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The Bright Star’s ambience, cuisine and service achieve excellence.

By Jan Walsh

Photography by Beau Gustafson

New concept restaurants come and go. Restaurants that consistently achieve excellence—in what they bring to the table—remain. And as the oldest continuously family owned restaurant in Alabama, The Bright Star has won the test of time. 

The Place

The Bright Star opened in 1907, as a small cafe with a horseshoe-shaped bar in Bessemer, Alabama. After outgrowing this location and two others, the Bright Star moved to its present location, at 304 19th Street North in Bessemer, in 1914.

The Bright Star’s brick façade stands proudly with its signature star brightly— welcoming loyal patrons for lunch daily and dinner nightly.  Inside the Bright Star’s murals have adorned the walls since 1915—when a traveling artist offered to pay his lodging and food with art. Wood paneled walls and welcoming red leather booths invite us to linger over lunch.

At lunch the restaurant is part southern meat-and-three, part seafood restaurant and part Greek fare. During the dinner hour The Bright Star evolves to a fine seafood restaurant—with a consistent Greek focus. Everything is made fresh daily. Fresh seafood is delivered from the Gulf. And the beef tenderloin is cut and marinated first thing in the morning for lunch service.

The People
Founded by Tom Bonduris in 1907, Bill and Pete Koikos purchased the restaurant in 1925, just two years after they immigrated to the United States from Greece. By the 1960s Bill’s sons Jimmy and Nick Koikos owned and operated the restaurant. The Koikos niece, Stacey Craig serves as business manager. Austin Davis is the Executive Dinner Chef. Andreas Anastassakis is the Executive Lunch Chef. And the service staff is friendly and attentive—offering Southern hospitality at its best.

The Awards
Beyond the test of time, The Bright Star has won other accolades. Most recently, Jimmy and Nicky Koikos were recognized as Best Restaurateurs in Alabama for 2011, by the Alabama Restaurant Association. James Beard Foundation Awards 2010 named The Bright Star the American Classic 2010. The restaurant was honored in May 2010 at the foundation's annual program at New York's Lincoln Center. It is rated a top neighborhood restaurant by Bon Appetit magazine. The Homemade Seafood Gumbo was voted Best Gumbo In The Southeast By The National Restaurant News. Its fare consistently wins “50 Favorites” awards from BirminghamRestaurants.com, and the Gumbo was named to this website and B-Metro magazine’s “All Time Favorites.” And in 1966, the restaurant was recognized in the United States Congressional Record as an Alabama landmark.

Favorite Fare
For lunch today we bring our fall appetites, and we order a feast. A cup of the Homemade Seafood Gumbo is always a must. This deep, dark rue is a divine result of time well spent—four hours cooking. Salad plates of Greek Salad served with a bowl of dressing at the table for each of us to dress the salad to our own personal tastes. The vibrant and tangy Greek dressing enhances fresh, crisp greens, purple onion, tomatoes, Salonika peppers, black olives, anchovy and feta.

Entrees of Bright Star’s Snapper Greek Style and Crab Cakes arrive piping hot with our sides: macaroni and cheese, Greek style potato, lima beans, and turnip greens. The snapper is outstanding—light, moist, flaky and enriched with olive oil, lemon sauce, oregano and Greek spiced flavors. Similar flavors enhance the tender Greek potato. And the fresh turnip greens taste like my grandmother’s.

Two Crab Cakes are crisp and filled with lump crab with a touch of heat from its red peppers. The limas are tender and full of freshness. And the mac and cheese is the best—as cheesy and delicious as I have ever had.

For dessert we split a creamy coconut pie that is an absolutely balanced, bite of heaven—not too sweet—with a crisp, firm crust.

Published, B-Metro magazine, December, 2011

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