Food critic encourages travelers to get off the "eaten" path

Longtime Southern Living Food critic Morgan Murphy says a restaurant stands on three legs. The first is the food and it has to be great. The second is ambience and the third is service. Murphy knows a little bit about dining out. He says,"I eat at about 150 restaurants a year, I eat out a lot. I'm the only guy in America who could qualify for workmen's comp based on my cholesterol."

But his experience with food in the magic city is positive, he calls Birmingham one of the greatest food cities in America, especially for its size. And he says it started with highly regarded Chef Frank Stitt in 1982. Still operates four restaurants including highlands bar and grill that have set the standard. And Stitt has mentored other fine local chefs, like Chris Hastings at Hot and Hot Fish Club. But, Murphy's pallet goes well beyond the city's high end eateries. One of his local favorites is Nicki's West, where Kerry Hudson has been making banana pudding since 1957.

Finding exceptional dishes in out of the way, small town restaurants is a passion for Murphy. He says he traveled 12 thousand miles across 18 southern states collecting unique eating experiences for his best selling books "Off The Eaten Path" and "Off The Eaten Path, Second Helping." Murphy hopes the pictures, stories and recipes will encourage people to try the dishes at home or take a little detour on their travels. He says. "Get off the main highway, stay away from the fast food chains. Try to find something local in that area and you'll have a much richer travel experience because of it.