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We offer news, reviews, and listings of locally owned restaurants in Birmingham, Ala. Our focus is on the local places, rather than chains. Some site use tips:
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John T. Edge will be at Pepper Place Saturday Market Saturday from 10 a.m. till noon signing copies of his new book, "The Truck Food Cookbook: 150 Recipes and Ramblings from America's Best Restaurants on Wheels."
Edge is director of the University of Mississippi’s Southern Foodways Alliance. He previously wrote “Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South” and edited “The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.
Edge spent parts of 2009 and 2010 traveling the country to research and write “The Truck Food Cookbook." He visited 12 cities and a couple hundred food trucks and carts.
While here, reports the Birmingham News' Bob Carlton, he also plans to check out Birmingham’s budding food truck scene with National Pubic Radio correspondent Debbie Elliott for a piece that will air later on NPR.
“Debbie and I are going to travel around Birmingham with the idea of looking at a city where street food is kind of ascendant, where it is not yet a mature phenomenon,” Edge told Carlton. “I think of Birmingham as kind of an aspirational truck food city.”
To learn more:
"John T. Edge: Street Food Surveyor," Arkansas Times
"Examining the Haute Return of Food Trucks in America," Thirdcoast Digest
Yes, we realize Bhamdining.com has been neglected for a while now. I'm afraid our day jobs have interfered with this effort. But we are making some changes and starting this summer should have more time to devote to the blog, so keep an eye out for updates!
In the meantime, just a few recent bits that have come across my desk:
- Alagasco presents Birmingham’s 2nd annual Salsa Showdown, a competition between local restaurants and salsa-makers to determine who offers the best salsa, guacamole, queso, and specialty dips, Saturday, May 26, 3-7 p.m. at Pepper Place Saturday Market. More here.
- Good news for beer lovers: Gov. Bentley has signed into a law a bill that will increase the maximum size for beer bottles sold in Alabama. The Gourmet Bottle Bill will lift the maximum bottle size to 25.4 ounces from the current limit of 16 ounces. That would allow sales of the 22-ounce, 750-milliliter bottles used by many craft breweries.
- If you're a foodie, you've probably already heard that Chris Hastings, chef-owner of Hot and Hot Fish Club, took home the award for best chef in the South region at the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards in New York. Frank Stitt's Highlands Bar & Grill was up for Best Restaurant -- again! but lost out to eight-time finalist Boulevard in San Francisco. Oh, well ... the most times they're up for the award, the more publicity they, and Birmingham, get!
Also keep an eye out for my tweets, often about food and local goings-on, @DLinBham.
Check out this post by Jason Horn over at Magic City Post about the burgeoning number of Birmingham-area food trucks, serving everything from tacos to wraps to Asian pork-belly steam buns to cupcakes. Oh, and burgers, too.
This follows Jason's first-taste review of the Shindigs truck on his Messy Epicure blog in August, where he wrote, "I think food trucks have finally hit the tipping point in Birmingham. Food trends seem to get to this town about five years or so after they break in New York, LA, and San Francisco, so the timeline is about right."
Also in August, Birmingham Weekly had a piece about "The rise of the food truck", which featured Spootfed Grill, The Cupcake Truck, and Shindigs Catering. "I’m not kidding when I tell you that you can get some of the highest quality, tastiest food in the city handed to you while you stand on the sidewalk," writes Andy McWhorter.
The Shindigs truck also was featured in Birmingham Magazine this month.
Not everyone's happy about the trend; last month, WBRC Fox 6 reported that some traditional brick-and-mortar business owners don't like the competition, even calling them a nuisance. Birmingham has been working on an ordinance regulating food trucks.
Makes me wish I worked downtown...
Free the Hops is hosting a Fall FestivALE next Friday, Nov. 11, at Old Car Heaven from 7-11 p.m.
The event will feature seasonal, unique and rare beers from breweries such as Good People, Avondale, Back Forty, Terrapin, Blue Pants, Lazy Magnolia, Sweetwater, Straight to Ale, Yazoo, Thomas Creek, and Yellowhammer. Limited quantities are being brewed or sent to Birmingham exclusively for this event! Here's just a sampling:
From Avery Brewing, Rumpkin, an imperial pumpkin ale aged in rum barrels that has never been offered in Alabama before.
From Avondale Brewing, Spring Street Saison, a Belgian Farmhouse Ale, brewed with a special 3-malt blend, European hops and a historic farmhouse yeast blend from the Wallonia region of Belgium.
