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Avondale Spotlight: Cahaba Brewing 2.0

cahaba brewing company

 

Sometimes, an upgraded space can feel like an about-face rather than a natural evolution, so we’ve been curious to see how Cahaba Brewing Co. would handle their transition to an Avondale location. The short answer is this: very, very well. They’ve managed to maintain much of the feel from the original space but added tons more room, far better parking, and an exciting new location. Cahaba Brewing was a stylish take on rough-and-ready, and we liked it that way. But we love it the new way too.

The biggest difference is the space. There’s so much more of it. They’ve managed to move from a metaphorical cozy studio into a stunning loft space that still feels true to their industrial roots. Large walls of glass frame the tap room, one of garage sliders that will open to the wide outdoor patio in warmer weather, and another wall of fixed glass that preserves the ambience of a functional brewery with a bit more polish.

There are still long, communal tables and raised bar tops for seating, but there are also smaller round tables for more traditional parties. By varying the height and style of seating, they’ve managed the classic — but sometimes tricky — loft trick of carving one large space into more intimate groupings. High ceilings with roofline windows make the tap room feel even larger and more open. On a sunny day, there’s so much natural light that it almost feels like sitting outdoors, but with the benefit of climate control. Victorian-era furniture makes the adorable entry nook a fun departure from pure rustic style, and, along with an antique cart at the taproom’s opposite end, offers a subtle reminder that serious brewing is not a recent invention.

In fact, the new location isn’t just about shiny new space but about a more refined business perspective. It’s as though the presumably large investment in a new space has prompted the brewery to take its craft event more seriously. A printed beer menu offers thoughtful descriptions of their trademark and seasonal offerings, including some of the local plant/river inspirations behind their flavors. There’s something closer to the experience of visiting a Scotch distillery overseas — the attention paid to explaining the product’s story and process — while maintaining the easy hangout vibe of Birmingham’s taproom culture.

There’s also the excitement of the brew culture’s connection to Birmingham’s renaissance — a trend the Birmingham Business Journal noted in a 2014 profile of Cahaba Brewing. Fred Dyess, owner of nearby Avondale Antiques, predicted the Continental Gin complex will host the kind of small shops and restaurants found at Pepper Place, and we think it’s only a matter of time before it boasts a new Zyp station. We can’t help thinking Continental Gin will become a natural expansion point for Box Row tenants who outgrow their startup spaces but want to maintain a presence near their initial brick-and-mortar locations. 

Cheers, Cahaba! Here’s to some awesome trendsetting.

Avondale Spotlight: Practical Eclectics at Avondale Antiques

avondale antiques

 

Do you love the idea of estate sales but not the early weekend drives to places that may or may not have anything worth buying? We feel the same way, and we have a solution: Avondale Antiques.

Like any true collector, Avondale Antiques owner Fred Dyess is passionate about his finds and pairing them up with the right home. He’s quick to show off their clever features and multi-use sleight-of-hand. An ordinary-looking dresser has a faux top drawer that folds back to reveal a charming secretary desk, which Dyess suggested is perfect for a guest room. A low-slung chair covered in a funky ‘70s floral not only comes with a matching ottoman but also reclines for maximum comfort.

Lighting is another of the store’s big draws. The most stunning example — which we spotted a few months ago — was a modern industrial chandelier Dyess crafted out of reclaimed telephone signal posts and suspended Edison bulbs. Each bulb had its own switch so its final owner would be able to choose a bright overhead fixture, a dim setting for romantic dinners, or anything in between, Dyess explained. It was made with loft dwellers in mind, Dyess said, and he used a plug rather than hardwiring to make it an option for renters.

 

avondale antiques

 

Behind the store, Dyess houses his collection of salvaged home fixtures and patio furnishings in a large, outdoor display space. We spied kitchen sinks with built-in drain boards as well as charming wall-mount options and even a clawfoot tub. If you’re adding a bathroom in an older home (or trying to get a modern renovation closer to its original look), Avondale Antiques is an incredible source.

But this isn’t just a place for major purchases. Dyess stocks shelves of glassware, including sets of old fashioned glasses that could have been swiped from Mad Men. And feel free to browse without pressure. “You don’t have to buy to come in,” he said.

