradition in the delta of making “hot tamales.” These tamales are different from the usual Mexican tamale. They are indigenous to this region, and are thought to originate from interactions of African Americans and Mexican migrant workers (to learn more, see this fantastic article from the Southern Foodways Alliance). In fact, there’s even a Tamale Trail, along which we traveled briefly during a recent Blues-related trip to Clarksdale, MS. On that trip, we ate at 3 different classic Hot Tamale shops. What an experience.
All of that came flooding back when this arrived at our table:
Now for a close-up:
Served in a corn husk, these little tamales were made from corn meal and stuffed with perfectly seasoned ground beef. Sometimes, hot tamales can be greasy, or even a little bitter (maybe from the combination of too much cayenne pepper and cumin?). These were delicate and light, but spicy and flavorful. Mr Foodie liked these so much that he forgot his assignment to take a picture of what’s inside the corn husk. Trust us, it looked and tasted like a delicious hot tamale. These tamales were just like what we had in the delta, but, I shudder to say… Better?
Next up, the fried chicken. We got the two piece white meat. Heavily breaded (in a good way), crispy, juicy, and perfectly fried, served hot hot hot (temperature-wise). Probably the best white meat fried chicken I have ever had. Served with creamy cole slaw and baked beans:
I love that it comes on a slice of white bread. Since this isn’t really an open faced sandwich… It’s a Southern thing, I know.
And then lastly, the catfish po boy. Breaded, fried, and served with horseradish mayo on soft yet crusty bread. The perfect sandwich:
Now for the side view. See what I mean about the bread? You can see its crusty soft goodness:
I have to spend a moment on the fries. They were really good, breaded deep fried fries. As I was stuffing my face with them, I noticed a squeeze bottle out of the corner of my eye. Looks like a few others had also noticed this bottle, given it’s well-loved appearance:
I put some on my plate, started dipping the fries, and – wow. Smoky, sweet, just a little tangy, I have no idea what this stuff is but it’s addictive. I wonder if they sell it… Forgot to check.
As we sat there obviously enjoying the food, our very attentive waitress and the ?manager checked in often and offered helpful tips (the chicken is really temperature hot, be careful!) or information that will be useful on future trips (they often have live blues in the evenings).
To sum it up, Champy’s re-creates what we experienced on our trips to the Delta-great tamales and other southern favorites served in a juke joint atmosphere by warm, friendly people. We can’t wait to return for blues to get the full on Champy’s experience.