From Back Forty Beer Co., Truck Stop Honey Brown, Silver medal winner at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival, a medium bodied English brown ale brewed with Alabama Wildflower Honey, roasted malts, and fresh hops.
From Blue Pants Brewery, Pinstripe Stout, an 8% ABV American Imperial Stout with chocolate, coffee, and vanilla flavors.
From Good People Brewing, El Gordo, a huge Russian Imperial Stout; there have only been three other kegs released of this beer before!
From Straight to Ale, Wernher Von Brown Ale - Named after the preeminent astronautics engineer, this luscious brown ale is sweet and malty up front with hints of toast and chocolate in the finish.
From Sweetwater, Dank Tank Ghoulash – Recently released, this double black, double dry-hopped, double IPA seasonal is making its way to Alabama for the first time at Fall FestivAle.
From Thomas Creek Brewery, Banana Split Chocolate Stout – 2nd release in the Atypical Series, this Belgian-style porter is a full bodied, roasty stout with hints of chocolate and banana.
From Yellowhammer Brewing, Frankenhammer - A strong conglomeration Belgian ale aged on toasted cherry wood.
There will also be a special appearance from brewing icon Adam Avery of Avery Brewing.
Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door.
The Birmingham Originals, a group of locally owned restaurants in the Birmingham area, is expanding its Annual Break ’n Bread food and wine event, with a larger location and more festival features.
The event is scheduled for Sunday, October 9 from 1-5 p.m. The event, previously held at the Pepper Place Market location, has been moved to downtown’s Railroad Park, a new and bigger location to accommodate the festival’s growth.
Break ‘n Bread will feature signature dish tastings from nearly 40 Birmingham Originals restaurants, including Ocean, Ted’s Restaurant, Little Savannah, Daniel George, Mafiaoza’s, Nabeel’s, Hot and Hot Fish Club and Satterfield’s.
To round out the event, The J.Clyde’s Jerry Hartley has carefully paired a wide selection of wine and beer tastings, from Birmingham’s own Good People Brewery to selections from International Wines, Pinnacle Imports and more.
Festival guests will also be treated to entertainment from American Idol winner, hometown hero and co-owner of Birmingham’s Ore Bar & Grill Taylor Hicks, as well as tunes from Memphis-based singer/songwriter Eliot Morris.
For the first time, the Birmingham Originals is expanding outside of Alabama, inviting four stellar Nashville-based chefs to helm the festival’s VIP tent. Chef/owner Pat Martin of Martin’s Bar-B-Que, Chef Will Ulhorn of Table 3, Chef Ashley Quick of Flyte and Pastry Chef Rebekah Turshen of City House will hold cooking demonstrations and offer tastings to VIP ticket holders, in addition to hosting the post-event Music City Chefs in the Magic City Gala Dinner at Ocean on Monday, October 10.
While foodies convene at the tasting tents, families will enjoy a dedicated children’s area featuring face painting with clowns from the Children’s Hospital of Alabama, petting corner and entertainment from the Birmingham Zoo, healthy kids cooking demonstrations, Desert Island Supply Company writing workshop and a pumpkin decorating station. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Children’s Hospital of Alabama.
Tickets for the Break ’n Bread food and wine event and additional information are available at www.birminghamoriginals.org and on the Birmingham Originals Facebook page. Prices are $35 for regular, $75 for VIP and children under 12 years old get in free.
Pepper Place Saturday Market has been voted best in Alabama and # 4 in the U.S. in America’s Favorite Farmer’s Market competition sponsored by the American Farmland Trust. The online contest, which began in June, is a nationwide challenge to see which of America’s farmers markets can rally the most community support.
Since it started May of 2000, Pepper Place Saturday Market has grown from seven tents to about 100 tents each week. Local farmers, artisans, chefs, and musicians gather every Saturday morning from 7:00 a.m. until Noon between April and December – rain or shine.
A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a Saturday morning at Pepper Place with my husband and daughter. It was the first time we'd taken our almost-9-year-old in a number of years; when she was smaller, the crowds scared her. Since then, the market's footprint has expanded and the "traffic" flow is better, resulting in less intimidating crowds. We had a great time picking out ingredients for ratatouille, plus colorful hot peppers, fresh free-range farm eggs, fresh butter lettuce, and a giant watermelon that took a week for the three of us to eat. (My daughter says she likes the kind with seeds better than the seedless kind you get at the grocery store, and we have to agree.)
