After years of being snubbed, the late Ed Salem will join the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame this week. The long, simmering feud between Alabama and Auburn officially ended on Dec. 4, 1948. The game, played at Birmingham’s Le­gion Field, would come to be known as the Iron Bowl.

The renewal, after a 41-year sabbatical, was a one-man show.

Alabama’s Ed Salem ran, passed and kicked his way for 31 of the Crimson Tide’s points in a 55-0 rout, per­haps the all-time best one­-man performance in one of college football’s greatest rivalries.

“He’d tell you, ‘I had a great game in ’48, but no one remembers that be­cause I missed the extra point that would have tied the game in ’49,’ ” said Sa­lem’s son, Jimbo. Actually, fans remember much more today.

Salem, named one of the 50 greatest players in Crim­son Tide football history during the 1992 centennial celebration, will be in­ducted posthumously into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday evening.

He will join the Class of 2010, which features Reita Clanton, Howard Cross, Robert Horry, Bobby Johns,Ronald McKinnon, George “Mule” Suttles and Ben Tamburello.

To some of the people who watched Salem, the honor is long overdue.

“He was a great athlete,” said longtime Birmingham Post-Herald Sports Editor Bill Lumpkin. “He played at Ramsay High and I covered him. He was a great run­ning back and a good base­ball pitcher, too.

“It’s a mystery to me why Ed isn’t already in there. Ed was mystified, too. And there was only one reason Ed could give for it.”

Salem, a successful busi­nessman after his football career in the NFL and CFL, found financial success with a chain of drive-in restau­rants bearing his name and bowling alleys throughout Metro Birmingham. When another NFL player sug­gested there was business to be made by organizing trips out of Birmingham to take customers to the casinos of Atlantic City, Salem discov­ered another revenue stream.

But in Birmingham, buckle of the Bible Belt, the gambling junkets didn’t go over well with everyone.

“That’s how we started in that business,” said Ann Sa­lem, his widow. “Some peo­ple are narrow-minded and think that’s not a business, but it was.”


According to Ann and Jimbo, Ed Salem accompa­nied clients on the trips but wasn’t a gambler himself. Yet that association may have tainted his name as he moved on and off the hall of fame ballot over the years.

There may have been other reasons. The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame came of age soon after Bear Bryant had established a dynasty in Tuscaloosa, and many of the accolades have gone to Tide players who starred under the coaching legend.

“The truth is, back in the ’60s and ’70s, you had more recognizable names than his,” Jimbo Salem said.

But Lumpkin still believes the reason Salem wasn’t in­ducted until now was the association with gambling.

“I know people on (the voting committee) who wouldn’t vote for him be­cause of that, yet they went on his junkets,” Lumpkin said.

Playing both ways at Ala­bama, Salem led the Tide in passing three seasons, in rushing for one season and in scoring for two. As a se­nior in 1950, he added punt returns to his resume.

While his best game was the 1948 Iron Bowl, when he passed for three touch­downs, ran for another, kicked seven extra points and played safety, Salem earned All-American status his final collegiate season while playing quarterback, defensive back and kicker.

His professional career included five interceptions as a Washington Redskins rookie defensive back in 1951, and later on he kicked a Canadian Football League record 53-yard field goal for the Montreal Alouettes.

Salem passed away on Dec. 20, 2001, long before his election to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame was an­nounced.

“In some ways, it’s 40 years too late,” Ann Salem said. “But all my sons are excited. I think it’s wonder­ful. I just wish he was here to see this.”

And, if she could only talk to him one last time, Ann’s words to him would be to the point.

“I’d tell him, ‘You finally made it.’ ”

Join the conversation by commenting below or e-mail Segrest at [email protected].

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Salem Diner’s recipe for Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich

By Lynn Grisard Fullman


Kurt Kralovec of Trussville e-mailed a succinct request.

“I would like the recipe for the great Philly cheese steak sandwich at Salem’s Diner in Homewood,” he wrote.

Kralovec is not the only one to take note of the sandwich.

When Craig Ferguson, host of CBS’s “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” was in Birmingham in early 2007 to perform at The Comedy Club, he visited Homewood. Following his stay in Birmingham, Ferguson recounted his lunch at Salem’s Diner where, he reported, “I had an experience that shook me to the core.”

In his monologue, the Scottish host reported on “the best Philly cheese steak sandwich I’ve ever tasted — and I’m including Philadelphia.”

The diner’s owner, Wayne Salem, cannot suppress a smile when he tells about Ferguson’s nationally televised endorsement.

Despite all the fanfare, the restaurateur claims that making the sandwich is no mystery.

“It’s really simple,” said Salem, whose great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Beirut in the 1920s.