“I want this shop to be known for the unusual and different,” Dyess said, and the eclectic collection he’s gathered feels right for this next hip part of Avondale. Located on 3rd Avenue South between 41st Street and the Continental Gin complex, Dyess has bet on an area of Avondale just outside the 41st Street renaissance but on the pathway for development projects at Continental Gin. In fact, he predicted the Continental Gin complex will be the next Pepper Place, greatly magnified.

That blend of original and modern that’s become the new Birmingham brand is exactly what Dyess is selling. It’s clear he’s thought about what customers in Birmingham’s revitalizing areas will need to complete their homes, and that’s what he’s stocked. Despite the antique moniker, this isn’t a store dedicated simply to the old; it’s a collection of older items well-suited to modern life.

Bham Development: Behind Box Row

Image via Box Row Avondale

Avondale made another splash last week with the announcement of Box Row, the new retail development based on London’s Boxpark and set to make its debut in 2016, according to the Birmingham Business Journal. But what can we expect, and why should we be so excited about a new style of shopping in Birmingham? To find out, we looked deeper into the development’s inspiration.

Based on shipping containers, Boxpark was designed to provide an affordable brick-and-mortar base for businesses. But it also bills itself as an alternative approach to shopping, a community-based retail model:

BOXPARK is not some run-of-the-mall shopping centre. It’s a living, fertile community of brands packed with talent, innovation and attitude that puts creativity and fashion back where they belong: on the street.

Boxpark Director Rodger Wade told inhabitat.com that the model is designed to circumvent the challenges smaller businesses face with traditional shopping center settings, including multi-year leasing commitments and “financial covenants.” Boxpark retailers, he said, can choose leases as short as one year. In fact, Boxpark itself is not necessarily a long-haul development. Its website promises operations over the coming four years, with no mention of plans beyond that time.

Regardless of its time on site, a CityLab.com article points out some environmental and community benefits of the Boxpark model:

  • The shipping containers are inherently portable and can be totally relocated to a new site, unlike a traditional retail structure.
  • It’s able to take advantage of otherwise unused space in urban areas.
  • Its urban siting and lack of parking encourages more eco-friendly transit models like biking and public transit.

But CityLab also cites some challenges of the shipping container design for the traditional retail and restaurant experience. Without space for large storage areas or standard dressing rooms, container-based boutiques can’t offer the same level of service as traditional shops. Cafes lack substantial indoor space, which makes operations challenging during anything other than clear, balmy weather. Bathrooms are also lacking in the London model, which CityLab sees as a particular impediment for cafe patrons.

According to the BBJ, Avondale’s Box Row will have flexible configurations, which may help ease some of the space concerns cited for Boxpark. As for bathrooms, we’ll have to wait and see, but weather is unlikely to be the same challenge here as in the London version.

Perhaps the most interesting point CityLab makes is the potential for a Boxpark model to test the waters for retail developments in emerging areas. Boxparks need not be permanent shopping centers. They may be equally useful in demonstrating a neighborhood’s ability to support more retail opportunities.

And that’s what we’re most excited about with Box Row: finding ways to make new ideas viable in our local neighborhoods. Box Row’s slated location isn’t exactly an empty lot, but it’s close. A motel with a less-than-stellar reputation occupies the space now, meaning Box Row will add new options to the area without displacing long-term residents. All of which sounds like a win to us.

Avondale Spotlight: 41st Street Eats & Drinks

Spring Street, renamed Forty-First following the annexation to Birmingham in 1907, was the center of the new city. It extended from First Avenue, North, to the park, a distance of about five blocks. The surveyors made it wide to provide for the heavy traffic that they foresaw when Avondale grew to be a city of importance and Avondale Park should be developed into a popular pleasure and recreational place.

the Birmingham News-Age Herald, 1929

41st street

Avondale’s 41st Street commercial center maintains a comfortably rustic vibe that sets it apart from other Birmingham food scenes. It forgoes the fine dining peaks of Five Points South or the high design urbanity of the Loft District to forge its own foodie destiny, despite the popular Brooklyn comparisons. If Five Points’ drink identity alternates between a draft beer and a well-aerated Bordeaux, and the Loft District is a craft cocktail, then Avondale is the beer cocktail ⏤ self-assuredly casual and quirky and no less irresistible for it.

