Welcome to Bhamdining.com! (Site currently on hiatus)
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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Fresh on the heels of their victory liberalizing laws regarding beer tasting and brewpubs at breweries, Free The Hops will be hosting the 5th Annual Magic City Brewfest this weekend.
June 3-4, Friday 7-11 p.m., Saturday 4-8 p.m.), come out to Sloss Furnaces to learn about craft beer and sample the best that Alabama has to offer. There will be 200+ individual beers available for tasting including many rare, specialty and cask ales which have never been seen before in Alabama (and may never be seen again).
Avondale Brewing Company, Birmingham's newest brewery, will bring four different beers to Magic City Brewfest including Spring Street Saison, Battlefield IPA, and two Belgian-style beers.
There will be food available for purchase by the plate at the event, from local restaurants such as The J. Clyde, Blackwell's Pub, John's City Diner, Rogue Tavern and Big Sky Bread. Also live music from Abandon August, Skyway Spirits, Jon Vogel & The Southside Community Band, and My Lucky Number.
Tickets are $30; $10 designated drivers, at gate only, includes five tokens good toward the purchase of food at the event.
I have been somewhat dismissive of the cupcake craze, having had too many cupcakes in my time that were all about being cute rather that about tasting good.
Dreamcakes Bakery in the Edgewood area of Homewood has changed my mind. This bakery makes cupcakes that are both beautiful and delicious, in traditional and unexpected flavors.
It was my birthday this week, so I decided to treat myself. After a wonderful lunch at Jinsei Friday (yep, they're serving lunch now, and the tempura green beans, served frites style, rock), I looked up Dreamcakes on my iPhone, since I had heard so much about them.
It took a while to make up my mind. So many flavors of cupcakes! Plus brown sugar pound cake, brownies, and French macaroons!
I decided to stick with cupcakes, since this was for my birthday.
I chose two favorites that, according to their website, are in the case every day: Chocolate High and Caramel Sea Salt Mocha. My other choices were Lemon, and one I forget the name of, but it featured sour cream, poppy seeds and colorful sprinkles.
A few that looked enticing but I didn't get: Peanut Butter Cup (Devil’s food cake filled with chocolate ganache & topped with creamy peanut butter buttercream, a chocolate drizzle & a peanut butter cup candy) and Cloud Nine (Angel food cake with a light whipped topping); and Over the Moon (white velvet cake, vanilla cream filling, intense vanilla bean icing and topped with white chocolate curls.) There were banana cupcakes, strawberry cupcakes, blueberry cupcakes, wedding cake cupcakes, cookies & cream. Some cupcakes have a filling in addition to icing, and most have some sort of treat garnishing the top. On the Chocolate High, it was a malted milk ball.
My complaint with most bakery cakes and cupcakes is they taste too much of sugar and fat and not much of anything else. This was not the case with Dreamcakes, where there was a wonderful balance of sweet with each cupcakes' individual flavors as well as salt to counter the sweet. The texture was delightful, as well. No gummy, spongy, or dry and crumbly cupcakes here!
Dreamcakes also does custom cakes for any occasion, including weddings. And they can do them gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free or vegan. (Sorry, no sugar free.) I think I know where I'm ordering this family's next birthday cake!
Afraid the cupcakes didn't last long enough to get photos, but check out Dreamcake's photo albums on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/dreamcakesbham.
First of all, apologies for the long dry spell in posts. Our day jobs have been keeping us way too busy!
But I had to take a break to post about how our wonderful Birmingham chefs are being singled out for awards from national publications and organizations.
James Lewis of Bettola is up for "The People's Best New Chef: Gulf Coast" from Food & Wine magazine. Under "Why he's amazing," Food & Wine writes, "Because he obsessively sources seeds and equipment from Italy to make stellar pizzas evocative of Naples." If you have not tried Bettola's authentic Neopolitan pizzas, you are missing out. You can vote for Lewis here. The 10 regional winners will compete against each other, and the winner will be featured in the July issue of the magazine. Read more at Bob Carlton's blog.
Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega and Chez FonFon, is once again a semifinalist for Outstanding Chef in the James Beard Foundation Awards, considered the "Oscars" of the restaurant world. Highlands is a semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurant.
Nick Pihakis of Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q is on the James Beard semifinalist list for Outstanding Restaurateur.
It's the first time Dupont has been in the running. He's got a new project, as well, the bakery-cafe Mix. (Read more about Mix on Bob Carlton's blog.)