In addition to all the wonderful fresh fruits and veggies, where you'll often find varieties you simply can't get in grocery stores (like arugula that's really peppery, or long twisty bumpy Asian cucumbers with tiny seeds), Pepper Place features local processed goods as well -- many with samples. We bought stone-ground cornmeal from McEwen & Sons and muscadine jelly from Petals from the Past. We sampled several salsas and Birmingham News reporter Bob Carlton's Soon-to-be-Famous Pimento Cheese (this is a cheese lover's pimento cheese, heavy on the cheddar, light on the pimento and mayo, with a subtle kick on the finish.)
In my mind, part of the success of Pepper Place is it's not just about shopping, it's about making a morning of it. There are chef demonstrations, live music, and goodies to eat on-site, from homemade Amish ice cream (you bet, my daughter loved ice cream for breakfast) to breakfast burritos from Homewood Gourmet to breads and sweets to eat there or take home. People bring along their dogs and their kids, and you almost always run into someone you know.
They'd only been open a week, but Ollie Irene, the new gastropub in Mountain Brook where Browdy's used to be, was bustling Wednesday night, leaving the staff with a bit of a happy-dazed-flustered look. Inspired by a story over at the Magic City Post, we had stopped by the bar (made of a 140-year-old slab of oak) to check it out and sample a few drinks and small plates.
We normally don't try a new restaurant until they've been open a month, giving them a chance to work out at least the worst of those little bugs that plague any new establishment. But other than the bartender apologizing for it being so hectic, our experience was bug-free.
The menu is all on one page, including the cocktail, bottled beer and wine list (draft beers, specials and desserts are listed on a big chalkboard on the wall.) We started out with a basil gimlet, attractively garnished with both a lime slice and a fresh basil leaf. What a wonderful summery drink, with the basil adding a refreshing, fresh-tasting note to the usual mix of gin, lime and simple syrup. There are several other intrigueing and creative cocktails on the menu and we look forward to trying them.We also enjoyed an Abita Amber on tap; haven't had that in quite a while.
There were seven "pub plates," small plates ranging from snacky fare like goat cheese and house made "crackers" to chicken liver terrine and a bowl of mussels; three "Farm & Garden" plates; four "Meat & Fowl" entrees, plus fried catfish and a catch of the day, on this day triggerfish.
We started off with the boudin balls under the Pub Plates list. Served with coarse grain mustard and bread-and-butter pickles, this is a cajun specialty, a sausage made with pork, pork liver and rice, but instead of being stuffed into casings, it's rolled into balls and deep fried. It had a gentle spice to it that complemented the earthiness of the hint of liver. I suspect this is one that will be a regular on the frequently changing menu.
We then moved on to lighter fare, and sampled a local Bibb lettuce salad, with a light dressing of a "lime-ranch" dressing. The dressing had just a hint of lime, and with the fresh tarragon and other herbs, reminded us more of Green Goddess than of what you think of as a traditional ranch.
Another one I hope is a regular is Lemon Ricotta Gnocchi with crushed broccoli, pine nuts and Grana Padano. The gnocchi (small potato dumplings, for those unfamiliar with it) were incredibly tender. The "crushed" broccoli was very finely chopped, perfectly cooked (not too mushy, not too crunchy, still vibrant green), and the toasted pine nuts made a nice texture contrast with the tender dumplings and the velvety lemony sauce.
While ingredients like lemon, lime and broccoli can sometimes be hard to pair wine with, the bartender recommended perfect matches for both dishes; a Gruner Veltliner with the salad, and a Muscadet with the gnocchi.
Sitting at the bar, we got to get a good look at some other diners' choices. The chicken liver terrine was tempting, but we decided since there was liver in the Boudin, that was enough for one night. Seryano ham, surrounding a beautiful mound of multicolored melon balls, looked like a perfect summer combination. A hamburger, cooked a beautiful pink in the center, was a bit messy for one diner, who ended up tackling it with a knife and fork. And "flat-top chicken," featuring Tanglewood farms chicken and silver queen corn, looked like a wonderful variation on a homey Southern favorite.
Despite his multiple apologies about how hectic it was, the service from the bartender was very good. Yes, he was busy, but never brusque, always smiling, and took the time to make recommendations on both food and wine.
Ollie Irene is the creation of Chris Newsome and his fiancée Anna Lakovitch. Newsome grew up in Mountain Brook and worked under local chefs Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings. He completed culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Charleston, S.C., where he worked in the kitchens of Slightly North of Broad (SNOB) and East Bay Street. He also worked in high-end restaurants in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Most recently, he worked with his friend, Robby Melvin, who runs SALT Fine Catering in Birmingham.
