A Thanksgiving Tale: Rescued by Cafe DuPont

Nothing like technology causing problems that some exceptionally nice people remedied when it wasn’t remotely their doing.

As many readers have noticed, I am in Birmingham. I’m here to see my mother for Thanksgiving plus her 90th birthday, which is Sunday. I usually visit this time of year for the Thanksgiving + birthday combo. We normally do Thanksgiving with friends of hers, which when she was younger would consist of rotating among various hosts, with the guests bringing a dish or two, and in the last couple of years, eating out together. However, most of her friends have died or moved to be closer to their children. The couple she normally sees weren’t having their kids come down and they husband were road-testing the newly-opened dining room at their retirement center for Thanksgiving, which didn’t sound like a great option even if we had been invited.

I dutifully went on OpenTable, which insisted that I was in Manhattan. I switched it to Alabama, then Birmingham, and first punched up Cafe DuPont, a long-established downtown restaurant I liked but hadn’t been to in my last visit, and booked a table for Thanksgiving. I got a confirmation message with “Thanksgiving” in the subject line.

We pulled up just before 6 to see no valet parking and the entrance to the restaurant (the bar is on one side, the main room next to it) looking underlit. I could see perhaps ten people in the main room, only one really big table. I went to the entrance, which was locked, and being a pushy New Yorker, made some noise. Someone came over. He said it was closed. I said we had a reservation through OpenTable, I could e-mail it to them. The man asked how many we were. I said two. He said they were having a family dinner and we could join them.

Being a pushy New Yorker with nothing really suitable in the larder and no grocery stores open, I took him up on his offer.

It turns out this wasn’t the first time my mother had gate-crashed at Cafe DuPont. My parents had been regulars at Cafe DuPont at its original home, in Springsville. It then moved to its current venue in downtown Birmingham. My parents and two other couples showed up for lunch not long after the relocation to the new site on a Tuesday for lunch, when the restaurant was normally open for lunch. But this was Valentine’s Day, and they were closed preparing for the dinner rush. The owner Chris was coming in from the alley, recognized my parents, asked the group in and fed them.

We had a great time and I think our hosts didn’t mind our having shown up as unexpected additions. There were about twenty people, the chef Chris DuPont, his father Peter, Jackie his wife, and children and inlaws, including an aspiring ballerina and a member of the world’s top amateur soccer team, who was flying to Spain for a match. I chatted at some length with Suzie, who works for the city of Washington DC on water projects.

Needless to say, the food was terrific. The chef/owner Chris is from New Orleans, and his food is French influenced with some nods to the South, like a fried green tomato appetizer on the regular menus. He was also early in the trend among American restauranteurs to design his menus around locally grown produce and build relationships with farmers in the area.

We’d arrived at the end of the appetizers and got to have some of the cheese plate and a pork plate (prepared two ways, I had some of the terrine). Mains were with plates passed, and included scallops (I’m fussy about scallops and these were really good), lamb, pork bellies (superb), steak, with sides including barbecue-style sweet potatoes, white potatoes, asparagus, yellow squash, mushrooms, green salad, and a cranberry relish. They have a new baker and she showed her stuff: a particularly tasty pumpkin pie, pecan pie, gingerbread ice cream, and the surprise standout, beet-chocolate ice cream.

Oh, and they were serving a red that a wine-maker who was taken with their restaurant and normally sold out in his local area allowed them to buy. They’d had a couple of bottles for four years and hadn’t sold any so they had decided they might as well drink it. The price was $450 a bottle. And yes, it was a very nice wine.

When I got back to my machine, I checked to see what the reservation said. I did indeed have a reservation at Cafe DuPont…in Washington, DC. Even though I had punched up Birmingham, I somehow wound up with a Washington reservation. And mind you, I’ve never booked or even searched for a DC restaurant on OpenTable. So beware!

Those of you outside the south may not know that Birmingham has a reputation among foodies for its caliber and range of restaurants. So if you are visiting, be sure to include Cafe DuPont on your list of dining options. You’ll be glad you did.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Down2Long

    Sounds like some gracious Southern hospitality and some sublime food. Glad you and your Mom had a great Thanksgiving dinner!

  2. Sound of the Suburbs

    Naked capitalists you’ve just been demoted by Google search.

    The links that come up are name references but not Naked Capitalism itself.

    You are a public enemy.

    Try it …….. maybe it’s just happening in the UK or just to me (unlikely)

    Currently using Firefox with McAfee secure search.

      1. Clive

        Worked fine for me in the U.K. (both in prying eyes mode and “Private” on iOS Safari).

        I have though been getting some very weird adds from Google Adchoices in the Naked Capitalism placeholders (I did click throughs and poked around at the sites, as I do from time to time to help the sites response rate average and they are legitimate and all above board, just very strange in the products and services they’re presenting me with). So maybe a U.K. Google algo is having a funny turn.

    1. norm de plume

      It came up first for me, in Australia. But I wonder – aren’t searches now including user preference data? What if I had never accessed NC? Does the fact that I have visited a site called Naked Capitalism thousands of times mean it pops up first on a search? If my conservative uncle living 300 miles away typed the same search in, would he get the same result as me?

      Assuming no, I guess there’s no reason to get foily about it; it’s just adapting results to fit presumed intentions. But even if it’s not deliberate it would have the effect of steering potential readers away… ‘nothing to see there’!

  3. Karen

    What a heartwarming story. Thank you Chef Chris. We all enjoyed your meal and appreciate your hospitality!

