When I was growing up in Birmingham, there was a very large—and very upscale Chinese restaurant located in the heart of downtown called “Joy Young”. In addition to two floors of spacious tables and booths, the restaurant also boasted private dining spaces that were curtained off , so that you could dine in complete privacy behind walls of drapery.
Businessmen and as well as the many ladies who lunched after busy mornings spent shopping at department stores like Burger Phillips, Loveman’s, Black’s, and Pizitz were patrons, and it was always bustling, but in a quiet and refined way.
Joy Young served up the tasty stereotypical Chinese food of the day, but on snowy white tablecloths, and in a manner that evoked a fine dining experience. In a genial bow to Birmingham, their menu also included their legendary crispy fried chicken and tender yeast rolls, served with fresh butter.
As I recall, my last dinner there, which took place sometime in the 70’s, included Peking duck and a whiskey sour. In curtained seclusion. Maybe it was two whiskey sours.
Quite different from my earliest visits, which were as a child, holding my mother’s hand as we rested from our shopping, at an age when I could not see over the curved front desk near the entrance.
Then, my favorite dish was the Egg Foo Young, redolent in a rich brown sauce, hot and steamily aromatic. Perhaps Joy Young is one of the reasons the Wu Food Project has an emotional appeal to me.
Yet, there was no Joy Young. I mean, the place existed, but there was no gentleman by that name. Joy Young was “made up” by four enterprising businessmen who arrived in Birmingham from Canton and who decided to make a go of it in 192o.
Now, like its mythological namesake, Joy Young no longer exists.
It came to my mind though as I was contemplating, well, Asian cuisine, and joy. It must be admitted, in these opening paragraphs we do have an elegant nexus of joy and egg rolls.
In this season of joy, I have had much to rejoice about. My family’s excellent health, of course. Meaningful employment. (I have that in abundance!) A home to lay my head. Friends of every make and model. Music and song. Creativity and laughter.
And something else. The Wu Food Project. Someone asked me how much I’ve lost so far, and I answered, “Seventeen pounds.” Well, no. Actually, I answered, “SEVENTEEN POUNDS!!!!”
And he said, “Wow, I am so proud of you for having the self discipline to stick with it like you have.”
My response was that it is not hard to stick to something that gives you this much pleasure and happiness. And Mr. Wu’s menu is a wonderland of fabulous, healthy dishes.
Call me Joy Young!