Make this for mom for her special day

Published 10:45 am Saturday, May 7, 2016

Perhaps we do not know the name of John Hall as well as some other chefs, but he is from Birmingham and opened his Birmingham pizzeria called Post Office Pies a few years ago. Post Office Pies was named because he renovated an old post office in his Avondale neighbor in Birmingham.

The May issue of ‘Southern Living’ features this man because it was his grandmother who inspired his love of cooking. As a kid, he was enthralled with the vegetables and herbs his grandmother, Louellen Wilkins, tended in her small garden and how they manifested on the family’s table. This was before all the farm to table hoopla. She cooked with the seasons, and she pickled and canned everything.

John Hall’s mother, Marion, was a single mom, but there was always a home-cooked, weeknight meal on the table. His family meals were geared around comfort in good times and bad. Food brings people together and makes them happy.

Hall decided to be chef, not a cook, and went on to do culinary training in Charleston and Rhode Island. He built up his resume in Birmingham with Chef Frank Stitt, then moved on to New York. Between working rigorous shifts, he ran a side business called Insomnia Pizza out of his tiny Brooklyn apartment, making and delivering late-night pies on his bike.

In 2013, he got the opportunity to start a restaurant in his old neighborhood in Birmingham. As soon as it opened, the lines were spilling out the front door. His grandmother passed away one month before the restaurant opened.

Hall still prepares everything his mother and grandmother taught him. He makes tomato sauce from scratch and uses locally grown greens for his salads. My goal is to get to his restaurant when I am in Birmingham again. Frank Stitt, I’ll get back to you later.

So in honor of Mother’s Day, we praise all mothers who work hard in preparing good food for their families. It is hard out there to find the best produce and be able to afford it. Children do remember what their childhood was like (good or bad) and a lot of it has to do what happened at the dinner table.

So Happy Mother’s Day!

John Hall’s Mom made shrimp and grits before it became a dish on most southern restaurant menus. He added a bright Salsa Verde which he learned from his time at Gramercy Tavern.

Taken from ‘Southern Living’ May 2016.

Pan-Seared Shrimp with Chive Grits and Salsa Verde

3 cups water

1 cup whole milk

3 tsp. kosher salt, divided

1 cup yellow stone-ground grits

6 Tbsp. salted butter, divided

2 lb. raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, divided


½ tsp. black pepper, divided

1 Tbsp. lemon juice, divided

2 Tbsp. chopped chives

1 pt. cherry tomatoes, halved

Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

Bring 3 cups water, milk, and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a large heavy saucepan over high heat. Whisk in grits, and cook, whisking constantly, 45 seconds, scraping bottom and sides as needed. Return to a boil; cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook grits until tender, 20-25 minutes. (For a looser texture, whisk in 2-4 tablespoons water halfway through cooking.)

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-heat. Add half of the shrimp, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Sauté until shrimp are almost pink, 5-6 minutes. Toss with ½ tablespoon lemon juice, and transfer to a plate. Repeat with 2 tablespoons butter and remaining shrimp, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Add chives and remaining 2 tablespoons butter to grits. Top with shrimp, tomatoes, and Salsa Verde.


Salsa Verde

1 cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves and small stems

1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves and small stems

1 cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves

¾ tsp. kosher salt

¼ tsp. red chili flakes

2 garlic cloves

1 Tbsp. lemon zest plus 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice, divided

½ cup olive oil

Pulse firsts 6 ingredients plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice zest in a food processor until roughly chopped. With processor running, pour olive oil through food chute, until smooth. Transfer to a bowl; let stand 20 minutes. Before serving stir in lemon juice.