The name of the restaurant comes from Newsome's grandmother. The decor is Southern hunting shack meets pub, with a light green beadboard wainscotting around the walls, reclaimed wood, small taxidermy trophies, botanical prints and old photos on the walls. Attractive arrangements of loaves of bread, fruit and vegetables in bowls and baskets decorate a table below the large chalkboard listing the beers and specials.
It's no wonder it's busy, considering how much online buzz it's getting -- even though there's not yet an official sign, just the name of the restaurant painted on the window panes. In addition to the Magic City Post article mentioned above, it's been featured in Birmingham Weekly, and on Alina's Adventures in Homemaking blog. Newsome proved himself prophetic when he told the Birmingham Weekly earlier this summer, "I’m really nervous that this place is going to be extremely busy right off the bat."
We'll certainly be back.
713 Culver Road
Tues-Sat 4-10 p.m.; full menu starts serving at 5:30
Years ago, BC (before children), and even before we started Bhamdining over 10 years ago, we used to go to the Pita Stop frequently. In fact, it was the first place I ever had hummus (which they spell homos). It was a place we could go and get a cocktail and a glass of wine and some real food for a reasonable price, where Evan could get red meat and I could enjoy seafood.
But these days the 12th Street South location is not so convenient to where we live. So recently we found ourselves in the 459/280 area at dinnertime and decided to try the new Cahaba Heights location, at 3908 Cross Haven Drive.
The new building is quite attractive; really I guess it's nicer than the old one, but to us feels a bit more generic and does not have the appeal of the old facade. But there's lots of tile, a lovely bar area, a real foyer/waiting area, and a covered patio with an unusual fountain where we'd like to go back when the weather's nicer.
They still have some of the best hummus I've ever had in a restaurant, with those wondeful thin and fresh JouJou's local pitas.
All Pita Stop's entrees come with a few pieces of fresh fruit; a house salad that's reminiscent of a Greek salad; a long grain and wild rice mix (like Uncle Ben's but better), and a small serving of hummus and pitas. We were delighted to see ours still come all arfully arranged in the rectangular Pyrex dishes we remembered.
I would call the grilled Amberjack "seared" rather than "grilled," but it had a nice seared crust on it and was flaky and tender on the inside, nicely seasoned. The lamb kabobs were definitely not medium-rare as ordered; some of the chunks had pink centers, while others were done all the way through. We were too hungry to send them back, and they still had a good flavor.
Our daughter had a gyro, hold the lettuce and tomato and sauce on the side, and it was quite good. Not as good as her favorite gyros at The Pita Cafe on Highway 150, but miles ahead of the Purple Onion. The meat was flavorful but not as salty as gyros can be.
Some of the other dishes available include babaghanouj (eggplant dip), rolled grape leaves, tabooli, a variety of omelets, several pita sandwiches, seafood kabobs, kafta (meatball) kabobs, beef kabobs and falafel (fried patties of ground chickpeas). There are several vegetarian options, such as the falafel, vegetable kabobs, and vegetarian omelet. There was a display of baklava-type desserts near the hostess counter and I later wished we had gotten some to go.
Overall, we enjoyed our meal and we'll be back.
There's something about a well-done cocktail. I'm not talking about those tutti-frutti concoctions that seem designed mostly to disguise the taste of the alcohol, but rather sophisticated, subtle and creative concoctions that work to balance and bring out the flavors of the liquor or liquers, with fresh-squeezed juices, homemade infusions and loving care.
A good cocktail is part alchemy, part art. It takes creativity, an extensive knowledge of various alcoholic beverages, and an excellent palate. Like many local chefs, some of the best local cocktails feature fresh, seasonal and local ingredients, like a peach bellini at Highlands.
Some of our favorite restaurants to enjoy a cocktail include Highlands Bar & Grill, Dram Whiskey Bar and Little Savannah.
Highlands and sister restaurant Bottega are known for the "Orange Thing," and classic cocktails like the French 75. There's always at least one seasonal drink on the menu, which in the summer may feature peaches or watermelon juice.
Dram has some great cocktails with bourbon and whiskey; our personal faves include the Sassafras Sazerac, where the licorice/earthy flavor of the sassafras wash and a bit of simple syrup nicely complement the rye, and the Blackberry Winter, with Knob Creek whiskey, blackberry puree and house-made sours. (They also serve some local and regional beers on tap, but we're writing about cocktails here...) Their pimento cheese makes a great nibble to have alongside.
