Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods America on The Travel Channel, feasted there on oxtails, neck bones, collard greens and candied yams. American Idol’s Reuben Stoddard and former NBA great Charles Barkley have also made their way to Eagle’s along with a host of daily hungry diners. On a recent visit, Steve tried the meat loaf with collards and pinto beans, while I had beef tips on rice with blackeyed peas and candied yams. Steve declared the collards to be flavorful and tender, and I would rate the candied yams as The Best I’ve Ever Eaten. We both thought the cornbread was EXTRA-special, and the sweet tea was perfect! No wonder Eagle’s has so many loyal customers!
Eagle’s Restaurant, located a block off of Finley Avenue in north Birmingham and within sight of ACIPCO (American Cast Iron Pipe Company), has been in business since 1951. In a popular dictionary definition of soul food, the term refers to “food typically eaten by African-Americans in the southern United States,” but I can assure you that all Americans or even people from other parts of the world will find Eagle’s version of soul food to be satisfying, filling, and delicious.
Jamal Rucker’s dad bought the business in 1974 with the stipulation that the name remain the same. The Rucker family has kept the recipes, the location, and the building and has added an ever-growing number of happy eaters. Jamal said that his Momma learned the recipes and cooking methods from the cook who was there before her, and that cook learned from her Momma. In my opinion, when Mommas are involved in passing down recipes, mighty good things happen in a kitchen. When I asked a fellow diner why she thought Eagle’s was so popular, she answered quickly: “The food’s good, consistent.” And, then looking very pointedly at Jamal, she added, “And they’d better not change!” When a business has such a winning formula, why would they want to do that.
Eagle’s is open from 10:30 – 3:30 Sunday through Friday and is closed on Saturday. Jamal estimates that they serve 200 people on weekdays and 400 on Sundays. With a tiny building and only 6 booths, that seems like an impossible feat. But, most come in for carry-outs, and the line snakes through the narrow aisle, outside the door and down the sidewalk. Portions are definitely large enough to save the leftovers for dinner. This is NOT a buffet, but the servers generously give diners their money’s worth and more.
Eagle’s gets lots of fresh produce from the Jefferson County Farmers Market only a mile away, and everyday the menu features 7 or 8 different vegetables. But, the uniqueness comes in with the meat choices. For example, you can find oxtails on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Pig feet and ears are featured on Monday. And neckbones and potatoes can be ordered on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Chitterlings are reserved for Sundays.
Steve and I enjoyed the atmosphere so much. The phone was ringing constantly with call-in orders, and there was a steady stream of interesting diners — preachers, nurses, office workers, lots of folks on lunch break, etc. The walls are painted paneling, with a couple of window air conditioning units humming. CNN was on a TV at one end while a couple of pinball machines waited by the door. Parking is along the street or in the 3 or 4 spots beside the building. This is a very casual, down-home place with a busy, happy, contented vibe. Jamal says, “All customers are special to us,” and it shows.
Steve also wrote about Eagle’s Restaurant because he was so impressed with their business practices. Read his blog post here — “Sometimes Change is the Last Thing Your Business Needs.”