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JBF Awards 2010: The Bright Star (Bessemer, AL), Americas Classic Award

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Published on May 3, 2010

The Bright Star
304 19th St. North, Bessemer, AL
Owners: Jimmy Koikos and Nicky Koikos

A clump of feta, tucked in a salad of iceberg and cucumbers. A stipple of oregano on a broiled snapper fillet. At the Bright Star in Bessemer, Alabama, an old steel town southwest of Birmingham, the vestiges of Greece are few.

Greek immigrants built the Bright Star, a vintage dining hall of intricately patterned tile floors, nicotine-patinaed woodwork, WPA-era murals of the old country, and brass chandeliers.

The Bright Star opened in 1907. Descendants of Bright Star founding fathers—Tom Bonduris and his cousin Bill Koikos, natives of the farming village of Peleta in the mountainous Peloponnesus region —still work the floor. Jimmy Koikos, a septuagenarian, and brother Nicky, seven years his junior, are in charge now.

The menu is an honest—and very old—fusion, Greek meets Southern, as interpreted by African American cooks: fried red snapper throats, house-cut from whole Gulf fish, are on the menu. Okra in a cornmeal crust, too. And field peas with snaps.

In the Birmingham area, many of the best barbecue and meat-and-three restaurants are Greek owned. And the Bright Star is the oldest and most storied of the bunch.

—John T. Edge, Director, Southern Foodways Alliance

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