There’s an old-school, almost-kitsch food atmosphere in Avondale, a place where nostalgic references and comfort food can be taken to a deliberate excess. (Think Post Office Pies’ Swine Pie or Melt’s Mac Melt.) But there’s a sincerity to the food choices that’s hard to resist, a grounding in just-plain-good food and drink we always love. Rowe’s Service Station, for instance, describes its meals as “belligerently simple,” offering the no-frills comfort of a meat-and-three without the cafeteria line.

Our other favorite part about Avondale is that many of its offerings aren’t designed to be stand-alone options. Instead, it’s a kind of brick-and-mortar food truck park crossed with a modern main street. Its different specialty food and drink items are best mixed together, often when settling in at 41st Street or Avondale Brewing. (To help plan your Avondale experience, we’ve identified the most iconic food and drink options along 41st Street below this post.)

But it turns out we’re not the first to notice its main street feel. The Birmingham News raved about 41st Street in 1925 as the symbol not just of Avondale but of its progress. And, indeed, 41st Street’s emergence as a foodie mecca has transformed the neighborhood in recent years. So we’ll close out with the paper’s words, since many of them hold true today:

If every town has its ‘Main Street,’ few have any thoroughfare which has dominated its life and business as has Spring Street, Avondale, for more than a quarter of a century. It is what Twentieth Street is to Greater Birmingham, and then some. …It is really a remarkable street and its opening⏤paved its length⏤on Labor Day was significant in that at last Avondale was casting aside its swaddling clothes and putting on grown-up togs. The town was merging into city ways, and from now on keep your eye on it, for it’s going forward by leaps and bounds.

41st Street’s Most Iconic Choices:

41st Street Pub & Aircraft Sales: Moscow Mule

The Abbey: Coffee, Bagel with Bacon Jam

Avondale Brewing: Miss Fancy’s Tripel or Vanillaphant Porter

Avondale Grill: Tamales (Friday and Saturday only)

Melt: Mac Melt, Bham Bloody Mary

Post Office Pies: Swine Pie, Arnold Palmer or Pachyderm Pale Wheat

Rowe’s Service Station: Chicken Paillard, Eggs Vulcan, Fried Snickers, Build-Your-Own Bloody Mary

Satellite: Rocket Booster

Saw’s Soul Kitchen: Pork & Greens

Bham Eats: 5 Reasons to Love Avondale Restaurants

avondale eat shop local sign

2015 is the year of the Avondale restaurant. Don’t believe us? Consider the news: 3 new restaurants have or will open this year, increasing the neighborhood offerings by about 75%. That growth means more exploration of the neighborhood’s food identity, which made us set about trying to define it.

But those definitions are impossible without considering the broader neighborhood. Avondale’s southern section is heavy on bungalows and built around a lovely park, so the overwhelmingly homey vibe is no surprise. And it makes its way into the restaurant scene. Between the park and the brewery, Avondale is the perfect spot to kick back. This is not a “scene.” It’s more of a friendly way station for folks from all over the metro area.

Still, it’s a destination nonetheless. So here are the 5 reasons we love eating out in Avondale:

  1. It embraces history: Avondale brewing has always tapped local lore for its brew names, but Avondale restaurants have their own references. Rowe’s Service Station was Rowe’s Auto Service in a past life, and the new owners saw no need to erase that history. “In keeping with the most recent history of the neighborhood, I didn’t want to steamroll the character of the space or turn it into something it wasn’t, and instead, take advantage of the history that’s already built into it,” co-owner Cliff Atkins, Jr. told AL.com. Then, of course, there’s Chef John Hall of Post Office Pies who grew up in the neighborhood, honed his culinary chops in New York City, and came back to offer delicious pizzas and salads in–you guessed it–a former post office.
  1. It’s continuously casual: The dining vibe tends toward picnic casual and is super to-go-friendly. Disposable plates and utensils abound, making it that much easier to tote your food to the brewery backyard in mild summer weather. In fact, AL.com’s Eric Velasco recommends that very trick as the best way to enjoy the “food truck without wheels” experience of Wasabi Juan’s.
  1. It’s deliciously healthy (sort of): Veggies aren’t just a health-minded afterthought. They’re part of the culinary draw, and they tend toward the seasonal. We have an abiding love for Post Office Pie’s salads, but Rowe’s is offering an unexpected seasonal asparagus side, and Saw’s Soul Kitchen has been known to serve pink eyed peas. Even a place wholly dedicated to the cheese arts like Melt offers a surprising array of non-iceberg salads.
  1. It’s a combo special: Comfort food with a chef’s touch and food truck fusion are Avondale’s two complimentary food trends. There’s a homestyle-but-better feel to Avondale eating at Melt and Saw’s Soul Kitchen, which we chalk up to its culinary vision. Like the trajectory of Maurizio Papapietro or the Somershield/Lockert partnership downtown, we think it’s a case of folks with big name experience looking to offer accessible food. Meanwhile, Wasabi Juan’s and the upcoming Hotbox spin-off Wooden Goat are exploring the potential of what Velasco calls “cross-cultural mashups,” and that’s exciting too.
  1. It’s established a neighborhood DNA: Cross-pollination is absolutely a thing in Avondale, with owners of one institution partnering up with new blood to bring something else to the neighborhood entirely. Proof: Saw’s Soul Kitchen’s Mike Wilson and Brandon Cain are partners in Post Office Pies, and the Atkins duo behind 41st Street Pub & Aircraft Sales is bringing us Rowe’s. Like Somershield and Lockert downtown, Avondale’s food heavyweights are continuing to invest in the neighborhood. We think that’s a good sign for both food and real estate.

