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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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Love grits? Birmingham's got 'em, especially Dyron's.

Crawfish grits at Dyron's. (Photos courtesy Virginia Jones, Birmingham Daily Photo, one of my favorite Birmingham blogs.)

During a recent breakfast meeting at a hotel in Atlanta, I watched a business colleague from the Southwest slurp up the grits from the hotel breakfast bar with relish. Looking at the thin, pale, watery gruel, I told him if he wanted to enjoy some real grits, he should come to Birmingham.

Birmingham, after all, is where this Missouri-bred girl learned to love grits. It started with the decadent baked grits appetizer at Highlands Bar & Grill. (I once tried to replicate it at home, with disastrous results – Evan had added liquid to the grits without me knowing, and they never would “set up” in the oven!)

I soon learned how to cook grits at home, and that “instant grits” are a vile concoction to be avoided at all costs. (“Quick grits” are OK if you actually cook them for about half an hour.) Then I discovered McEwen & Sons' stone-ground grits, which I now ship to out-of-state grits lovers.

Many local restaurants serve up grits dishes worthy of a special occasion. You’ll find grits of various persuasions on just about any local brunch menu. Clif Holt at Little Savannah has come up with dishes such as blue grits soufflé. For dinner, I’ve enjoyed shrimp and grits at Fire and at Veranda on Highland and you’ll find it on a number of other local menus as well.

But Dyron's Lowcountry in Mountain Brook has taken grits to a new level. Their menu features five different selections under the "grits bar" heading.

There's the Dyron's version of classic Southern shrimp and grits, with fresh Gulf shrimp, applewood-smoked bacon, garlic and lemon, or my favorite, Creole-style crawfish etoufee with andouille sausage, both on white cheddar-parmesan grits. There's a crab cake atop roasted grits with buerre blanc, or buttermilk fried chicken on roasted red pepper grits. For meat lovers? Slow-braised pork cheeks on blue cheese grits. And under the “Small Plates” on the dinner menu, there’s house smoked oysters served with a white cheddar-parmesan grit cake and creamed spinach.

There's plenty more to enjoy at Dyron's. Two visits this year, one for dinner and one for lunch, convinced us that grits are not the only thing Dyron’s does well.

There’s the West Indies Salad, which was actually invented in Mobile – a simple marinated crab salad traditionally spooned onto crackers. (Read more about the inventor of this dish at http://meridianstar.com/local/x681069542/West-Indies-Salad.) Dyron’s version is more lemony than vinegary and lets the sweet flavor of the lumb crab meat shine through.

The house smoked trout was very good, served in a frisee salad with Alabama chevre, pickled red onions, toasted pecans and apple cider vinaigrette. For lunch, fried-green tomato BLT and oyster po-boys were a flavorful handful, with the po-boy having to my  mind the exact right ratio of tender fried oysters to remoulade slaw.

Not everything was perfect; buttermilk fried chicken had a nice texture but was in desperate need of salt. We liked fried crab claws better than the marinated version, but have had better versions of both elsewhere.

Just looking over the menu reminds me that we really ought to go back. Some of the dishes I really want to try include oysters wood-grilled in the shell (a lowcountry favorite I’ve only enjoyed once on a trip to Savannah); a BLT salad, with tempura-fried applewood-smoked bacon atop local tomatoes and field greens with caramelized onion vinaigrette; and lowcountry pan pilau, with shrimp, crawfish, clams, country ham, peas, tomatoes, and peppers. A bit of Hoppin’ John salad that came with one dish has me wanting to try the full version, or the lowcountry caviar (a spicy black-eyed pea salsa) it’s made with.

And then there’s brunch! In addition to the grits bar, there are housemade beignets, country Eggs Benedict (fried farm egg, country ham and hollandaise on a fried grit cake); boudin balls; shrimp and crab omelet and more. Plus some delicious-sounding specialty drinks such as brandy milk punch and planter’s punch in addition to the usual mimosas and bloody Marys. Mmmm….. 

Dyron's Lowcountry
121 Oak Street, Mountain Brook, AL 35213
205-834-8257
www.dyronslowcountry.com
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m.