  4. Enquiring Mind

    Thanksgiving brings so much potential for inspiring human interaction in a conducive environment, and yours really lived up to that. Vicarious traveling is one of the joys of NC, and if I’m ever in Birmingham I sure intend to visit Café DuPont :)

  5. Eustache De Saint Pierre

    It is good to know that your evening eventually went well. I am usually relieved if something goes wrong at the start of an evening, in a sort of ” Oh well, something was bound to go wrong & hopefully it is now out of the way “, & I do recall that some wonderful evenings have followed such initial irritations.

    That part of me that is apart from me is no New Yorker, but she does not hesitate to make a fuss in such situations, while I generally attempt to shrink into the woodwork, unless of course, things get serious.

  6. Lambert Strether

    Yum! And well done Cafe DuPont!

    * * *

    Oh, and I know somebody who ruined their health working the Call Center at OpenTable. So the lousy UI/UX of their software isn’t the only problem with them as a company.

  7. oh

    NIce hospitality on behalf of the restaurateur (same as restauranteur). Reminds me of the time I went to Mauion T’Giving day where the B&B owner was so kind and insisted that I join them for dinner even though I was gonna be late. I had a great time meeting new peopl and I enjoyed the dinner!.

  8. Rick Taylor

    I really enjoyed reading something positive about Alabama. I’ve never been, and after the Roy Moore situation, planned to never set foot there. I may have to rethink my opinion.

    1. Arizona Slim

      One of my Alabama friends has invited me to go biking on the Chief Ladiga Trail. I am tempted. I really am.

    2. Madeleine

      Rick and Arizona Slim, I have to call you out. I grew up in Florida and moved to Atlanta in 2003. Should I stay out of New York? Trump is from there and I hear news nonstop about him! So is Harvey Weinstein. Omigod, Queens is the cradle of misogyny and corruption. How about the miasma of the Catholic Church in Boston? What about all the Good People there who overlooked it and protected predatory clergy for years?

      You know the truth is that there are people who mistreat others all over the country, and all over the world–didn’t #metoo prove that? Didn’t we know it already? Telling ourselves that OUR corner of the world is SO much better than the riffraff in the South is tired, as well as untrue. It allows us to overlook bad behavior and prejudice in our tribe, but point it out in exquisite detail on the other side.

      One dear friend who is black told me about Italian-Americans who tried to pull her out of her car and assault her in Upstate New York. She believes it was a racial attack. Another dear friend from Atlanta who is a black man said that he never wants to return to Boston, because for the first time someone called him a racial slur there. When one black friend visited Montana, she made sure to text me every time she left or arrived by car.

      I am not trying to say that the South is better than any other part of the country. It isn’t. But talk frankly with some people of color or women about their experiences–something will come out about places all over the map. And by the way, when Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, came out against Confederate Statues in South Carolina after Dylan Roof terrorized people there, he received plenty of hate mail. None of it was from South Carolina. It was all from Yankees.

      Let’s not make overbroad conclusions about Alabama. This kind of thing fuels tribalism, and it isn’t conducive to working together with fellow Americans for the common good.

  9. Whoa Molly!

    Thanks for lovely story Yves. It is welcome and valued. Read it while sitting in the free waiting lot at Sacramento Municipal after dropping off wife for an early AM flight to Virginia. Time to nap and wait for sunrise before commute home.

    And Good on you, Cafe Du Pont !

  10. McWatt

    Yves, great story!!! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours and thank you, thank you, thank you, for all your
    hard work.

  11. Kurt Sperry

    I’m still a little bit PTSD by a road trip I did in the seventies through Dixie as a long haired punk with Michigan plates on my VW. I should probably give it another chance!

  12. Sluggeaux

    Yves, thank you for sharing this wonderful story in such loving detail. Chris DuPont and his family sound like the most decent and generous people. My cousin recently moved to Huntsville after living his first 60-odd years in California, and he raves about the generosity of the people and the quality of life there. Mind you, one of his grandfathers was a Bracero, and even though he’s a retired cop he would get hassled for being “brown” when he visited Southern California, so I didn’t expect this. Thanksgiving is a good time for us all to set aside our prejudices. And happy 90th birthday to Yves, Sr.!

  13. mistah charley, ph.d.

    When I lived in Buffalo in the 1970s/80s, during my extended career as a grad student at SUNY Buffalo, I became familiar with the pushy New Yorker type. Then I went to work in Appalachian southwestern Virginia, and gradually came to realize that now I was that pushy New Yorker.

  14. Elizabeth

    Yves, what a wonderful story, and glad everything turned out happily. It gives meaning to Thanksgiving! Your story reminds me of one my parents experienced many years ago (before Open Table). My parents wanted to eat out for Christmas Day dinner, but didn’t think they needed reservations because they thought there’d be plenty of restaurants open. Much to their chagrin, they couldn’t find a restaurant that was open, so they ended up at Zim’s (a long closed SF diner/coffee shop). I think my dad was ok with it, but it wasn’t my mom’s idea of Christmas dinner.

    Happy Birthday to your mom!!

    1. MichaelSF

      lt has been a long time since I’ve thought of Zim’s. I think I ate there once, but basically it was in an awkward spot if you were driving and needing to park instead of on the street car.

  15. norm de plume

    Its now a relative rarity – the reliably great cafe/restaurant that combines good food at a reasonable price with excellent service. I recall several over the years here in Sydney, most now gone. I blame the property bubble – both the rents they can finally no longer afford/mortgages they can no longer service, and the effect on disposable income on their erstwhile customers.

    The latest to go caused genuine disappointment in my wider family; Greek people who knew our names and asked after our kids and parents, just as we did them. The only one left around here now is a tiny Thai place serving cheap but wonderful food with free smiles. Hope they last.

  16. freedeomny

    Yves – thanks for the great TG story! What could have been a holiday disaster becomes an unexpected great, fabulous time/memory. Thank You!

Comments are closed.