How was the recipe born in Birmingham, a city typically known for its barbecue?

Long a fan of Philly cheese steak sandwiches (although he only once visited Philly during an airport layover), Salem figured he could make a good thing better.

“I was at one of my family’s bowling businesses, at Pinson Super Bowl, when one of the cooks and I decided to figure out a way to make a better Philly,” he recalled, explaining that he has never liked onions, peppers or meats that are stringy. Neither has he preferred sandwiches with thick, thick bread.

“I am a fan of grilled onions,” he said when explaining one of the key ingredients in the sandwich, which is the most often ordered item at the diner that opened three Julys ago.

Salem’s restaurant roots run deep in Birmingham. In 1950 his father, Ed Salem, opened a drive-in restaurant on 26th Street North where it quickly became a popular hangout. (An All-American football player at the University of Alabama, the elder Salem later played pro ball for the Washington Redskins.)

Still feeding hungry diners as his father did before him, Wayne Salem offers a full breakfast menu (which many have equated to what their mamas once prepared) and lunch choices of sandwiches, salads, hot dogs, hamburgers and lunch specials (typically $7.99 with a drink and most with fries or onion rings) such as chicken fingers, grilled chicken with rice, country-fried steak, hamburger steak and grilled tilapia that is seasoned with Salem’s secret blend of 20 spices.

If your favorite special isn’t being featured the day you visit, just ask and Wayne likely will produce it anyway. “I do everything on a wing and a prayer,” he jokes as he nods a welcome to an arriving guest.

With seating for 25, including booths and stools at a counter overlooking a grill, Salem’s Diner serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Sidewalk tables offer additional seating for six.)

Is there some special dish that you’ve tasted in a Birmingham-area restaurant that you’d like to try to duplicate? Send your request to: Food Detective, The Birmingham News, P.O. Box 2553, Birmingham, AL 35202; fax Food Detective, 325-2494 or e-mail [email protected].

Philly Cheese Steak Wayne Salem pic.JPG
Salem’s Diner’s Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich
6-inch hoagie roll, toasted on grill in margarine
5 ounces break-away sirloin steak
3 ounces white onion, chopped
3 ounces green bell pepper, chopped
2 slices Swiss/American (white) cheese
margarine, for grilling
mayonnaise, as desired

Using a pastry brush, brush melted margarine onto outsides of hoagie roll. As the roll browns, saute chopped onion and chopped bell pepper in small amount of margarine.

Grill steak in margarine, using spatula to break meat into bite-size pieces.

Blend steak, onions and bell peppers into one heap as they continue cooking.

Quickly pass cheese across grill just long enough to soften; then quickly place softened cheese onto meat-vegetable heap.

Spread mayonnaise, if desired, onto roll. Heap meat, onion, bell pepper and cheese onto grilled bun.

Note: Salem buys breakaway (sliced and shaped) sirloin from Monarch Direct on Crestwood Boulevard. He uses heavy-duty, Bakers & Chefs mayonnaise that is sold at Sam’s Club. Hoagie rolls are by Merita Bread.

Serving suggestion: Serve with deep-fried onion rings or french fries. Salem uses Ore-Ida golden crinkle fries and seasons them with Lawrys seasoned salt.

Cheesesteaks wid an Alabama twist


For the Daily News

Not only do Wayne Salem’s customers in Alabama claim that he cooks the best Philly cheesesteaks in the world – he has network television testimony to back it up.

The Scottish host of CBS’ “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” visited Salem’s Diner in Homewood, an older suburb a few minutes from downtown Birmingham, and declared on air that Salem’s cheesesteaks were the best he’d ever had, better even than in Philadelphia.

A year later, Salem still will drop whatever he’s doing to play the clip on his diner’s television for those who haven’t seen it. His regulars needle him for showing the video so often, but Salem is unapologetic.

“Birmingham is known for barbecue,” Salem said. “It’s tough fitting in a Philly [tradition]. I don’t have a city that props me up. I need to do it myself.”

Salem’s cheesesteaks are about half the size of what you find at the South Philadelphia icons of the greasy, cheesy sandwich: Geno’s Steaks or Pat’s King of Steaks.

Salem cuts up a 5-ounce sirloin, onions and green peppers into bite-size pieces and uses only American cheese – no Cheez Whiz, provolone or mushroom options. But the most distinctive difference from Philly steaks made in the town for which they were named is the soft, light roll Salem uses.

“Some places use so much bread, I feel like they think the first customer to explode wins,” he said. “Mine are about the size of an ice-cream sandwich. After someone eats one of these, they are not going to feel ‘blah’ after lunch.”

There are other differences, too.

