As we sit down with Jennifer V. Cole, she’s getting ready to pick up a bottle of bourbon from a guy in a parking lot. Port Finish 1792, to be exact.

It’s not uncommon for the Mississippi-born Birmingham resident to track down her favorite bottles—bourbon is her thing. Well, one of them. Food, music, travel, and writing are some of the others.

Cole most recently served as deputy editor of Southern Living, where she covered the South for nearly a decade and still regularly contributes. Her work also appears in Esquire, Garden & Gun, Travel + Leisure, The Local Palate, Punch, Modern Farmer, Bake From Scratch, and more. According to her site, she “is a cornbread-loving member of the Southern Foodways Alliance and sits on the junior board for Jones Valley Teaching Farm.”

Her story “The Magic City’s Next Act” is featured in the February/March issue of Garden & Gun. Right before she ran out to pick up that bourbon, we sat down with her on her famous porch, where she’s been known to entertain the likes of Sean Brock and Thomas Keller. (And her local pals, this writer included.)

Big: Youre a nationally known food writer. Why do you choose to live in Birmingham?

Cole: I truly think there has never been a better time to be in Birmingham. If you look how the city grew and got its nickname ‘The Magic City,’ it was all based on the industrial boom and the growth around the steel industry. Today’s boom is one of culture. If you look at the things that are really driving the city and the people who are showing true entrepreneurial spirit, it is people within the arts world, in the culinary scene, and in the cocktail scene. It’s young entrepreneurs and musicians. That is really defining modern Birmingham—and it’s an exciting thing to witness and be a part of.

Big: What was Birmingham like when you first moved here?

Cole: I moved here in 2007 from New York. When I first got here, the city was just on the verge. My ‘gateway drug’ into the Birmingham scene was music. For a city our size, we shouldn’t get the type of bands playing here that we get. But thanks to people like Scott Register and the work of Birmingham Mountain Radio and venues like Workplay and the (now closed) Bottletree, we were able to attract great artists.

Now we have new venues like Iron City, one that has developed a stellar reputation within the music world. It’s a world-class, expansive venue with amazing technical capabilities, and yet it still feels like an intimate soundstage. And there’s Saturn, a Southern outpost of New York’s The Bowery Presents, that’s attracting folks like Houndmouth and David Mayfield. Plus we’ve got homegrown talent that’s tearing it up nationally: St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Lee Bains III, Duquette Johnston.

Photo by MaryMargaret Chambliss