We used to watch lots of Craig Ferguson. When his late night show first started, before he became filthy and cynical, he was probably the funniest late night host on TV. One night, he mentioned a place in Homewood, Alabama that had the best philly cheese steak sandwich he had ever had. Shane and I had been to Homewood lots of times to visit our favorite bakery but didn’t remember this place. On our next trip to Birmingham, we stopped by Homewood and purposefully found Salem’s Diner, the home of the famed philly; it was located right across the street from Savage’s, the bakery of bakeries. Since that initial visit, we have been back every chance we get. This place is a dive, but it’s tasty, and the owner treats you like you’re in his kitchen at home. This trip was no exception.
When we walked in, we were greeted and took a seat in one of the booths lining the single narrow aisle. I ordered a patty melt combo with onion rings ($6.99). Although the patty melt is a diner classic, Salem’s does it better than any other I’ve had. Maybe it’s the beefy quality of the 1/4 lb. patty or the mild meltiness of the cheese, but this patty melt is delicious without being too greasy. Don’t get me wrong…it’s greasy enough to have a little crispiness to it, but not so much that you’re wiping your fingers after every bite. The onion rings are just right. They have a nice coating of batter, but the taste of the onion really comes through; there are no held together onion bits here. We’re talking about bonafide onion rings, not that previously frozen stuff. My favorite way to eat them is dipped in a mix of ketchup and mustard. Yum.
Even though we’d had plenty to eat, I knew we had to get a piece of their lemon icebox pie. I have never actually ordered a piece before, but I had tried it on our first visit here. Shane and I were the only diners in the place aside from a seemingly homeless man who was eating a piece of lemon pie at the counter right across the aisle from us. I asked him if the pie was good and he offered me a bite. I declined, not wanting him to think I had asked just to try a bite. When we paid and got up to leave, he asked me again to try a bite, sticking a pie-laden fork near my mouth. I gobbled it up, to the surprise of my onlooking husband, and enjoyed every last morsel. It was rich, tangy, smooth, and sweet, having all the markers of a great lemon pie. If you go, you must try it. Even if a perfect stranger offers you a taste, don’t be shy. Go ahead and take a bite right off his fork!