Posted on Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 12:05AM by Registered CommenterDeborah Lockridge in , | Comments4 Comments

Didn't Your Mamma Teach You Better?

Last Saturday night we decided to go out for a lesser priced, but good meal, so we chose Lovoy's at SoHo. We ate there a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it very much, though I miss the old 1970's style location. The food was as good as I remembered, especially after 8 p.m., when the red sauce has had time to simmer more.

But on our most recent visit, I was amazed at the number of men wearing ball caps inside the restaurant! Now I realize Lovoy's isn't a four star dining establishment, but it is good local Italian food in a pleasant atmosphere. Now the best I can figure is that are several possible reasons these men are wearing ballcaps (notice how I do not even call them hats, which would still be rude to wear inside).

One: These people are follically challenged, which I am becoming more and more of...deal with it and grow up. Cope.

Two: If you are trying to make a statement, congratulations, you have done so: "I'm a hick."

Three: Their mama didn't teach them any better!

I will never forget the first time Alabama played a football game in the Superdome. There was Bear Bryant without his usual houndstooth hat. He was asked by then ABC Sports television legend Keith Jackson why he didn't have his hat on. The Bear simply growled back, "Mama always taught me you don't wear a hat in the house." 

Posted on Friday, August 13, 2010 at 09:16PM by Registered CommenterEvan Lockridge in | Comments1 Comment

Something Rotten In B'ham...ONB

It's not easy opening and making a success of your own business. 90% of new businesses fail within the first year. And despite downtown Birmingham needing all the business it can get, which is obvious from all the empty spaces and lack of traffic there is in the city center, it seems Operation New Birmingham is perhaps too worried about filling those empty spaces to give a chance to a mobile food truck, one of the country's hottest food trends.

Last week, word spread like wildfire via the Web about a blog by Jason Parkman, the owner of Spoonfed Grill, a mobile kitchen offering lunch to hungry businesspeople along with catering. After several months of serving lunch for downtown customers several days a week, he got a cease and desist order because he was parking in a loading zone. Although this had been the suggestion of a parking enforcement officer, Parkman wrote that he understood that the city was within its rights to stop him from operating in a public right of way. What he took issue with was a memo from Operation New Birmingham President Michael Calvert complaining that the Spoonfed Grill was unfairly competing against brick-and-mortar restaurants -- yet the ones he named were not in the immediate vicinity of where he had been operating, and in fact he was coming to this area at the request of people working there.

You'll see ONB's response below. Parkman has since removed his online rant, but we think he raised some valid points -- ONB would do better to try to work with someone trying to offer an innovative and trendy concept downtown instead of just summarily shutting him down. Here's hoping the online furor gave them food for thought, and Parkman can work out something with city officials to find a place to park his Spoonfed Grill. (Updated 8/15/2010 following the removal of Parkman's blog post)

Posted on Friday, August 13, 2010 at 09:09PM by Registered CommenterEvan Lockridge in , | CommentsPost a Comment

Cafe DuPont: Downtown Treasure

Café DuPont downtown has a timeless feel to it. You enter the building, which dates to the 1870s, through the “new” bar section, where tiny black-and-white octagonal tiles from a time gone by perfectly complement a new custom-made bar of gleaming warm woods. There’s a hint of that wonderful old-library scent, mingling with tantalizing aromas from the restaurant. It truly has a downtown feel, and reflects chef/owner Chris DuPont’s admirable commitment to the downtown area.

Like other (and perhaps more famous) local chef/owners, Chris is dedicated to the use of local and regional ingredients. But there are a couple of things you’ll find at Café DuPont that I haven’t seen elsewhere in town.

One is the option of a tasting menu. You can choose a five- or seven-course tasting menu ($75 or $90, respectively). Choose your own courses or opt for chef’s choice, and you’ll get smaller versions of the selections. You also can do a tasting of the entire menu for $110.

Because the portions are smaller, that sometimes means the side dishes aren’t exactly the same (I really would have liked to have tried the goat cheese flan that came with the butter-braised scallops and shrimp), but for someone like me, who will often make up a meal just of appetizers in order to try more different flavors, it’s a fantastic option.

