Deep Fried Kudzu reads almost like a love letter to the South. In it, Brook catalogs her visits to museums, restaurants, historic homes, landmarks and everything in between, with gorgeous photos and heartfelt text.
“I really enjoy showing people what is really great out there, and what we sort of drive by every day and don’t think about,” she said. “I’m just a regular person who goes places and writes about it.”
Born and raised in Alabama, Brook’s family tree can be traced back through seven generations of Alabamians. After graduating from Athens State with a degree in liberal arts and business administration in 1995, she briefly worked in business as an industry buyer before moving to Birmingham, where she married and later worked in graphic design alongside her husband Larry, who owns Southern Jewish Life magazine.
The magazine’s broad outreach meant that the two were traveling often for business, which laid the groundwork for Brook to both keep track of and rate the different places where they stayed, ate and visited. Deep Fried Kudzu (deepfriedkudzu.com) officially launched in December 2005.
Pretty soon, she realized she wasn’t the only one who wanted to know what was worth visiting. “I just started chronicling — ‘We went here, and we saw this and we did that’ — and people just really got into it,” she said.
When it comes to finding places to explore, Brook relies on a mix of natural curiosity, tips from readers, the state tourism website — and a copy of the state’s Works Progress Administration book, issued back in 1941.
She has become a one-man news band of sorts, offering commentary on the evolution of happenings around the region, including the possibility of a Sam’s Club being built near Oxford Exchange.
The site also resonates on a deeply personal level. Brook, who is a fan of genealogy, realized that by chronicling her life, she was crafting a family tree for the 21st century.
“Once I started doing the website, I started thinking to myself what I would not give if my grandmother and my great-grandmother had lived in a time when they could have their own website, and I could have seen their diary of what they did, where they went, what kind of food they cooked, and what the recipe for it was,” she said.
“I just thought this would be such a great gift for my family, that they would be able to see what our family did back in the 2000s.”
As time has gone on, her adventures have expanded to include her two young boys, nicknamed “Shug” and “Shugie,” and their adventures to places such as the Mississippi Amish community, Anniston’s own White Oak Vineyards and outdoor art exhibits, such as Huntsville resident Wade Wharton’s outdoor art garden.
Thanks to Brook’s eye for modern Southern culture, her photos have been used on album covers and food sites. She was even hired by Lowe’s Home Improvement in 2009 to create content for the Hanukkah section of the company’s magazine.
Deep Fried Kudzu has given Brook a life she never imagined, but her aim has never been to make money — something that is evident from the fact that her blog is absent of advertising (as well as comments).
“I’m doing it for fun,” she said. “I don’t want to ever think of it as work.”
Erin Williams is a graduate of Faith Christian School and the University of Alabama. She is a performing arts aide for the Washington Post Style section.
Deep Fried Kudzu’s favorite things
For her blog Deep Fried Kudzu (deepfriedkudzu.com), Ginger Brook’s travels take her from her backyard in Birmingham to explore art and artifacts down to the Mobile Bay Bayou, through Huntsville and beyond.
She compiled lists of favorite things to do in Alabama:
Five favorite places to visit in Alabama
1. Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman: “Called ‘Jerusalem in miniature,’ but it includes models of religious and architectural gems from all over the world, made of found objects by a monk who was an original up-cycler.”
2. Birmingham Museum of Art: “Has a terrific collection of Southern, self-taught art — and it has one of the largest collections of Wedgwood in the world.”
3. Joe Minter’s African Village in America, Birmingham: “Joe recreates events in history with metal and found objects, from the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing to Hurricane Katrina.”
4. Alabama Museum of Natural History, Tuscaloosa: “In one of the prettiest Beaux Arts buildings, and includes giant dinosaur specimens and the Hodges meteorite, which is the only extraterrestrial object known to ever injure a human.”
5. Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville: “Amazing regardless of one’s religion. The artwork, architecture and craftsmanship of the buildings there are breathtaking.”
Five favorite places to eat
1. Big Bob Gibson’s, Decatur: “Barbecue chicken with white sauce — and what not too many people know is how amazing their turkey is.”
2. Chez Fon Fon, Birmingham: “There is not a dish here that’s not amazing, particularly the charcuterie plate. It’s all simple beautiful and precise, and owner, James Beard-winner Frank Stitt, is one of the best things to ever come out of Cullman.”
3. “Can I make this a tie? Ezell’s Fish Camp (Lavaca) and Red’s Catfish Cabin (Cragford) have the most amazing catfish in unpretentious, perfect settings.”
4. The Bright Star, Bessemer: “The Birmingham area is blessed with Greek restaurateurs, and Bright Star (since 1907) shines with Gulf seafood dishes seasoned with Greek spices. It’s one of the few places with delicious snapper throats on the menu.”
5. Wintzell’s Oyster House, the original, in Mobile on Dauphin: “The most fantastic oysters in every way imaginable; as they put it, ‘fried, stewed, or nude.’”
Five things to love about Alabama
1. “We have mountains and beaches! You can go caving in the morning, and have your toes in the sand by suppertime.”
2. “We have four seasons, but are known to think of only two: football season and waiting-for-football season.”
3. “Our food is delicious and bountiful — from u-pick farms, to fresh-off-the-boat Gulf seafood, freshwater aquifer-raised shrimp from the Black Belt, and the hydroponic farms of North Alabama. We are lovers of farmers’ markets and roadside shacks that sell everything from boiled peanuts to hot fried pies.”
4. “You can take a weekend and visit a handful of wineries all over the state, or covered bridges, or go in search of the best barbecue anywhere, and you’re going to come home satisfied every time.”
5. “We’re known for our hospitality for a reason: it’s true. We are a group of solid, sweet people.”