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Category: Five Points South

The Garage Take on Neighborhood Character

garage birmingham

garage birmingham

Nothing quite captures the borderlands between Highland Park and Five Points South like the Garage. On an orphaned block behind an apartment building, it’s a bar you head to rather than stumble upon. Not anxious for outsiders, despite GQ’s travel recommendation. But it’s the ultimate neighborhood hangout for folks who love the eclecticism of Five Points South and the restful air of Highland Park.

To get there, park on 10th Terrace South (or walk from your Highland Park home). Then walk past scattered garden urns and reclaimed doors accented with holiday lights and neon beer signs. Inside, you’ll find a dimly lit, cash-only bar surrounded by simple wooden booths. It’s perfect in its bare-bones appeal, where the fanciest cocktail you’re prepared to order is a Bloody Mary (which Southern Living recommends, by the way).

But the real magic is out back, which looks like the domain of a twentieth century Miss Havisham. Filled with the detritus of another age, it’s now the perfect host for an evening with friends. Particularly ones you’re inclined to reminisce with.

Accented by fairy lights and studded with slightly uncomfortable seating, the patio may be the most authentic space in town. Some perfect amalgamation of Dave’s Pub, Rojo, and the Donnelly House, the Garage could only exist right where it is.

Main Street America says that downtowns are attractive because they’ve aged in a way that suburban communities haven’t. Yet the organization also recommends the kind of creative rehabilitation we’ve seen (and loved) in downtown Birmingham.

But the Garage suggests an alternative approach to celebrating an area’s age. The French way, at least as the New York Times describes it, which involves quality products, perhaps a treatment or three, but no harsh remodeling. That’s generally been the story of places in Highland Park and Five Points South, where things wear their age with grace but also comfort. In the way of tile honed by decades with a hairline crack for character.

 

 

Birmingham for Everyman at Bottega & Bottega Café

Bottega Café

Bottega Café

We’ve been known to describe Bottega Café as Bottega’s more affordable option. Which is true–entree prices average a good $10 lower on the café side–but almost missing the point. Where Bottega is a tailored fine dining experience, Bottega Café is the everyday foodie option.

Still, the magic of Frank Stitt’s fine dining is that he’s also carved out entry points. Like the blend of historic apartments and grand homes in the Five Points South and Highland Park neighborhoods surrounding Bottega and Bottega Café, there’s something for everyone. Wherever you are on your professional course, there’s a version of the Stitt experience you can (and really should) manage.

The café menu is eclectic, covering your dining needs from light snacks with wines by-the-glass to a multi-course meal with a bottle of bubbly. Or, as the café website describes it, a “relaxed spot where you can come for lunch and stay for dinner with a menu celebrating the warm spirit of Italian cuisine, while honoring the purest seasonal ingredients of the American South.”

It’s the easy fun of Five Points mixed with the grand influences of Highland Park. It’s also emblematic of the way Frank Stitt has helped define the Birmingham food scene and, with it, the city. He’s famous for his fine dining, but, as the Birmingham Business Journal reported in 2013, Stitt also helped lay the track for our city’s accessible foodie finds. The big flavors and easy atmosphere of places like Trattoria Centrale are rooted in Stitt’s food culture.

Then there’s the building, Bottega Favorita, for which the restaurants are named. “The overall structural form, massing and building materials reflect historic associations with the Italian Renaissance,” noted the building’s application to the National Register of Historic Places, “but the architectural detailing is typical of the popular 1920s trend toward the precision streamlined appearance of the modern machine age.”

Like so many Birmingham buildings of its era, there’s a reverence for the old coupled with ideas of its age (see also: the John Hand Building). And Bottega’s food, described on the restaurant website as a blend of Italian traditions and Southern foodstuffs, is the ultimate example of revival style on a plate.

 

 

Foodie Necessities at Western on Highland

Western on Highland

Western on Highland

Quick Quiz: Where can you get a sewing kit, local organic milk and a rotisserie chicken at midnight? The answer: Western Market on Highland Avenue. Long before the downtown Publix was a twinkle in a (much loved) developer’s eye, the Western on Highland was plying Five Points South and Highland Park residents with grocery essentials on their own scheduling terms.

The Western’s selection is abbreviated but solid. And it’s open all the time. Literally. It has the snack selection you’d expect plus plenty of prepared foods — sushi, sandwiches, even a Mexican food bar at times — but some local foodie treats that belie its gas station hours.