C’mon, it was just too hard to make up my mind between smoked duck breast and duck confit with organic arugula, pickled cabbage, heirloom tomatoes and sherry vinaigrette, or smoked rainbow trout Napoleon with warm potato salad and roasted peppers, or fried green tomatoes with marinated crab claws and seafood remoulade, or country pate, or fried oysters and okra with cayenne butter sauce, horseradish crème fraiche and soy glaze – and those werent even all the appetizers!

Entrees? How could I choose between the scallops and shrimp, the grilled Georgia quail and seared duck breast with sweet potato and fennel has and tempura fried snap beans, or the braised beef short rib and grilled flank steak with pommes frites and grilled patty pan squash, or grilled Scottish salmon with creamy shrimp and bacon grits? (My mouth is watering just writing this.)

Unlike tasting menus we’ve seen in New York, at Café DuPont, you don’t have to commit the whole table to it to do it. On our recent visit, in order to pace my meal along with my husband’s, they brought out my two appetizer choices at the same time as his single appetizer, and likewise on the entrees. Then we shared my fifth course for dessert (they were unfortunately out of the Petals from the Past blackberry tart, so we went with bananas Foster with banana chiffon cake and praline gelato.) On another visit, I simply got extra courses in between hubby’s.

The other thing we were delighted to see on our recent visit was that they serve coffee and espresso from our favorite local roaster, Primavera Coffee Roasters in Cahaba Heights. Most other restaurants go with Royal Cup, but we really think Primavera’s small-batch, locally roasted, location-specific coffees are better. They never seem to be as good anywhere else as a freshly made espresso or cappuccino actually AT Primavera, but it’s still nice to see a local restaurant offering their coffee.

(Photos courtesy Virginia Jones, Birmingham Daily Photo, one of my favorite Birmingham blogs.)

Café DuPont
113 20th Street North
205.322.1282
www.cafedupont.net

Posted on Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 12:06AM by Registered CommenterDeborah Lockridge in , | CommentsPost a Comment

Birmingham's Best Eats

Some highlights from the first week of Birmingham's Best Eats over at Wade on Birmingham:

How to host a whiskey tasting: "A few years ago, a New Orleans chef surprised me with an aged bourbon that had all the character and complexity of a refined single malt Scotch. I thought bourbon was the stuff you mixed with Coke before football games."

Chicago Mike's magic hot dog stand: "I almost caused an accident in downtown Homewood the first time I noticed the words “Chicago” and “kosher hot dog” on the white-and-red restaurant known as Chicago Mike’s."

Gilchrist and the old South rarity, tomato aspic: "Aspic, once a common side dish and main lunch item in the South, is now rare."

Follow the month-long series from Birmingham's food bloggers (I'll be there, too) here.

Get Ready for Birmingham's Best Eats!

Wade Kwon, a favorite local blogger, reporter, poet, has rounded up 13 of Birmingham's food bloggers for a special series every day in August, Birmingham's Best Eats. It will feature short essays on restaurants, recipes, and ruminations on all sorts of local food topics.

Bhamdining will have two in the series, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest, as well. Be sure to check it out starting Aug. 1 at http://besteats.wadeonbirmingham.com.

(Photo by Kenny Louie, Creative Commons 2.0 license.)

Posted on Friday, July 30, 2010 at 04:51PM by Registered CommenterDeborah Lockridge in , | Comments5 Comments

Krispy Kreme gets more competition

Krispy Kreme's "Hot Now" sign is hard to resist. There's an undeniable appeal to watching the donuts go through the rising, frying and glazing process, then biting into one still warm from the fryer. 

But really, unless they're hot, I'm not that wild about Krispy Kreme donuts. To me, they taste too heavily of oil and sugar, with the more subtle flavors of yeast and other ingredients overwhelmed by the sweetness.

