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Ollie Irene gastropub a hit

Boudin balls at Ollie IreneThey'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.

Bibb salad with lime-ranch dressingWe 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
205-769-6034
http://www.ollieirene.blogspot.com

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