There’s a case of Heavenly Donut Co. near the cash registers, and Working Cow Dairy products in the milk case. Besides the expected Starbuck’s packs, Western on Highland offers Red Bike, Fairhope Roasting, and O’Henry’s blends.

Located in its own little restaurant row — Galley & Garden, Hot & Hot, and both Bottegas are within two blocks — its foodie bona fides make a little more sense. Even after a fancy dinner, there’s still tomorrow’s eating to deal with, after all. And filling up on a “chicken fried steak” doesn’t save you from needing a quart of milk or a bunch of bananas for morning. Or perhaps just a nightcap.

Beer lovers will find plenty of local crafted cans from Good People, Cahaba, and the like. There are also pithy Monday Night Brewing titles and New Belgium bottles. Even 22-ounce bottles of Miss Fancy’s Tripel and Scrumpy’s Hard Cider, for something a little different. 

We’re most likely to raid the frozen food section, which includes plenty of pizza options and a healthy ice cream selection. Plastic spoons next to the pints of Haagen Das make us wonder if the Western on Highland knows us too well.

But who among us hasn’t had an ice cream emergency? And more often than not, it happens just as larger grocery stores are shutting their doors. Our diets may give it the stink-eye, but our hungry hearts are forever grateful.

 

 

Exterior Inspiration from Five Points South Historic Homes

Five Points South historic homes

Five Points South historic homes

One of the things we love most about Five Points South historic homes is the wealth of color. It’s a little like living with the everyday version of Painted Ladies, which feels good for the creative soul. But no matter your home’s era, there are ideas to be had here.

If you love the idea of true color scheme but have trouble visualizing beyond white, wandering through Five Points South is your ideal starting point.

The architecture, full of Victorian and American Foursquare examples, is what makes color so vibrant in these areas. Victorian styles, especially, make use of bold contrast colors to highlight intricate trim details. And since they frequently include a scheme of three or four distinct shades, they offer a broad range of palette ideas.

Generally speaking, two of those shades will be in the same family, likely the same paint card. That makes for a simple way to translate elaborate historic color schemes into a more subdued plan.

But even on simpler midcentury homes, there’s room for some exterior paint fun. B-metro featured a Homewood craftsman recently with its window woodwork painted turquoise. So feel free to pull a similarly bright hue to accent more minimal architecture.

What kind of colors are you likely to find? Greens are popular, from the fresh minty and evergreen combo of the Oasis Counseling Center to softer shades of sage and juniper nearby. Whether in brickwork or trim accents, reds play a starring role.

One of our favorite simple palettes is an overcast pale blue with clean white trim and a rosy red door. There’s also a lovely pale gray with charcoal trim and buttery accents. Both of which feel highly accessible for less bohemian neighborhoods.

So next time you’re headed for Dreamland, take a Southside winding road ‘till inspiration strikes.

 

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016: A Year in Posts

One of the big questions we ask ourselves for each blog post is “What does this say about the neighborhood?” It’s the guiding editorial principle we use on the spots everyone’s talking about as well as the ones sometimes overlooked. As we round out the year, it seemed fitting to look through our posts by neighborhood and pick the single most representative one. These are the posts we think tell you most about eight major Birmingham neighborhoods in 2016 and, just maybe, where they’re headed in the new year.

From game-changing openings to quieter expressions of community, here are the highlights.

 

Avondale’s Live/Work Expansion

birmingham neighborhoods in 2016 avondale

“We’re so used to thinking about Avondale in terms of its food and entertainment options that we forget the ways it’s also increasingly becoming a business district. Already there are some retail options and small business locations, but we can’t help thinking the new MAKEbhm space is Avondale’s defining business moment.”

 

Crestwood’s Community Character

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Crestwood

“It’s that community atmosphere that stands out most in Crestwood’s neighborhood branding. Crestwood is less associated with hip amenities than places like Avondale, or downtown’s Loft District. Instead, it’s a great community with close access to other great parts of the city.”

 

Crestline’s Choice Location

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Crestline

Crestline is a best-of-both worlds kind of area, and that’s what we’ve tried to capture in siting our newest community development. The Gladstone location — 4447 Montevallo Road — lies between the neat single-family streets of Crestline Park and the everyday essentials available in the neighboring Crestwood/Irondale corridor. It’s convenient to the big-box resources of the Montclair Road Publix and the independent gems of Dunston Avenue.”

