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    SEC "Insider" Blog: Lunch At The SEC

    By: Eric SanInocencio
    SEC Digital Network

    Birmingham, Ala. -- Lunch is one of my favorite parts of the work day. Not only do you get to eat (one of my favorite pastimes), but often lunch gets you out of the office, giving you a mental break from anything difficult that may be going on. You get to step out with colleagues, explore the city and recharge your batteries for the afternoon. Lunch marks the mid-point of the day, meaning that it is all downhill when you return to the office. That along with the great variety of quality restaurants in the Birmingham area makes the lunch hour one of the high points of the day.

    Lunch at the SEC isn't a solo affair. Down in the media relations department, we try to include the entire group when we decide to head out. Even though there is a core four that is part of the "lunch bunch", we are always open to new "members" and invite people from the entire office. You never know who will join the group, which makes trips interesting, seeing how different people react in a social situation.

    But who am I kidding. Lunch is about the food too, and we have quite a few places that make out our weekly rotation. Depending on the time of the year, and how busy it is at the office, there are more than 15 restaurants that we may decide to visit. We have quite the mixture, complete with places that cater to people's taste exactly. That means one day we may go to my favorite food joint (I'll tell you about it later), or if someone else is having a rough day and needs a pick me up, they have their go to establishment as well.

    After consulting with most of the people that have been to lunch with me at some point during the last year, I've come up with a definitive list of the top restaurants that we visit in all of Birmingham. Mind you, the rankings are mine, but it was a collective effort to make up the list.

    I'll break it down into Honorable Mentions, places that are good but we don't frequent as much. Then, my rankings from five to one, with a reason why I hold each place in such high regard. Here we go.

    Honorable Mentions
    Seafood Chicken Box (Trussville, Ala.) -- Great, I mean great fried chicken. I've only been there once, on the recommendation of our own Tammy Wilson. It is kind of far away from the office, the one main reason we don't go more.

    The Kool Korner (Vestavia, Ala.) -- You want a Cuban sandwich? This is your place. The Kool Korner is tucked in a shopping center right next to Vestavia's "City Center". They have a variety of sandwiches, but the Cuban is the top of the lot. This was a Kathryn Poe-Switzer choice, and I'm not really sure why I haven't been back there in months.

    Longhorn's Steakhouse (Inverness, Ala.) -- I know, why include a chain restaurant? I do this for one reason. I love their Angus burger. Plus, this is what my wife brings to the office whenever her and my son come and eats lunch with me. It gets points for sentimental value.

    Bongiorno Italian Restaurant (Mountain Brook, Ala.) -- I brought this place with me to the SEC from my GSC days. The commissioner of the Gulf South Conference, Nate Salant, swears by this authentic Italian space. He liked it so much that we had every holiday staff luncheon there. I still enjoy it to this day. Again, distance might be the main reason I don't go as much now.

    Giuseppe's Cafe (Birmingham, Ala.) -- Well, Giuseppe’s might be another reason I don't go to the restaurant listed above. This cafe, nestled near UAB's campus, is your typical hole in the wall type spot. Great pizza and the portions always guarantee you have leftovers. If you haven't been here, I totally recommend it. Giuseppe’s is money.

    The Top Five

    5. Newk's Cafe (Mountain Brook, Ala.) -- This cafe was the first place I went to with SEC staff after I was hired. Myself, Craig Pinkerton and Wilson took the plunge, heading down US 280 to Mountain Brook village. Their sandwiches are pretty good, but I love their pizza (sense a theme here?). Newk's is always in rotation for us. The only real negative is the village itself. Trying to find parking during the lunch hour can be a tough task. However, if you can navigate through the crowds, Newk's is worth stopping by.

    4. Subway (Birmingham, Ala) -- You must be thinking. Subway Eric, really, Subway? I say yes. When it comes to convenience, no place is better. Subway is right across the street from us, and I can't tell you how awesome it is to be able to run over on a busy day and quickly grab some food. The menu is universal, but I have a particular favorite. I get the "Pizza Sub", but that is no secret. I have gone there enough that when I open the door, the staff already knows what I want. Subway holds it down for us here at the SEC.

    3. Mellow Mushroom (Birmingham, Ala) -- It is obvious right? I love pizza. The college town favorite is definitely in our rotation, but usually is reserved for the summer. The reason being is the time factor. The closest Mellow Mushroom to us is in five points, and it can take a while to find parking during lunch hours. Add in the fact that this isn't a quick order either, so pencil in a good hour and half for when you decide to go.

    2. Billy's Bar and Grill (Mountain Brook, Ala.) -- This place is Sean Cartell special. Despite having only been here three months, the young Cartell has already found his favorite lunch spot. This bar and grill, found in Mountain Brook's English Village, gives a laid back feel amongst friends. It has plenty of TVs, which allow you to keep up with the latest sports news while you watch your meal. The food is good too, with several sandwiches that are worth eating (Buffalo Chicken is good). There is nothing bad to say about Billy's. We probably go there every week.

    1. Salem's Diner (Homewood, Ala.) -- The BEST PHILLY CHEESE STEAK IN THE WORLD. PERIOD. Even Craig Ferguson agrees with me. This hole in the wall space in downtown Homewood is my personal favorite, and I only discovered it about a year ago. After have been taken there by former college teammate and good friend Jeff Segar, I was hooked. Their menu is expansive, but I have only tried one thing. The philly cheese steak is the staple, fresh with special seasoning to boot. Throw in the fact that Mr. Salem himself has SEC roots and loves college football, it makes for a fun place to spend an hour. If you haven't been there, you don't know what you are missing. Please go soon.