The James Beard semi-finalists were selected from about 28,000 online nominations, and a 550-judge panel will narrow the list to five finalists in each category. Those will be announced on March 21.
We enjoyed two different Tex-Mex restaurants over the holidays.
After taking our daughter to see Santa at Brookwood Village the week of Christmas, we went to Cocina Superior, which bills itself as "Modern TexMex". There was a less-than-30-minute wait for a table in the sleek, modern restaurant, which was bustling and noisy.
Cocina Superior is one of the few restaurants that still has a smoking area. It's actually an outside deck area, with a view of the creek (or "brook") that runs in front of the complex, but it was mostly enclosed on this slightly chilly evening.
While you can get many of the fairly standard Tex-Mex dishes, Cocina Superior really shines on Tex-Mex with a twist. We enjoyed Angela's grilled shrimp tacos ($14.25), mesquite grilled shrimp with roasted-corn-and-zucchini slaw, served with arroz verde. There are several other fish and shrimp taco options, and other seafood dishes as well, including mesquite grilled mahi mahi, a shrimp-and-crab-stuffed fried avocado on the appetizer menu. Plenty of other choices, too including steaks, wraps, salads, and more.
Enchiladas al Carbon ($13.25) featured mesquite-grilled fajita beef topped with ranchera salsa, served with serrano pico do gallo, Spanish rice and beans. Unlike most enchiladas we get at typical Tex-Mex places, the tortillas weren't mushy. They did perhaps have a bit too much cheese on them, but otherwise were very good. Some of the other "Enchiladas Modernas" were stuffed with spinach and chicken; crab; raosted pork; and chicken topped with mole sauce. There's also a vegetarian enchilada dish.
The cheese dip was less processed tasting that you typically see, with more chunks of peppers. The chips were very thin and crispy. Instead of the usual refried beans, Cocina Superior has tasty refried black beans.
We also were pleasantly surprised by our visit to Amigos' Mexican Grill in Hoover the following week, in the strip mall on Lorna across the road from Arby's. We used to go quite frequently, but on a couple of visits the food and service seemed to have gone downhill. But it's our daughter's favorite so we decided to give it another try, and we're glad we did.
They've done some redecorating, painting the walls a warm distressed burnt orange color, with colorful paper lanterns hanging above the tables, and booths along the walls replacing the tables that were there previously.
Also new were house margaritas, made with fresh lime juice instead of a mix, simple and delicious.
Amigo's has two very good salsas they serve with the thing, warm tortilla chips, a nice red sauce and a green tomatillo sauce. Some dishes come with an orange habanero sauce that you should check out if you like spicy.
We also ordered two small bowls of queso-chili dip to start with, which is fairly mile. Our daughter loves it. She also enjoyed the kid's taco plate, which they happily prepared as requested without lettuce or tomatoes.
Tacos al Pastor were very good, tender slightly spicy marinated strips of pork loin wrapped up in your choice of flour or corn tortillas, three of them served with rice and beans, pico de gallo and the aforementioned habanero sauce. Nachos were fairly standard, although they could have used a little more cheese along with the beef, lettuce, sour cream and jalapeno slices.
The service was fast and friendly; we'll definitely be back.
A number of local restaurants are planning special menus and/or events for New Year's Eve, such as:
Cafe DuPont has a special four-course menu for $85 per person. Some of the highlights include foie gras and rabbit tenderloin pate; smoked trout with Meyer lemon aioli, shaved parma ham with quail egg, frisee, fresh mango and 25-year balsamic vinegar; roasted quail stuffed with foie gras, brioche, and lobster; grilled lam chops and lamb leg with parsnip souffle and pomegranate port gastrique. Find the menu on Facebook.
Fleming's Prime Steakhouse is offering a special menu Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There are three special options: Filet mignon and crab-stuffed shrimp, North Atlantic lobster tail served with lobster mac & cheese, and New York Strip with giant shrimp and chimichurri herb pesto.
Daniel George will feature its regular seasonal menu and will have live music starting at 10 p.m.
Highlands Bar & Grill's New Year's Eve menu features delicacies such as smoked salmon and caviar with blinis, grilled trout with hollandaise and cavier, crab cakes, Pate with foie gras, Capon with Sauternes and brioche and mushroom stuffing, Dover sole meuniere, squab and foie gras, Prime NY strip. $110 per person.