So welcome to the neighborhood Rowe’s Service Station, Wooden Goat, and Mr. Harry’s Chicken De-Lux. You’re in fine company, but you already knew that.

Bham Eats: Best Food Neighborhoods

Consider last week’s Thrillist challenge on Atlanta food: “What if some weird rule — or a really generous house arrest setup — meant you had to eat and drink in the same ATL neighborhood forever? Would you pick the best place to find fried food, choose to maximize your beer options, or something else entirely?”

Thrillist offered readers a ranking of the best Atlanta food neighborhoods and the fare in each. We considered doing the same in Birmingham, but we caved. After all, how do you choose between El Barrio and Ocean?

Instead, here’s our take on the food personalities of Birmingham’s top 3 food neighborhoods. Consider it your very own culinary color chart: You’ll know exactly where to go if you’re an Autumn.

El Barrio’s grilled chorizo meatloaf (Image via Yelp user Erin O.)

The Loft District:
Arguably Birmingham’s fastest-growing food scene, the district offers your best range of cosmopolitan comfort food. There are the impressive gastropub options at John’s City Diner, the Paramount, and Carrigan’s – arranged on a spectrum from gastro to pub. Then there are the distinctive daytime-only spots like Trattoria and Tau Poco. Café Dupont has your fine dining needs covered, and Urban Standard offers the finest city snacking. The Loft District in a dish: grilled chorizo meatloaf served with spinach, cotija-mashed potatoes and ranchera sauce at El Barrio.

Swine Pie (Image via AL.com)

Avondale:
A haven for crafty, affordable food, Avondale offers the best pizza outside New York City at Post Office Pies and an entire menu built around gooey cheese at Melt. Wasabi Juan’s fuses sushi and southwest in a combination that’s so wrong, it’s right. Hotbox gives you fancy food truck burgers and Asian noodles at the back end of Parkside, while Saw’s Soul Kitchen makes anyone poetic about pork. The local gas station even sells amazing $2 tamales for the most broke of foodies. Avondale in a dish: the tomato sauce, pepperoni, house-made pork sausage, and bacon Swine Pie at Post Office Pies.

“Chicken Fried Steak” (Image via Hot and Hot Fish Club)

Southside/Five Points:
Any neighborhood that houses Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings had to make the list. It boasts twinned hi-low restaurants – Highlands and Chez Fonfon, Ocean and 26 – that we think of as the original designer Target collaboration. And we like that the neighborhood is a study in contrasts: the Waffle House has a view of fine dining, and the vegetarian staples at Golden Temple are downwind from the smokers at Jim ’N Nicks. Southside/Five Points in a dish: Hot and Hot’s take on “Chicken Fried Steak,” a Wagyu sirloin with fried chicken skins, fingerling potatoes, braised greens, and buttermilk gravy.

Lakeview also deserves an honorable mention. Front porch entertaining at its best, Lakeview is the place where literally every restaurant has a patio. It’s a less common food destination, boasting instead a quality handful of mostly mid-priced options with a strong neighborhood vibe. Lakeview in a dish: The Lakeview at Slice.

Avondale Spotlight: The Nest

You might have heard of Kristen Farmer Hall. She just won Rev Birmingham’s version of a reality TV competition without the cameras: The Big Pitch. The win means $10,000 to invest in her Baking Bandits business, but in her spare time, she’s masterminded Birmingham’s new breed of event space. It’s called The Nest.