 

Downtown Loft District’s Landmark Re-Openings

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Downtown Loft District

Commentary on the Redmont suggests this renovation is more than just an exciting commercial project in the city center. It’s a clue to the city Birmingham once was and, we hope, an omen for what it’s becoming again.’The Redmont Hotel is important because it tells us what a particular era, the ’20s, was like in our city,’ Patricia King, then serving as a preservation consultant and as development coordinator for Operation New Birmingham, told the Birmingham Business Journal in 2000. ‘We know it was a boom time, and the richness of the hotel supports that.’ ”

 

Five Points’s Easy Patio Vibe

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Five Points South

With its casual vibe and blues soundtrack, Delta Blues seems destined to be a neighborhood hangout, like the ultra-Southern version of everything we love about neighboring J. Clyde. We can imagine more than a few warm evenings spent on their patio, catching up with friends over baskets of hot tamales and bottles of cold beer. ”

 

Lakeview’s Retro Future

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Lakeview

“The restaurant describes itself as a place “giving a nod to the past while shaping the future,” and we’re inclined to agree. With its throwback name and place in Lakeview’s premiere mixed-use development — 29 Seven — it has feet firmly planted in both local lore and present progress.”

 

Parkside’s Public Symbols

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016

In so many ways the Parkside area defines Birmingham right now, from its new construction to its existing transformation, its corporate conveniences and Smallbox startups. Baseball season at Regions Field is the epitome of Birmingham in the summer, and now Railroad Park is offering a quintessential winter balance.”

 

Woodlawn’s Modest Transformation

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Woodlawn

There’s also something very European about the idea of a modest cafe offering truly interesting food. That’s what we see as the cafe’s real strength. And it feels at home in the artsy, up-and-coming area around REV Birmingham’s office. There’s something a little under-the-radar about Woodlawn, where truly exciting things — mixed-income housing, musical hubs, an urban farm — are quietly boosting the area.”

Bham Fit: Finding Balance at The Yoga Circle

yoga circle birmingham

 

You want the yoga studio experience: a connection to yogic tradition, not a mere exercise  regimen. But you still want to feel like you’ve gotten a workout. It can be a tricky combination, yet the answer in Five Points South is clear. You want The Yoga Circle.

Like the neighborhood’s combination of historic charm and linear modernism, The Yoga Circle is a natural combination of opposing influences. The studio space is bright — light bamboo flooring, a wall of mirrors, and floor-to-ceiling windows. It has the tidy polish of a sleek fitness studio, but the colorful wall motifs and sanskrit lettering feels properly yogic.

Classes here are warm at least and generally hot, with clear Bikram leanings. “Every visit has left me sweating yet energized, renewed, peaceful, and with a reinforced sense of comfort about my yoga practice,” wrote Yelp reviewer Janece M.

I also like that this studio makes an effort to be creative about what they offer,” wrote Carrie R, also on Yelp. Their unique lineups “show that The Yoga Circle is committed to keeping their classes fresh and interesting and is willing to have a little fun with yoga even though they take it seriously.” We agree that the mix of classes like Candlelight Slow Flow and Fat Girl Yoga set this studio apart.

The Yoga Circle’s online signup system reflects the combination of busy students and professionals who populate much of the neighborhood. It’s perfect for folks who appreciate both a digital environment and the time saved by knowing what you’re getting. Signing up online, you know if there’s room to drop into a class, wasting no time in transit if there’s no more space.

That transit time shouldn’t be long, though. Located just east of the main business and entertainment district, it’s walking distance for many Southside residents. Even when driving makes more sense, it’s likely on the way to and from your regular destinations.

In fact, The Yoga Circle’s location — heading into town from the crest of Red Mountain — showcases the general convenience of Five Points as a neighborhood. It’s a quick hop over the mountain by Vulcan and a straight shot down 20th or Richard Arrington to the city center.

Bham Fit: Workouts for All at Railroad Park

railroad park

 

We started this fitness series with local gyms and fitness studios in mind — the kind of specific small businesses that help define a neighborhood’s wellness bent. But one of Birmingham’s best fitness secret isn’t a business at all; it’s Get Healthy on the Railroad at Railroad Park. If you live Parkside, in the Loft District, or even in the northern sections of Five Points South, this is a seriously wonderful neighborhood fitness amenity.

All year long the park is open to walkers, joggers, and those interested in body weight exercises on the park’s west side equipment. It may be cold and rainy some days, but it’s always there and always free. (Though the park definitely accepts donations to help fund the upkeep on this jewel of a public/private partnership.)