Hot & Hot Fish Club has a special four-course meal, with three choices in each category, with specialties such as lobster bisque with truffle flan, wild mushroom risotto with roasted bone marrow, grilled squab with black truffle and saffron noodles. Price is $75 per person, including one glass of champagne.
John's City Diner is featuring its full dinner menu plus some special New Year's items, such as flash-fried lobster tails with peanut ginger slaw for an appetizer, and seared diver scallops with wild mushroom risotto or pan-roasted Alaskan halibut with deep-fried blackeyed peas and smoked tomato butter sauce.
Little Savannah is offering a special Prixe Fix New Year's Eve menu for $75 ($125 with wine parings), with an Amuse Bouche, and your choice of two or three dishes in a soup course, a fish course, a meat course and dessert. Some of the selections include Georgia Sturgeon en Papillote with paddlefish caviar, big eye tuna with fennel dust and foie gras mousse, veal tournedos with grilled endive and lobster-caper Hollandaise, Sonoma Valley duck confit. Check out the full menu here. In addition, the bar menu, with fried calamari, steak frites, cheese platter/antipasti, greens & beans, and pasta with broccoli rabe, is available till 1 a.m. They also will be open for regular dinner service on New Year's Day.
The Melting Pot, the fondue restaurant, has a special New Year's menu for $99 to $119 per couple, with four courses. There are also special champagne, roses, and photo offerings if ordered in advance.
Satterfield's New Year's Eve menu features three courses with several choices in each course, with entrees such as butter poached maine lobster with house-made fettucine and fava beans, cassoulet with duck confit, roulade of venison stuffed with apricots and fennel, hickory grilled Myere Ranche ribeye with truffled mashed potatoes. $80 per person.
Veranda on Highland is featuring a three-course meal plus Amuse Bouche, with choices such as blue crab adn corn bisque or crispy veal sweetbreads for appetizer, Hereford tournedoes, pan seared duck breast or grilled coldwater lobster tail for entrees, and molten chocolate cake, praline cheesecake, or champagne sorbet for dessert. $65 per person.
Keep in mind that these prix fixe prices do not include wine, tax or gratuity. Don't forget to tip your server; New Year's Eve is generally a bit crazy and they'll be working their tails off.
A reader asked about the possibility of buying a gift certificate for cooking classes. I'm not sure about the availability of gift certificates, but here are a few local places that offer cooking courses:
- Chef Clif Holt at Little Savannah restaurant in Forest Park is offering a series of Saturday winter cooking classes. These "intimate, hands-on" classes will teach guests the day-to-day aspects of cooking “fresh” in your home. More info at http://www.littlesavannah.com/uploads/cookingclasses.pdf
- Hands-on classes and demonstrations for all levels are available at Birmingham Bake & Cook Co., a specialty cookware and bakeware store in the Inverness area. $25 to $35 per person, depending on the topic. Recent classes have featured courses in how to make the perfect burger, autumn-inspired fruit desserts, holiday cheesecakes, and basic and advanced knife skills. Some feature local chefs. www.bakeandcookco.com.
- The Culinary & Hospitality Institute at Jefferson State Community College has offered community classes, although there aren't any for the current semester. Previous classes have features Creole cuisine, Frank Stitt's Italian Table, healthy cooking, and chocolate and wine pairing. http://www.jeffstateonline.com/chi/CommunityClasses/
This is the last weekend to order your holiday tamales from the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama. They come in chicken, pork, or poblano pepper and cheese varieties, and reportedly freeze well.
“Tamales are a traditional Mexican holiday dish. We are delighted to have brought this custom to Birmingham through our annual Christmas Tamale Sale.” says Isabel Rubio, ¡HICA’s Executive Director. “Just remember to order plenty as we only do this during the Christmas season!”
Order through Dec. 13 at www.hispanicinterest.org/tamales/ and pick up Friday, Dec. 17.
The authentic Mexican tamales are $15 for half a dozen and $25 per dozen, and proceeds benefit HICA, a 501 (c)(3) United Way agency dedicated to the social, civic and economic integration of Hispanic families and individuals in Alabama.
Read more about the tamale sale, tamale traditions and tamales in Birmingham in this article from last year's Birmingham News.
Have you noticed the latest treat craze? It's self-serve yogurt shops. They're popping up all over. You go in, grab a cup and serve yourself from the yogurt dispensers along the wall. Then you serve yourself from a wide variety of toppings, ranging from syrups to fruit to candy to cereal. You plop your creation down on a scale and pay by how much it weighs.
