We’d read about the new-ish Woodlawn Cycle Cafe, but we didn’t have a clear picture of how it would look and feel. Yet, the first conversation we had with our lunch buddy was about how this wasn’t at all what we’d pictured. We’d imagined something more rustic, somehow more Avondale. What we got was sleek and surprising and tasty in good measure. What we got was a reason to spend more time in Woodlawn.
Unique is an easy crutch to describe anything that feels fresh and creative, but we think it’s legitimate in this case. The menu is small and eclectic, really unlike any other game in town. And it changes periodically to feature new unexpected offerings. The constant is an emphasis on local ingredients and less common proteins — braised oxtail, fresh anchovies, pate as a main course ingredient.
The empanadas we chose on our first visit were extra crispy, a nice textural contrast with the braised oxtail filling. Slightly bitter local greens and pickled onions gave a pleasant acid offset, while the creme fraiche was the ultimate fat/acid bridge for the dish. Our friend was deeply enthralled by her green papaya salad.
The atmosphere was just as pleasant, styled in a way we think of as an urban take on HGTV’s Fixer Upper aesthetic. “It’s an old European-style cafe mixed wtih an industrial cafe, as far as the design goes,” co-owner Armand Margjeka explained to AL.com. The result is a sleek blend of classic and modern styling.
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.