Traditions run deep at The Bright Star in Bessemer, Alabama’s oldest family-run restaurant. And plans are coming together for one of its most popular rituals, the annual Night in New Orleans featuring a guest chef from the Big Easy.

(The Bright Star/Facebook)

The “night” is actually three nights, featuring a special menu representing cuisines by both the guest chef and The Bright Star. The 34th annual Night in New Orleans is set for Thursday, August 3 through Saturday, August 5. Eric Cook, co-owner and executive chef of the restaurants Gris-Gris (Magazine Street) and Saint John (French Quarter) returns to Bessemer for a second year to conjure his creole dishes.

The Bright Star expects 2,000 guests over the three nights, and the seatings, which run from 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. each night, fill quickly. Watch the restaurant’s social media pages for an announcement when reservations open. This year’s menu has not been released. Last year, Cook’s contributions included chicken gizzard grillades and grits, “flambeaux” shrimp, and bisque with duck, sweet potato, and spicy tasso pork. Rabbit Fricassee with stone-ground grits and toasted sweet cornbread led an entrée lineup that included snapper seared in cast iron and served with seafood-tomato sauce, popcorn rice, and charred lemon. Dessert was Chilton County peach shortcake.

The annual culinary fais-do-do was inspired by a night at New Orleans’ famous Commander’s Palace restaurant when a vacationing Jimmy Koikos, then co-owner of The Bright Star, befriended Jamie Shannon, who ran the kitchen at Commander’s. Koikos invited Shannon to Bessemer to guest-cook at The Bright Star, and the inaugural Night in New Orleans in 1989 was such a hit they made it an annual affair.

(The Bright Star/Facebook)

Shannon continued the trek annually until his death from cancer in 2001. Commanders Palace and one of its cooks in particular, Thomas Robey, have been a regular presence over the years at The Bright Star’s early-August meet. Robey was part of Shannon’s traveling team, and the exposure from those nights in Bessemer led to his recruitment in 2007 to run the kitchen at Birmingham’s Veranda on Highlands restaurant, according to

After returning to Commanders in 2012, Robey joined a crew led by then-executive chef Tory McPhail, who was the Koikos’ guest chef for six years, from 2009-2014.

Starting in 2019, after leaving Commanders, Robey also was the guest chef three years running at the Night in New Orleans. It was Robey who, after moving to Gris-Gris, persuaded his new boss, Cook, to do the 2022 event. That trip proved to be the last for Robey, who died unexpectedly in February. No doubt Cook, the kitchen crews, and customers will toast Robey’s memory during this year’s Night in New Orleans run.

A NOLA native and Marine Corps combat vet, Cook’s resume also includes time at Commander’s Palace as well as the famous French Quarter restaurant, Brennan’s. Cook has appeared on several televised cooking shows and is an award-winning competitive chef. He was honored as a culinary legend by the American Culinary Federation of New Orleans at its 2019 Best Chefs of Louisiana awards.

(The Bright Star/Facebook)

Gris-Gris, Cook’s first restaurant, is an award-winning neighborhood eatery featuring refined Southern cooking and NOLA favorites. Saint John explores the 18th century culinary influences that melded into New Orleans creole cooking. Founded 116 years ago and occupying the same building since 1915, The Bright Star also is rich with history. It is an enduring example of the role Greek immigrants and their families played in developing and shaping the restaurant scene in Birmingham and surrounding cities, influence that continues today.

The Bright Star was founded in 1907 by Tom Bonduris, who had immigrated five years earlier from a Greek village named Peleta. He provided the first jobs to many fellow immigrants who followed, including Bill and Pete Koikos, who arrived from Peleta around 1920. The Koikos brothers became co-owners of The Bright Star in 1925 after Bonduris, their great uncle, decided to return home. Three generations of the Koikos family have run it since.

Signature dishes include fresh snapper and other seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, steaks, gumbo, and Southern-style vegetables. The Bright Star also is known for fried snapper throats, a surprisingly meaty cut from the collar that has been on the menu for nearly a half century.

Traditions are tasty at The Bright Star. And for three nights in August, its traditions are twice as tasty.