Three such establishments have opened this year in the Hoover-Galleria area: Red Mango, Yogurt Mountain, and Treat Your Self. We've tried all three, and far prefer Red Mango.
The yogurt selection is most limited at Treat-Your-Self, in the former Ben & Jerry's location at Patton Creek. (They also have one other location at Lee Branch.) It also has soft-serve vanilla and chocolate custard, but they weren't very good. The topping array is wide, however, especially if you're into the more candy side of things. In fact you can even buy candy to go by the pound.
Yogurt Mountain is a Southeastern chain featuring 16 rotating flavors of frozen yogurt and more than 50 toppings. They advertise that their yogurts contain probiotics. The Hoover location is on Highway 150 next to Starbucks across from the Galleria. A second Birmingham location is located in the shopping center where Whole Foods is located. We thought it was better than Treat-Your-Self but not as good as Red Mango. And the purple and green color scheme is a bit overwhelming.
Our favorite is Red Mango, which is further south on Hwy. 31 near the Riverchase Parkway intersection, in the same new strip mall as Five Guys Burgers & Fries. Red Mango, a chain that originated in South Korea, stresses the health benefits of its yogurts, with active cultures, no high-fructose corn syrup or other artificial ingredients -- which means your strawberry yogurt will have just a hint of pink, no dye. This is also frozen yogurt that tastes more like yogurt, with that distinctive tang. It's a bit disconcerting at first, and works better with certain flavors, like fruity or tropical ones.
The toppings are not as extensive as the other two, but they are extremely fresh. The fruit toppings are the star -- strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, kiwi, and of course mango ... freshly cut up, beautiful and tasty. There are other healthy toppings like granola and nuts, and some candy/cookie/cereal toppings as well. Unlike the other two, at Red Mango you also can have them make you a smoothie, or probiotic iced teas.
This is the only Red Mango location in Birmingham at the moment, although their website says another location will be opening up at McWane Center soon.
Just heard from the franchise owner of the local Red Mango. If you're on the opposite side of town from Hoover, there's now a location closer to you, in the new Shops of Grand River outlet mall near Leeds.
Looking for some tasty wines that won't put a hole in your budget? Keep an eye out for these next time you're dining or wine-shopping. They were the top-scoring wines under $15 in the brown-bag blind tastings conducted for the new book, The Wine Trials 2011.
Wine of the Year: Dr. L Riesling from Germany's Loosen Brothers. Tasters loved the wine's "balance of honeyed sweetness with zingy, refreshing acidity," as well as the "apricot, apple and clean metallic scent."
Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah from Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington State, named the Winery of the Year. The winery's Horse Heaven Sauvignon Blanc and its Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noir and Brut sparkling wines also earned spots in this year's guide.
A few emerging wine regions singled out in the book were Bulgaria, which had three wines among this year's winners, with the Targovishte Sauvignon Blanc's bright citrus and green apple flavors gaining praise. Turkey has two wines in the guide, including the Lal Rose, whose minerality and faint fruit made it the winner in the Rose category.
Other winners include Bogle Sauvignon Blanc (California) in the light white category; Yalumba Unwooded Chardonnay (Australia) in the heavy white category; Monte Antico (Italy) in the light red category, and Dona Paula Los Cardos Malbec (Argentina) in the heavy red category.
We spotted a number of wines that are already some of our go-to bottles to keep on hand, so we're putting this in our car to have as a handy reference when we go wine shopping.
Want to try something different this weekend? Check out the St. Nicholas Church Russian/Slavic Food Festival in Brookside, Nov. 6 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Nov. 7 from noon to 5 p.m.
As Jason Horn reports on the Magic City Post blog, the Brookside coal mines drew hundreds of immigrants from Russia and eastern Europe. Those newcomers founded St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in 1894. The festival takes place each year on the first full weekend of November.
You can sample Russian and Slavic specialties such as:
- Stuffed holupki (cabbage)
- Baked Piroshki (meat pit)
- Borscht (vegetarian beet soup)
- Schi (cabbage and meat soup)
- Halushki (dumplings)
- Blini with savory filling
- Pigachi (cheese/potato bread)
And desserts such as Imperial squares, Czar's gems, Russian tea cakes, krendel, kulich, Medivnyk and others.
More info at http://www.stnicholasbrookside.org/foodfestivalmenu.html.