Image via The Nest

Like all the best business ideas, The Nest was the answer to her own constant search for a space scaled to a smaller function sizes and budgets, Hall told Birmingham Magazine. “The idea was born out of frustration in finding a space where I could create an event that was both laid back and approachable, a place where other people’s creativity can shine,” she said.

And her list of ideal events at The Nest is well outside your typical venue box. Besides the usual wedding-related gigs, Hall anticipates hosting supper clubs and pop-up businesses.

“The Nest is a space to gather, celebrate, learn, and create,” Hall instagram-ed. And her workshop dreams are definitely reason to gather, with possible upcoming workshops on knife skills, cocktails, floral design, and more. Since opening in September, The Nest has already hosted a Birmingham Design Week event with Megan LaRussa Chenoweth, a calligraphy class, and a Birmingham Creative Roundtable meeting.

Image via The Nest

Besides Hall’s enthusiasm for local creativity, she’s curated a space we’re excited to spend time in, full of vintage and handmade details chosen with care. The official style summary: “A little vintage, a little modern, a lot of love.” Hall’s social media posts bear that out, highlighting vintage-style tile picks and clean-lined tables crafted from reclaimed pine by the folks at Evolutia. After all, details are what make modern-vintage industrial looks special, and The Nest gets that.

Thanks to The Big Pitch, it looks like Hall’s two ventures will be sharing the same roof: Her business plan focused on expanding capacity at The Nest to add retail space for Baking Bandits goods. We’re fans because more sales space means more scones, and that’s always a good idea. Baking Bandits treats include the bacon scone (also offered at Bottle & Bone) a rosemary sea salt shortbread, and a brown butter blackberry bar.

Image via The Nest

Like all great bakers, they don’t just make scrumptious versions of your existing favorites. They combine flavors you’d never even considering thinking of, but always taste incredibly sensible and delicious. Raspberry and vanilla bean shortbread? Of course, because the raspberry keeps the sweet vanilla flavor from being the cloying dessert version of a cheap scented candle. They promise “modern + seasonal + nostalgic + happy,” and we believe them.

So consider The Nest and the Bandits for your next event. You can invite up to 100 people (60 for a seated meal). Make sure you stock up on shortbread, and drop our invitation in the mail.

Birmingham photographer Liesa Cole might have said it best: “YES to the NEST!”

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Avondale

If the Avondale neighborhood has a symbol, it is surely Miss Fancy. The former circus performer delighted Avondale audiences of her day with what we assume was a unique combination of grace and heft. Posthumously, she’s become the icon of Avondale’s resurgence as mascot and legend of the booming Avondale Brewing Company.

 


Click here for a five-minute Avondale history, as told by the Avondale Brewing Company. It includes a Civil War battle and more of Miss Fancy’s origin story.


 

Speaking of which, it’s hard to imagine Avondale as we know it without the bars. Parkside, Avondale Brewery, and 41st Street Pub & Aircraft Sales anchor the neighborhood’s commercial district. Great food options have grown up around them, creating a neighborhood food vibe of dishes that pair well with beer. (Post Office Pies even has a menu of beer cocktails.) And since Avondale and 41st Street don’t have their own food menus, they encourage enjoying your takeout on their premises.

We especially like 41st Street’s official outside food policy: “Yes, you can absolutely bring food in to the pub! In fact, we encourage it. …Ask your bartender for a menu!”

In fairness to Parkside, they have Hotbox. We will gladly forgo an extra stop in exchange for a burger with bacon jam.

But Avondale’s draw extends beyond its food and drink. Avondale Park, renovated in 2011, includes the usual play areas plus ponds and geese and impressive heritage masonry. The amphitheater space hosts summer movies in the park, and its tiered design means you can actually see the screen.

Recent additions like the Yellowhammer Creative storefront and The Nest event space have given the neighborhood a distinctly creative atmosphere. It’s also home to MAKEbhm, a self-described “community of makers,” where “people of all skill levels are able to engage design and craft at their own comfort levels and learn from one another in a supportive environment.”

All told, we think of Avondale as Birmingham’s craftiest neighborhood. So if you enjoy the indie vibe of 2nd Avenue North but prefer bungalows and and green space, Avondale is just right.