From April through October, though, the park offers weeknight group fitness classes that are free to the entire city, courtesy of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama. The park’s website has full class descriptions, but we’ve distilled them to a quick guide. Want high-energy music and fun choreography? Try Jazzercise and Zumba. Looking to work on your personal running program? Get help at Happy Feet. Relax with Yoga on the lawn, or rev up your week at Boot Camp. All classes start at 6 p.m.

We like that Boot Camp and Happy Feet can give you ideas for independent fitness pursuits at the park, which comes in handy during the class off-season. And while the yoga classes may not be as hands-on as a local studio could offer, can you think of a more beautiful place to practice?

There’s no exclusivity to the atmosphere at Railroad. It’s the ultimate example of Parkside’s healthy neighborhood branding by making fitness accessible to everyone: You simply show up, sign up, and work out. With the park and Region’s Field at its core, this neighborhood is more or less the playground of the city. Living here means it’s in your own backyard.

Bham Eats: Bangkok Street Food at Cahaba Brewing Co.

grilled squid thai street food
Image of grilled squid with spicy seafood sauce via Kay Stk

 

Early on, we raved about Five Points South’s Chai Market. And these days, there’s even more to love. Owners Kay Stk and Golff Sudchodayon launched their Thai food pop-up at the old Cahaba Brewing Company last fall, and they’ll be joining Cahaba at its Avondale location for the second pop-up installment this Saturday, February 27. We sat down with Stk and Sudchodayon while they took a break from weekend food prep to find out more about the coming menu and their future popup plans.

“It’s definitely going to be street food because we love street food,” Stk said of the weekend offerings. They won’t be repeating their original menu, choosing instead to add four totally new dishes to their rotation, she said. But they are making one exception for a crowd favorite: pad ka pow.

“The stir fry basil with the fried egg,” Sudchodayon said. “Everybody loved that.”

They described the new menu options — grilled squid with spicy seafood sauce, crispy stir fried noodles with brown gravy, tofu panang, and larb chicken with sticky rice — as Stk displayed photos of the dishes on her phone.

They’ve designed plant-only food choices since their customer base includes plenty of vegans and vegetarians, Stk explained. The crispy noodles are vegetarian and the tofu panang vegan.

In fact, Stk said they may have an entirely vegetarian pop-up menu in the future, inspired by a longstanding vegan festival in Thailand. An entire city avoids meat throughout the seven-day festival, which Stk estimates has run for the past 30 or 40 years. “The menu from that festival is very, very good,” she said. “Maybe one day we can try.”

Both women think Birmingham can handle more Thai culture than their pop-ups, though. The “ultimate goal” is to stage a Thai food festival, Sudchodayon said. Besides dishing up authentic cuisine, she described entertainment elements like Thai boxing or a Thai cooking challenge.

“I think Birmingham is ready,” Stk added. “We see Greek food festival, Turkish food festival, Chinese festival, why not Thai?”

Bham Eats: Winter Restaurant Week

winter restaurant week

 

Birmingham Restaurant Week used to be a late-summer fling, something to look forward to before the busy fall season and the inevitable march of winter kicked in. Now, it’s also a post-holiday beacon, shining through the cold, dreary slump between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. As inveterate fans of Birmingham’s food scene, both restaurant week and otherwise, we couldn’t resist weighing in on the premiere winter season offerings. We combed through the posted options within Birmingham, and flagged the following dinners as our dream menu options.

 

Bottle & Bone (Uptown):

We’ve mentioned our love of bacon flights before, and now’s your chance to score a bargain tasting. We’re all in for their $20/person menu, of a bacon flight, joyce farms free range airline chicken breast stuffed with crackling corn bread with potato gratin and green beans, and bacon praline bread pudding. All of our pork-y dreams surrounding a delicious-sounding entree? Yes, please.

 

The Wine Loft (Loft District):

Just down the street from our offices, the Wine Loft has a $20/person menu basically guaranteed to warm the cold nights. We’d start with the cup of house made clam chowder, move on to the pan seared salmon with fried corn salsa and oven roasted brussels sprouts, and finish with the oven baked apple pie drizzled with port reduction and a side of ice cream. Between this menu and the restaurant/bar’s cozy interior, our money’s on the Wine Loft as a perfect date night plan.