But perhaps the most creative cocktails we've had are at Little Savannah, where Steva is a cocktail artist and alchemist to treasure. Her creative cocktails use house-made syrups and infusions to create well-balanced and sometimes surprising flavors.
One of my favorites is the Delta Wedding, with Beefeater gin, fresh mint, Lustau Fino sherry, and fresh grapefruit juice, served up in a beautiful antique glass with a silver rim. Or there's the Walker Percy, with bourbon, muddled cucumber, honey-violet syrup and soda. The South and The Fury features rye whiskey, allspice syrup, stout reduction and champagne. And I love both the name and the flavors of the Tequila Mockingbird, with strawberry-infused tequila, honey/black pepper syrup, and champagne. And don't miss 'Tini Tuesdays, featuring $5 cocktails.
For more on the city's best cocktails, check out fellow Birmingham food blogger Jason Horn's list in b-metro magazine of 10 spots to have a great cocktail.
When we dropped in to Daniel George in Mountain Brook on a Friday a few weeks ago, we weren't sure what tipped us off first that something was up -- the fact that the gigantic aqua painting that had dominated the bar was gone, or the big smile on Daniel Briggs' face.
Turned out Daniel George, founded in 2000 by Briggs and George McMillan III, was just that day now owned solely by Daniel. After 11 years of partnership, the team we once dubbed "the odd couple" in a story for Birmingham Weekly just wasn't working well anymore. And in our opinion, it showed. While the food was still good, the menu had gotten a bit tired and stale, and some longtime employees had left. The only question was, who was going to buy who out.
In the weeks leading up to the deal, Daniel had been scoping out the local restaurant scene, eating at Birmingham's high-end restaurants and lending a hand in the kitchen at Little Savannah. He came to the same conclusion we have: Birmingham has some great restaurants, but they are too focused on Southern food. Ever since Frank Stitt gained national acclaim with his way of blending Southern traditions and local ingredients with French cooking techniques, it seems everyone has jumped on the same bandwagon.
Daniel's doing something different, bringing in other cuisines and blending them to create something all his own, using fresh, local ingredients -- and we say, hurrah!
A couple weeks later we stopped by for drinks and had a chance to check out the new menu and sample a couple of items. We've never seen Daniel, who was always the more quiet one of the partnership, so energized. One of the big changes is that now you can opt to get half-portions of most of the entrees, so you can build your entire meal off of small plates if you choose. There are also ala carte sides in addition to the setups that come with each entree, such as grits, farmer's market succotash, grilled asparagus and truffled parmesan fries.
One of our favorites, salmon tartare, was still on the menu, as well as veal picatta, one of the restaurant's most popular dishes. Two previous appetizers have been combined into an oyster duo, pairing raw beausoleil oysters on the half shell with cornmeal-crusted fried apalachicola oysters, mardi gras slaw and cayenne remoulade. We noticed the remoulade had more zip; at times in the past it has been a bit too gloppy and mayonaissy.
A dish that did a good job of illustrating Daniel's new approach was the crispy spring roll, which combined Asian and Southwestern flavors with a kick of sweet heat from both Asian chile sauce and ancho chili.
A tomato and watermelon salad was another adventure, getting just a bit into molecular gastronomy, with its "balsamic caviar" (tiny spheres of balsamic vinegar that evoked the contrast of black watermelon seeds with the red of the watermelon) and "goat cheese snow" (frozen bits of goat cheese). Mint added a surprisingly effective counterpoint of flavor.
We didn't get a chance to try them on this visit, but a couple other menu items that caught our eye were a grilled romaine salad with avocado, roasted corn and chili lime vinaigrette; tea-smoked duck breast with greaen tomato peach salsa and haricots verts, and and shelfish puttanesca with clams, mussels, olives, capers, melted onions and oregano. Also glad to see vegetable tasting listed on the menu; it's always been available by request, and we have often enjoyed a generous platter of the various vegetables of the day.
We have to admit, we will probably miss George's homemade sausages, and wish him well in his endeavors. Bob Carlton at the Birmingham news reports that McMillan hopes to eventually open another restaurant but will do catering and private chef jobs until he figures out his next move.
The restaurant will be closing for a week or so next month for some redecorating and will unveil a fresh new look at dg to go with the new menu. They also will not be serving lunch during the summer months.