Rest in Peace, Jimmy Koikos of the Bright Star, Bessemer, Alabama

When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.

Jimmy Koikos of the Bright Star has passed on.  The Bright Star is the oldest restaurant in Alabama, having opened in 1907, and it is known and loved for great seafood (the  Greek red snapper and the gumbo), great desserts (Nick Saban loves the coconut pie), and the warm, friendly presence of Jimmy Koikos visiting what seems like every table in the place.  The Bright Star received the James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award, given to  “restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.”  Watch the Foundation’s video.

I wrote about the Bright Star, and you can read that post below — and you really should, if only for the anecdote at the bottom.  And  read this wonderful article  about Mr. Koikos and the Bright Star.  The good news is that the Bright Star will stay in the Koikos family, a family truly dedicated to maintaining the special quality of the Bright Star for generations to come.

The Koikos family is in our prayers, and Jimmy Koikos is much in memory.

The Bright Star, Bessemer, Alabama

While we’re talking about Bessemer, I have to mention the Bright Star.

The Bright Star opened in 1907, and has been in the Koikos family since 1920.  (The founder was a cousin, and at least one Koikos was a waiter.)   The Bright Star is the subject of a Southern Foodways Alliance film, and is on various national lists of restaurants to visited; and it has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation.  It’s the oldest restaurant in Alabama a lovely place,

brightstar interior

They’re restoring the original murals.  There are private booths for private dining, such as for one of my negotiation sessions with the city’s attorneys, and at least one private booth has inspirational art.

bryant-booth elvis

Most important, they have really good food.  We used to go there when I was a kid.  It was a real trek out to Bessemer before the interstate bowled through town — either a good 20 miles of uncoordinated traffic lights, or a circuitous route through the country on narrow, unlighted two-lane roads — but it was worth it.  To avoid the traffic lights, people south of town, like us, would drive south to the Bessemer cut-off, and then north to Bessemer.*  The Bright Star had excellent gumbo, and very fresh fish.  I believe they used to have it trucked up from the gulf every day.  I generally got the red snapper, either almandine or Greek Style, or the fried snapper throats.  Wonderful.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

You really ought to visit the Bright Star.  Elvis did.

bright starelvis

***

And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box.  Or bookmark us and check in from time to time.  If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the city, state, or country for good restaurants (in Europe, usually close to sites, like the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event).  Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome.  And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.

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*An isolated rural section of the interstate was completed from just west of Bessemer to Tuscaloosa before the portion through the city, and at that time hardly anyone used it.  My father had a psychiatrist friend who sometimes worked with patients at the state mental hospitals, Bryce and Partlow, in Tuscaloosa.  A car dealer told the psychiatrist, while the psychiatrist was purchasing a new car, that it would go 55 miles per hour in reverse.  That certainly wasn’t a big selling point, but it is the sort of thing that sticks in your mind.  Early one morning, as he got onto the empty interstate segment on his way to Tuscaloosa with no other cars in sight, the psychiatrist turned his car around and started driving down the interstate in reverse.  As his speed increased, he noticed those flashing lights, and he pulled over.  A state trooper sauntered up as only a state trooper can saunter, and asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”  The psychiatrist said, “Bryce.”  The trooper said, “You’re damned right, and I’m taking you there,” and proceeded to drive him to Bryce.

3 thoughts on “Rest in Peace, Jimmy Koikos of the Bright Star, Bessemer, Alabama

  1. I have to think Jimmy was at least in part responsible for the plethora of Excellent Greek owned restaurants in Birmingham. Michael’s, John’s, Nicki’s to name just a few that put the city at the very top of the culinary South, except possibly New Orleans. They all got their fish fresh from the gulf, I think from Empire Seafood, another Greek enterprise, and all served the best gumbo and, of course Greek style snapper with just the right amount of oregano. Oh, and I almost forgot Gus’!

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