 

BYOB (Lakeview)

One of our friends swears by the BYOB experience because you can actually have your burger at the temperature you crave — no solid gray medium-well nonsense when you want a true, pink medium. Burger cooking preferences aside, they had us at the golden tots appetizer with house made queso, cilantro, garlic, scallions, and ghost pepper cheese. We’d go classic Topper Price for the entree — essentially a classic cheeseburger jazzed up with lemon aioli — though the Cheesebroker, which includes bacon and pimiento cheese, may be the winner for heartier appetites. The dessert of white chocolate and raspberry bread pudding with lemon whipped cream and fresh mint sounds fresh enough to end a heavy dinner on a high note. Bonus points to BYOB for offering an old fashioned-inspired Bulliet bourbon cocktail accompaniment. Dinner menu is $30/2 people.

 

Iron City Grill (Five Points South):

You’ve been to Iron City for shows, but have you had dinner at the grill? We’d start with crispy chang mai cauliflower with crispy Asian slaw and sweet soy reduction, then move on to blackened gulf coast shrimp, whose sides include sweet corn couscous and an avocado lime crema. The vanilla creme brulee is a more classic dessert pairing, but we say lighter flavors might as well culminate in true decadence: salted caramel cheesecake with dark chocolate custard, graham cracker crumbs, and house-made marshmallows. It’s our version of culinary balance.

 

The J. Clyde (Five Points South):

The thing we appreciate about J. Clyde’s $30/person menu is that it’s an all-in experience. There are no tough decisions here, since the slate has already been paired down to a single “reception,” appetizer, entree, and dessert, all with suggested beer pairings. The brilliance of their menu is that it seems to balance hearty, heavy flavors like smoked riblets, gouda grits, and brown butter with lighter notes of leeks and apple cabbage slaw. But this menu that begins with a “traditional Scottish winter soup” closes with a pub-appropriate dessert (Fatso pudding) that’ll surely have you ready to brave the rest of winter.

Bham Eats: Delta Blues Brings Southern Comfort to Cobb Lane

delta blues hot tamales

 

Cobb Lane is always an easy sell for us, with its collection of local joints just past the bustle of Five Points. There’s something about the actual cobbled side street — which could easily have been lifted out of New Orleans — that makes us think of hidden treasures, of rich food and rounds of drinks shared with friends. Delta Blues Hot Tamales, the lane’s newest addition, fits that vision perfectly.

With its casual vibe and blues soundtrack, Delta Blues seems destined to be a neighborhood hangout, like the ultra-Southern version of everything we love about neighboring J. Clyde. We can imagine more than a few warm evenings spent on their patio, catching up with friends over baskets of hot tamales and bottles of cold beer. (The restaurant’s liquor license hasn’t come through yet, but our server told us it’s BYOB in the meantime. Just check the status before you go.) Even now, when it’s too cold for outdoor lounging, there are still plenty of reasons to linger over great food and conversation indoors.

We’re fans of tamales generally, so we were curious about the restaurant’s Mississippi Delta hot tamale concept. “Mexican tamales are steamed,” explained AL.com, “while the Delta tamale is boiled in a seasoned liquid.” Delta Blues co-owner Adam Freis told the site that the result is “spicier for one, but they’re also more moist because they’re fully submerged.”

The first thing we should say about the food is that we’re committed to working our way through this menu. It all sounds that good. and our first visit left us wanting to go back for more.

We had fried pickles as appetizers this round and liked the thin, crispy dill slices. Entrees included hot pork tamales by the half dozen, the vegan and ragin cajun tamale plates, and the creole jumbalaya. All were thoroughly satisfying with a surprising range of flavors within the Delta comfort food category. But the hot tamale baskets are basically a requirement on your first visit, and perhaps the ragin cajun if you have a dining partner willing to share.

Just because we’ve talked up the tamales, though, don’t take that as a sign to bypass desert. The blueberry cobbler was exactly the way we like our fruit desserts — heavy on blueberry flavor without tasting too virtuous. We started with one order but ended up getting two servings so there would be more to go around.

The staff were equally impressive. Our server was both friendly and spot on with his recommendations. He suggested the vegan with a vinegar-y side for the one member of our party who’s spice-averse, and she came away happy.

Finally, Delta Blues is a restaurant doing right by the neighborhood even in its earliest days. We hear they’ve already supported the Community Kitchens of Birmingham, which makes us that much more enthusiastic about supporting them. In truth, Delta Blues had us at tamales, but their generosity makes us love them even more.