That's why I've been happy to see a flurry of new donut-shop openings in the past year in Birmingham. Of course, the opening earlier this year of the Birmingham area's first Dunkin' Donuts franchise in Pelham was widely publicized. The local franchise owners have said they are looking to open as many as 21 locations in the next eight years. Birmingham News columnist John Archibald even wrote about "dueling donuts."

But wait, there are other choices besides these two big chains! Shipley's donuts has been in Hoover for ages, not far from the big shiny Krispy Kreme factory. It's a chain, but not a giant one like KK or DD.

And there are new entrants to the market, too.

There's Donut Joe's in Pelham. I haven't been there, but Urbanspoon.com has rave reviews about it. 

Pop Donuts is a new place in Hoover; not sure whether it's related to Pop's Donuts in Center Point.

But our favorite recent discovery is Dyar's Daylight Donuts in the Hoover/Inverness area. Daylight is a franchise chain that dates back to the '50s in Oklahoma, but the Birmingham location has been open less than a year. What really stood out were the chocolate cake donuts. These truly tasted like a cross between a good chocolate cake and a donut -- not too sweet, great chocolate flavor, moist but not greasy. Looking forward to trying the "old fashioned" and other flavors.

Posted on Monday, July 26, 2010 at 02:32PM by Registered CommenterDeborah Lockridge in | Comments5 Comments

Toyota Farm to Table Tour at Pepper Place Saturday

 

The Toyota Farm to Table Tour will be at Pepper Place Saturday Market this weekend, 8 a.m.-noon July 24. Nine area chefs will be paired with market farmers to highlight the best of the market’s fresh local produce and products. The chefs will prepare complementary tastings using their partner farm’s locally grown items for visitors to sample. 

Visitors will also have the opportunity to receive complimentary potted culinary herbs and enter for a chance to win a culinary trip to Santa Barbara, and to test-drive Toyota hybrids.

The chefs:

  • Kimberly Brock of Bitty’s Back Porch
  • Jared Danks of Culinard Culinary Institute
  • Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club
  • Clif Holt of Little Savannah Restaurant and Bar
  • Clayton Sherrod of Chef Clayton’s Catering
  • Chris Zapalowski of The Homewood Gourmet
  • Haller Magee of Satterfield’s
  • Guillermo Castro of Cantina
  • Jean Evens Estinfort & Serge Pambo of Café de Paris

 The farms:

  • Jones Valley Urban Farm
  • Lasseter Orchards
  • Frank McEwin
  • Durbin Farms
  • Snow's Bend Farm
  • Fertile Minds Gardens
  • Owl's  Hollow Farm
  • Averiett Branch Farm
Posted on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 11:17AM by Registered CommenterDeborah Lockridge in , , | CommentsPost a Comment

Sandwich boom

Sandwiches seem to be the hot thing in Birmingham when it comes to new restaurants:

Brick & Tin gourmet sandwich shop, downtown Birmingham, emphasizing high-quality local ingredients.

Urban Cookhouse, featuring Alabama produce in sandwiches, salads and entrees in downtown Homewood.

Collage Catering & Cafe in Homewood, where Lag's Eatery used to be.

Forest Perk Coffee: Serving Higher Ground coffee, sandwiches and pastries in Forest Park area.

Posted on Monday, July 19, 2010 at 10:27AM by Registered CommenterDeborah Lockridge in , , | CommentsPost a Comment

Spanish wine dinner at Satterfield's

Satterfield's restaurant is hosting a Spanish Tempranillo wine dinner on Tuesday, July 13, featuring Bobby Flournoy and classic wines of Spain. The event starts with Cava and hor d'oeuvres in our bar at 6:30pm and dinner begins at 7:00pm. The cost is $75 excluding tax and gratuity.

The menu looks like a wonderful blend of Spanish inspiration and Southern produce, with dishes like Jamon Serrano wrapped Yellowfin Tuna with grilled leeks, white beans and Romesco sauce; Chicken Mar I Muntanya with shrimp, mussels, green beans, piquillo peppers and Chorizo. Check out the full menu here. Call (205) 969-9690 for reservations.

Posted on Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 02:56PM by Registered CommenterDeborah Lockridge in , | CommentsPost a Comment