In South Philly, Pat’s is infamous for being brusque with customers, and Geno’s got international attention for demanding that customers speak only English when ordering. But Salem is known for his exuberant hospitality, hollering out friendly greetings and shaking hands as guests enter the narrow diner with five tables and a short counter.

He has a loyal contingent of regulars who meet for breakfast or lunch and colorful conversation – politics and college football among the favored topics.

“I come here every day of my life,” said Steven Cole, 55, of Leeds, east of Birmingham, who has been eating in Salem’s Diner for 29 years. “Coming in here is like going to my mama’s house.”

Salem, 54, is third-generation Lebanese, his great-grandparents having migrated to America from Beirut in the ’20s. His father, Ed Salem, an All-American football star at the University of Alabama who played for the Washington Redskins in the ’50s, opened Ed Salem’s Drive-In in 1950 and later owned several restaurants and bowling alleys.

Wayne Salem opened his own diner on Birmingham’s Southside 30 years ago (he moved to Homewood in 2006). He said he’s enjoyed eating cheesesteaks since he was a teenager in the early ’70s but didn’t start making the sandwiches until about 15 years ago. He developed his recipe in one of the family’s bowling alley restaurants.

“We wanted to come up with a new concept and a new sandwich,” he recalled. The concept caught on.

“I found my niche,” Salem said.

His other culinary specialty makes an unlikely pairing with his cheesesteaks: grilled tilapia that comes over rice or as a sandwich.

The diner’s simple, one-page photocopied menu has five versions of hot dogs, plus burgers, salads and a standard diner selection of sandwiches. His signature dessert is a cool and creamy old Southern classic: lemon icebox pie, his father’s recipe.

Salem has been to Philadelphia only once, in 1985, and he didn’t see much of the city. He had missed a flight home from Atlantic City and rushed to the airport to catch a plane back to Birmingham.

“The only thing I know about Philadelphia is that it’s 64 miles . . . from Atlantic City,” he said.

He has not eaten at the famed cheesesteak restaurants of South Philly, but he does enjoy watching coverage of the curbside rivalry of Pat’s and Geno’s on the Food Network.

And although Salem has the pronounced Southern accent that you would expect of a native Alabamian, he is a football fan who probably wouldn’t take long to endear himself to Philadelphians.

“I love watching the Eagles,” he said. “I could sit up there all day drinking beer and eating Philly steaks.” *

Salem’s Diner is open for breakfast and lunch at 2913 18th St. South, in the Homewood section of Birmingham, Ala., phone 205-877-8797.

Enjoy mom’s cooking

In the heart of Homewood, unknown to many college students looking to eat on a budget, lies a restaurant that has been serving up home-style favorites for over five decades. Salem’s Diner, a family owned restaurant located on 18th Street, not only satisfies that craving for Mom’s cooking but also promises not to break the bank.

The Salem family has been delivering tasty dishes since 1951 when Ed Salem, former University of Alabama All-American and Washington Redskin, and his wife, Ann, opened their first restaurant, Salem’s Drive-In. Soon after, they opened two more restaurants along with Vestavia Bowl, which still continues to be owned by the family today.

For the past twenty years, Wayne Salem, the son of the late Ed Salem, and his mother have continued to appease the appetites and hearts of locals by cooking up fresh food and serving it with a welcoming smile. Customer service is their number one priority, and Wayne Salem is always ready to make each and every customer feel right at home.

“I’m not much about running people in and out like I’m herding cattle,” Wayne said. “I want customers to enjoy themselves, take their time and eat some good food.” Eating is no problem for the regulars who come in to dine.

“There’s no question that your meal will be good because Salem’s is consistent,” one local customer said. “The only problem is having to narrow down your choices and pick something to eat.”

Open for breakfast and lunch, Salem’s is known for their sausage and egg sandwiches; buttermilk biscuits; the ‘Salem’s Dog,’ which is loaded with mustard, onions, chili and kraut and, The Philly, piled high with onions, peppers and melted cheese, has even drawn national attention due to the “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” Talk show host Craig Ferguson, who stopped in while doing a show at the Comedy Club in Homewood, announced on his show that Wayne Salem was telling no lie when he claimed it was “the best cheese steak he had in his life,” and urged Birmingham locals to try it for themselves.

On the lighter side, grilled fish and chicken sandwiches, Greek salads and a variety of other good bites are available for those seeking fewer calories.

As it’s been for 56 years, Salem’s is most concerned with putting a smile on customer’s faces, who inevitably come back to try something new. Salem’s Diner offers good food at a fair price, so stop in to this family-owned dig to visit with Wayne Salem and enjoy a 10 percent discount upon presentation of a Samford student I.D.

When the mood strikes for a home-style meal and home is just too far away, visit Salem’s Diner for a meal that tastes just like Mom’s cooking.